Downtime

Chronicles of the Hair-Raising Hair Dryer

My dog cowers in fear every time I blow-dry my hair—what should I do?

A dog looking askance at a hair dryer.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Picsea on Unsplash and Jomkwan/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Beast Mode is Slate’s pet advice column. Have a question? Send it to beastmode@slate.com.

Dear Beast Mode,

My 1-year-old dog has never loved hair dryers. Until a few weeks ago, she was able to get through the Hair Dryer Terrors by hiding under the coffee table and could be easily coaxed out with a toy or basic treat. However, something has switched on in her brain, and now any time I even get in the shower, she squeezes herself under the couch and won’t come out until she is convinced that the Hair Dryer Terrors are over. Any suggestions on how to flip the switch back off in her brain, or do I just have to resign myself to wet hair and basement showers for the rest of our lives?

—Soggy and Scary

Dear Soggy and Scary,

Dogs have made a Faustian bargain. In exchange for their acute sense of hearing, certain noises spark the fear of Beelzebub in their furry little souls. It’s the price they must pay to detect you opening the treat drawer from the farthest reaches of the house.

I can’t blame your pup. Hair dryers are loud. If the world was really ending, it would probably sound a bit like your post-shower coiffing routine. She’s just being cautious.

At just a year old, your dog is still a puppy in many ways. That “switch” you mention is extra sensitive for younger dogs, and you can’t predict how it will evolve as they mature. The good news is that puppies want to learn, and you can take some pretty simple steps to teach her that the hair dryer isn’t trying to kill her.

First, show her the hair dryer (turned off, of course), and reward her bravery with some high-value treats. She deserves these even if she scuttles under the couch, so leave a few within range of her snout—she’ll pick up the chewy Medals of Honor when she’s good and ready.

Once she shows some progress, up the stakes a little. Have someone turn on the hair dryer in the bathroom while you sit with her in a comfortable spot in the house. Give her treats from the moment she hears the dreaded device being pulled out from the cabinet and onward throughout the entire ordeal. She may be too terrified to accept them at first, but don’t give up.

Given your standard grooming routine, the pup has learned to associate showers with the hair dryer. Once she’s bucked her fear of the source terror, she should hopefully stop running every time you turn on the water. If this behavior persists, you can try the above rewarding process but with all the steps you take before getting in the shower. (A treat when the curtain is moved, a few when you’re waiting for the water to heat up, etc.)

None of this is an exact science. You can try to desensitize her to the shower first and then work on the hair dryer, or you can do a combination of both. What matters most is that you start slow and encourage her along the way. You aren’t Pavlov, so feel free to be liberal with the treats.

Remember that while the dog is afraid of the hair dryer, it won’t actually hurt her. It can be heartbreaking to see her cower from a bathroom appliance, but you shouldn’t disrupt your own behavior because of her sensitivity. Dogs are receptive to routines, and so going out of your way to accommodate her fears will only reinforce them.

I can tell you from experience that this process won’t be a breeze. It might not even work! My own dog is a wreck on garbage days and hides as soon as she hears the trucks turn onto our block. We tried a similar reward method to the one I laid out above, but it wasn’t a total fix. Ruby has gotten better, though on some days she still seeks shelter come the first rumbles of those recycling and compost monsters

A large dog under a small desk.
Ruby hiding on garbage day.
Nick Greene

I can’t tell you why she is fine on some garbage days but still responds like this on others. The only thing I can do is be ready with treats when it happens. It’s all part of the bargain we’ve made together in this very loud and scary world.