Setting your dog up for success at the salon

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I get treats for going to the salon?! What are we waiting for – let’s go!

by Betsy Lane, MA

Most of us would love a day of pampering at a spa. Many dogs… not so much. A trip to the grooming salon involves many unfamiliar experiences and a certain amount of sensory overload from the sights, sounds, and smells of the salon. These “firsts” can be challenging for a dog—and we haven’t even talked about the grooming itself yet!

Many “firsts” are difficult for dogs, so it’s worth our time and effort to be sure they go well. As they say, “You never get a second chance to make a good first impression.” We want to ensure our dogs get a stress-free start at the grooming salon, so they won’t be stressed by routine procedures like being bathed, brushed, clipped, or having their nails trimmed and ears cleaned.

The two most effective ways to help our dogs accept being groomed are (1) start slow and (2) offer lots of rewards.

Food is usually your best bet here. Choose something soft, smelly, and small, so you can give out a bunch of little pieces without filling your dog’s belly. Diced hot dogs, cheese, chicken, filet mignon, salmon—you name it. Discover what your dog absolutely LOVES, put a bunch of that in a baggie, tuck it in your pocket, and head out the door.

Your first trip to the salon will just be a social visit—much like stopping to chat with a friend you run into on the street. “We always encourage social visits to build positive associations,” says Alyssa Serafin, PetSmart Salon Leader. “Just come in, say hi, get a treat, and leave.” These baby steps help your dog become familiar with the salon environment, from the ambient noises, lights, and smells to the sometimes shiny, slippery floors.

Remember those treats in your pocket? Be generous with them! Watch for every brave, curious, relaxed, or happy thing your dog does and reward the heck out of it. Your dog walks past the sliding glass doors? Yay! Treat! Happily approaches a customer pushing a shopping cart? Yay! Treat! Acts curious and friendly towards the salon staff? Yay! Triple treats!

This technique (which has decades of scientific research supporting it) is called “positive reinforcement,” and it’s how we get more of the behaviors we want. As Alyssa says, “Start slow and make it easy for the dogs, and they’ll do better in the long run.”

Sure, you might make a few trips to the salon before any real grooming happens, but that’s a small investment of time that can pay off in a dog who’s reasonably happy being groomed for the rest of his or her clean, healthy, gorgeous life.

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