How to Groom Aggressive Dogs

An aggressive dog is pictured baring it's teeth

Some dogs are more aggressive than others. Whether that be fear aggression or something else, we need to nip it in the bud for dog grooming to keep everyone safe.

Just like humans have different personalities, so do dogs. Aggressive dogs are a reality and one that needs to be dealt with. After all, aggressive dogs also need to be groomed (more about the benefits of grooming here). 

Signs of aggression in dogs

Let’s start with some basics on aggressive dogs. What does an aggressive dog look like? There are typically warning signs. These look like growling, barking, snarling, standing tall, erect ears, carrying the tail high and moving it stiffly side-to-side, and snapping. There are different types of aggression as well. 

Sometimes, when a dog is fearful, he or she will show displacement behaviors such as lip licking, sniffing, and chewing or licking themselves. An aggressive dog that is fearful may also show the whites of its eyes more than usual and shake. Not all aggressive dogs are the same. It’s important to learn the dog’s triggers and what’s making them aggressive.

An aggressive dog shown along with the signs of aggression including tail is low, ears folded back, bared teeth, and walking slowly
Look out for the various signs of aggression, which can look different from dog to dog

Triggers in an aggressive dog

Dogs who aren’t used to the pet groomer will often have fear aggression. An aggressive dog that’s afraid will display submissive body language. They may avoid eye contact and lower their head or body and have their tail tucked between their legs. This is not the time to touch them as they will be ready to bite. 

Fear aggression can come from numerous sources. Some dogs have an innate sense of anxiety, others have learned it from their life experience. There may be a lack of socialization when the dog was a puppy and the dog is not used to loud noises, other people, being touched, etc. While some dogs may cower in fear, others may bite and try to fight their way out of a scary situation. If it works, they learn that the aggression makes the scary situation go away and then continue being aggressive in the same situation. 

Picture showing why dogs get aggressive including frustration, fear, illness, possessiveness, and show of dominance.

Understanding the dog

If going to the dog groomer is a new experience for your dog, he or she will not understand what is happening and will have a fight or flight response. Dogs will respond according to the situation. However, if flight isn’t even an option, such as at the groomer’s, then the natural option is to fight.

This isn’t a bad dog or a misbehaving dog necessarily. This is a stressed dog who doesn’t know what to do and who’s natural instincts are kicking in. 

There are also some dogs who weren’t previously aggressive at the groomers, but become suddenly aggressive. This may be caused by illness or pain. If your dog is suddenly showing signs of aggression, you should talk to your vetrenarian prior to trying to alter the behavior. The vet will help you get to the bottom of what’s bothering your aggressive dog. 

Some dogs are aggressive due to previous experiences. Sadly, some dogs have been abused or bullied by kids who didn’t know how to be careful. These dogs may be fearful of the human touch. It will be important to be very slow and gentle with these dogs. 

Problems in grooming aggressive dogs

Obviously, grooming an aggressive dog isn’t ideal. It can be dangerous for both the groomer, and the dog. An aggressive dog is less likely to stand still around the sharp objects used for grooming and may be injured. 

An aggressive dog is also much more likely to bite the groomer. If the dog bites the groomer’s hand, it could be a career-ending bite! That is a risk no one wants to take. It’s also the reason most groomers charge an aggression fee.

Sometimes, the dog won’t show obvious signs of aggression until the grooming has started and the unsuspecting groomer is already in danger.

For this reason, it is important to tell your dog groomer that your dog is fearful of grooming or has bitten groomers in the past. Honesty is important! To reiterate, for those in the back, PLEASE BE HONEST WITH YOUR GROOMER. If we know that your dog is fearful or potentially aggressive, we can take precautions and prevent injuries. 

Some people will go from groomer to groomer and get turned away due to their dog’s behavior. If this is the case, your best bet is to be honest. 

How to groom an aggressive dog

Here’s the juicy stuff and what you came here for! There are a few parts to this and it will depend on the dog, but let’s break it down. 

Begin grooming when your dog is young

In the ideal situation, we want to start your pet’s grooming routine early on, between 10 and 16 weeks of age. That way, your puppy will be used to the sounds and smells of the dog groomer. It won’t be seen as a punishment but as a part of life. Hopefully, a pleasant part of life at that! 

