What Every Dog Owner Should Know About Choosing a Groomer
Whether you have a double-coated Labrador, short-haired Pitbull, or silky haired Maltese, it is important to take good care of your dog’s skin and fur. I talked with expert groomer and stylist, Michelle Roache, of Metro Pet Spa, and received these tips to consider when looking for a groomer.
1. Experience. There are many ways to learn the trade of pet grooming and styling. There are schools, private training courses, online training videos, books, and, of course, hands-on experience. But there are no federal, state, or city (at least in Los Angeles) licensing requirements before a groomer takes shears in hand. Multiple years of experience is important, as getting a smooth action with the scissors takes repetitive practice. Also with time comes the knowledge of preparation work required for different types and conditions of hair. So how do you know if you should trust your dog with the groomer? Ask a lot of questions about their experience and training both informal and formal. Ask whether the groomer regularly attends continuing education, and is a member of one or more professional grooming associations. Also ask for referrals and check online reviews.
2. Interaction. Watch carefully how your dog and the groomer interact. The groomer should be respectful, patient, and kind. If your dog is behaving outside its usual character, consider another groomer.
3. Safety. Remember groomers are working with very sharp scissors and clippers. Safety is important for both the groomer and the dog. Go to the facility and ask questions. What safety precautions do they take? Do they require proof of vaccinations prior to service? Is the facility clean? How does it smell? Where are the dogs kept when they are not being worked on? Do they properly sanitize the equipment?
4. Injuries. After you have done your homework and found a professional experienced groomer, you can be confident in your decision. However, sometimes injuries do happen. The tools used are very sharp, and dogs do not always stay still. A reputable groomer will never try to hide a grooming injury and will offer a resolution. Negligent groomers will try to hide the injury, are defensive, or blame the injury on the dog. If that happens, it is time to find a different groomer. Sometimes grooming injuries occur when the equipment is not properly maintained. Lower quality clipper blades and scissors that have not been sharpened regularly are problematic. Grooming injuries are more frequent when a pet is matted or when a groomer attempts to shave a dog too short. To minimize the risk of injury, be sure to get your dog groomed regularly and be sure the groomer is properly maintaining the equipment.
5. Insurance. Groomers should carry liability insurance whether they work from your home, a mobile vehicle, their home, or a business storefront. They should also have a business license.
6. Cost. Remember the adage, “You get what you pay for?” Select your groomer based on his reputation, the quality of work, as well as his care, compassion, and attention to your dog’s health needs. Cost, of course, is a consideration, but if you shop around you should find a groomer that meets all your needs. Prices may range dramatically between groomers depending on the location, her experience, and the quality of her services.
7. Shampoo. There are so many products on the market these days that it can be difficult to know which one to use. The best shampoos have limited ingredients and do not use heavy chemicals. Look for a shampoo that is sulfate free and is tearless. If your dog is sensitive, also look for a shampoo that does not have a bright color or heavy fragrances. Select a gentle shampoo that will still be effective and cleansing. Be careful about shampoos with essential oils added such as tea tree oil. Some dogs are very sensitive to oils. Never ever use dish washing detergent to wash your dog even though there are articles online recommending it as a flea shampoo. Dish washing detergent is a petroleum product and is very harsh to the dog’s skin. It is sure to cause damage to the skin resulting in excessive dryness, dandruff, and itchy skin. When bathing it is important to make sure that there is no residue of shampoo left in the coat after rinsing.
8. Conditioner. According to Michelle, we should always use a conditioner. An all-in-one shampoo with conditioner is not enough. It is detrimental to the dog’s health to shampoo without conditioner. Dogs get very dry skin just like we do, so it is important that their coats are conditioned every time they are bathed. I can attest that not only does the conditioner smell great, it does make a difference, Xuma’s and Orson’s coats are soft, they are not itchy, and they look great. Michelle carries several different conditioners depending on the breed and the client’s preference.
9. Drying Equipment. Perhaps you have heard the horror stories about dogs dying because they are being left in drying cages too long. Avoid groomers who use drying cages. Michelle recommends a forced air dryer, “Using a forced air dryer by hand is the only way to thoroughly remove an undercoat from a double coated breed. Using a cage dryer with a double coated breed does not pull out the loose coat and you will go home with a shedding dog. Cage dryers also do not properly straighten the coat to prepare it for shaving or scissoring. Using a forced air dryer by hand also eliminates the need to use towels. Towels can easily spread toxins and allergies to make an allergic pet more allergic.”
