Separation Anxiety: Not Just for Pets!

By Kathy Hosler

I took my sweet Flat Coated Retriever, Lil Abner, to be neutered today. I had complete confidence in his veterinarian and her staff. After all, she has cared for all my animals for close to thirty years and I have never had a problem of any kind.

Even though I fully expected everything to go smoothly during the surgery, I still felt a twinge of apprehension as I drove to the clinic. Picking up on my nervousness, Lil Abner was trembling when we entered the veterinarian’s lobby.

As usual, we were warmly greeted by the staff, and they made a big fuss over Lil Abner as they took him to the back. But, the look in his eyes when I handed his leash to the vet tech made me feel guilty. They said that they would call me around 11:00am to let me know how the surgery went.

I went home to a quiet house. There was no Lil Abner to greet me at the door. Throughout the morning, thoughts kept creeping into my mind as I watched the clock: Why haven’t they called? Why is it taking so long? Has something gone wrong during the surgery and they don’t want to call me? Why did I even decide to have him neutered?

As I was fretting and getting myself worked up, the phone rang. It was the clinic manager. She said that the surgery went flawlessly and that I could pick up Lil Abner in an hour. Immediately, I felt a bit foolish for allowing myself to worry unnecessarily. My Lil Abner was his happy, waggy, loving self when I picked him up.

That experience gave me a new outlook on separation anxiety. Pets aren’t the only ones that experience it. In fact, sometimes it’s the owner that feels extreme stress and anxiety when they leave their pet at a boarding kennel, veterinarian or a grooming salon.

For many, they are not just leaving a pet, they are entrusting you with the most precious thing in their lives. The act of handing their pet to someone else can be very upsetting for them, especially if it is their first appointment with you.

We groomers often don’t realize how difficult it can be for the owners when they are separated from their pet. Even though our main job is to care for the pets, sometimes we have to tend to an overly anxious owner’s needs too.

Did you know that the way you interact with the owner and their pet at drop–off has a huge bearing on how they both act while the pet is being groomed? When a new client comes in, greet them and their pet promptly and cheerfully. During check–in, don’t rush. If grooming is new to the pet, it’s probably new to the owner too.

Calmly examine the pet and evaluate its condition. Discuss what type of clip is feasible based on the condition of the cat or dog’s coat. Tell the client what the grooming will entail and approximately how long it will take. Assure them that you will not stress the animal when grooming is new to them, and that you will take whatever time is necessary to allow their pet to enjoy the process.

It’s often helpful to give the owner a brochure about the grooming procedure to read at home. No matter how clearly you explain what you are going to do to their pet, many owners are so anxious that they don’t really listen or retain what you have told them. Many salons also have the owner sign a release form before they accept a pet for grooming.

The most stressful time for many owners is when they have to hand their pet to someone and leave. Often they will cling to the pet and talk baby talk to them. They think that they are consoling them, but, in reality, they are causing increased anxiety for the pet and themselves. Then, the pet starts trembling and the owner hugs it even tighter. It’s a vicious cycle. We’ve all had clients where you almost have to pry the pet from the death grip that they have on them.

To avoid traumatic, tearful farewells, tell the owner that long, drawn–out good–byes escalate the amount of nervousness and apprehension their pet feels. Then say, “The best thing that you can do for your precious baby is to calmly hand him/her to me, give it a loving pat and a cheerful goodbye, and then quickly leave.”

Some groomers allow owners to remain during the groom, but I strongly prefer that they leave. I have always found that the dogs and cats behave much better for me when the owners are not present. I give them a time to return for their pet, or tell them that I will call them a little bit before it is ready. That way they can arrive at the salon about the same time as the pet is finished.

A quick phone call to the owner shortly after they drop off their pet to tell them how things are going can really reassure them. That may help keep them from calling you every fifteen minutes to check on their baby. It’s even better if you take a couple of photos of their pet during the groom to send to them.

When they pick up their freshly groomed dog or cat, it is also a nice touch to give them a Pet Report Card or a Little Angel Award—or even a Little Devil Award (available for purchase at Barkleighstore.com). You can’t imagine how many owners will post a picture of their pet and the awards all over social media. And, as we all know, free advertising like this is priceless.

Small things like these awards, or fancy bows and bandanas, make your clients feel very special and encourage them to look forward to their pet’s next appointment. And, that appointment should be made at pick–up before they leave your salon.

We groomers have to deal with many issues on a daily basis and separation anxiety is one that we have all experienced. You will never completely eliminate it, but incorporating some of these anxiety–reducing solutions can really help mitigate the problem and make grooming more enjoyable for everyone.✂