Grooming a difficult dog is a challenging task for even the most well-trained pet parents and dog groomers. All dogs require some level of grooming throughout their lives – from nail trimming to baths, brushing to using clipper and scissors.
The key to getting a dog used to grooming is starting them off young with touching, brushing, bathing, etc. However, not everyone has this opportunity as your dog may be older or simply hates grooming no matter what you do.
As a Cocker Spaniel mom of over 30 years, I have a ton of experience with dog groomers and dogs who aren’t fond of grooming.
I eventually learned to groom my dog at home, but that doesn’t mean it’s always smooth sailing. In this article, I’ll tell share what experts say about grooming a difficult dog coupled with my own experience, tips, and tricks that work.
Spoiler alert: There’s hope for dogs who hate being groomed.
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Why Do Some Dogs Hate Grooming?
By dogs who hate grooming, this means dogs who shake or get nervous, urinate or get diarrhea during grooming, those who thrash or pull away, try to bite or snap at the groomer, or dogs who bark or howl during grooming. Sound familiar?
If your dog exhibits any of these behaviors before or during grooming sessions, it could be because they have had:
- Negative or harmful experiences while being groomed in their past.
- Harsh handling or pain with tools, brushes, matts, etc. (i.e. burned with hot clippers)
- An underlying medical condition that makes them uncomfortable during grooming
- Improper handling with sensitive skin
- Sensitivity to sounds from the clippers or hair dryer
- Aversion to ear cleaning, anal sac emptying (something groomers should not be doing), nail clipping, etc.
- General fearful personality
Some dogs are just not into being groomed and will put up a major fuss, shake, thrash, bark, howl, snap, or display any number of negative outward behaviors.
I personally know of a few Cocker Spaniels who went into a full seizure during grooming because they were so frightened. The dogs had no history of seizures before this.
Cocker Spaniels are a breed that is more sensitive emotionally than others, but they are also over-represented when it comes to seizures.
Pro Tip: Think about grooming from your dog’s perspective. If your dog’s first experience with grooming includes being placed on a table, tethered by their neck to a grooming loop, and expected to stand in place while foreign tools are applied to their bodies, no wonder some dogs flip out. Add a muzzle, shouting, or yelling, and it’s the perfect storm for a hot mess.
Grooming A Difficult Dog Tips From Pros
What works for one dog may not work for another. Over the years, I asked some dog grooming professionals what they recommend.
Here’s what the pros say along with pet parents who have success grooming a difficult dog.
“Pet parents need to get started at a young age with a groomer to get into a regular routine,” says Marlene Ness, a lifelong dog groomer/breeder/handler. “The majority of pet parents aren’t bathing, brushing, or drying properly, leading to matting.”
She wonders how someone would feel if their hair wasn’t washed or brushed for three or four months. Some dogs fear the groomer or become aggressive because they are genuinely in pain and unhappy. She recommends having your dog groomed more often.
Kelly Ladouceur has been involved with Cocker Spaniels and other breeds for many years. She is presently using a Lickimat to help her puppy deal with grooming.
“My puppy has hated grooming since she was tiny, so I’ve been using the Lickimat to help her deal with grooming,” Ladouceur shares. “I take things slowly and have been grooming her in my lap rather than on the table.”
Dog mom Lisa Park says her Cocker Spaniel despises grooming. Her veterinarian advised her to run the clippers when he was doing something he enjoyed, such as eating. The goal was to associate the sound with an activity the dog liked.
“I got to where I could do his head and body but muzzled him for legs and paws,” Park admits. “He was very cooperative with the muzzle.”
Park says some pet parents are opposed to a muzzle, but it prevented her dog from being labled a biter and having a bite history.
Bonus Tip: Work with a trainer who is experienced in working with fearful dogs and grooming and has a relationship with a groomer
Can CBD Help A Dog Who Hates Grooming?
My Cocker Spaniel puppy accepts grooming like a champ, but he isn’t fond of having his nails clipped or his legs groomed.
There are calming aids and alternatives to drugs to you can try with your veterinarian’s approval.
I’m a fan of using the right CBD hemp oil products for dogs for the right reasons. When I decided to start using CBD hemp oil products on my dogs, I did a massive amount of research, talked to my dog’s veterinarian, and landed on Pet Releaf products.
If your dog isn’t fond of the groomer and you’ve ruled out medical causes, Pet Releaf has a line of products from which to choose.
My puppy, Alvin, is not happy about having his legs or nails clipped, yet he is perfectly happy and relaxed for the rest of grooming and he loves baths and being brushed. Here’s the Pet Releaf protocol we used with success for my 23-pound Cocker Spaniel:
- Pet Releaf Stress Releaf 300 mg oil with dropper. I administered ¾ (0.75 ml) of a dropper around two hours before his grooming session.
- I administered another ¾ of a dropper about 30 minutes before clipping his nails and grooming his legs.
- One Pet Releaf Stress Releaf edibite during the grooming session as a reward and to further enhance the effects.
