Dog Grooming Trouble and Tranquilizer Use


A pet owner is concerned about needing to use tranquilizers on her dog in order to groom it. The Dog Expert offers advice on how to retrain this dog to accept being brushed and clipped without the need to use potentially dangerous sedatives.

Dog NeedsTranquilizers to Be Groomed

My mother-in-law recently gave me her one year old Toy Poodle, since she can no longer take her for walks. This little two-pound dog was kept in a small kennel at a breeders for the first eight or nine months of her life, before my mother-in-law got her.

Since I have had her, she has become very social, and is a sweet loving baby. BUT...her coat was a terrible mess, so I took her to my groomer that has taken care of my Old English Sheep Dog for years. She soon called me and told me that this sweet little girl turned into Cujo the minute she started to work with her. She could not groom her. So I brought her home and tried myself. It was true, the minute I even show her a brush, she goes crazy, biting and tearing herself out of my arms.

So I went to my vet, and he gave me tranquilizers to calm her. I had to give her two and knock her completely out before I could clip her completely. Now my question is, will I have to do this forever, or is there a way to get her used to the brush and clippers? Will drugging her every couple of months hurt her? She has to be clipped, and I will keep it as short as possible to limit the times she has to be sedated, but I would much rather she learn to enjoy her grooming. Please help me. I am so worried.

Thanks ~~Shelley

Expert Answer

Hello Shelley,

The good news is that the hardest part is already behind you and your pet, the initial grooming. After going ungroomed for so long, it hurts to have those mats brushed and clipped. Now that this dog has a fresh start, you can begin training your Poodle to accept grooming. Think of it along the same lines as gentling a colt.

You will need to slowly accustom her to the brush, since she seems to fear even the sight of it. To do this, choose a soft bristle brush that will work well enough on a short clipped coat. Put your dog in your lap, facing away from you, and begin softly stroking her fur until she becomes very relaxed. Have the brush close at hand, but out of her sight. When she seems ready to fall asleep, quietly switch to the brush and continue stroking softly just as though you were still petting her. If she realizes the switch and becomes upset, return to stroking her with your hand and reassure her in a soothing voice. Once she is calm, you can try the brush again.

The clippers are another matter, and should be addressed completely separate from the brushing. I suggest turning them on and letting them run for a few minutes at a time to help her get used to the noise that probably frightens her. When she shows some sign of becoming accustomed to the clatter, you can progress to running them over her with the side of the clippers pressed against her, not the cutting blade, so she can get used to feeling the vibrations as well. Go slowly and don't do it for more than a stroke or two, then turn them off and praise her for being so good, even if she wasn't. The idea is to reassure her that nothing bad will happen to her. Hopefully, in time you can progress to clipping small amounts of her coat at a time, and she will wind up accepting the process as a fact of life.

This will not be an overnight cure, but if you are persistent, and very kind and patient, you should make progress. Your dog may never be completely comfortable being groomed, but there is also a good chance that she can be, or at least much more manageable than she is now.

Personally, I am uncomfortable with giving small dogs tranquilizers because it is all too easy to give them an overdose, so I prefer the training method I've just described. Why not try it for a while before resorting to the medication. You may find you won't need it after all.


Follow Up

Dear Kelly,

Thanks so much for your response... As it turns out, what you have suggested, is exactly what I have been doing. But when I get her completely relaxed, and switch to the small kitten brush I got, she immediately knows and gets upset. So I have gone back even further. I am trying to change from petting her with the palm of my hand to stroking her back gently with the tips of my fingers (fingernails). Her skin immediately starts crawling and she pulls away, turning and looking at my hand suspiciously. She doesn't appear to have any skin problems, and I can't figure out why she is so sensitive. But since I hold her a great deal of the time, I am continuing to do this, and she seems to be excepting it a little better. Would it be better if I tried a regular comb instead of a brush?

I also tried using scissors to trim her, but she is just as violent towards them as she is the brush and clippers. I'm starting to wonder if she was abused while being groomed as a puppy, and this is the result. But whatever the case, I am not going to stop trying. And I promise to always be patient and loving towards her. It's impossible to get upset with her, she is just a scared little girl that I worry about. And drugs will definitely be the last resort...I shared your concern of an overdose.

Thank you so very much for your advice.

~~ Shelley



I believe you are on the right track, and I'd stick with the brush because a comb will pull the hair more. Your Poodle may have had a traumatic grooming experience before she came to you, based on her very strong reactions, but as you said, she seems to be accepting your fingernail brushing a little better so keep up the good work. It will take a long time to get her through this, but your instincts are good, and you know your dog better than anyone. Please check back with me within the next few months and let us know how she's progressing.


Was this page useful?
Related & Popular
Dog Grooming Trouble and Tranquilizer Use