If you come in with a one-year-old dog who’s never been inside a grooming salon, they are much more likely to be aggressive than if they had already learned that grooming is a part of life. 

If you adopt your dog at a later age, then you should still come in as soon as possible to establish a routine and develop a relationship with the groomer. If you’ve chosen your dog groomer wisely, your pup is in good hands. At Grooming Girls, we are very gentle with pets as if they were our own and make sure to make it as pleasant an experience as possible. 

Help take the fear away

You want your dog to feel comfortable at the groomers. The entire grooming process should be taken as slowly as your dog needs to show him or her that there is no danger. You can slowly start touching the dog and desensitizing him or her to human touch. Giving praise and treats throughout the process will also be helpful. 

Use positive reinforcement

Positive reinforcement is a great way to get your dog to understand that the grooming experience can be a very pleasant one. 

You need to find what is highly motivating to your dog first. Just like people, different dogs like different things. If you’re a groomer reading this, you can ask the owner or experiment a bit (though that can be risky with an aggressive dog). A food treat might work as most dogs are motivated by food

Familiarize the dog with grooming procedures

At Grooming Girls, if a dog is coming in for the first time, we don’t even cut his or her hair. We will give the dog a bath, trim his or her nails, and run the scissors and clippers on their body so they get used to the feel, sounds, and environment. We want the dog to feel as comfortable as possible before we even attempt a haircut which can be dangerous with an aggressive and fearful dog. 

If the dog approaches the tools or sniffs them, we reward the dog to build that positive association. 

Frequent and short grooming sessions

When we are teaching a dog to get used to the groomers, we have them come in every 2 weeks just for a bath until we feel they are ready for a haircut. We continue to show them the cutting tools and run them over the dog’s body, rewarding positive behavior. However, a haircut may not happen right away. 

Owners of aggressive dogs need to understand it takes time to build up that relationship with the groomer and it is a financial and time commitment. However, it will be well worth it as grooming is an important part of your dog’s overall health

Tools to groom aggressive dogs

Some tools can help keep the groomer safe while your dog is getting used to the environment. Long-handled grooming tools help a dog groomer stay away from biting-range when taking care of a dog.

Muzzles can be helpful, but must be used properly. They must be well-fitting and not cause further pain to an already scared or angry dog. They must still allow the dog to pant, eat treats, and drink water, and shouldn’t be kept on for too long. They are meant as an aid when nothing else is helping, but remember that positive experiences are still very important. 

Combs can help you secure the face of an aggressive dog so he or she can’t bite. Putting a comb in the dog’s beard helps you turn his or her face away from you so he or she can’t bite.

Restraints are often used when grooming a dog so the dog stays in position. This is especially important with a skittish or aggressive dog. This will help the dog from injuring itself as there are sharp tools being used. 

Enlist the help of an assistant

Having an assistant hold the dog’s front end while another groomer works on the back end can help keep both the dog and groomer safe. It is always important to put the dog’s comfort first, however, as you are building that positive relationship. So the assistant will need to be firm but gentle. 

Stay firm, stay calm, and end on a positive note

A dog can feel if you are nervous and will get even more nervous. Your attitude needs to show that you are in control. Don’t allow the dog’s aggression to control the session. If you end the session when the dog is aggressive, he or she will learn that next time, they need to display aggression to make it end. 

Remember to keep sessions short and sweet until your dog is used to being at the groomers. 

If you feel nervous, take a step back and breathe. Do not return to the session until you feel in control again.

What to do if the dog is still uncomfortable

As a last resort, if your dog just cannot be groomed but it must be done, then he or she may need to go to the vet’s to get sedated or given an anti-anxiety medication. 

Medications have side-effects and do not get to the root of the problem. However, sometimes, there is no other alternative. 

If you are willing and able to commit financially, we highly recommend you seek the help of a dog behaviorist. They are highly skilled and trained at dealing with your dog’s aggressive behavior and will help you get to the source of the problem. 

We highly recommend going this route as the aggression can be broken and it will have numerous positive effects in the future. 

We recommend the Dog Wizard in Cincinnati, OH if you are in our area. 

Conclusion

Grooming an aggressive dog isn’t easy, but it certainly is possible. You will need patience and understanding to make it happen. You should also be as honest and open with your groomer as possible so the problem can be worked with. If you have an aggressive dog who needs to be groomed, make an appointment today!

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