How Behavioral Cues Help Us Understand Dogs

January 3, 2017 in Pet Grooming By Danny Donovan

When pet parents bring their dogs to a groomer, they are placing all of their trust in the facility and its employees. Dogs are like family members; their owners expect them to be treated with a high-quality level of care, compassion, and love. Bringing a beloved pet to the groomer can be nerve-wracking for clients, and it can be stressful for the dogs, too. As a pet groomer, understanding dog behavioral cues can help to provide a better experience for pets and for their owners, and help you to deliver the care that clients expect.

How Behavioral Cues Help Us Understand Dogs

Depending on the breed, background, and prior experiences of the dog at your station, they may react differently to the grooming process. Some pets thoroughly enjoy the time and attention spent on them during the cutting and drying process and bond easily to their groomer. Others may react shyly and display nervous behavior as if they are trying to avoid the entire process. Still, others may react with aggression due to fear or uncertainty. Being able to read certain behavioral cues can give groomers and kennel employee’s insight into a dog’s mood and emotional state, and allow them to adjust their handling of the pet accordingly. This skill benefits both the groomer and the pet, as it increases safety for both and can make the experience less stressful. A pet who is treated with compassion will be more likely to have a better experience, and a groomer who is able to connect with the pet and interact with him or her in an intuitive way will be able to deliver a more precise cut that meets client expectations.

Common Dog Behavioral Cues

While every dog is different, there are some common body language signs that can help to determine a dog’s state of mind or level of comfort. Just like humans, dogs use nonverbal behavioral cues to communicate. Recognizing the more common ones can help a groomer to determine the best court of an action for making the dog comfortable and for reducing stress during the grooming process. Common cues to look for when grooming or interacting with a dog include:

  • Open, relaxed mouth with the tongue hanging out, tail relaxed or wagging, ears up (not pointing forward):

A dog displaying this body language is generally relaxed and comfortable. It’s usually ok at this point to proceed with the grooming process normally. In order to keep the dog in this relaxed state, talking to the pet in a cheery voice and making eye contact may help. As in any other grooming situation, it is still essential that you maintain constant supervision of the animal, checking regularly for changes in behavioral cues or body language.

  • Raised, bristled tail, ears pointing forwards, raised hackles (hair along the backbone), curled lips with teeth bared:

This dog is in an aggressive, alarmed mode. Dogs who display these behavioral cues, especially if combined with a growl that increases in volume, may be getting ready to bite or lash out. At the heart of this aggression is generally fear, so scolding the dog, making loud noises, or attempting to punish the dog is ineffective and can cause the dog even greater fear or confusion. At this point, it may be best to ask for assistance from an instructor or supervisor, take a break, or evHow Behavioral Cues Help Us Understand Dogsen muzzle the dog for everyone’s safety. Continuing to allow the dog to have some space and speaking in low, soft tones may help the animal to relax. Dogs in this state, like any other pet, must be supervised with a watchful eye to ensure that nobody is hurt.

  • Tail tucked, body lowered, ears back, inconsistent eye contact, paw raised:

Dogs in this stance are experiencing fear and worry, but are in a submissive state. Pets who react this way to new situations are generally very stressed and require extra soothing. It may be helpful to allow this dog to sniff your hand, to speak to the dog softly, and to allow the dog to come closer at his or her own pace. Moving slowly and gently throughout the grooming process, while still maintaining adequate speed and accuracy, may also help a stressed dog to have a better experience while being groomed.

Dogs are diverse in behavior and are capable of feeling complex, changing emotions. Every pet that receives grooming may react differently, and dogs who regularly visit your grooming facility may display different behaviors during each appointment based on a variety of factors. However, understanding these basic behavioral cues can help protect both the dog and the groomer from injury, and make the process as relaxed and enjoyable as possible.

Our Approach at Merryfield

At the Merryfield School of Pet Grooming, we value client satisfaction as well as a positive experience for the pets that are groomed by our students. By enrolling in classes at Merryfield, you are pursuing an education that will teach you how to groom dogs expertly, while always maintaining compassion for the pets and customer service as your top priorities. If you are interested in a career in grooming pets, Merryfield can offer you the best education in the field. Call today for information at 954-771-4030.