Understanding Canine Stress During Grooming: A Key to Providing Better Care
by Kim Kier
Photos provided by Little Barks Boutique
In our line of work, we’ve all encountered dogs on our grooming tables who appear uncomfortable, are panting excessively or trying to escape—all clear signs of stress. We instinctively recognize these signals, but have you ever wondered what truly goes on in a dog’s mind during a grooming session?

In a 2022 case study published in the Brazilian Journal of Animal Science, researchers set out to investigate stress levels in dogs during their grooming experiences at a salon.1 The study involved a total of 55 grooming sessions, spanning from the moment the dogs were transported to the salon until they returned home.

The study encompassed evaluations of behavioral, physiological and blood components at various stages of the grooming process. The findings revealed that changes in dogs’ behavior and physiological parameters were most noticeable upon arrival and during the drying phase. Intriguingly, the characteristics of the groomers themselves also had an impact on the dogs’ behavior.

While grooming may seem like a straightforward process, it plays a vital role in a dog’s health and hygiene. Dogs undergo stressful situations during grooming, including interactions with unfamiliar people, contact with other dogs and exposure to a range of environmental factors. Though there is limited scientific research on this topic, studying how dogs behave during grooming can help us enhance the care we provide to our furry clients.

Study Details
The case study involved 33 dogs, consisting of 12 males and 21 females, all of which had been spayed or neutered. The grooming environment was bustling with various sounds, including barking, dryers and ambient music. To comprehensively understand the impact of grooming on dogs, researchers created a flowchart detailing behavior and physiological assessments at each grooming step.
Observed Behaviors
Researchers noted several behaviors during grooming, including:
digital outline of dog with front right paw raisedPostural Responses: Dogs displayed reluctance and attempts to escape from stimuli. Their heads were often lowered compared to their shoulders, tails were held low, and ears were lowered with tails tucked between their legs.
digital outline sitting with eyes closedCalming Signals: Dogs exhibited calming signals such as raising a paw, lifting a front paw, licking their nose, yawning, looking away, turning their heads, and vocalizing.
digital outline of scared dog barking and shakingPhysiological Behaviors: Panting, rapid open-mouth breathing, shivering, and shaking were observed.
digital outline of dog standing alertBehaviors Caused by Handling: Some dogs tried to escape, slipped, or changed positions.

Groomer’s Impact

The study found a correlation between cuddling dogs during bathing and fewer falls. Rude behaviors by the groomer correlated with low-tail behavior and falls. Additionally, there were negative correlations between the employee’s age and behaviors, such as raising the paw and panting during drying, while employee professional development correlated with heart rate. Rude employee behaviors were correlated with reluctant dogs, panting, shaking, looking away/turning of the head, and falls in dogs. This underlines the significance of kindness in our interactions with dogs.
chart showing the steps for the behavioral and physiological assessments and blood collection cycle
Arrival Matters
The study also highlighted the importance of how dogs are approached upon arrival. During transportation, dogs experience stress due to the unfamiliar environment and other factors. Even the short route from their home to the grooming salon, with curves and exposure to sunlight, led to dogs panting upon arrival. Dogs often exhibited flattened ears, tails between their legs and fearful behavior, reflecting discomfort in the new environment.
Impact on Physiological Variables
The study revealed that both bathing and drying had significant effects on dogs’ physiological variables, with increased heart and respiratory rates after these grooming steps. This emphasizes the need to observe and adapt to the dog’s comfort level during each grooming phase.
Crate Holding
Dogs showed various behaviors, including licking their noses, in response to employee movement near their cages. This could be due to their perception of strangers as threats. Signs of discomfort, such as yawning, also increased. Waiting in cages limited their space and forced them to be close to unfamiliar animals.
two dogs being bathed

Some dogs slipped during attempts to escape from bathing and drying, as they were not accustomed to the handling and the noises associated with it.

Escape Behavior

Escape behavior was observed, including attempts to open doors, press front paws against locks, or push bars with their noses.
The high noise from the blower during drying had a significant impact on dogs. Dogs have heightened sensitivity to sounds, and intermittent noise exposure during drying led to stress signs such as tail-tucking, shrinking and shaking.
Some dogs slipped during attempts to escape from bathing and drying, as they were not accustomed to the handling and the noises associated with it. Successful escape attempts resulted in falls, emphasizing the need for caution.
In conclusion, this study highlights the importance of prioritizing the wellbeing of dogs throughout the grooming process. Our role as professional groomers goes beyond mere grooming; it involves ensuring the comfort, safety and happiness of our furry clients.

Kindness, empathy and attention to detail matter profoundly. Dogs are cherished members of families who trust us to provide the best care. As professional groomers, it is our responsibility to be their voice, to listen, observe and prioritize their needs.

By investing in training, knowledge and practicing kindness, we can make a positive impact on the lives of the dogs we groom. Let’s continue to put the welfare of dogs at the forefront of our work, ensuring they remain comfortable, safe, happy and healthy in our salons.

  1. Ferreira, M.; Rodriguez, M. A. P.; Oliveira, L. L. S.; Maranhão, C. M. A.; Oliveira, N. J. F.; Carvalho, C. C. S.; Afonso, M.V. R. and Madureira, M. R. 2022. Stress in dogs during grooming in a pet shop. Revista Brasileira de Zootecnia 51:e20200154. https://doi.org/10.37496/rbz5120200154

Kim Kier is the owner/groomer of Little Barks Grooming & Boutique, an award-winning luxury Salon in Columbia, South Carolina. She is also a Master Pet Aesthetician, Professional Grooming Credential (World Pet Association), Master Groomer Behavior Specialist, Fear Free Certified Professional, Low Stress Handling Certified Level Silver Certified, and Certified Puppy Consultant. Kim has recently been honored to be named “Grooming Guru” by Pet Product News International for 2023, and is the author of “Groomers Business Journal.”