Five ways to help your dog shine at the groomer 

By Dr. Beth Leermakers

It’s important to get your puppy or new dog used to the grooming process.

With a house full of short-haired dogs, I can’t remember the last time I took a dog to a groomer. My dogs usually get their nails trimmed at the vet clinic, and I occasionally spray them down with the hose after a particularly stinky trip to the lake. Yet, for many pet owners, particularly those with long-haired, higher maintenance dogs, trips to the groomer may be a weekly reality. 

You may be tempted to just hand your dog over to the groomer without doing anything to prepare your pup for the experience. After all, you’re paying a professional to make your dog pretty. According to dog groomers, that’s a mistake. 

Dogs that are uncomfortable being touched, let alone poked and prodded, feel stressed at the groomer, making the groomer’s job more difficult and the canine spa day less than relaxing for your pooch. Groomers encourage dog parents to follow these five steps to prepare your dog for her day of beauty:

Introduce your puppy or new adult dog to the grooming process right away. At a minimum, most dogs will need regular nail trims and the occasional bath, so it’s important to get your puppy or new dog used to the process. Start by giving your dog treats while you touch his tail and ears and hold his feet (as if you were going to trim his nails). Put your dog in the bathtub and let him smell the shampoo bottle while giving him treats — before you even turn on the water. One friend coats the bathtub walls with peanut butter, giving her dog something yummy to do during bath time. You want to convey that there’s nothing to worry about; getting a bath is a pleasant treat. If your dog will require regular grooming, take her for a few low-pressure “getting to know you” sessions so she can become familiar and comfortable with the groomer and the setting. 

Use a scrub brush when bathing your pooch. Using a scrub brush during the bath removes caked-on dirt, exfoliates the skin and removes dead coat, preventing matting. Use a scrub brush on your dog at home so he doesn’t flip out when the groomer starts scrubbing him like a potato. Groomers also recommend using conditioner after the shampoo, even for short-coated dogs. Shampoo removes dirt and oils from the coat, leaving the skin clean but porous. 

Conditioner closes the pores and hair shaft while protecting the coat from tangles and breakage. 

Brush your pup regularly — ideally daily — between spa sessions. The more often you brush your dog, the more comfortable she’ll feel at the groomer. Furthermore, you’ll prevent mats and tangles. If your pup is too matted, the groomer will have to spend longer de-tangling his fur (prolonging the discomfort for a nervous dog) and may wind up having to shave him. If you prefer a longer, fluffier look, spend a few minutes every day on at-home maintenance. Groomers recommend starting with a slicker brush and then moving on to a fine-tooth comb. I’ve had good luck with the Furminator — ideal for double-coated dogs. When I brushed my husky, I wound up with enough hair to outfit another dog. Birds can use that hair to build their nests, so you may want to put the dog hair in your yard for the birds to collect. 

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Take your dog for a pit stop before her grooming session. Having to go the bathroom while someone is pulling on your fur makes the experience even more uncomfortable for nervous and not-so-nervous dogs. Most groomers are too busy to take your pup outside for a pre-groom potty break, so be sure your dog “goes” before you drop her off. 

Don’t hover during the grooming session. Leave your dog in the groomer’s capable hands. Unless the groomer specifically asks you to do so, don’t stay to watch or “help.” This is not the time to be a helicopter dog parent. 

You may think your presence makes your pup calmer, but the opposite may be true. If you’re worried about your dog, you may transmit your own anxiety to your dog. I once took a new foster dog straight from the shelter to a dog wash facility where I was supposed to wash the dog myself.  

Worried that Sue Ellen would show aggression toward the dogs that were hanging out in the bathing area (she didn’t), I was making my dog anxious. After watching me struggle for a few minutes, the salon owner politely suggested I back away from Sue Ellen, and she took over bathing her. If you stay with your dog, she may squirm on the table, trying to get to you. A moving target is more likely to get nicked by sharp scissors. Trust your groomer to take good care of your dog, and allow him/her to bond with Spot during the session. 

By following these tips, you’ll set your dog up to have a more pleasant, relaxing spa outing. Hopefully your dog won’t run away from you when it’s time to load up in the car. Or you could use a mobile grooming service, which comes to you. Either way, your dirty dog will happily transform into a clean, lean, loving machine with less stress and mess.