"She knew as soon as we pulled in where we were and I couldn't get her to come out of the car." the dog's owner explained as she drug her shivering labradoodle into the salon. Why do dogs tend to become apprehensive, bummed, or even panic when they discover that they were not going to the park but to the dreaded torture chamber of the deranged cave troll that cuts their hair? Obviously the groomer is mean.
Put yourself in your dog's shoes and try to see this experience how they see it. You are dropping your dog off in a new place often full of other dogs who are exhibiting a range of stress responses, there is a stranger there, you hand your pooch over to said stranger and leave. This by itself can be a stressor of a fair magnitude. Then that stranger puts them in a bathtub, but not like the one at home this one has machines in it that make unfamiliar noises and that adds another stressor.
1. Mom/Dad left me here...where is here? Who is this....why are they in my space?
2. These are not normal noises these are scary unfamiliar noises!
These stressors are stacking up on your poor unprepared dog. The deranged cave troll then puts you on a table and secures you to it. That's weird....How much time has your dog spent in that situation prior to this moment? The table moves up and down, again, weird, new, unfamiliar sensation.
3. I am on a table and now its moving...I can't escape...should I be trying to???
Another stressor to add to the increasing pile. Now there is a really loud, really intense wind maker right on my fur!!!!!!!!!! Has this ever happened to your dog before? If it is their first grooming most likely a high velocity dryer has never crossed your dog' s path. If your dog is unprepared for this it.is. so. scary.
4. Now I am being subjected to an up close and personal hurricane experience. I want to die.
Once the dryer experience is over the dog gets to meet the clippers and for most this is not as scary as the dryer but now the dog is being expected to allow parts of his/her body to be restrained and a weird vibrating machine run along them. Another strange and unfamiliar sensation and expectation. Now the deranged cave troll wants to hold the dog's head still and run the vibrating machine on very sensitive areas like ear leather and around eyes. Another stressor crashes on top of the pile.
5. This lunatic is attacking me with a growling monster!!!!! I have to get away!!!!!
As the grooming session progresses the dog is faced with the expectation of holding still while scissors travel around his/her feet and face, experiencing the pressure from the nail trimmers or (gasp) another vibrating growling monster that grinds their nails into a smooth rounded shape and again having their legs and feet restrained.
All of these experiences are generally responded to as stressors to dogs who have never experienced them before so when they happen all at the same time it is a perfect recipe for a very negative and impactful experience for the poor, unprepared dog. Most owners never think about the dog's interpretation of the grooming process or how to prepare their dog for it. Many groomers don't make mention of introductory work either so there's that. So the poor dog goes in with no way to cope with all those stressors piling on top of each other one right after the other. However, it is thankfully becoming much more common for groomers to offer or require introductory work to ease the dog into and introduce everything involved in the grooming process slowly and positively so that by the time the grooming appointment rolls around its not all new and all scary. Or at least less so.
I discovered several years ago that I dreaded new dogs on my schedule. I had no way of knowing what to expect, it could be great but chances were better that it would be a spectacular, raging garbage fire that took three times longer than I budgeted, erroded my sanity and drastically increased my risk of developing a cardiac infarction. I recognized the stress I was under in those situations and realized that the stress on the dog is likely magnified in comparison. As a dog trainer it made sense to me to change the approach with new dogs who hadn't been to a groomer before or puppies who were new to the world. At this point in my career I require that I must meet all new dogs that I take on at least once if they are experienced with the grooming process and if they are not I require that they be brought in several times (at least 4) so that I can introduce them to each expectation that will be placed on them during the grooming process in short treat laden sessions. By the time they actually get groomed they are familiar with me, and know me as the lady with the delicious treats and nothing they are exposed to is completely unfamiliar to them. They also have not had the entire process dumped on them with the outrageous expectation that they deal with it like a pro, thus hopefully reducing the stress levels the dog is under and creating a dog who learns that grooming is tolerable and the deranged cave troll is actually just another human all be it one worth keeping an eye on.
It is important to me that I am cultivating a relationship with my clients people and dogs. I will be grooming these dogs for years and I don't want to hate it! Getting to know them takes time, getting to know and understand their owners takes time but if done right in the end we all be able to communicate and understand where each party is coming from.
So dog owners I am giving you your marching orders. It's your job to think ahead and make sure you do your part to prepare your dog for any expectation you will be placing on him/her. It's your job to make sure that grooming is a regular part of your dog's life and not a twice a year event that is unnecessarily stressful and massively scary. It's on you to be proactive about finding that groomer that you will have a relationship with and you will trust to take care of your dog's grooming needs. Let them get familiar with that person instead of jumping them around from groomer to groomer. We all do things differently and have different ways of handling dogs. I get to know the dogs I work on and they get to know me, my process and what I am asking of them. In the end we all generally settle into our carefully arranged dance that ends in a nicely styled and clean pup and a groomer who maintains her grip on sanity and will live to fight another day. Many of us don't consider the dog's perspective and interpret their anxiety with the grooming process as, "Obviously that groomer was mean to my dog!" (((Rolls eyes))) Chances are by your dog's estimation of events yes, the groomer was "mean", "scary" and "not a little bit unreasonable" but not in the way you are thinking, most of us aren't out there beating up on your dog's out of some sense of malice or frustration, we are exposing them to a process they were not prepared for with limited ability to change your dog's response. The only one who can see to that is you, dog owners! Set yourself and your dog up for success in this mandatory area of care. It pleases us greatly.