How is your dog being groomed?

Having had poodles most of my life, I have a strong dabbling in the grooming industry. This blog is going to draw me a lot of fire, but I very strongly believe that owners should be given the power of informed consent when it comes to their animal’s care. It’s up to you to decide how your dog is treated, that is your legal right. What you decide is your prerogative.

Like it or not, most dogs require some form of grooming. This can be pleasurable, to endurable, to inspiring abject terror in the hearts of some dogs, a necessary evil. But what makes that difference?

Just like some people, some dogs are simply worriers by personality, by life experience, and some have a low pain threshold and may even have physical traits to groom that are difficult as it is. For instance, very fine, curly coats are often prone to matting (knots), and will require some pulling at tangles. At best, it’s not going to feel great, at worst, it will be painful. It also depends on technique, tool, and upkeep (as in keeping up with frequent brushing).

But this blog focuses on life experience. What, exactly, happens at the groomer’s?

Grooming in and of itself can be a scary, invasive procedure for animals who don’t comprehend the necessity of it; this can be true even with the best, most gentle of groomers. What does a dog understand of a high velocity blow dryer needing to be aimed at them, with the heat, loud roar, and pushing of skin? What does a dog understand of clippers vibrating against their sensitive skin? Or a human’s face in their face (pretty confrontational, try it some time on a stranger if you don’t mind the risk of getting punched) as their hair is being scissored? How about the squeezing of the vein in the nails when they’re being clipped? (Sometimes is the case, and dogs can remember even if it only happened once.)

Dogs are pretty simple creatures, despite what you might hear. They really don’t set out to be difficult just to be difficult. What would be the point? Why should a dog try to prevent grooming by acting up if they were well and fine with the process? If they were just dandy with it, why put the effort into trying to stop it? Your dog isn’t trying to spite you. Your dog isn’t a difficult, complicated human.

But what about when grooming isn’t made to be as endurable as possible? What about when it’s traumatic for the dog? What, exactly, are some groomers doing?

The largest publication in the grooming industry is Groomer to Groomer by Barkleigh Productions. Their spokesperson trainer publishes behavioral advice in this publication, and does consults and seminars for groomers countrywide (USA). Please take a look at the advice groomers are being given, and ask yourself some questions:

1. Did your groomer tell you that they’re doing this to your dog?

2. Did your groomer get your consent to do this to your dog?

  1. Do you want this to be happening to your dog?

This is one of his many articles in Groomer to Groomer, most have similar advice:

You can also see some of his seminars on his YouTube channel, here is one such video, but you can see his others as well:

As you can see, advice is not limited to his patented “bonks”.

Then we have the most famous groomer in the world, and many other groomers subscribe to his teachings: Namely, dogs are always trying to take over, so we must subdue them with a barrage of manhandling. Often, over the top tactics. This usually consists of “alpha rolls”, which is pinning the dog on his side until he stops struggling, jabs to the throat “hand bites”, cutting off air with collars/grooming loops, and similar. I will not name the man here, and I won’t bother linking to one of his videos because they’re often pulled off the internet when they get negative attention. If you can guess who I’m talking about, you can find his videos on your own easily enough and as a bonus, he does have a nice one where he’s giving treats to a scared dog during a bath. Although…. The food isn’t being utilized correctly, I have to say, which hinders success. (Food is another training tool and like any tool, execution must be correct to ensure likelihood of success.)

Some groomers also come up with ideas of their own, of course. I’ve seen dogs sprayed with water bottles for barking, shock collars put on, dogs struck, and so on. Even a dog being given treats without your knowledge would be a concern for me. Allergies, health problems, and other issues may be of importance.

Whether you feel that the kind of handling mentioned in this blog is suitable or not suitable for your dog is besides the point, the point is that owners are not being told that this is occurring, they are not able to grant their permission, and thus they are not able to decide how their dog is treated.

So, what can we do to avoid all this, if you are of mind to? I’m not entirely sure, honestly, because there’s usually no perfect solution. Like me, you can learn to groom your dog yourself, you can hire a groomer to come to your home to groom in front of you, you can hire a groomer who lets you watch (even from a distance where your dog isn’t aware you’re there because some claim this makes the dogs behave poorly), you can use groomers who have to practice on display (think open grooming set ups where shoppers can see), or you can simply talk to your groomer and decide if you’re able to trust that these things aren’t happening.

While it’s no sure bet, red flags for me are usually talk of being the “alpha”, “dominance/submissiveness”, “needing to show them who’s boss/being in charge”, “calm assertive”, and dogs being blamed for being “bad dogs/spoiled/wanting to get their way”.

Sometimes, but not always, the presence of safety gear may indicate a groomer who doesn’t need to resort to manhandling. This could be a tethering system (Groomer’s Helper, LIPs system), Elizabethan collars, Kongs, and similar.

You may be wondering why some groomers manhandle dogs this way? Well, grooming is a difficult job. Dogs don’t understand and make the process a struggle, some owners have unrealistic expectations (please don’t expect long, beautiful coat miracles if you never brush your dog, for example), dogs have never been trained to overcome their fear of certain grooming procedures, and furthermore it’s back breaking labor. It’s a lot of work! Hard work.

Groomers have a job to do and it ain’t easy, for sure. But that doesn’t make subjecting your dog to this kind of treatment without your knowledge and permission okay.

And if you’ve found a groomer who is upfront with you, gentle and makes grooming as pleasant as possible for your dog? Grab a hold of that groomer and don’t let go! He/she is worth their weight in gold! Consider recommending them to your friends, family, and vet so that their business can flourish and they can continue practicing. We have a mantra in the animal behavior field; positive reinforcement works on people too!


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