This is highest and most effective potency of Stress Releaf that worked for my dog in an easy-to-adminster dose.
My dog never appeared drugged or weak – instead, he was calmer and behaved the way he does during brushing, ear cleaning, and general overall grooming.
I suggest you learn more about the Pet Releaf CBD hemp oil products and dosing by checking out our posts:
SPECIAL SAVINGS: Use code FIDOSE20 to save 20 percent at checkout when you purchase through PetReleaf.com. Plus, free shipping on all orders over $75.
How to Get A Puppy Used To Grooming
If you have a puppy that has never been groomed, you are fortunate because the puppy is a clean slate you can train to love being groomed.
Never ever yell or shout at your puppy and never slap or hit your puppy. This is a huge no-no and teaches the dog to fear and loathe you.
Once your puppy comes home from the breeder or shelter, there are at least 100 things you should do with your puppy in 100 days. Of those 100 things, getting them used to touch and sound are crucial.
- Visit the dog groomer you plan to use: If you are using the services of a professional dog groomer, call and ask if you can visit with the puppy once they are fully vaccinated. The visit is to expose the dog to scents and sounds but not for grooming.
- Use a brush on the puppy’s coat regularly. Here are my favorite Cocker Spaniel brushes.
- Touch ears, especially if you have a floppy eared dog who will require regular cleanings.
- Clean your puppy’s paws after a walk with pet-safe wipes or a warm washcloth.
- Examine your puppy’s mouth gently and with clean hands.
- Touch your puppy’s head, face, body, and tummy.
- Run a warm gauze on their gums to get them used to the feeling of an object in their mouths. This prepares them for toothbrushing.
- Run a hairdryer and a clipper near them now and then. If you don’t have a clipper, YouTube has plenty of videos featuring sounds.
- Give baths as required, with positive reinforcement and praise. Never let your puppy get a chill. I love using a dog-safe dryer on low and a doggy pajama afterwards.
- Have your puppy get used to standing on an elevated surface. If you don’t own a grooming table, use a towel or non-slip mat on a kitchen counter or table surface.
- Hold your puppy’s head and face in your hand. Groomers will do this for their grooming sessions, so praise your pup and give treats for being a good boy or girl.
- If you plan to take your dog to a professional groomer, he will likely spend time in a crate. Get your puppy used to a crate or kennel.
How Do I Know If My Dog Is Stressed From Grooming?
Whether you take your dog to a professional groomer or groom him at home yourself, be aware of the signs your dogs is stressed or anxious.
Here are some signs that your dog is stressed:
- Your dog’s ears are low to the ground or pulled back
- Tail is down low or tucked between their legs
- Heavily panting
- Shaking violently
- Showing teeth or snarling
- Growling or snapping
- Wide eyes and possibly bloodshot eyes
- Tense muscles
- Urinating or diarrhea or poop on the table
- Trying to jump or flee
You want to protect yourself and the dog and not make the situation worse so no one gets hurt. There are many stories about dogs who have been injured or killed during a grooming session gone wrong. Don’t let this be your dog.
Products To Help Difficult Dogs During Grooming
Whether you have a puppy or an adult dog who hates grooming, there are products that can make things a lot easier.
Pet Releaf Stress Releaf CBD Hemp Oil: Available in 300mg or 600 mg, this product is a game changer and my favorite CBD product for dogs.
Pet Releaf Stress Releaf Edibites: Can be used on their own or in conjunction with other Pet Releaf Stress Releaf products. I use this as a bump to the oil with success.
Happy Hoodie: The Happy Hoodie slips over your dog’s head to help them feel less stressed in the presence of clippers and blow dryers used for grooming. This is achieved through gentle compression that closes off the dog’s ear canal.
Lickimat: Smear your dog’s favorite yogurt or pet-safe peanut butter on the Lickimat, place on the tub or the grooming table and watch your dog lick his troubles away.
Adaptil Calming Spray: My dog’s veterinarian sprays a bandanna with Adaptil and allows it to dry before placing it on dogs for their visits. The pheromones are a drug-free solution that mimics a mama dog’s natural nursing pheromones to promote a sense of calm.
What If Nothing Helps My Difficult Dog With Grooming?
Despite the best intentions, positive reinforcement training, and trying different products, some dogs will show fear or aversion to grooming or nail trimming.
I’ve removed this pet parent’s name for privacy, but here’s an example of a dog who likely needs medication (note: the dog is a Cocker Spaniel):
It’s best for your dog’s mental and physical health as well as for the groomer’s safety that you talk to your veterinarian about sedative medication for your dog.
Do not allow a groomer to sedate your dog. Groomers cannot legally sedate a dog. If the grooming takes place at a veterinary hospital, as some offer this service, only then can a veterinary nurse or veterinarian provide sedation with your approval to groom a difficult dog.
Do not administer drugs at home on your own. Talk to your veterinarian before dosing anything.
How to Groom a Dog Who Bites or Snaps
Some dogs are genuinely anti-grooming. They may just not like it, the sound of the clippers, the whole process, etc. In this case, you can talk to your veterinarian about medications or try Pet Releaf CBD. If those options don’t work, dog mom Naomi Lukaszewski has a hack to offer.
