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Grooming Anxiety: Help Your Dog Conquer Fear of Nail Trims and More

For some dogs, a trip to the groomer isn’t a relaxing day at the spa. It’s their worst nightmare and it generates intense anxiety.

We talked to a Fear Free® certified dog groomer and got expert tips on how to help our dogs conquer their fear of nail trims and more.

Why Do Some Dogs Have Grooming Anxiety?

For dogs, a trip to the groomer is filled with many unknowns, loud sounds, and sensory overload from being handled in ways they’re not accustomed to.

In fact, the struggle with anxiety likely begins long before they set their first paw inside the groomers.

In the video below, Lead Trainer at Fear Free Pets, Mikkel Becker, explains how to make a dog more comfortable at the groomer.

We also spoke with Fear Free Certified Groomer, Kim Kier, who describes the emotional roller coaster many anxious dogs experience:

“They arrive at the grooming shop with a heightened emotional level where their trusted parents drop them off in a foreign place with a stranger. Couple that with other dogs in the area, new smells, and a stranger taking them further into an unknown location. That’s enough to put almost anyone on defensive mode.”

She adds, “The grooming process brings a whole new set of scary sights, sounds, and touches.”

dog looking out the window at the groomer
Some dogs experience separation anxiety while at the groomer.

First, they’re placed in a tub and many dogs are not fans of baths. Then they’re placed high up on a table and subjected to a loud blow dryer. After that, their paws, body, and tails are touched and manipulated all while enduring the loud buzzing of clippers.

The entire process, though necessary, can be almost too much for some pups to handle.

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What Are Signs of Grooming Anxiety?

Does your dog freak out at trips to the groomer? Or when getting their nails trimmed and around bath time?

Here are common signs that your dog has grooming anxiety:

  • Excessive panting
  • Lip licking
  • Tucked tail 
  • Shaking
  • Hiding
  • Yawning

Kim Kier, quoted earlier, adds, “A few big warning signs to pay special attention to are barking with eye contact, wide eyes with ears back, or a stiff body.”

A stressed and overwhelmed dog is more likely to become reactive and may risk hurting themselves or someone else. 

Sadly, some dogs struggle so much that their owners may choose to forego important grooming trips altogether. The dogs may hate being brushed and especially dislike their paws being handled for nail trims. Their anxiety can escalate to the point where this basic grooming feels nearly impossible.

But every dog needs regular grooming for their health and hygiene. Without regular brushing and washing, dogs’ fur can develop mats which can lead to infections and irritated skin.

When a dog’s nails aren’t trimmed, the effects are a lot like wearing shoes that are too tight. 

Over time, the nails constantly hit the ground and exert force back into the nail bed. This causes pain, and discomfort and can even make your dog more susceptible to injuries in their joints and forelegs.

Dog at groomer
For dogs who need a groomer, skipping visits can affect their health and well-being.

So as much as we don’t want our fur family to stress out about grooming sessions, skipping these tasks altogether is not the solution!

Thankfully, there are several steps you can take to help your dog conquer their fear of nail trims and more.

What Can You Do to Prepare Your Dog for the Groomer?

As pet parents, there are several things we can do to alleviate our pups’ fear, stress, and anxiety before visiting the groomer.

While at home:

  1. Socialize them with other dogs. This is especially important for younger dogs, as there is a short window of time when puppies are the most impressionable. Socializing your dog with a variety of people, situations, and other dogs can help them become more easygoing. Kim suggests taking a puppy class, “walking your dog at the dog park, or other situations where they feel comfortable being around other dogs.”
  1. Get them used to physical touch. Grooming sessions are loaded with physical touch, so if your pup hates being handled, you can get them acclimated at home. Kim recommends, “Start touching their feet, face, bottom, and rubbing them all over their body. This will get them used to being touched. Remember, if their owner can’t touch their feet because they are scared of their dog’s reaction, then they shouldn’t expect a stranger to be able to touch their feet.”
  1. Practice at Home. As we mentioned earlier, a grooming visit can become sensory overload for your dog, so practicing at home with various stimuli can help them get acclimated. 
Neakasa at home grooming tool
Practice grooming at home to help your dog prepare for vet visits.

“For dogs that are scared of the loud vibrating clippers, practice rubbing an electric toothbrush over the dog’s body. Comb or brush their body and face while a hair dryer or similar noise device is going on in the background. This gets them used to the blow dryer. Rub their paws to get them used to someone handling them.”

