Ask Dr. Chris

Help! My Dog Freaks Out At The Groomer!

Hi Dr.Chris,

I have a almost 8 yr old cockapoo,  Abby  She HATES to be groomed HATES it!! I had been giving her Benadryl for awhile..seemed ok with it …but now it’s not having the calming effect on her as it used to and her grooming day is a nightmare!! We have to muzzle her and myself and husband have to hold her down(well try to hold her) so the groomer can try to get some hair off….the problem is her two front legs are a mess…tons of hair on them…she WON’T let the groomer near them it’s awful. I talked to my Vet and he give me meds for her..”ACEPROMAZINE”…I am SCARED to death to give them to her…went online to read up on this med and there are too many bad comments from other people who have used this on their dogs with NOT good results… What is your opinion on this med and do you have any idea on anything us I could give her?  Abby has a grooming appt coming up… Thanks Dr. Chris looking forward to hearing from you.

Lorie S.    Rochester, NY

Hi Lorie,

It’s heartbreaking to hear how Abby responds to her grooming appointments.  The response your little girl is having is fear and anxiety and Benadryl is rarely effective at calming a dog down.

It is unfair to her to put her through that stress without helping her feel better.

Acepromazine has been used for years as a sedative for calming a dog down for thunderstorms, grooming appointments, car rides and visits to the veterinarian.  It has gone out of favor for many of these situations, not so much because of safety concerns, but due to it being ineffective.

This medication can cause a decrease in blood pressure but serious side effects are uncommon.  The trouble with any medication is that there are potential side effects and you have to weigh the risk versus the benefit.  “Ace” has been given to tens of millions of dogs so it is not surprising that there are reports of adverse effects.  If an animal is suffering and medication would help reduce the suffering, we need to weigh the risks carefully.

What I have found with acepromazine is that the sedation is effective when a dog isn’t stressed.   Once they get to the vet or groomer, their adrenaline kicks in and they fight the sedation and become a drunk, anxious dog instead of an anxious dog.  This can lead to more difficulty at future grooming appointments due to the negative experience.

Some other options that you could consider:

  1. Behavior modification – this is the process of desensitizing her to the stress through a series of pleasant visits to the groomer with no or minimal grooming involved.  You would bring her to the groomer initially and just reward her with treats but not subject her to the stress of the actual grooming.  This is the long term best option but also the most difficult and may require the help of an animal behavior specialist and the use of anti-anxiety medications.
  2. Heavy sedation at your veterinarian’s office with a basic clip down to remove the matted fur.  This is a good option if you don’t have the time to pursue behavior modification.  She would go to the veterinarian, get a shot in the muscle and become heavily sedated under supervision, and then have the fur shaved, then have another shot to reverse the sedation.  This is much less stressful to Abby as she would feel the injection, fall asleep and wake up without knowing she was groomed.
  3. Use a combination of other medications such as anti-anxiety medications and natural products to improve Abby’s behavior.  One of the natural products I recommend is called dog appeasing pheromone. This is a substance that was isolated from the skin near the mammary glands of nursing mother dogs.   It can have a calming effect on many dogs and helps in alleviating stress in a dog such as Abby, allowing her to have a more relaxed and pleasant grooming experience.  Since there are no side effects to the collar, I recommend you try this in addition to the other strategies that you use.  You can check it out by clicking here:  D.A.P collar
  4. Learn to groom her at home, if she tolerates your efforts better than the groomer’s.  The key here is to use grooming clippers, not scissors.  As an ER vet, I see a dog every few months that needs sutures due to owner inflicted lacerations during grooming.

With Abby being only 8 years old, things will continue to get worse if she is forced to be groomed without reducing her anxiety level.  My preference would be to sedate her at your veterinarian’s office for this round of grooming and then work on the desensitization over the next 3-6 months.  Review these options with your veterinarian and come up with a game plan for her long term well-being!


