Guardians Provide Comfort to Dogs with Grooming-Related Anxiety

by Elsebeth DeBiase, BAminSC, ICMG, FFCP, LSHC-S
Coastal Creations Pet Salon, Owner

As pet lovers, we strive to provide the best care for our canine companions, including regular grooming. However, despite our efforts to make them feel at ease, dogs can still find grooming stressful. A trip to the groomer may seem routine to us, but each canine will perceive the process differently. A grooming experience tailored to the dog's cosmetic and hygienic needs, as well as behavioral preferences, is a great place to start. If your dog is anxious and having trouble adjusting to grooming, watch for behavior changes, consult a groomer with experience in positive-based grooming practices, and look for a salon that allows owners to stay with their pets. The presence of a pet's guardian might be precisely what an anxious dog needs to feel more comfortable during grooming.

It is essential to recognize that our furry friends communicate through body language. A dog’s subtle signals are easily overlooked but ignoring them can lead to serious consequences. When a dog's efforts to communicate are not acknowledged, it may struggle and bite out of frustration or fear. We can prevent this by paying close attention to our dog’s visual communication and responding with empathy and understanding. Signs of fear, anxiety, and stress can include:

Photo courtesy of LeeAnn Menut, ICMG,
FFCP, Pet Styles by LeeAnn in PA, Owner Victoria, Dog Stemi 10 years old


Mild to moderate indicators:

•    Lip licking

•    Yawning

•    Trembling

•    Tail tucking

•    Avoidance: reduced activity, hiding, turning away

Severe indicators:

•    Pacing

•    Trying to escape.

•    Inappropriate elimination, especially while being handled, bathed, or dried: repeated defecation, diarrhea, urination, or releasing anal sacs.

•    Struggling

•    Repeated attempts to bite.

For dogs exhibiting mild indications of stress, it is imperative to gradually introduce novel grooming environments, tools, or procedures, allowing them time to adjust and feel more comfortable. This measured approach can minimize adverse reactions, improve the overall experience, and build trust. Severe signs of fear, anxiety, and stress are indicators that a dog is unable to cope with the situation. It is recommended to avoid grooming dogs that are exhibiting severe stress. In such cases, it may be advisable to seek the opinion of a veterinarian or a veterinary behaviorist to devise an appropriate care plan for the dog's wellbeing. For a detailed explanation of canine stress, visit

A calm, controlled grooming environment can go a long way to minimizing stress in many dogs. One-on-one grooming establishments, mobile groomers, or in-home groomers often work with one pet at a time with limited distractions. Additionally, professional groomers educated in handling practices focused on reducing pet's stress will be more equipped to provide a supportive environment. Supportive grooming practices may include gentle introductions, positive reinforcement, and minimal restraint. Groomers offering a positive-based grooming approach hold certification from organizations like the Holistic Grooming Academy, Fear Free and Low Stress Handling University.

Low-volume grooming facilities offer an ideal location for a pet guardian to provide additional support for the dog during the grooming process. Young puppies, dogs with limited handling experience (such as those from puppy mills), older dogs, and those with health issues may benefit from having the guardian stay for all or part of the grooming process. A 2020 study in the Journal of American Veterinary Medicine revealed that dogs exhibited decreased stress indicators and better tolerance towards routine exams when its owner was present, even if it was anxious. [1] Master Groomer LeeAnn Menut, FFCP, who focuses on respecting pet’s behavioral responses, agrees with this study. She says, "insecure and elderly pets tend to do much better when their owners support them through the grooming process." Even so, it is best to inquire about staying with your dog before making an appointment with your local groomer and consider these tips before you arrive:

•    Wear old clothes. It is a messy job.

•    Follow the groomer's instructions on where to stand and where to place your hands. Remember that groomers work with sharp tools.

•    Apply a supportive hold to your dog when necessary, but do not over-restrain. Tightly holding your dog may cause it to struggle.

•    Focus on comfort, not a perfect haircut.

•    Stay calm.

Lastly, many dogs require extra help to feel comfortable during grooming. A consistent and gentle approach can be instrumental in fostering a trusting relationship between the dog and the groomer. By establishing a nurturing and patient environment with the help of the pet guardian, the groomer can gradually build the dog's confidence and minimize stress and anxiety.

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