Groomer’s Guide
Image of dog and title "The Knowledge Revolution Continues:" in groovy vintage font
"Myth Busting Canine Science"
by Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins
In a previous article, I spoke of the television show MythBusters in which scientists and Hollywood stunt men would test out some myth from popular culture with actual laboratory experiments. I noted that, in recent years, our grooming industry has been experiencing the game-changing impact of some real “myth-busting” science. It has changed us, but even more, it has been about the animals we care for.

There is always great insight to be gained when looking at historic and evolutionary changes over time. When I first started grooming over forty years ago, the general use of the internet was still almost two decades away. But now, the grooming industry is clearly in the midst of a real “Knowledge Revolution” that is beginning to change some very long-standing myth-based practices in how we groom dogs.

Cartoon dog covering its ears
The grooming industry is most definitely benefitting, but, more importantly, the dogs are being better served. Yet, the reception of this new information remains uneven, at best.
Pet grooming has always been an industry, like other skilled trades, with no formal education requirements. Most of us learn the grooming trade apprenticing under a more experienced groomer who passes down what they were taught from when they were trained. Without easy access to external input and information, training was still based on relaying dated knowledge. And with limited educational opportunities, groomers operated in mostly isolated silos and myth-based practices remained common.

The grooming industry has been transforming itself of late with better education and more opportunities to talk with each other and with experts. Better information means we have better tools, technology, product sophistication and better choices. It has been exciting to watch in recent years how rapidly our grooming industry has evolved with better communication within our industry and the newest information from the explosion of interest in research into canine science.

As the role and status of the dog has grown dramatically in the developed world in recent decades, universities and research facilities have more funding to study the longest relationship in history that we humans have had with the dog. The grooming industry is most definitely benefitting, but, more importantly, the dogs are being better served. Yet, the reception of this new information remains uneven, at best. So, let us take a look at more of the old school, myth-based practices that seem to die too hard amongst many groomers…

Carton corgi laying on its belly
Myth #4:
The groomer should express the dog’s anal glands.
Busted: We now know that anal glands develop more problems than we solve when we express them. Frequent emptying of the glands is causing, in many cases, overproduction of the nasty substance inside the gland. What does a gland do when you drain it? Fills back up again! Interference with the natural function of the gland has been shown in longitudinal data to often lead to incontinence and the breakdown of the rectal wall muscle.

Anal glands are an internal organ, and that means they are absolutely the veterinarian’s territory. These glands work best when left alone to naturally do what they do, so a problem with the anal glands requires a trip to their veterinarian, not to their groomer. The most we should do is report any issues we see to the owner and urge them to get to their veterinarian as soon as possible.

Veterinarian Dr. Brian Evans at Coastal Animal Hospital in California says, “Every time a dog poops they’re expressing their anal glands. So, to have it done on a random intermittent basis isn’t helping them at all . . . I try to tell people when they come in, ‘Don’t get it done, this is not necessary.’”

Dr. Cliff Faver echoes this in his September 2021 Groomer to Groomer article titled “Anal Glands: A Pain in the Butt:” “If done incorrectly, frequent expressions can cause a rupture or irritate the openings which prevents the normal, healthy out–flow. The technique plays a significant role in this. The correct way to express an anal gland is to insert an index finger into the rectum and use the thumb to ‘milk’ the gland. This method gives a better feel for the size of the gland and the amount of pressure required to empty the gland . . . [The external method] requires more pressure and often leads to much more irritation of the area than the internal method, and potential damage/rupture to an unhealthy gland.”

Published medical studies speak to many health issues with canine anal sacs, not the least of which is a host of new science about bacteria and other “volatile compounds.”1 There have been serious medical consequences for too many dogs from this old school practice by groomers who forcefully insist that they are well trained and know exactly what they are doing. But unless we have a DVM behind our names, we should explain that we cannot offer this service based on new information from the veterinary world. Best practices change with new information.

Silhouette of dog's nose and ears
Myth #5:
The groomer should remove all ear hair from the ears.
Busted: I was trained to groom by several very good groomers in the early 1980s. Standard practice by most in the industry in those days was to take a pair of hemostats into the ear and pinch together all the hair inside. We would then close the hemostats and clamp them in a locked position and begin to twirl the handles of the hemostats around and around, like spaghetti on a fork. Once we had all the hair wrapped up, we would pull quickly and firmly, ripping out every single hair inside the dog’s ear. I am sure you can easily imagine the screams of pain from the dogs! All the ear hair was yanked out, no matter which stage of growth it was in—anagen, catagen or telogen.

