We Asked Vets: Why Dogs Behave Strangely After Grooming

small black dog looking sad at the end of grooming

My dogs rarely need more than a simple occasional brushing but have still had to get professionally groomed on more than one occasion.

First, there was the “skunk incident”. Then, there was the dead fish they found during the day at the lake. Finally, there was the glitter (that’s a story for another time). 

But every time my dogs come home from the groomer, they seem aloof, almost depressed, a little anxious, and overall just strange. I discussed this unusual post-grooming behavior change with two of Not A Bully’s advising veterinarians, Dr. Menicucci and Dr. Patel, and here’s the quick answer:

Dogs may act strangely after grooming due to stress, overstimulation, discomfort from a new haircut, reaction to their owner’s emotions, separation anxiety, or even sickness.

Grooming environments can be overwhelming, exposing dogs to loud noises, new people, and unfamiliar handling, which can lead to stress and anxiety. Signs of this include lethargy, avoiding eye contact, and excessive licking or yawning. While some behavior changes are normal, if your dog remains depressed or shows signs of illness (like vomiting or lethargy) for several days, consult your veterinarian.

To make grooming easier for your dog, start by desensitizing them to the grooming environment which could be as simple as providing treats while handling their feet or spending time in the lobby. To cheer up your dog after grooming, engage in activities they enjoy, matching these to their energy levels. Allow them time to rest and unwind in a familiar, comfortable space.

Be patient and give your dog time to adjust and recover from the grooming experience. 

We’ll take a closer look at each explanation so you can figure out which one makes the most sense for you and your dog. But first, let’s take a closer look at why socialization is so important.

Why Socializing Your Dog For Grooming Matters

Instead of taking your new puppy or recently adopted adult dog straight to the groomer, it is important to socialize them first. Socializing is not only for meeting new people and dogs, but also acclimating your new family member to weird sounds, new environments, and handling like grooming.

You can work on basic care like brushing and nail clipping at home. If you’re not sure where to get started, the video below can help and even just attempting some of these activities (while using plenty of positive reinforcement) can help acclimate your dog to the grooming process.

Dr. Nita Patel adds, “If you take home a dog breed that you know will need grooming as they age, helping desensitize them at a young age is important – touching their ears, paws, playing with their feet, and other handling can make the grooming process easier for you, your dog and the groomer.”

A poorly socialized dog is going to have a harder time in stressful places like the groomer and might appear depressed or upset after. It is scary to be pulled out of your comfort zone and poked and prodded by a stranger. When they come home, it might seem like they are ignoring you, but they are probably recovering from a scary situation.

Whether your dog has good reason to be afraid or not, the signs of a fearful dog can easily be misidentified as depression.

Signs your dog is depressed, scared or anxious after grooming include:

It’s important that we’re on the same page in terms of what the unusual behavior looks like before we begin to explain the possible reasons. 

Reason 1: Your Dog Is Stressed Out At The Groomer

Stress and anxiety at the groomer is the most likely explanation for your dog’s change in behavior.

When you compare the grooming experience to your dog’s everyday experience, it’s no surprise that many dogs find it stressful. Many dogs, even larger dogs, are placed on an elevated platform and exposed to loud noises from air dryers and clippers while meeting new people and being handled in new ways! Then, there’s the nail trims, the water and even meeting new dogs.

Your groomer could do a perfect job and your dog may still, understandably, find the experience extremely stressful. Stress and anxiety can then lead to behavior that we interpret as depression, sadness, or weirdness.

Even well-socialized dogs may not have experienced this unique, and confusing, combination of handling! Dogs that are under-socialized and have not had many experiences at the groomer are more likely to not like the groomer and have a behavior change when they come home.

In most cases, it’s unlikely the fault of the groomers themselves but the process of grooming that makes your dog act depressed. However, in some cases, a clipper can get too close to the skin, or a nail trim could be uncomfortable. Even the best groomers can make these mistakes but they can add to the stress, and subsequent behavior change, for your dog. 

After a stressful experience at the groomer, your dog is likely to associate the groomer, and the events leading up to it, with negative emotions and not like going. After being groomed, they might hide and avoid you until they recover.

It is important to research, check reviews, and get recommendations for groomers, but even the best professional groomers might make a mistake, trimming a nail too short or accidentally scaring your dog.

We could all hope for a dog that loves the blow dryer as much as this one but that’s unfortunately not the case!

Reason 2: Your Dog Is Tired And Overstimulated

Even if your dog isn’t stressed or anxious at the groomer, the process is still very stimulating and tiring. Depending on the breed, age, and personality, some dogs can get more easily overstimulated than others, becoming overwhelmed around new dogsnew people, and at the groomer.

