Here at Pawsitivity, one of the distinctives we advertise about our spa is that we maintain a kennel-free environment. Giving our canine clients freedom of movement when they are not in the bath or on the grooming table helps us to reach our goal of making every dog as comfortable as possible. How does this work? We’re glad you asked!
In our experience, being kept in a kennel is one of the top stressors for dogs at the groomer. For many dogs, being stuck in a locked cage is associated with going to the veterinarian, while for former shelter dogs, it may create a traumatic stress response because of their past experiences.
In the grooming industry there is a dog profile labeled “kennel-aggressive,” and it’s fairly common. This phrase describes a dog who is fine for grooming and handling, but acts aggressively when put in a kennel and tries to bite when being removed from the kennel.
There’s an instinctive reason for this behavior. In an enclosed space, dogs have a feeling of safety, as if they are in a den. They become defensive toward anyone who tries to enter that space, because it feels like a threat.
Kennels in and of themselves are not bad. Kennel training is a highly effective method for potty training: the dog stays in the kennel until she goes potty outside, then is allowed out of the kennel. The dog quickly learns that pottying inside puts her back in the kennel, and pottying outside gives her freedom. Dogs have a basic instinct to keep their sleeping space clean, which is why kennel training works well.
Many trainers recommend giving your dog a kennel as his bed, with soft blankets and chew toys to make it his homey, safe space. Some dogs do better in their own kennel when they come for boarding, because it is their own safe place. There is a difference between this and a dog being put in a grooming environment, where he is handled, put in a kennel, taken out to be groomed, and put back in the kennel.
Most vet hospitals use kennel banks, which are wall-to-wall cages stacked on top of each other. In this situation dogs hear each other, feel each other’s movements, and feed off each other’s stress -- especially in an environment where they’re already uncomfortable and nervous. When dogs are stressed, they bark, so the kennel bank creates a room full of barking dogs. Very few dogs in a kennel bank feel comfortable. As a system, this is necessary in a vet hospital: an environment where dogs can’t have contact with each other. But a grooming salon is not the place for this method.
At Pawsitivity, our goal is to make things as relaxing and comfortable as possible. When we opened in our first location, we did use kennels, but when we moved to our current location, they were the first thing to go. We had found that when we kept our dogs in kennels even for a short time we could only get them to a certain level of comfort. While in the kennel they would bark, which elevated the stress of the other dogs.
We believe there is no reason to have kennels in the grooming environment. It is convenient because it saves time on drying and walking them out to potty. But there is more to being groomed than getting a haircut. If you want your pup to have an enjoyable experience and to build a relationship with her stylist, then she must be comfortable and feel safe.
What about dogs who are dog-aggressive, fear-aggressive, or just don’t like other dogs? At Pawsitivity, depending on each individual dog, we schedule these types of clients so that they have some space to themselves in our smaller rooms. They have a gate between them and other dogs, but they also have room to move around and be comfortable. For dogs who get uncomfortable being in contact with other dogs, we groom them with a single stylist in a one-on-one, straight-through appointment with no downtime, so they spend no time on the floor playing with other dogs. We do not accept dog-aggressive dogs at Pawsitivity. We recommend a mobile groomer for this type of dog, because there is no kennel and no other dogs to interact with.
Regardless, we structure all appointments at the spa so that each dog is bathed and groomed in a timely manner, with no client spending hours waiting. Our clients usually have two 10 to 15-minute play sessions in between their bath and drying and their haircut time. Dogs do well with routine, and they get excited when their stylist puts their bandana on, because they know that’s the end of their haircut. It’s also good for them to have interactions with different people -- a bather and a stylist -- and to experience variety.
Everything we do is oriented around giving each dog an enjoyable day at the spa. We have found that a kennel-free environment is one of the easiest, most effective ways to help all of our dogs to relax and enjoy their time with us. This is why being kennel-free is foundational to our styling experience!