Handling Difficult Dogs

How to keep aggressive and anxious pets—as well as groomers—safe during grooming.

Dealing with difficult pets is not fun, no matter how much we love what we do and how patient we are with our little four-legged friends. Many times, the owner neglects to tell you the whole truth. In fact, many owners of difficult, fearful, aggressive or anxious pets are in complete denial. So how do we deal with these pets and keep them safe, keep ourselves safe and get them groomed?

Put First Things First
Make sure every pet is up to date on its rabies vaccine. This should be requested when making the appointment and recorded when the pet is checked in.

Proper Restraint
When you are dealing with a new customer, whether difficult or not, you should always take special precautions to keep the dog and yourself safe. You should always have control of the biting end of the dog. Using a lead that fits and is locked in place is important for the safety of yourself and the dog. If an aggressive dog backs out of a collar, you have created a tough situation. If the lead you are using does not lock in place, you could also lose the dog. 

I like to use nylon choke collars or chain choke collars to lead them around. While on the table, I only use the Groomers Helper loops. They give me control because they lock in place. I need the Groomers Helper when I groom even the most difficult dogs. It also makes a great walking lead but can be a little short for aggressive dogs.

Be Timely
I find one of the biggest mistakes you can make with a truly difficult pet is to make them wait. It’s not an issue for mobile groomers, but making sure you are ready for these special dogs and cats is important in a salon. In most cases, it is best to groom these pets straight through. Placing them in a crate or back in their crate can create extra anxiety, making the pet even more difficult. I am OK with scheduling like this because I charge extra for these pets. They typically take longer and interrupt the normal workflow of the salon.

A Hands-On Approach
Keeping your hand on a difficult pet throughout the entire process from start to finish will help keep them safe. A lot of a pet’s issues come from just not knowing how to behave. Keeping a hand on the dog in case they step off the table or try and jump out of the tub can be reassuring. It allows you to be proactive in training as well. If you must muzzle a dog, keeping a hand on the dog and a close eye on the muzzle is best practice. Having a hand on the dog can be the difference between them getting the muzzle off or not.

Talk to the Dog
I find that the tone of your voice can help or hurt your handling of a difficult dog. Because the dog does not understand the words you are using, all it hears is the tone. You never want to use a sympathetic whiny voice, as it sends the wrong signal to the dog. A whine in the dog’s world is a distress call. You are going to cause more panic. Using an overly stern tone is also an issue because if you have an aggressive dog, you are now challenging him. If you have a nervous or anxious dog, you come across as dominant, making them more nervous. 

Use a firm calm voice with a steady tone. Also, use words to train the dogs as you go. Difficult dogs normally respond better when they know what is expected of them. Simply telling the dog to stand in the tub and on the table, can help them stay focused on the commands and not the world around them. Some other helpful words are “turn” in the tub and “give paw” when trimming feet. The trick is to say it once and them make them do it and say it again. Soon, they are so busy thinking about the words they tend to be way more relaxed.

Keep Working
When you have a dog that does not understand the grooming process and is acting out, try hard not to stop grooming. Even if you are not cutting anything, just gently rub the clipper over the dog, holding it securely. You know you are not hurting them. Over time, they usually become desensitized and each visit gets easier. The key is not to be angry—remain cool, calm and collected at all times. It is not personal with the dog; they just don’t understand or normally get away with this behavior. The only time I let up is on an old dog or a dog with seizures. Even then, I try hard to stick to the process.

Christina Pawlosky is a Certified Master Groomer, professional handler, breeder, grooming show judge and successful pet store and grooming shop owner (The Pet Connection) since 1985. For 20 years, she served as national training manager for Oster Professional Products, where she developed new initiative educational material to educate at schools and conventions all over the world. Pawlosky is currently working with Judy Hudson to produce the Grooming Professors (groomingprofessors.com)—a service through which the two industry veterans share their many years of grooming, competing, dog show conditioning and handling with groomers across the country via Facebook and through an interactive website where visitors can access webcasts and videos about everything grooming related.


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