Dogs that are overwhelmed or overstimulated appear to shut down out of exhaustion which might look like fear, lethargy, or depression. Dr. Patel adds, “It is very taxing and exhausting for them to be in a constant state of elevated stress, making them appear more lethargic when they are home.”

If your dog is simply tired, you’d expect them to be more of their usual self after 24 to 36 hours.

Reason 3: Your Dog Is Uncomfortable

A dramatic haircut might suddenly change the way your dog experiences the world. They might appear depressed while they get used to the new grooming.

Suddenly, they can feel every draft or touch on their freshly new trim fur, or have little hairs poking or tickling, making them uncomfortable. Dr. Patel explains that “Sometimes the clippers used or topical products used can irritate the skin of a pet who has sensitive skin or allergies.”

A dog that was heavily matted might have sores on their body that are now able to start to heal or they are reacting to the cold more than normal. The more dramatic the grooming, the more uncomfortable or depressed your dog might act after grooming. Most dogs will get used to their new hairstyle within a few days to a few hours.

Reason 4: Your Dog Is Reacting To You

Dogs are extremely sensitive to our emotions. They can read our facial expressions, and body language, and even hear our feelings in our voice. 

And if you laugh at or are upset at your dog’s new haircut, they might react by appearing depressed or acting unusual after grooming. While it might appear like your dog is embarrassed, dogs do not have that emotion. In reality, they are probably picking up on your mood and energy and reacting with appeasing body language.

Body language associated with submissiveness or appeasement might look like depression since your dog might cower, tremble, or hide. Be careful about your reaction to your dog after they have been at the groomer all day or they might start to associate being picked up with unusual moods from you. 

Reason 5: Your Dog Could Be Sick

It is pretty normal for a dog to be overwhelmed and act weird after grooming, but if your dog cannot shake being depressed for several days, they might have picked up something at the groomer.

Besides obvious symptoms of sickness like vomiting or diarrhea, a sick dog might lose their bright eyes, be lethargic, and have pale gums. If they are sneezing or coughing, it could be a sign of kennel cough, a common and very contagious respiratory virus that dogs pick up at dog parks, daycares, and groomers.

Dr. Patel explains that “Many cases of kennel cough require treatment to resolve. It is highly infectious and even can cause pneumonia if left unaddressed so it’s important to see your veterinarian if you’re seeing potential signs of kennel cough after grooming.” 

Reason 6: Your Dog Has Separation Anxiety

This is one of the more unlikely explanations but still a possibility. Some dogs might miss you more than others because they have separation anxiety. Besides being depressed after grooming, a dog suffering from separation anxiety might excessively howl or bark, be destructive, or have accidents while at the groomer. 

However, Dr. Menicucci points out that “It’s critical to differentiate between general anxiety due to grooming and true separation anxiety, which is a more complex behavioral issue requiring specific behavioral modification strategies and sometimes medical intervention.”

If separation anxiety is the issue for your pup, you will have seen other signs of anxiety well before the groomer so don’t jump to this conclusion if the other explanations we’ve already listed make more sense.

How To Cheer Up Your Dog After Grooming

Keeping your dog happy after grooming starts long before you make the appointment!

Desensitize Your Dog To The Environment

First, before you even take your dog to be groomed, see if your groomer will allow you to take them to the lobby to get used to the environment. When I adopted each of my dogs, one of the ways I socialized them was by taking them to the vet, hanging out in the lobby, and giving them treats.

This way they had positive experiences before they ever went in for their first exam and vaccines. See if your groomer will let you do the same thing at their salon!

Create Positive Associations After Grooming

Once they start being groomed, create as many positive associations as possible. For high-energy dogs, this could be activities like a game of fetch or a long walk. For other dogs, an extra treat and a quiet drive are enough. 

Just remember that grooming is tiring for many dogs so make sure to match the positive activity to your dog’s post-grooming energy levels. 

Give Your Dog Time

After returning from the groomer, allow your dog some time to relax and unwind in a familiar, comfortable space. This might mean giving them a quiet corner with their favorite bed or blanket, where they can rest undisturbed. Understand that grooming can be both physically and mentally taxing, and like humans after a long day, your dog might need some downtime.

Final Thoughts

Stress can sometimes be hard to understand in dogs and while we usually rely on a wagging tail to tell when our dog is happy, even that isn’t always reliable.

Unless you have a short-haired dog that does not shed, there is a good chance you will have to take them to the groomer at some point. And when they come home acting unusual after grooming, it can break our hearts. As dog parents, we hate when our dogs are sad or scared but some unusual behavior is normal after the stress of grooming. 

Focus on creating as much positive association with the groomer as possible and give your dog time to recover. If they continue to act strange days after the groomer, it’s a good idea to start a conversation with your veterinarian.

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