Considering A Dog's Senses - Groomer to Groomer

Considering A Dog’s Senses

By Kama Brown

A grooming salon can become a place of comfort and enrichment for both the groomers and the dogs when designed with training in mind. Considering all the senses from a dog’s perspective can provide relief and comfort to the dogs who visit.

Giving owners an understanding of the differences a salon is providing to create a thoughtful and calm experience creates loyalty and trust.


Dogs use scent to explore their world and determine the safety of the environment. To a dog, sniffing is the equivalent of “reading the paper” and providing unique scents can provide a distinct distraction for the dog, while aiding in relaxation under stressful experiences. Generally, scents we find appealing can be overpowering for a dog. Dogs find sniffing potential prey extremely reinforcing and will often tune out the world momentarily to focus on it. Thankfully, dogs have an olfactory system forty times great than ours, so we are able to use a small amount of scent to gain their attention. To incorporate scent in a grooming salon, there are a few fun tricks.

• Using a zip tie, attach metal tins to the grooming table leg or arm about a foot from the floor or table surface. Attach these same tins near the door entrance, the bathtub and in the kennels. Fill a small jar with gauze pads and add an essential oil of deer, duck, fox, bear or rabbit. All of these scents are sold at hunting stores. Stuff the tins with the gauze pads and change the pads each week.

• Studies found that familiar human scents are the most comforting to dogs. Giving owners the option to bring a t–shirt or small item from home to place in the dog’s kennel can provide physical relief to the dog and mental relief to the owner.

• After using a large amount of cleaner or disinfectant, neutralize the area with baking soda. Try to keep the other scents of the shampoos and fragrances to a minimum by walling off the bathing area and keeping a neutralizing filter near the door.

• Employee odors such as cigarettes and heavy perfume can be hard to neutralize so encourage groomers to switch aprons or smocks when going in and out for breaks.

If there is a dog potty yard, allowing them a full 10–15 minutes to sniff when they arrive, and in–between their bath and haircut can reduce stress and provide enrichment.

• Adding essential oils to different parts of the salon is therapeutic. Diluting the oils into a spray bottle is easy and cost effective, though diffusers are becoming less expensive each day and add a continuous benefit to the salon. Adding scents to the brush handles, slip leads, groomer’s stations and bathing area can boost the mood and immune systems of both the groomers and the dogs. While some oils are safe for direct skin contact, it’s best to remain safe and use the oils as an aromatic only.

The most popular scents for calming dogs are Cedar Wood, Cypress, Frankincense, Lavender, Vetiver, and Bergamot. Use them one scent at a time or combine them together to create a scent unique to the salon.

Kennel Experience

While some grooming salons are fortune enough to be kennel–free, there are still a lot of things a kenneled salon can do to reduce stress for the dogs.

• Keep the kennel room cool. It’s easy for salons to become hot and humid if there is not a plan in place for keeping the salon cool. Heat and humidity raise blood pressure in both humans and dogs, and while often overlooked, keeping the salon cool should be a high priority. Averting direct sunlight with shades, using an exhaust fan and keeping the wet towels in a separate and contained area will all help.

• Creating a round surface in square kennels will create comfort for nervous dogs. Nervous dogs will always put their backs to a surface and being able to avoid corners is great relief. Rolling a beach towel long ways or sticking a pool noodle into a right angle corner of the kennel can help.

Give dogs a “Clean Kong” by filling a Kong toy up with water and freezing it. Adding apple chunks or cheerios are clean and easily digestible add–ins. Enrichment this way is mess free for the groomer and novel for the dog. Toys filled with treats are even better, if the owner approves.

• Arrange the kennels so they are not directly facing each other. If using a narrow room, zig zag the kennels so that dogs are diagonally looking at each other. Having an entrance and an exit to a kennel room is the best way to avoid walking a dog through the middle of a long line of dogs.

• If dogs will inevitably be walking right in front of other dogs who are waiting in kennels, a thin screen or flap attached to the kennel is a pro–active solution. Moving the screen down to reduce vision when moving dogs around will lower noise and reduce reactions from the dogs.


• Diminish the hair dryer and motor sounds as much as possible. Keeping the dryer on a bath mat and surrounded by towels (without blocking the motor) will help. Using a separate room with noise reducing walls will keep the rest of the salon quieter.

• Using a snood, or soft hood over the dog’s ears is comforting to most dogs. Snoods can be ordered online or easily made by cutting the sleeves off of sweaters.

• Adding music can calm both people and dogs. Keep the volume at a minimum and use a CD-player or iPod, as radio waves emit high frequencies that dogs’ ears are sensitive to. Science has proven classical music is best at this, though small studies show that talk radio will also work with great success. Anytime a dog can see or hear a person, they are likely to be comforted.

• Using dryers that blow air from the top or the side of the kennel is preferable. Almost all dogs dislike having air blown in their face and will avoid it. Brachycephalic (short-nosed) dog breeds find it particularly discomforting. Allowing the dog to look out the front of the kennel without having air blown into their ears, eyes, or noses will improve their experience.

• Creating noise policies that encourage employees to communicate without needing to yell is important and not always as easy as it sounds. A flashing red or black light bulb on a switch that lets groomers in the back know that groomers in the front need them is a quiet solution.


We know dogs see the world differently from us, which gives us knowledge in how to design salons so they are visually appealing for both dogs and people. The color vision of dogs is similar to a person suffering from deuteranopia (red–green color blindness). Red, yellow and green are perceived as one hue, while blue and purple are perceived as another.
Cyan and magenta are perceived as grey or neutral.

• Tint any windows that lead directly outside. Light in motion can increase adrenaline and some dogs find following light a compulsion.

• Avoid mirrors that reflect light straight at a dog’s eye level.

• Place grooming tables on a diagonal pathway instead of directly across from each other.

• Keeping in mind that a dog’s vision is only 20/75, large pictures of dogs and cats should be avoided. What is obviously a picture to us can easily look like a vague, blurry shadow of an actual animal to a dog. Instead of animals, decorate with wide stripes or huge circles, shapes dogs do not associate with any experience.

• Natural light is optimal to reducing stress. Skylights, or other windows from above is one way to minimize light movement while still providing natural light. Switching fluorescent light bulbs to full spectrum light bulbs has been proven therapeutic for both animals and humans.

Surface & Texture

Dogs are extremely aware of the surfaces they are standing on. Surfaces that are new, unknown, moving or uneven will automatically set a dog on alert. Making sure the first experience is positive is important. New dogs and puppies should be given extra time to acclimate.

Having an extra set of the bath and grooming mats in the lobby is one way to get owners involved. Keep treat jars hung on the wall nearby and print out instructions for the owners to encourage their dogs to step on the mats. Giving dogs the choice and rewarding them with food while their owner is still safely by can create all the confidence they need for the rest of their surface experience.

• Making sure a dog has even footing on a non-slip surface is vital for bath, kennel and grooming time.

• Keep surfaces cool by using
a cooling mat in warmer,
humid months.

Once the changes are made, be sure to create an educational handout letting customers know. Educating and informing owners of the changes a salon has made to increase the comfort level of their dog’s visit is a great way to boost sales, create customer loyalty and facilitate trust.  ✂

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