These topics have been raised in Facebook posts recently. I thought it would be useful to expand on these terms for those groomers who may be unfamiliar with them.
The information here is not intended to be critical of other methods, it is intended to give a definition of the terms for both groomers and canine guardians.
- I have used the term “restraint” as that is the term majority of groomers use
- I refer to dogs in the masculine but equally applies to male and female
Force/fear Free Grooming/Cooperative Grooming
Firstly, force free and fear free grooming is rare. Whilst some dogs may enjoy the process, many others would choose not to be groomed, given the choice. Once the collar/harness is applied by the guardian, to bring their dog to the groomers, freedom of choice is removed and this becomes the first part of the force concept.
Force/Fear free are terms that have migrated from the canine training/behaviour world. However, most groomers who call themselves “force free” (or fear free, holistic, consent based, canine permission based, etc) are actually referring to is cooperative grooming.
Cooperative grooming isn’t just about not using safety restraints. It is an holistic term which incorporates:
- Taking a canine science-based approach to grooming
- Teaches consent based techniques (discussed later)
- Ensuring familiarisation sessions without any grooming taking place, until the groomer feels that they can continue to a groom having built a relationship (applies equally to fully grown dogs as well as pups). This may incorporate play, food and other positive experiences.
- Allowing him to approach groomer in their own time
- Teaching him to get on table or indicate he is ready to be put on the table (or bath)
- Not restrictively holding body parts (legs, head) to prevent movement, but supporting so he has the option to move body parts away if it gets too much
- Limits the use of safety restraints to a “needs must” but seeks alternative methods (see below)
- Stopping the groom temporarily if he/she gets distressed/shows multiple calming signals
- Stops the groom before he/she has to resort to a bite
- Uses food to counter condition or desensitisation
- The vanity side of the groom is usually the lowest priority for a consent based groomer. Making safety, mental and emotional welfare a priority.
- Recognises that the majority of “bad” behaviour is a reflection of his fear (and that some are autonomous nervous system responses which he has no control over)
- Recognises that he cannot learn positive stuff whilst anxious (but can learn negative associations extremely easily)
- Acknowledges that grooming using cooperative techniques is less stressful for anxious dogs (irrelevant whether they bite or not)
- Tellington TTouch or Reiki may also be used
I suspect most groomers will use some of these techniques!
Cooperative groomers find these methods of grooming causes less stress for both themselves and the dogs they groom, and as he is cooperating rather than fidgeting, struggling, trying to pull limbs away, snapping, biting, etc,, find that the grooming time is reduced along with the wear and tear on their body.
Using cooperative grooming doesn’t mean that we don’t address welfare issues though. If he is completely matted we will use restraints/muzzles to get as much done as possible, but will insist on working with him to build his confidence before his next groom is due.
Restraint Free Grooming (or safety aid free)
Grooming without restraints can be dangerous, but so can grooming with just the use of a neck restraint. Both would cause injury if the dog jumped off the table. The happy strappy or harness are far better options, or using a belly strap can ensure safety if necessary.
However, the groomers that do groom restraint free do what they can can minimise the risk. This may include:
- Full risk analysis prior to grooming without aids, including the behaviour of the dog
- Table against the wall with cupboards at the side, reducing exit routes.
- Table on lowest setting.
- Grooming on the floor.
It is doubtful that any groomer would risk the safety of a dog just to say they groom restraint free. They will assess the dog’s movement on the table, the likelihood of the dog jumping/falling off, size/health of the dog, and the damage if the dog was to jump/fall.
Consent based grooming
Consent based husbandry is nothing new, and there has been a big increase in these techniques over the last 10 years. More recently, there has been a growth in consent based grooming because it can, and does, make a massive difference to dogs with grooming anxieties. It can be the difference between being able to groom the dog safely (in terms of both dog and groomer) or not grooming the dog at all.
Consent based grooming can be likened to a dentist telling you to raise your hand if you are uncomfortable when he/she is carrying out a procedure. It doesn’t remove the fear, but allows you the ability to keep it at a level you can cope with. This empowers you and places you in control of what is happening – and likewise with dogs
Consent based techniques include:
- Bucket Game – Grooming only takes place whilst he looks at the bucket/stops when he looks away
- Chin rests – Grooming only takes place whilst chin in position (in hand/on chair, etc) stops when he moves his chin off
- Mat/Table Protocol – Groomings only takes place when he chooses to be on the mat/table
- Free Roam Protocol – Grooming only takes place when he is stood directly in front of groomer
- Food related protocols – Grooming only takes place whilst he is taking food from a snuffle or licki mat
All these methods allow the dog to perform an action which indicates that they need a break. It may only be 15 seconds but this gives the dog the opportunity to regroup and settle before continuing, thus reducing their anxiety levels.
Using these techniques can reduce the grooming time drastically, once taught. Teaching some of the methods are quicker than others but they can be demonstrated to guardians and they can help to train their dogs at home. Alternatively they may choose to bring their dog more regularly so that the groomer can do all the training.
It is rare that any of these techniques are needed throughout the groom, it may just be to clip off, to dry, or do feet or face.
It may be that the dog’s is not totally fear free whilst using these techniques, but it gives them a coping mechanism without which we would need to use more force than the dog is able to cope with, leading to a stressful groom for both dog and groomer, and potentially resulting in injuries to both.