By Michell Evans
“Michell, I work in a very busy shop with lots of groomers, bathers and dogs. It is fairly chaotic. I work hard to keep my dogs under control and comfortable at all times, but I struggle. I know it is possible because when I watch videos the dogs are calm and they just stand there. I am so tired of wrestling with dogs all day long. I can’t get help from my co-workers because they let the dogs do anything they want. Do you have any advice on how to get my dogs to cooperate?” –Sandy H.
Hi Sandy. I am sorry it has taken me so long to answer your question. I have been pondering whether to include it in my column at all. This is a very hard subject to write or speak about because no matter what is said, there will be someone who feels that your method—whatever that might be—is cruel or inhumane.
If you want help without judgement, consider private or semi–private lessons with any number of teachers and mentors in our industry who would be happy to assist you in learning better dog handling skills. Working with a teacher on the very dogs that are challenging might be the key to your success.
Fifty percent of the work that goes into a safe and beautifully groomed dog is up to the dog doing its part. The other fifty percent is the groomer doing theirs. Think of the grooming process as a job for the dog. If the dog were to go to an obedience class or herding trial, learn a dance routine or sniff for drugs at the airport, they would be required to behave in a certain way during that time.
It is your job to teach the dog how to behave when doing its job. They are to stand up, face forward, counter-balance and support their own weight when you pick up a limb and keep their head out of your way. No problem, right? This is easy for some dogs and very difficult for others, however they all have to do it. You are asking them to relinquish control of their body parts in a systematic order. Be kind and keep your wits about you. If you use your brain to outsmart them you will not have to use your body to wrestle them.
Here are a few things to work on:
Let them choose how much pressure is applied
Work to develop your skill in the area of holding. Learn to only apply pressure when necessary. For example, when a dog is pulling or kicking, you will naturally squeeze harder but you MUST remember to immediately loosen your grip when they stop. Don’t let go, just loosen. This teaches them that they can choose how much pressure is applied. They will almost always choose less pressure! This is especially true for heads and feet.
Typically when the inexperienced groomer shaves foot pads they either grip the leg as if they were going to lift the dog’s entire body weight with one hand, or they are scared to hang on at all. As they develop, they learn how much pressure is appropriate. As they develop further, they learn how to use pressure as an incentive for the dog to choose to cooperate. At no time should the dog be in pain, sometimes very frustrated that the usual tricks are backfiring, but never in pain!
Give them a fraction of a second to choose to give up their limb
For example, when you pick up a dog’s leg, they will almost always pull back slightly to regain balance and get a sense of how much control they still maintain. Give them that. Don’t let go. Simply move with them as they test it out. Then gently pull the leg into the position you need to get the job done. This is more of a cooperation than a mugging. Also, don’t just grab the leg. Smooth your hand down to the point of lifting, and then lift. Don’t snatch, its rude. This is especially true for legs and tails.
Give them the opposite of what they want
For example, if you are holding a front leg and the dog is sitting down and pulling with all its might, maintain your hold on that leg and use your other hand to move them into a standing position. Now, instead of gaining what they want, which is control of the front leg, they have actually lost even more control, because standing is a more vulnerable position. They got the opposite of what they wanted. Sometimes this takes help. If it is a Yorkie, you can probably get it done on your own. If it is a German Shepherd, you may need someone else to stand the dog up while you maintain control of the front leg.
Another example would be to push when they pull. When they are pulling to get you to stop doing their nails, try pushing in a short burst. Again, don’t let go. This will slightly knock them off balance and it is most definitely the opposite of what they want. This gives them information which allows them to choose which way they would like to behave. The dog should never be knocked off balance so far as to fall off the table. This would only cause a loss of trust. And possibly the slaughter of your business on the front page of the newspaper, a vet bill, and your integrity.
Remember, not all dogs are fit enough—mentally, physically or both—to do their jobs during grooming. In this case, please use some of the many grooming guidance and support systems that are on the market. There are everything from belly supports to muzzles to keep the dogs and you safe and calm during grooming.
It takes many years to develop your handling skills. I hope these three suggestions help you gain some cooperation from your dogs. Hang in there Sandy! ✂
I am a multi-Best-In-Show and Best-All-Around groomer. I am the recipient of many Barkleigh Honors Awards. I am a Silver and Gold medalist for GroomTeam USA. I am the winner of Show Dog Groomer of the Year. I have been teaching as The Grooming Tutor since 2000. And I groom to make a living, just like you. Please send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org