“For dogs who nip and even bite during grooming, a professional groomer suggested putting a cone on the dog,” the foster mom to nearly 130 dogs shared. “I have used this suggestion with success when grooming dogs for the rescue I volunteer for.”
She says the cone blocked the dogs from being able to bite while she worked on their feet and body.
” I found I was calmer while grooming because I wasn’t afraid of being bit, which translated to the dog being more relaxed because it wasn’t picking up on my stress,” she shares.
Naomi’s husband, Dan, purchased a pair of leather work gloves to hold the heads of nippy dogs since you cannot groom faces around a cone or muzzle. She admits he may get a bit bruised if the dog bites the glove, but he does not get punctured. This means less stress for Naomi and Dan and less stress for the dog.
How Do Groomers Deal With Difficult Dogs?
I am friends with many dog groomers and I asked them how they deal with difficult dogs who completely hate grooming. Here are a few of their replies:
- Working with the pet parent before the appointment so the dog arrives under mild sedation.
- Positive reinforcement with treats and frequent breaks.
- Playing music in the background to calm the dog.
- Asking the pet parent to bring the dog in when the shop isn’t very busy so the dog isn’t more stressed.
- A protective muzzle as a last resort if the pet parent agrees and approves beforehand.
- A soft E-collar the pet parent brings in and agrees on beforehand to prevent biting.
- Referring the pet parent to a qualified dog behaviorist.
- Making sure there are no underlying physical issues going on ahead of time.
- Make sure the dog sees the same groomer each time so they gain trust.
These are just a few ways groomers deal with dogs who are opposed to grooming. Each dog is different and what works for one dog may not for another.
No one should ever restrain your dog manually and force them down so the dog cannot move. This can make the dog more fearful or aggressive or incite a seizure.
Learn To Groom Your Dog At Home
You can learn to groom your dog at home, but be warned: It takes time to learn and you don’t want to stress your dog out even more as you learn.
Never jump right into full grooming with clippers and scissors. Dogs need time to get used to the sounds and touches, especially if the dog is nervous or fearful.
I wrote an in-depth post about grooming your Cocker Spaniel at home inspired by my own experience. Most of the content in the post can be applied to any dog, purebred or not.
Just because you groom your dog at home does not mean the dog will be less stressed or less agitated. Dogs may become more agitated if you don’t know what you are doing.
It has been my own personal experience that my dogs are happier. We also bond more during grooming sessions, and I give them plenty of breaks, TLC, and play sessions in between.
Before you consider grooming your dog at home, make sure you are doing it for the right reasons and you are totally ready to lay your hands and tools on your dog.
Marlene Ness says using the correct tools at home is important and knowing how to use them. Brush the hair all the way to the skin (without hurting the dog) with something like a slicker brush.
Next, go through the dog with a comb to make sure you get down close to the skin, as this is where and how matts start. Brushing the tips of the hair alone will not get matts out.
Teaching Your Adult Dog To Enjoy Grooming
When your adult dog isn’t happy about being groomed, implement the same techniques as training a puppy to like the grooming process.
Here are a few additional tips to train your adult dog to like grooming:
- Slowly touch your dog without the use of any tools or clippers. Touch various body parts that will be groomed (i.e. paws, belly, face, head, etc)
- Do some light grooming at home in between professional grooming. Learn to simply trim a bit of hair from one area of your dog’s body. Go slow. Praise and repeat.
- Use Pet Releaf Stress Releaf CBD for practice sessions at home.
- Try desensitizing your dog with something they enjoy while running a clipper in the background.
- Visit your dog groomer and pay for their time to engage with your dog without grooming them for 5 to 10 minutes. The groomer is a happy place!
- Play with your dog for a while and tire him out before attempting any sort of grooming.
- If the only time your dog takes a car ride is for vet and grooming visits, start taking him to happy places, too. Here’s how to solve dog car anxiety in four easy steps.
- Let your dog sit on your lap or next to you and lightly brush him. Never do this to a sleeping dog.
- Use a Lickimat and the suggestions above from professionals.
- If your dog hates baths, consider where you are bathing him. Avoid crowded bath-share places like pet supply stores where sounds and other dogs can freak him out.
What If My Dog Hates Having His Nails Clipped?
I always wanted to learn to clip my dog’s nails at home but I was scared. I didn’t want to accidentally hurt my dog or cause any pain or bleeding.
This is how I learned to clip my dog’s nails at home. I find it is less stressful for the dog and I am a much happier dog mama, too.
If your dog genuinely hates having his nails clipped, you’ll be using the same tips as above plus touch paws and toes in between nail clipping visits (groomers or vet nurses can perform this task.)
Learn to use a Dremel and gently use it o one nail at a time, one day at a time.
Distract your dog with a Lickimat slathered in their favorite yogurt or peanut butter.
Have you ever groomed or have experience with a difficult dog who hates grooming? Let us know in the comments below.