10. Spa Services. Whirlpool spas are very beneficial for extra cleaning and for relief of achy bones, muscles, and joints. Some facilities will have an ozonized Hydro spa which sends ozonized air bubbles through the water which are known to benefit skin health. Consider a microbubble spa. Microbubbles allow cleansing deep into the hair follicles. Not all facilities will have these services, but if they do, consider a spa treatment for your dog.
11. Skin allergies. Make sure to alert your groomer if your dog has any skin allergies. Sometimes skin allergies are mistaken for other problems. For example shampoo may cause skin damage by stripping the oils without replacing them with conditioner. Adequate parasite control for fleas and ticks is another consideration. Using towels after baths may rub external allergens onto your pet, such as the laundry detergent used to wash the towels.
12. Double Coated Breeds. If your dog is a double coated breed, the dog should never be shaved. Shaving removes the all-important undercoat, which protects the dog from the elements and keeps his skin from getting sunburned.
13. Specialization. Styling is an art form, so be sure you like your groomer’s vision for your dog. Ask to see photos of other dogs they have worked on. Some groomers will specialize with a particular breed. For example, if you have a long-haired Yorkshire Terrier, make sure the groomer has experience working on that breed, and you agree with the style she envisions.
14. Nervous dogs. Some dogs find a trip to the groomer stressful. Xuma does not like water, so she is relieved when her bath is over and she is ready to go home. The best option for Xuma is a private appointment. The next best option is a grooming facility that takes appointments only, so that there is very little time when she is not being serviced. Typically it takes about an hour and a half to groom a dog. Many groomers will put dogs and cats in cages when not being groomed. That may be problematic if the dogs become stressed in the cage and bark a lot, which then creates a stressful environment in the whole shop. Some groomers allow the dogs to run loose in the grooming area, which is okay if they are properly supervised and not interfering with the dog on the grooming table. Some shops use an open air pen where the dog has plenty of room and is not as stressed as in a small cage. It takes at least three visits for a dog to be comfortable with a groomer and facility. A good way to help speed up this process is to take your dog to the grooming facility without having any services performed and feed your dog treats while you are there. Do this several times and your dog is less likely to be nervous when it is bath time.
15. Senior Dogs. Older dogs can sometimes experience discomfort from standing as long as it takes for grooming. A belly strap to help support the back legs may be helpful. A lift may be required for larger dogs to be put on the grooming table. Chose an appointment only facility to minimize the time your senior dog will be at the shop.
16. Aggressive Dogs. Many groomers will not groom an aggressive dog. Some may agree, but insist on a tranquilizer, which is never a good option unless supervised by a veterinarian. If the pet is too aggressive to groom, grooming at a veterinarian may be the only option. A groomer may use an Elizabethan collar on small dogs as an alternative to a muzzle. If a muzzle is needed, the best types are the basket style, which will allow the dog to pant, drink, and receive treats while wearing the muzzle. Nylon muzzles are dangerous and if your groomer uses those do not go there. If taken to the right groomer, with the right environment, some aggressive dogs may change their behavior gradually as they become more experienced with grooming. Most dogs are aggressive out of fear, so if your dog learns to trust the groomer, the aggression may diminish. The groomer will have to be dedicated to working with the dog over time to overcome the fear based aggression.
17. Appointment while you wait. It is nice if you can find a place that will allow you to stay to watch the process, because there is transparency. However, some dogs are much more difficult to groom while the owners are present — you do not want your dog trying to escape to you while the groomer is using sharp instruments. On the other hand, it may help nervous dogs knowing that the owner is still present. so she does not suffer separation anxiety along with the stressful bath. Sometimes aggressive dogs may behave if the owner is there to instruct the dog to do so. If you really want to stay while your dog is being groomed it is okay to give it a try to see how your dog reacts. Though the bottom line is, if you stay because you do not trust the groomer, you are at the wrong place.
Do your homework, select a great groomer, and your dog will be grateful. Comments about your own grooming experiences are encouraged and welcomed.