10 Tips For Grooming A Nervous Pet At Home

Grooming can be difficult for a sensitive pet. But don't fret – at-home, gentle grooming is possible.

Do any of these situations describe your pet?

  • Your pet is a rescue, or at some point in their lives has endured traumatic events
  • Your pet fears the groomer, and shows signs of nervousness and aggression towards the groomer
  • Electric clippers would be a borderline traumatic event for your pet
  • Your groomer has presented sedation as a last-resort option

Don’t give up - gentle, sedation-free home grooming is a possibility! Read on for tips that will help your pet to tolerate - and perhaps even enjoy - being groomed.

Getting Started

1. Recognize that reconciling a pet to in-home grooming requires time and patience - don't hold your pet down to groom them in one session

Our approach to in-home grooming is not going to modify your pet's behavior in a day, a week or even a month. However, most pets will respond positively to small steps relatively quickly. Expect delays in progress, backsliding, and sessions that just don't go well. Remember that since you live with your pet, you're the one person who can take the time they need.

2. Make time to work with your pet. Even ten minutes a day can make a huge difference.

Set aside time to accustom your pet to grooming tools. Don't expect to get a lot of grooming done.

3. Make every grooming encounter a positive one.

Every encounter with grooming tools must be positive. This might mean that you lay your nail clipper on the floor and lure your pet with food to accustom it to the clippers as a non-threatening object. Gradually, the goal is to associate grooming tools with positive experiences to the point where your pet will accept being touched, its nails being clipped and various parts of its body being handled.

4. Remove grooming tools that stress your pet.

To reduce stress, avoid or eliminate any grooming tools that emit sharp or vibrating noise. You may find that scissors and combs will serve to keep your pet's coat neat once you get used to handling them with greater skill and experience. There are also great silent grooming solutions like Scaredy Cut, the Silent Clipper. You may never need to go back to vibrating clippers and, if so, you have just removed a stressor from your pet's life.

Want More StressFree Tips?

Grooming, Stress-Free

Scaredy Cut is the gentle clipper designed for grooming sensitive pets.
Learn More

Creating Great Expectations

5. Discover what reward is highest-value for the pet and use it only when around grooming tools

Creating expectations in a pet is easy.  They know that they are walked or fed at certain times in the day.  They may know that if pizza arrives at the house, they stand to get a crust or two if they hover around the living room. Take time to discover what kind of motivators get your pet really excited and enthusiastic. If it's catnip, start making catnip toys the reward for any sort of positive interaction with grooming and grooming tools.  If it's cheese, let cheese be the extra special reward. The most natural reward to associate with grooming is snuggling and petting.

6. Make grooming tools like Scaredy Cut a part of your pet's positive daily events - walks, food, etc.

You've already won if your pet sees the combs and tools come out and they expect nothing but a loving snuggle session. Whatever you use, remove it from your pet's life except as it relates to grooming and grooming equipment.  This will make the reward even higher in value for your pet.

You can create 'great expectations' in your pet when it comes to grooming.  Make grooming and grooming tools a part of your pet's 'happy' routine.  Before your pet gets fed, walked, played with, lay out its grooming tools.  Make them the trigger that means 'fun times ahead!'. Every experience with grooming is now going to be associated with treats, praise, playtime and positive attention.

7. Wait until your pet is showing little or no stress before proceeding with further steps

At this point, the tools are not going to be used in any way that stresses your pet; they are just going to be there. You are waiting for the time when your pet reacts positively to the appearance of the grooming tools.  When there are little or no signs of stress is when you may proceed to the next steps.

Taking Puppy Steps Towards Grooming

8. Don't expect your pet to accept grooming just because it has lost fear of grooming tools

Even when your pet is accustomed to grooming tools and starts to act positively when they appear, it doesn't mean that they are now comfortable with grooming. The original problem is still there. Be careful. Depending on how nervous and fearful your pet is, you must do your utmost not to trigger any aggressive behavior. This further cements a negative association with the grooming tool(s) in your pet's mind. So, you are going to be casual, patient and settle in for the long haul. Remember to keep the interaction voluntary and not force anything on your pet.

9. Learn your pet's boundaries and be very careful about pushing them

Work with what you've got. Perhaps your cat is alright if you brush its back, but not its face or sides. Maybe your dog can be combed everywhere but its tail. Become aware of your pet's limits and then back off from them for a little while. Get them used to regular, frequent grooming of the areas they will accept you touching. As your pet begins to relax, try working around sensitive areas. Again, you may have to go with the touch-and-treat method until your pet is accustomed to you handling that part of their body - or even going near it. Work with what your pet can handle and move very slowly when pushing their boundaries.

10. Explore clicker training with a qualified, reputable trainer/animal behaviorist

Clicker training can be very beneficial in teaching your pet to not fear grooming. Read up on the subject or engage a trainer who teaches clicker training. A trainer may also be able to give you specific tips that help you take your pet further.

Julie MacTire is a writer and educator devoted to the world of dogs. She also writes a blog (shibainus.ca) about her adventures with her Shiba Inu, Tierce, and is a supporter of many pet welfare organizations.

References & Resources

Grooming, Stress-Free

Scaredy Cut is the gentle clipper designed for grooming sensitive pets.
Learn More

Want More StressFree Tips?