Help! My Dog Freaks Out At The Groomer!

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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!

Sincerely,

Dr. Chris Smith
Your dog’s favorite veterinarian

22 COMMENTS

  1. 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.

  2. 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).

  3. 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 !
    Sincerely,
    Joni Moore
    Classy Lassies
    973 335 7080

    • 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

      Antwan

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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?

  7. My dog hates people he was abused so is very fear aggressive I have tried everything but nothing works I have done dog classes which he passed he knows his commands and is a very lovely dog but when other people approach him especially men he goes mental I home groom my boy an yes it may be a bit messy but he is calm when I do it my problem are his feet I can’t get anywhere near him I tried Muzzling him it just made him worse and he has bit me when trying to work with his feet would ACE work on him I know a vet as a personal friend and she is just a call away if i needed her but I worry about him so much even a trip to the vets causes sever stress and aggression at one stage a groomer told me to have him put down which broke my heart he means alot to me he is a 3year old Springer Spaniel Collie Cross (sprollie)

  8. One of my Cairn Terriers can’t stand grooming of any kind by us at home or at the groomers. She squirms and squeals even when just being brushed. They should be stripped, but I think the groomer is scissoring more and more each time. They go again next week and we’ll see what happens. I may give the one a bit of Rescue Remedy before we go.

  9. Try to find a groomer that works out of her home, or has her shop on her property. This way she isn’t being watched by a boss with her eye on the clock. Most groomers in shops with a boss are assembly line groomers and have to work fast. In the many years that I’ve been grooming, the dogs that were most nervous where probably abused by a previous groomer. I live in a rural town and every time I saw a dog like this, I would insist that the owner stay. I would take extra time. I would stroke the dogs face and massage the dog until he was relaxed. I would start slowly and pick up speed if they let me. In my town, word about abusive groomers got around. One groomer used to stick the dog in the chest with razor sharp sissors. I knew them all and would suggest that they go along with the dog. If the dog is happy and interacts with the groomer in a friendly way, you know the dog was treated gently. Sedatives are good for a while ’till the dog gets used to the groomer.

  10. I had the smae problem with my dogs when they went to the groomer. The stress level was extrememly high…biting and anger issues. It was terrible. Finally my groomer said do not ever bring them back unless we sedate them heavily. I knew this was not the answer for me.
    I looked into another groomer and finally found one willing to take a chance…she was in the country in a retreat setting. They went played were both groomed and when I picked them up she said I am not sure why the other groomer had a problem but they both were best bahaved here!
    Sometimes it is not the dog…it is the groomer or the environment. They dog is not comfortable or settled. Maybe all they need is a change?

  11. Other things to consider to help prevent this from starting:

    1. Take your new pet or puppy to a canine good citizen class. Teach them how to properly walk on leash, how to meet strangers and other dogs, and how to behave in public. It will also teach you how to be a more confident and knowledgable owner. The more confidence your dog has in you, and you in yourself, the more likely you will have good experiences in place of unhappy experiences.

    2. Don’t let “going to the groomer” be the only time your pet is groomed. Bathe, brush, comb, clean teeth and ears at home from the time they are puppies. You can brush your pet on the floor or in your easy chair in front of the TV, in a very relaxed manner. It’s a very bonding exercise. It also gives you an opportunity to check for fleas, ticks, or hot spots that might need attention. As well, they learn that grooming can be enjoyable.

    3. Encourage friends or visitors to pet you animals and handle their feet, scratch their ears, rub their tummies. This gets them used to having others touch and handle them.

    4. Take your pet out in public so they can have experience meeting strangers and being exposed to new sounds, scenes, machinery, etc. this will increase their own self confidence.

    5. Keep your dog on leash when in public. This will keep them and you safer, but it will also teach them who is always in charge.

  12. Hi I have a 4yr old Australian shepherd and I have to groom her at home and that,s ok seeing no groomers will do her unless she out! so we do it @ home . she a red merle aussie and surtin drugs affect her system and could be bed side affect.

  13. I groom my own dogs, 2 poodles and a maltepoo. It’s really not that hard. Use clippers like the vet said. Most of the home clipper sets come with comb guides that you attach to the clipper for different length settings. I even purchased a grooming table so they’re at a comfortable height for me. It may take a while before you’re completely happy with your result, but your dog won’t care and will be less stressed. In the long run you’ll save money!!

  14. I’ve recently changed groomers and this type of problem has started at the new groomer. They give him a beautiful haircut but I’m so upset about muzzling and restraining a dog to groom him. The previous groomer never said he was a problem. I’m probably going to look for someone else.

  15. I had a poodle who hated the groomer..even if we drove by the shop he’s sit up and pant and stress until we went by. One day she told me she had to muzzle him because he tried to bite her.
    I took him to a new groomer one day and I warned her about him. I got there to get him and his tail was wagging, and he was a happy camper…Turns out my old groomer was burning his feet and didn’t catch it…After a groom or two at the new shop, she no longer had to muzzle him. In fact he was happy to go there.
    Maybe it’s not the grooming..maybe it’s the groomer???????????????????

  16. I love love love this answer! Finally someone gets it! I have been grooming for 19 yrs and have been saying this to customers almost as long. I appreciate your comment about “drunk, anxious dog”. It reminds me of the you tube video about the little boy freaking out in the car after dental sedation. I have found that dogs fight the feeling and it does make things worse. I agree with having the dog sedated at the vets and have them take down the coat. This fresh start makes desensitizing sooo much easier. I have suggested to my clients that they bring the dog into the shop as much as they can between appointments just to get a treat, run around a little bit, get some positive attention, love and hugs(if they let me),and even if it’s all of 30 seconds it has been a positive association and experience for them. Hopefully this owner and her dog, and others like her, are able to find and experienced, patient groomer that is willing to take the time it takes to work through the problems. I’ve had success with dogs that have been kicked out of all the other shops by asking the dog NOT be drugged, letting me take my time to guage the dogs’ fears, triggers, and tolerance levels. I allow the owners to sit through the entire process. Many dogs are comforted by this, though not all. It’s amazing what a few steps away from the table, or just the owner sittin down a couple feet away can do! It seems best to work with these dogs in a quiet setting, not a busy shop with noises that could stress out the dog even more. This can be a problem with scheduling but my reasoning is this: they have to get groomed. Period. Extra time taken now is absolutey vital for success in the future. Why put the dog, and the groomer through all that stress for the next how many year? It’s a no brainer. It’s worth it to look hard for a groomer that will do this. Thank You for your answer to her! Hope she listens!

    • Hello!
      I have a two year old male shih tzu that has terrible anxiety with grooming. I am having trouble finding a groomer who will work with his needs. I loved what you posted and would like to inquire you about working with him, located in Rochester,NY area.
      Thank you,
      Kaitlyn

    • I too am happy to hear these great recommendations. The initial clip under reversible sedation administered by the vet works beautifully, then you can start with desensitization and counter-conditioning. So much questionable advice on the net, but yours is excellent!

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