Kim Kier, Fear Free Certified Dog Groomer
  1. Crate train your dog. Kim comments, “At some point in a dog’s life, they will be placed in a crate. Whether that occurs at the vet, grooming shop, or in an emergency situation, it will help the dog to know that being in a crate isn’t a bad thing.” In addition, a crate can actually help anxious dogs feel more safe when they’re triggered. Check out my blog post on how to crate train an anxious pup. 
  1. Teach them how to get in and out of a washtub. This is especially important for larger breed dogs, as it creates a challenge getting them bathed. If your pup is fearful of the tub, then it can be very stressful for them and their groomer. 
  2. Travel with your dog. Many dogs just aren’t used to car rides. So their anxiety isn’t only stemming from their grooming appointment, but it also is triggered by traveling. Thankfully, this can be overcome by getting your pup used to car rides. Plan more outings to fun places like the dog park, hiking trails, or the beach. In time your fur friend will associate car rides with good things.

With repetition and positive reinforcement, these four basic steps can go a long way in helping your dog to conquer their fears. 

But there’s still much you can do as your grooming appointment nears. In fact, your own demeanor and how you approach grooming day can get your pup into the right frame of mind.

Day of the appointment:

  1. Don’t be in a rush, take your time. Our best fur friends are so perceptive. They can sense our stress and worry and become overly stressed themselves. So the calmer, and more relaxed you are, the less likely they will be to lose their cool.
  2. Limit feeding and time their potty breaks. According to Kim Kier, “Don’t feed your dog one hour before your appointment, and be sure to take your dog to potty before leaving for the groomer.”
  3. Bring comforting toys, blankets, or treats. Who doesn’t love being comforted and reassured when they’re afraid? Your pup will appreciate having familiar items nearby at their appointment. Kim suggests, “Some items that you could bring that may assist in reducing stress while at the shop are something that smells like home such as a small toy and some of their favorite treats.”
  4. Stay upbeat and positive. “When arriving at the grooming shop,” says Kim, “speak in a happy voice to your dog so that they can associate this trip with being happy.” Your own mood and disposition can help your fur family be less fearful.
Tulip playing with Knots of fun toy
Pack your pup’s favorite toy for their trip to the groomer.

“Just remember that your dog will feed off of your emotions. If you are stressed, anxious, angry, unsure, or fearful for any reason, even if it doesn’t have anything to do with taking your dog to the groomer, your dog will be stressed, anxious, angry, unsure, or fearful.”

Kim Kier, Fear Free Certified Dog Groomer

Make an appointment with a Fear Free® Groomer

Here at Pet Living, we deeply appreciate the Fear Free program. Their mission is to “prevent and alleviate fear, anxiety, and stress in pets by inspiring and educating the people who care for them.”

As a result, there are groomers, veterinarians, and other pet professionals who become Fear Free certified and employ best practices for dealing with anxious cats and dogs.

Dog visiting the groomer
Visiting the groomer can be scary for dogs, but a Certified Fear Free® groomer can help.

Kim, quoted earlier, explains, “The Fear Free training teaches the groomer to identify the signs of fear, anxiety, and stress and provides some possible tools or methods that could be incorporated to assist in making the dog more comfortable and calm such that the groom could be completed in a more cooperative way.”

If your dog has a history of anxious grooming visits or nail trims, you can request a meet and greet with the groomer as a first step to building rapport in a low-stress environment. 

Once your dog arrives for their actual appointment, their Fear Free Groomer will observe and continuously assess your dog’s emotional state for the entire session. If your pup becomes agitated, then the groomer will then tailor the appointment to their needs based on Fear Free training methods.

You can take comfort that your Fear Free groomer is working with you to alleviate your fur family’s stress so that they can have an optimal grooming visit to keep them calm, clean, and fluffy!

Go here to find a Fear Free Groomer near you.

The Tail End

You can conquer your dog’s fear of nail trims and their overall grooming anxiety! Your precious pup doesn’t have to remain fearful and anxious. 

With consistency, practice at home, and the help of Fear Free certified professionals, your pup will be ready for their grooming visits in no time.

Kristen Levine is a nationally acclaimed pet expert, influencer, and Fear Free Certified® Professional with over 30 years of experience working with pets.

Through this blog and her book, Pampered Pets on a Budget, Kristen has helped millions of pet parents solve problems and provide the best care for their dogs and cats.

Working alongside hundreds of pet professionals, including veterinarians, behaviorists and trainers inspired Kristen to become a pet parenting “guide”, providing readers with reliable information about health, wellness and lifestyle for dogs and cats and the people who love them.

A dogged advocate for pet adoption and rescue, Kristen has featured over 1,000 adoptable dogs and cats from the SPCA on live television and radio appearances to get them adopted. Her blog, KristenLevine.com has been featured in over 100 media outlets – including the New York Times, USA Today, FOX & Friends, Good Morning America, Women's Day, Reader's Digest, Good Housekeeping, Pop Sugar and more.

To stay up to date on the latest health and lifestyle trends for pets, Kristen regularly attends the top veterinary and pet product conferences, where she’s often a featured speaker.

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