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Grooming Elderly Dogs

Updated: Feb 19, 2023

I just finished grooming Ashy, a 16-year-old Yorkshire Terrier and regular of mine, and it prompted me to write about a post about him, since he is a very special hound, and also to use his story as a way of explaining how I approach grooming elderly dogs.

Ashy the 16-year-old Yorkshire Terrier came in for a bath and face trim.
Elderly Yorkshire Terrier

My Approach to Grooming Elderly Dogs

I groom a lot of elderly pooches at The Artful Dog Grooming Parlour. Old or geriatric dogs are more susceptible to health problems; have less energy; and can also have more ingrained habits, likes and dislikes than their younger selves. All of these affect their tolerance to being groomed. Because of this it is important for groomers to adapt to an elderly dog's needs. Below are the bullet points outlining my approach. Scroll down for more on Ashy's particular story.

  1. I ask a lot of questions upfront about the dog's health, activity levels, sleeping patterns, diet and attitude to grooming.

  2. I like the dogs to visit me before a groom for a Meet & Treat, or I visit them, and their owners. A 'getting to know you visit' puts any dog in a better position before an actual groom, as they have had a chance to sniff around and suss the groomer and The Grooming Parlour out.

  3. Wherever possible, I will groom an elderly dog in the comfort of their own home, with the owners on hand to help and reassure.

  4. I adapt my methods to the dog. For Ashy I comb through his facial hair in the bath as that is the only time he will tolerate it being combed. I also use a nail grinder instead of clippers as he prefers that, and I put him in a "calming cradle" that holds his body so I can work on his legs. (Tbh, I'm not sure he loves it, but he doesn't hate it either, and when he wriggles less it allows me to quickly tidy up his paws and nails.)

  5. I try to make the actual grooming part as quick as possible. I give elderly dogs LOTS of breaks from the groom, and they have constant access to water. For example, Ashy comes in for a maximum of two hours at a time, and we see how much grooming can be done in that particular session, and I prioritise grooming areas of his body that need the most attention at that time.

  6. I stay calm. If I am upset, or scared, then the dog will be too. For example, just before grooming Ashy I always do some mindfulness activity so I can be the kind of groomer he deserves.

  7. I put the ease, comfort and health of the dog over the aesthetic outcome of a groom. i.e. "Humanity over Vanity" which is a mantra that many groomers subscribe to.

Ashy's Story

Ashy is without a doubt the most challenging dog I have on my roster. Which might well be why I love him so much. When Ashy's owners first got in touch they were struggling to find a groomer that would take him.

In their words: "He particularly dislikes his face and front paws being groomed and will squirm and struggle. He tolerates everything else. He cries in the bath but usually cooperates, though may try to get out if not held. He tolerates the dryer except when it is round his head - he may struggle to get away or try to hide his head."

99% of this was true, the1% that wasn't is that the description underemphasised just how much Ashy dislikes being groomed. He doesn't really tolerate any of it, and that he does more than squirm and struggle: he bites.

When I heard this description of him, I wanted to shout out a huge 'THANK YOU owners for your honesty!' In order to do right by a dog it is so important for me to know upfront exactly what they will and will not tolerate. I NEVER judge, so the best thing owners can do is be candid about their dog's likes and dislikes, so I can prepare.

In addition I was told that Ashy suffers from deteriorating eyesight, hearing and brain function. That he is sociable, curious, quick to bite if triggered, a well-known escape artist and very strong for his age. All of this was critical information.

Ashy is the kind of dog that many groomers call "aggressive" (I don't like this word in this context - it implies an intent to harm without acknowledging the underlying trigger - but I often struggle to find a better word) and will either muzzle and restrain, or refer to the vet for a welfare groom, that is given under anaesthetic. When I suggested the latter I was told that Ashy's vet was reluctant to put him under anaesthetic because there was a high risk he would never come out. I knew then how important it was to see him for myself.

I visited Ashy in his home where he would feel more relaxed with a stranger. I let him come to me, in his own time and manner. I understood then that I should always approach Ashy from the front and 'announce' my presence both visually and verbally before touching him, otherwise he would freak out. During his grooms I only touch him and pick him up when he is content for me to do so, and has some kind of advance warning from me.

Ashy's coat was straggly and beginning to mat. His face was plastered in sticky brown goo - a mixture of food and general detritus - that was interfering with his comfort. Hair was flopping over his eyes. His nails were too long and would have been painful to walk on.

The Yorkie's nails were overgrown and must have been painful to walk on.
Ashy's nails were overgrown and must have been painful to walk on.

Ashy's reactivity and predilection for biting if touched in the wrong place also meant his owners were struggling to maintain his coat and nails at home, much as they wanted to.

For his benefit and health he needed a groom. I suggested grooming him at home; his owners said previous groomers had tried exactly that but it didn't make any difference. His paws, legs and head were sacrosanct and if anyone tried to touch them, he would instantly bite.

I suggested the owners stay and help, so there was a reassuring and familiar presence. Same response - it had been tried before and made things worse.

I didn't make any promises but said I would see what I could do.

Ashy came to me, and after some trial and error, and different approaches, I am pleased and proud to say he has now become a regular.

Don't get me wrong; he still desperately dislikes being groomed. Sometimes that can't be helped, but what I can do is try to help all dogs cope well with a groom, and to feel safe, despite their fear and anxiety. Ashy still enters my home with his tail wagging, and is sometime reluctant to leave, so I must be doing something right.

Finally, on a more sombre note, Ashy is visiting the vet next week, as his brain function is clearly getting worse. I sincerely hope I get to see him again.

Ashy is a 16-year-old Yorkshire Terrier with deteriorating eyesight, hearing and brain function; and a history of anxiety-driven aggression during grooming. He particularly dislikes his paws and face being touched and is quick to bite to warn people off if they try.
Grooming Elderly Dogs

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