Thankfully, now we know better that the stage of growth of the hair matters. Anagen and catagen stage hairs are still firmly rooted inside the follicle. Only hairs in the telogen stage are getting ready to fall out. Medical experts have discovered that we were causing microscopic internal bleeding in the sensitive ear tissue. Since the ears are often a repository for bacteria, this was causing not only more ear infections, but also allowing bacteria into the bloodstream causing potentially very serious blood infections.

Recommended best practice today for dogs’ ears is basically, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” If the dog is a breed that has ear hair, use dry fingers on dry ear hair before the bath to tug gently on the hairs growing out of the ear canal. Using this technique, your fingers will naturally pull out only the hairs in telogen phase; the ones ready to fall out. The rest of the ear hairs should be trimmed by the groomer, not plucked.2

Dogs’ ears are already highly prone to infection because of the L-shaped ear canal that easily traps and holds moisture in a dark, warm environment suited to growth of bacteria and fungi. Drop-eared breeds have an especially high rate of infection because of the lack of airflow inside the ear. Keeping the ears as dry as possible during bathing is important. Drops and solutions containing gentian violet (which can stain) have proven very effective in preventing and treating infections. Other sources confirm that the ear is a complicated and important internal organ with efficient self-healing and self-cleaning ability, but also extreme vulnerability to injury and infection.3

Again, internal organ equals veterinary territory. We risk serious and permanent injury to our beloved dog clients when we venture down inside an ear. We can clean the outside of the ear on the pinna, or visible outer portion of the ear, if it is dirty, but to use ear cleaner on a clean ear is a problem. If we introduce cleaning/drying chemicals onto a pink, clean, healthy, normal ear, we can actually cause a problem in the dog’s ear that wasn’t there before.2

Blue hand
Myth #6:
Dogs should be held in place firmly during grooming for their safety.
Busted: Traditional, old school thinking of dominantly controlling the dog’s behavior on the table during grooming has probably caused more suffering for our dog clients, I will speculate, than perhaps any other ill-informed grooming practice. Researchers and academics in the field of behavioral psychology have documented for years a better understanding of what forced compliance can create in anyone—human or dog.

Trauma researcher Bessel van der Kolk, MD, has been researching trauma’s effects on animals and humans for decades. In his book The Body Keeps the Score, he notes that inescapable restraint is highly traumatizing for humans and animals, leading them to respond as if death is imminent.4 When an animal stops struggling, they are not being compliant, they are dissociating and their brains are preparing to die. This can include a natural release of urine and feces as they experience the terror of being held against their will. Their fight or flight response has been thwarted, resulting in the secretion of high levels of trauma hormones, as well as creating strong and enduring memories of being in a hostile place.

Chrissy Neumeyer-Smith, MGBS (Master Groomer Behavior Specialist), and host of the Creating Great Grooming Dogs podcast, says that this outdated thinking about controlling dog behavior is called “flooding.” She points out that we all now view with horror the old human parenting technique to teach kids to swim by throwing them in the deep water and letting them “sink or swim.”

Chrissy explains, “Science shows that the old ways rarely work. We must remember that grooming is a process a dog experiences repetitively and regularly throughout his whole life. Three outcomes are well known from this practice: Habituation; Learned Helplessness, where they appear to be doing okay but one day they can just snap; and Sensitization, where they become more and more sensitive to what we are doing. These are the dogs that get worse over time. Scientists have known since the 1960s that flooding is not the best outcome.”

Chrissy teaches how to move dogs to a place where they are “calm, comfortable, and cooperative” for the grooming process. “We do this,” she says, “by understanding why the dog does what it does and addressing that.”

Any professional must keep up with developments in their field. When new information becomes available, old ways of doing things must be discontinued. It’s time for these myths in our industry to be retired for good.

Part One of this article appears in the December 2022 issue of Groomer To Groomer


  1. Bergeron, C., de Souza, B., Sauvé, F. (2021, Jan). Description of the bacterial microbiota of anal sacs in healthy dogs. Can J Vet Res. 85(1): 12–17.
  2. Madison, C. (2019, May 22). Should You Pluck Your Dog’s Ear Hair?
  3. Tabacca, N., Cole, L., Hillier, A., Rajala-Schultz, P. (2011, Dec). Epithelial migration on the canine tympanic membrane. Vet Dermatol (6):502-10. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-3164.2011.00982.x.
  4. van der Kolk, B. (2014) The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma. New York: Viking.