The term “compassionate dog grooming” has been trending on social media lately, with more groomers coming on board to discuss this alternative approach. Here’s an inside look at what compassionate dog grooming is all about.
Compassionate dog grooming is not a new theory or practice, but the term and the idea behind it have been gaining greater traction recently thanks to social media. This article delves into the behind-the-scenes world of compassionate dog grooming to show you what it’s all about — and how it can transform your dog’s grooming experience into one that’s enjoyable as well as stress-free.
Defining compassionate grooming
Compassionate dog grooming is an approach that uses empathy and intuition in order to create a joyful, peaceful and fear-free experience for the dog. It’s the approach I use in my own grooming business, and it has helped shape the way I work within my profession. It basically means I use my innate ability to see what each dog is feeling so I can factor his comfort and well-being into the entire grooming process.
Getting to know your dog
A groomer uses cues from a dog to determine what his needs might be, along with considering his age, mobility and behavior. For example, I start by sitting with the dog on the floor, talking to him — and listening! Dogs love to communicate and most have a lot to say if we just listen. We won’t hear actual words, but we will get messages if we keep our minds and hearts open. It’s important to note that this aspect of compassionate grooming is difficult to teach. Some people have a natural and authentic ability to listen and relate to animals with awareness and understanding.
I will spend anywhere from five to 15 minutes introducing myself, touching the dog, and also introducing the tools I will be using during the grooming process. I allow the dog to sniff the tools and hear the sounds they make (e.g. clippers, nail grinder). This time is also used to evaluate the dog’s coat and the condition of his skin, as well as his reactions.
Other compassionate groomers might do this differently, and that’s okay — different techniques can be used with similar intentions. Ultimately, compassionate grooming is about evaluation, intuition, and providing comfort to the animal.
Fast fact: Taking several minutes to do this type of introduction actually saves time during the grooming process.
A dog given the opportunity to become familiar with the groomer and her tools is going to be much happier about cooperating, and this not only saves time but also makes the whole experience more pleasant for both the dog and the groomer. For instance, it’s better to find out beforehand that towel drying is better for certain dogs than using a force dryer.
Compassionate grooming incorporates alternative modalities
While the innate skills discussed above are invaluable, learning new modalities for calming and healing is another tool used by compassionate groomers.
Fast fact: Animal Reiki, homeopathy, flower essences, Ayurveda, animal communication and more fall within the spectrum of compassionate grooming practices.
Groomers can be certified in these modalities; in fact, this approach is being adopted and used as part of today’s compassionate grooming buzz. By incorporating one or more of these modalities into her skillset, a groomer has multiple ways to help calm stressed dogs and make the grooming experience more relaxing and enjoyable.
Taking health issues into consideration
A good groomer will be able to recognize potential health issues such as lumps or bumps, thinning hair, ear infections, skin problems, dental disease, and mobility issues, and bring them to your attention. A compassionate groomer will also take any health issues into account when maximizing the dog’s comfort during the grooming appointment.
For example, a dog’s mobility status will affect the length of his grooming sessions. Perhaps just the bathing and brushing will take all the energy a particular dog has to give at any time, especially if he’s a senior. If an entire grooming session is too much for the dog, a compassionate groomer will create a customized session based on his needs, perhaps by dividing it into two parts.
Fast fact: Compassionate grooming also involves keeping an eye on the dog’s well-being during the session and making accommodations to relieve any discomfort.
For older dogs or those with arthritis, standing for long periods can be painful or fatiguing. Allowing these dogs to lie down for part of the session is a wonderful way to continue the grooming without adding stress to their joints. I also tend to use softer brushes, and complete one side of the dog before gently turning him to his other side.
Essential oils and flower essences
The grooming environment should be quiet and calming, right down to the music and aroma. Music affects a dog’s behavior, and many groomers are using essential oil diffusers in their salons. Just be sure that the facility is using high quality therapeutic grade oils – cheap products can actually be toxic and harmful to dogs. Additionally, I have found that dogs (just like humans) may prefer or resonate more with some scents and not others, although a good quality lavender oil is very safe when diffused in small amounts, and tends to have a calming effect.
Fast fact: A compassionate groomer who is using essential oils in the salon should take the scent preferences of individual dogs into consideration.
I like to use Ayurvedic principles when matching calming options to the needs of individual dogs. In the tradition of Ayurveda there are three recognized “doshas” based on body type and personality traits — Pitta, Vata and Kapha. In supporting these varied body types and personalities, I prefer to use flower essences and homeopathic blends over essential oils.
Flower essences are odorless, and I find I get better and more consistent results when using them to help dogs through any stress or behavior difficulties. They can help with a dog that has experienced past trauma; is lacking confidence or courage; or perhaps has too much courage and needs help settling down. Whatever the behavior challenge is, I find that flower essences help balance the dog I am working with.
The compassionate grooming facility
Many dogs are fine with large, busy salons, even with other dogs and distractions around. But some don’t do well in these scenarios. Small, private one-on-one facilities are an alternative solution for easily-stressed dogs, or you could consider a mobile groomer who will come to your home. However, not every groomer has the luxury of working in a private one-on-one space. If this is the case, look for a salon that allows the groomer to control her own work environment, while having the ability to work privately with your dog.