Over the years, I have come to find that most people think a dog’s trip to the groomer is all about the dog “looking nice” or “smelling better”. This is partially true, but it is so much more than that.
A good groomer will notice things about the dog that the owner often doesn’t- from the beginnings of an ear infection to a small lump that has gone unnoticed, a good groomer is often an owner’s first line of defense against problems that can develop into more serious issues. Like people, many dogs have skin problems that can be helped by using the proper shampoos and skin treatments, along with advice from your veterinarian.
Choosing the right groomer for your dog is important- groomers are not all the same, and do things differently. Just like anyone else, they all have different personalities. If your dog is high strung or nervous you will do well to choose a groomer who displays a calm, relaxed attitude. Groomers often have specialties or favorites when it comes to breeds, although the vast majority grooms all breeds. If you enjoy keeping your Bichon in a full body scissor clip, you need to find someone who excels at those kinds of clips.
First, decide what you and your dog need from a groomer. You need someone who can give your dog the kind of haircut that you would like your dog to have, and, above all else, someone who will do everything they can to keep your dog safe. Safe, you say? Yes, safe. Grooming dogs has its hazards. We are using sharp objects on a living being, which has no concept of the danger from moving at the wrong moment. Accidents do occasionally happen, even with the most experienced groomers. Young puppies, elderly dogs that have grown intolerant, and hyper, untrained dogs are at the highest risk for accidents. ALWAYS be sure to inform your new groomer about potential problems with the dog that you are aware of, such as hating the clippers around the face, fear of loud noises, etc. If you know that your dog has a tendency to bite on certain things, like having his toenails clipped, please warn them! You are not doing your dog or the groomer any favors by “forgetting” to mention problems that have occurred during previous grooming. If your dog does receive even the smallest nick, a good groomer will inform you of that when you pick the dog up.
Your next step is to visit several grooming shops in your area. Don’t just call and make an appointment- GO there to make it! If you can, stop in sometime mid-morning, as this is when most shops are in full-swing. You want to arrive during the time when dogs are actually being worked on, so you can observe what is going on.
Here are some things to look for;
1. When you enter the shop, how does it smell? If there are strong odors of urine or feces, leave. Most shops will smell like “wet dogs” during working hours, so don’t let that deter you. There will be some dog hair in evidence, but your overall impression of the shop should be one of cleanliness.
2. Watch how the dogs are being handled, especially when you first enter. Physical restraint of a difficult dog is normal, and necessary for the safety of both the dog and groomer, but overly-rough handling is not.
3. Do the groomers walk away from a dog that is on the table? Unless the dog is restrained on the table by two grooming straps, one around their neck and one around their body, the groomer has the dog in view AND the dog is small… LEAVE. Leaving a dog on a grooming table with only a neck restraint, no matter the size of the dog, is extremely dangerous. There have been many incidents of this very thing resulting in the senseless death of a dog. The groomer moving a few feet away to retrieve something while the dog is restrained by two straps is one thing, focusing their attention completely on something else, or leaving the room entirely, is another. This is not an acceptable risk.
There have been well publicized incidents of dogs dying from being left under heated cage dryers for extended periods of time. This is sheer negligence on the part of the groomer or bather involved. A good groomer is constantly checking on the dogs in their care. Ask if the shop has dryers with heating elements. If so, ask if the dryers all have timers. Timers can malfunction, but they should not be using a heated cage dryer without one. Ask if the dogs are “fluff dried”. This means that the dogs, especially coated breeds, are dried by hand while being brushed. If the shop primarily dries with this method, the dogs will not be allowed to sit for long under a dryer, if at all. Many shops use box fans to help with the drying process, which is perfectly safe as there is no heat involved. If you own one of the “push-faced” breeds, such as a Pug or Pekingese, make sure that they will NOT use a heated cage dryer on your dog. Breeds of this type have compromised airways, and are far easier to overheat.
Now it’s time to talk with the groomer. Explain what kind of dog you have, and what kind of clip you would like. Without them seeing your dog, you will most likely not get an exact price, but a “ball-park” estimate, depending on the condition of your dog and the type of clip you ask for. If you have a shorter coated breed, such as a Labrador or a German shepherd, the price will usually be more definite. If you know that your dog requires a specialty shampoo, ask if they can accommodate you. For example, if your dog has allergies, make sure that they have a hypo-allergenic shampoo in stock. Find out what time drop offs and pick ups usually are. If you feel comfortable with what you have seen and heard, make your appointment.
Now it’s grooming day. Arrive on time. After greeting you and your dog, s/he should examine your dog’s coat and discuss your grooming options. If your pet is a coated breed that has not been kept up, don’t expect miracles! Be considerate of your dog. If there is a lot of matting, put aside your desire for a “fluffy” cut and have your dog clipped short this time. You want your dog’s grooming experiences to be good ones, and having to endure a long brush out is unfair to your dog, which couldn’t care less about how s/he “looks”. It will grow back, and you will be able to have that fluffy haircut if you keep your dog on a regular grooming schedule. Take your groomer’s advice about what can and cannot be accomplished. If you have a dog that has never been to the groomer, be realistic in your expectations of what the finished groom will look like. It is a noisy place with all sorts of “monsters”, like the clippers and the dryer, with people who are strangers to your pet. A few pleasant grooming sessions will go a long way to alleviating your pet’s fears.
When you pick up your dog, ask how it went. A good groomer will be honest, and tell you what your dog was good for, and what it wasn’t. Really look at your dog BEFORE you leave the shop. Any changes that you want made should be done now. Do not call in two weeks and tell them that the haircut needs a change! Lastly, if you like the way your dog looks, let your groomer know- compliments are always appreciated!
Kim has been an all-breed groomer for 22 years, specializing in terriers.
This article was written by Kim of Poochies Parlor and modified by New York Dog Nanny.