Dr. Chris Smith
Your dog’s favorite veterinarian



  1. abbylane

    Mar 12, 2017 at 8:54 am

    None of these suggestions work. First of all, the groomers feel uncomfortable with my dog just hanging out there trying to get "desensitized" to the groomers. They think its weird. Next, behavior modification? What a joke. Biggest waste of money. Next, every vet in my area and beyond will NOT sedate her to groom her. They act like it's never be done before. Anxiety medications? My dog is immune to them. So what's left for my dog?

  2. Laura

    Jan 25, 2017 at 4:57 pm

    My dog is 1 year old and hates the groomer also, I am not sure what I am going to do as she tries to run away every time we go to get her groomed, then we we pick her up she is worse as she is panting like a crazy dog and she paces for hours. I am not sure what happens at the groomers, but she hates it I am also looking for a way to get her over her fear and move foreward.

  3. dottie

    Oct 1, 2015 at 6:29 pm

    How is a collar going to calm my dog down? sounds like a scam

  4. Kamy

    Sep 12, 2015 at 9:01 am

    I have a Maltipoo who matts easily. In the past, I had Himalayan cats that also matted easily. Thankfully, I’ve never cut them while grooming–though the clippers have inflicted nips if I tried to use them on the matts.

    For the Maltipoo, I’ve used human hair pick to lift the fur, and clip with scissors–because he is afraid of the sound the clippers make. It seperates the skin from the fur nicely, and he’s actually fallen asleep when I’ve groomed him this way. I’d also attached a harness with a short leash, so he would know he couldn’t run away.

    For matts you have to go VERY slowly! I’ve found a fabric seam-ripper works the best. They are very sharp and very precise, and they can’t cut the skin.

    My son just took the maltipoo to the groomers for the first time 4 days ago. The groomer went too fast and several lacerations showed up the next day. He has been darting around the house ever since. At first, I put antibiotic ointment on the lacerations (around his penis and testicles!!!), and then he could rest calmly. But he hasn’t stopped shaking with anxiety and hiding under furniture since. I’ve started giving him calming drops this morning, and I hope it will relieve his anxiety–along with being at home. He seems freaked out because his hair is all gone–he’s never been shaved before. He looks REALLY good, but was traumatized.

    Groom them at home, or stay with him while he is groomed. For tough matted areas, I like the idea of being sedated at the vet.

  5. Jose

    Feb 8, 2015 at 2:02 am

    Our mini long hair Dachshund, suddenly lost 4.5 lbs in less than three weeks. We re concerned that it is too quick for weight loss.

  6. Keith

    Dec 17, 2014 at 1:56 pm

    Just adopted two abandoned dogs. Both mutts, one is about a year and the other is 3-5. The young one was severely matted. thought she had a hurt paw but while grooming i realized the mats on her back were connected to her back leg, causing hair to pull out if she took a full stride. I’ve always groomed my own dogs so i began with putting the young one on the kitchen island, turning on the shears and placing them on a towel right next to her and gave her a full body massage right down to the toe nails for about 10 minutes, then began slowly trimming off the mats on whatever part of her she allowed me access. She was great for the first 45 minutes then became restless, so i stopped, gave her another massage and a treat and ended it. I been doing this for 3 days and all i have left to do a few small areas of her paws. Today is day 4 and i was sorting paperwork on the island and she went nuts, trying to get up onto the island, so i did the whole process on the floor and now she’s 99% done. Yes it took 4 days but i know in the future i might not have to massage her (although i probably will since the look on her face during the massage is so cute).

