How To Choose The Right Groomer For My Nervous Dog
May 15, 2020
Reactive Dog Walking

Welcome guest Blogger Stephanie Zikmann who runs the award winning Holistic Dog Grooming Coach who runs her own Holistic Dog Spa, Scrub A Dug Dug, in Ayrshire.

When Suzanne asked me if I would write a post for her clients that would help them choose the right dog groomer for their dogs, I was delighted. Being around other holistically-inclined dog industry professionals is refreshing considering we are few and far between.

I wrote an article for Edition Dog magazine back at the very beginning of my journey with them about what a “holistic” dog groomer means and how it can benefit not just nervous dogs, but all dogs. So I would like to first say that, although I am targeting this post towards those who have a nervous dog (whether you have rescued, or not), the advice I am about to share with you will also apply to dogs of all characters, behaviours and breeds.

The first thing you must be conscious of is that grooming is a procedure which most dogs relate the Vets to. Typically, the environment is stressful and over-crowded, the atmosphere is rushed and on-edge and, the general approach is “get the dog done in 1.5 hours” – the dog grooming industry is more of a fashion industry than a welfare one.

This sets the dog off to a terrible start, when we think of a dog and his amazing ability to pick up on energy at a cellular level (that is, they can read a persons state of mind, merely by the pheromones and chemicals a person releases and the body language that occurs as a result of these chemicals), then everything and anything can be transferred on to and impact our dogs emotional and physical state too. Like the environment I described above, for example.

A stressed environment = a stressed dog, a frustrated groomer = a frustrated dog, a fearful dog = another fearful dog and so on.

With that in mind, I would be requesting an initial “meet and treat” appointment with a prospective groomer so that I can:

  1. Assess the location of the salon:
  • Is the salon at ground floor level? Do I need it to be?
  • Is the salon easy to access? Is it secure?
  • Is the salon on a busy road?
  • Has it got parking facilities if I need to travel by car?

Depending on your dog’s specific needs, you will be looking out for obstacles that may set your dog off to a negative start from the get go. For example, if you have an elderly dog with mobility issues, you would want to avoid an establishment with many stairs, or if you have a nervous dog who is afraid of traffic you will want to avoid an establishment on a busy high street. We want your dog to be relaxed (as possible) when entering the salon.

  1. See the environment for myself:
  • I am looking for the environment to be calm, spacious, and free of any foul or over-bearing smells. Remember dogs have an intense sense of smell – an establishment should smell clean but not smothered in bleach or air freshener.
  • Is there a lot of hair lying around? How is the over-all hygiene of the establishment?
  • How many dogs does the establishment house at any one time? For nervous dogs particularly, I would be looking for a one-dog policy with restricted access to the general-public during grooms.
  • Where will your dog be kept? Are dogs placed in stackable crates, pens or left the run of the establishment? If they are given free roam, is the salon completely secure?
  • How does your dog rest at home? Will he be comfortable here?

The environment must be calm and instil confidence in the dog from the beginning. How can you expect a dog to relax in an environment with 2, 3 or 5 other dogs barking in the background? I always say to my clients, if you don’t feel relaxed in my spa, then your dog certainly won’t, so tell me if ever you think I’m slacking!

  1. Ask how the groomer operates:
  • What does the grooming procedure involve?
  • How do they handle difficult dogs?
  • Do they have knowledge in canine behaviour?
  • Do they use restraints, and if so, which ones and how are they introduced to the dog?
  • Have they attended a college/training school to learn how to groom?
  • Is the groomer insured?

I’m not one for bumming qualifications in dog grooming, but a groomer must show that they are competent in their skills. Being able to show that they have attended a training school or apprenticeship, backed up with positive reviews and images of their work on a business page for example, would be enough to gauge their skills as a groomer. But that’s just one side of the coin, I wouldn’t be entrusting a groomer with my nervous dog if they had no knowledge on how to handle nervous dogs. I would also be less inclined to take my dog to a groomer who uses restraints such as neck nooses and groomers helpers. A great groomer should be able to demonstrate positive methods that will help counter-condition your dogs’ fears with minimal use of restraints.

  1. Observe your dog while you are there:
  • How is your dog responding to the environment?
  • Does he approach the groomer at any point?
  • How does the groomer interact with your dog?
  • Does the groomer seem knowledgeable?

I always say you can’t go wrong with your gut instinct and so, ask yourself how you feel in the presence of this person. Do you feel confident and relaxed? How is your dog responding? If your dog isn’t approaching the groomer, how is the groomer responding?

  1. Ask what products, tools and equipment are used:
  • You want to make sure they are using good quality products and that they know what to use for your dogs’ individual needs
  • You want to ensure they do not use things like choke chains, shock collars, correction sprays, groomers helper – anything that manipulates, causes harm, or stops the dog from exhibiting natural behaviours.
  • Is the equipment in good condition and safe to use?
  • Has the equipment been PAT tested and passed?

I don’t use restraints other than the occasional padded belly aid, however some groomers do and that’s ok if done competently. If they insist on using restraints, ask them how they go about introducing the dog to them. If your dog is particularly nervous, you could ask that they work at de-sensitising them to restraints in your company, or even grooming the dog the first few times with you present. I have never had any issues grooming a dog in the presence of an owner because it gives me an opportunity to educate them on managing the coat and skin care at home!

Stephanie Zikmann is an award-winning Holistic Dog Grooming Coach who runs her own Holistic Dog Spa, Scrub A Dug Dug, in Ayrshire. She writes for Edition Dog Magazine as their Dog Grooming Expert and has also been featured in BBC Scotland and The Daily Record. She guest posts frequently for many other pet industry professionals as well as, writes in her own blog, ‘Holistic Dog Care Guide’. To access her free E-Book, An Introduction To Holistic Dog Grooming visit her website today:

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