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My childhood dog, a Wire Fox Terrier named Scooter, was terrified of the groomer. Her anxiety started on the drive over and continued through her entire grooming session. At every appointment, she showed signs of anxiousness, including panting, whining, salivating, trembling and even becoming physically ill. When it was over, she looked great — a clean coat and a precise cut — but she was exhausted and traumatized.
Not all dogs are afraid of the groomer, but, like Scooter, many are. Their responses can vary from mild anxiety to full-blown panic attacks.
No matter how your dog’s fear manifests itself, it is important to take preventive measures to address his anxiety before it escalates into aggression. Here are my top tips for reducing the fear factor at the groomer.
Take the stress out of the ride. Car rides can provoke anxiety; a dog who arrives at the groomer already stressed out and anxious can be an extra challenge. There are a couple of reasons your dog may dislike the car. He may be anxious about the ride itself or the anticipated destination — like the groomer. Counter conditioning can help ease your dog’s fear and increase his enjoyment of riding in the car. His anxiety and discomfort may also be related to motion sickness. Talk to your veterinarian to see if an antinausea medication may be helpful.
Get your dog used to being handled. Grooming often includes handling of sensitive areas, including the muzzle, eyes, ears, paws, tail, rear and groin. Training can help your dog remain relaxed with different types of touching, even in sensitive spots. Work with your dog at home to get him used to being handled before you take him to the groomer. Pair a predictor word, like “ears,” with a gentle touch on that specific area; reward your dog with a treat during or immediately after giving the cue and handling the area. Go slowly: If your dog is sensitive in an area like the paws, start by touching him on an area where he is less sensitive, like his shoulder, and gradually move toward the paw. Continue training only while he is relaxed and receptive.
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