Many popular breeds need daily grooming and regular visits to the dog groomer to keep their coat in tip top condition. Any dog breed that doesn’t shed its coat like a cockerpoo or labradoodle, or any breed with long hair will need regular attention at home and visits to a dog groomer, unless you are an expert hairdresser!
We did some things well but made some mistakes with our hairy puppy, so I'm sharing our experiences so you can do better than we did at establishing good routines and choosing the right groomer.
Start as you mean to go on
It is crucial that your dog gets used to being washed, brushed and visiting a groomer from an early age so they grow to enjoy the experiences! Many dogs do enjoy the pampering but unless your dog has lovely experiences from the outset, and is handled often, this can be a difficult result to achieve.
We have a dog that is a mud magnet, has a double coat that doesn’t shed and can become very long. We started washing him off after every walk from day one and he doesn’t know any different. It is now much more difficult to get him in the sink these days as he weighs 14KG, but we still do it! He normally tucks his head under my arm and just stands there, dozing, which is great. We realise that consistency is the key here; he’s used to it and expects it every day so there’s no problem.
Daily brushing is also needed, and we learnt the hard way how quickly you can get out of the habit and your dog start to resist the attention. He had a couple of illnesses in quick succession so grooming took a back seat and before we knew it, he didn’t want to be brushed, bit the brushes and combs and the whole situation became very stressful for us all.
We started visiting a dog groomer early on too, and the first 2 visits went well I thought, but little did I know!
How do you create a good dog grooming habit, at home?
As with the washing, consistency and daily repetition is the key here. We failed on this front and so got a dog behaviourist in to help us re-establish good routines that mean we can groom our dog at home, and he enjoys it.
The behaviourist encouraged us to make grooming time fun. When he was relaxed we introduced a special mat (we used half an old yoga mat as it’s non slip and comfy). When he sat on the mat, we fed him treats. When he got off, we stopped. He soon worked that out!
We then introduced the brushes, scissors and combs, showing them to him when he was on the mat, rewarding him for allowing us to touch him with them, with a treat each time he didn’t bite them.
Then we built up to a couple of strokes of the brush in return for a treat, or a couple of snips of the scissors near his face with a treat if he didn’t try to bite them.
We are still working on this training as often as we can and at least every other day. He will now quite happily let me groom him completely with the brushes while he’s on his mat.
We still have a way to go with the scissors, but we’re working on it!
We paid the price of not building the grooming habit daily as he grew up but now at 10 months old, we have re-established the routines and are back on track, thanks to the help we received.
How bad can a bad dog groomer be?
We picked a groomer from a recommendation but with the benefit of hindsight she wasn’t right for our dog. We probably didn’t take him often enough in the first 8 months, so every visit was a shock for him. When he was little he just put up with the experience although later I learnt he’d howled and cried when being dried with hair dryers so he must have been frightened.
On the third visit he went crazy when put in a crate with hairdryers blasting at him, and then wouldn’t let the groomer cut his hair with scissors, or comb him. He was fine with the clippers but after the dryer experience, I think he was hyper-sensitive and she probably pulled his hair and so he growled at her to say “don’t do that, you’re hurting me”.
This experience was traumatic for me and my dog. I was so concerned we’d terrified him, and he’d never be able to go to a groomer. However, our lovely behaviourist reassured us that he was just frightened, and at 9 months old has the confidence to say’ no’ when he was scared.
I’d say the groomer we chose wasn’t right for our dog for several reasons:
- No process of introducing him gradually to a new environment and experience, no time spent to make him comfortable and the experience enjoyable
- Other dogs there, causing stress
- Noisy with blast dryers and radio blaring
- A conveyor belt approach to washing, drying and grooming with no time to deal with a young dog sensitively as the groomer was grooming 3 dogs in a 2 hour window
- The groomer had no dog behavior understanding or awareness and took a “my way or the highway” approach!
What do you need to look for in a dog groomer?
I now know there are several ways of working you can look out for that will help you pick a groomer who is sensitive, kind and can make the experience a fun one for your dog. They should definitely have a process for introducing a puppy or dog to them as a groomer, and which allows them to assess your dog’s needs and any issues or fears.
- Ideally they should have a programme of introductory visits allowing your dog to get used to the space and the groomer and see each visit as fun. These visits will gradually increase the amount the groomer will handle your dog and all progress will be rewarded with treats, play and kindness.
- They ask you to practice handling your dog at home in between visits, with rewards for the right behaviours. They give you easy to understand instructions to follow.
- They don’t leave too long between visits especially in the first 12 months, so your dog sees the visits as fun and normal.
- They have dog behavior understanding, are used to working alongside dog behaviourists for nervous dogs.
- They groom your dog with no other dogs present so the environment is calm and stress free.
- They work at your dog’s speed and don’t use driers if your dog finds them frightening.
There are lots of groomers out there who set up with no qualifications, experience or dog behaviour understanding or dog training qualifications. It is so easy to get it wrong but once you find the right groomer for your dog, a huge weight is lifted, and you can feel confident your dog will be cared for and understood.
It’s really worth taking your time and doing your research to ensure you and your dog are happy and comfortable before you leave your furry friend alone in a new environment to endue what could be a stressful experience, if not done well.
We’ve now found a lovely groomer who appreciates my sweet dog and is willing to take her time and work with him and me, at his speed. Good luck at not making the mistakes I made, and I hope my experiences help you!