  7. Joni

    Dec 8, 2014 at 8:07 pm

    Hi Lorie,
    I am a professional groomer, aromatherapist, Reiki practictioner, and pet massage therapist, and have to say that your sweetie may have been traumatized years ago by a bad situation.
    That being said, I do think that there are many things that you can do to lessen the effects of a bad grooming experience:
    1.) make sure you find a Mobile Groomer that can actually come into your house ( I do that all the time!)..
    2.) you do not need a tranquilizer.
    3.) the dog should meet and greet the groomer well before the actual appointment.
    4.) the dog should receive a massage and .or aromatherapy session before treatment.
    5.) you should stay with your dog throughout the entire grooming session ,so that she knows you are there .. .that is not “weird” or overly-protective; you are her mother !
    6.) the groomer should provide some decent references and not just ones from friends, There should be at least one or two vet referrals in there as well, plus length of time should be more than 3 years or morel; so they are experienced.
    7.) you should absolutely touch your dog’s paws and legs all the time; so that she gets used to being handled in a GOOD WAY; not just when being groomed!
    8.) I do have a video that can advise you how to massage your dog before a grooming. Contact me if you would like more information on this valuable video!

    Thanks so much and best of luck with your sweetie !
    Joni Moore
    Classy Lassies
    973 335 7080

    • Antwan

      Jan 27, 2015 at 12:09 pm

      Hi Joni
      I treat human but not animals this is my first time dealing with animals since I was 2 years old
      I never expected this mixed poodle and pigeon (our dog-Rudy) 2 years old dog Can act like a human
      We took him for grooming on Saturday 4 days ago with my wife when he saw the place he started fighting doesnot want to get out of the car he scratched my face while I am trying to hand him to the groomer
      Unfortunately my wife used to take him before when we brought him back he became a different animal anxious, muscles twitches and even some times like myoclonus jerks, sad, doesn’t drink water lost trust even with me even I am his favored, I tried to spend more time with him, even I let him sleep with me on my bed for the last 3 days to gain the trust back he comes and put his head on my pillow to sleep or attache him self to my body And leak my hands constantly and sleep, but during the day he is different want to stay alone, doesnot want to play, no energy, stays at the window or stays in his bed and distancing him self from us, his second favored is my daughter she is away, this might have some impact coming back Monday.
      I am worried that they might have given him some thing
      He looks like a long time prisoner coming out of torture chamber and lost his brain functions a lot of thing he was trained and used to do it in the past he doesnot do it no more
      We see this in patients with Strokes or dementia
      What you recommend

      Thank you


  8. Rima

    Jun 9, 2014 at 1:48 pm

    In writing my post below I forgot to mention that what really helped my confidence were welding gloves from the welding section of the hardware store. They are soft and padded and go up to the elbows. On one occasion when I was trying to remove weeds from under his chin, the Pom began biting. I retracted my fingers in the large welding gloves and very calmly told him to stop. His entire head swiveled around and he looked at me with respect. No more biting. That was a huge breakthrough. Having protection makes you brave and you can then project that calmness on to the dog.

  9. Rima

    Jun 9, 2014 at 1:19 pm

    I adopted a severely abused 7 yr old pomeranian with severe grooming issues. Horrible things had been done to him like hair stripped off his tail. Couldn’t be bathed without muzzle. Bit his rescue mother who was trying to bathe and groom him before I picked him up. I boiled some lamb. He would do anything for this ” special reward.” We began with sitting then sitting and staying for the special reward and then came “brushies.” I did some really light brushing of small area in front with lots of mention of the special reward to come. Each day more and more areas covered. He began to perk up and dance with delight when asked if he wanted brushies for the special reward. Began to literally thrust his head under the brush. The lamb goes everywhere, even to the vet and groomer. He likes being told he is a good boy. No more problems with him.

  10. Sara

    Jan 13, 2014 at 9:56 pm

    In the second option for the vet how often is it safe to do that? I had my 5 year ok Shih Tzu there today, they sedated him, reversed it and he’s fine. My curiosity is how often is it safe to do that and are there long term affects?

    • Grazina Brown

      May 14, 2015 at 2:19 am

      Sara, I have shi czu and after 9 years , he started to be agressive and bit groomers. Nobody can groom. What to do? Give me advise , please! Greatful Grazina Brown

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