Senior Dog Vs. The Groomer

Teaching an adopted senior dog good grooming manners starts at home.


Q. I have a Poodle mix I recently adopted. My problem is that it’s hard to cut his hair and get him into the bath. We took him to get his hair cut three times, and I don't think they treated him well. He is an older dog and has been mistreated, and he also has arthritis. How can I find someone who will help me?

A. First of all, thanks for adopting an older pet. Those sweet senior citizens are hard to place, but they can add so much love and pleasure to your life, especially if you are not up for puppyhood and all the work entailed in bringing up baby! Secondly, your dog may have been mistreated in his former life, but his reaction to the groomers you have used may not indicate that he was mistreated by them. As groomers, sometimes we have to do things that dogs don’t like, such as brushing, nail cutting, and requiring them to stand on the table longer than they are used to. Some dogs take it all in stride and enjoy the attention; others get extremely annoyed.

It takes patience to be a good groomer but that does not mean that the dog should call the shots. In addition to ample amounts of kindness and skill, we must also have the self-confidence and leadership it takes to get the job done for the dog’s benefit and to please the owner as well. This comes from years of experience and the ability to understand the dog’s body language and personality as we work with him. Also, the pet owner can help or hinder the situation with a dog who does not like grooming. If you are highly agitated and anxious about leaving your dog at the groomer’s, the dog will sense it and feel the same way.

Dogs need to learn grooming manners. They have to get used to being brushed and handled all over their bodies so they won’t balk at everything we do. You can help by stroking and massaging him at home, preferably when he’s feeling good after a nice walk or a good meal. Start with the spots he likes – his ears, his tummy, his back – then move on to his feet and tail, offering lots of praise and a treat or two to encourage his trust and cooperation. If he nips or growls at you, hold his muzzle closed, make eye contact and give a firm “NO!”  If you spend one-on-one time like this every day, he will look forward to the attention.

Look for a groomer who is experienced. Working with a rather cantankerous senior dog can be too much for a novice groomer. Try to find someone who will get him in and out as quickly as possible; it’s hard on those old hips and bones to hang around the shop all day long. As groomers, we want to do the best possible job we can on every pet, but with the elderly dog there are times when “good enough” has to suffice.

In the case of a Poodle like yours, there comes a time when a fluffy, scissored trim with cleanly shaved face and feet is no longer practical. Spreading those toes to shave in between can be painful for an arthritic dog. A more practical approach would be to have him clipped short all over with “terrier feet,” the same amount of hair left on his paws as is on his legs. A fuzzy muzzle may work better for him and his groomer, and look every bit as cute. As long as the geriatric dog is clean and fresh, we know we have done all we can do, and we should not stress out about perfection. 

Look for a groomer who is certified. This means he or she has passed a series of written tests and hands-on breed grooming trials to have sufficient knowledge to groom all breeds and a thorough understanding of their health and anatomy. If you visit a salon and the groomer has no time or interest in answering your questions or discussing your concerns, keep looking. Finding the right groomer is every bit as important to you as it is to your pet.



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