Learning Patience in Grooming Dogs
By Lindsay Vest
After 23 years in the grooming industry you begin to notice that patience is a learned behavior. Some of us may be naturally inclined to be more patient than others, but I firmly believe that it can be developed in anyone.
I am sure that if you have been grooming dogs long enough you have also found yourself frustrated with a dog at some point. This happens to all of us, but how you handle it makes a world of difference. After witnessing heavy handling over the years and reading about mishandling of pets in grooming shops, I made a decision that I never wanted to be that person. I started to rethink how I approach my clients.
Often, the source of frustration for people dealing with a misbehaving dog is the misconception that the dog is being contrary; that the dog is making a conscious decision to make your job difficult. This is a form of anthropomorphism. Understanding that the dog is simply reacting to the situation can change your reaction.
An uncooperative dog’s behavior is not personal, it stems from some other place. There can be underlying medical conditions causing them pain. Biting and panic are signs of fear, usually from lack of socialization and training, though even dogs can suffer from mental illness. Empathy for the dog you are working on can truly transform your level of patience.
As we are working with a dog, we should always be mindful of how we touch and manipulate their bodies. It’s so easy to get caught up in our schedules or own thoughts and forget we are working with a living creature. I always try to keep in mind how I, myself, would like to be treated in a similar situation.
Picture yourself unable to verbally communicate, perhaps fearful or hurting, and being restrained. That could be pretty scary! For those dogs who have never been groomed, it could quickly become overwhelming for them. I also try to imagine that it was my own dog. How would you feel if you found that someone was mishandling YOUR baby? We should be working within the dog’s comfort level.
If you have a highly reactive dog and you can’t finish the groom or can’t get the finish you are looking for, it doesn’t have to be perfect. Sometimes it’s just good enough. If you find that you are growing too frustrated with a dog, give both you and the dog a break. If you are worried about your schedule, call the owner. Perhaps reschedule for a quieter time or ask them to wait for a call to pick up. Explain that you want to give their dog the most positive experience possible. Know when to say no. If you get that dog who is so over wrought that they may hurt themselves, refer them to a veterinarian groomer.
A good understanding of behavior and body language will go a long way in preventing many of the behaviors that frustrate groomers. Much of our job is training our dog clients how to accept grooming.
Here are some tips to help the grooming process go as smoothly as possible:
- Hand Placement: Something as simple as hand placement can drastically change a dog’s behavior. When introducing the dog to water or a high velocity dryer, a hand laid gently on the back or side can have a calming effect.
- Use Grooming Aids: Tools like the Happy Hoodie, cushioned table mats and restraint systems can make the dog more comfortable.
- Gentle Pressure: Rather than fighting a dog to stand, use gentle pressure with two fingers under the belly to get a heavy dog up. Remember to give the command for stand for future grooms.
- Body Awareness: Pay attention to how you are manipulating their legs and necks. Stay within their normal range of motion to prevent struggling.
- Gentle Handling: Less is more when it comes to restraint. Too much can lead to panic. Apply only the least amount of pressure needed to get the job done.
- Get the Owners Involved: Talk to them about things they can do at home to help the dog accept grooming.
- Atmosphere: Try to keep the atmosphere calm.
Above all else, be safe. It is a great honor to be entrusted with the care of people’s beloved pets and we should do everything in our power to avoid betraying that trust.
Lindsay Vest has been an animal lover her whole life and started grooming dogs at 15 years of age in 1996. At 16 years old she became interested in showing dogs in conformation and bought her first show dog, a Pug. She was officially a dog person from that moment on. Later, Lindsay got into Tibetan Spaniels and started showing them in 2000. She bred under the prefix of Vestal and produced 14 AKC champions. Lindsay has used all of the things she has learned showing and applied it to her grooming career, including producing correct breed standard grooms and advancing her grooming and handling skills.