How To Pick The Perfect Groomer; The Doo's and Don'ts

Grooming In The Age Of Coronavirus
Unless a grooming salon was located inside of a pet food retailer, they were shuttered in place for a period of time in March, April and May. This was difficult on pups that need regularly scheduled grooms or suffer from matted fur. I received many calls, during that time, from pet parents looking for advice on exactly how to take their grooming needs into their own hands. As "hacked up" as the pups were, no matts is always better than matts for your dog.
Check with your particular state on guidelines for grooming salons, but a good groomer will be wearing a mask and would expect you to be wearing one as well. Larger salons may limit the number of appointments they can have in a given day making scheduling tricky so schedule ahead for several grooms, you'll be glad that you did, especially if your groomer's appointments get filled up quickly. 

Picking the perfect groomer for your dog or cat can be vital to your pets well being. Think about how important your hairdresser is to you. Can you remember a time when you went to a hairdresser who royally messed up your doo? Now imagine the dread if you had to keep going back to that same hairdresser time after time, ugh. If that were me, I would grow my hair out rather than get a horrible cut over and over.

The relationship you have with your groomer, while important, is second to the relationship your pet has with that groomer.

When looking for a groomer, there are some pretty basic fundamentals to take into consideration. 

1. Location: try to find a groomer close to home. I’ve seen quite a few dogs that either hate car rides or get motion sick and throw up on the way, this makes for a shaky start to their grooming experience. Don't overlook groomers that have salons in their own homes as  well as mobile groomers

2. Availability: the grooming salon needs to offer hours that fit into your schedule and can fit you in within a few weeks. It’s nice when you can get an immediate appointment but you gotta wonder why they aren't booked up?  Some day care centers offer grooming which can be a great day out for your dog, as they can socialize and get all spiffed up on the same day.

3. Pricing: staying in your budget is important but sometimes the cost of grooming shocks people, they don't feel the value of a groomer is worth the price. Your BFF (best furry friend) is getting pampered from head to tail...literally! A groomer bathes the dog completely getting into all their bits and some will even expel the anal glands for you. They do a complete blow out, clip their entire bodies with the perfect cut, give them a mani/pedi, clean out their ears, and brush their teeth...whew, that's a lot! Your groomer works hard for their money so respect and understand their pricing, you should also tip your groomer just as you would your own stylist.

4. Clean and Safe: when visiting the salon, make sure the space is well cared for and clean. Is the grooming area behind closed doors or can you see how the pups are being treated? Is there confusion or a sense of calm? Most dogs do better in a calmer environment with a calmer groomer. Dogs definitely have a special radar that allows them to pick up emotions from their owner and others around them, and just as you come to develop trust and comfort with your stylist, so too will your dog with the right groomer.

5. Qualifications: there are no licensing regulations in the grooming industry so you will find groomers that have their Master Grooming Certification and others who think they know what they're doing because their sister told them they should start grooming dogs. Do your research, hop on line, look for reviews and talk to friends and neighbors. If you have competitive show dogs, your grooming needs will be very specific to your breed standard. Some parents want their pet to have a doo that represents their personality, and others want the new and trendy styles for Fluffy. These are all very different skill sets that you must ask a potential groomer if they have. And yes, of course, there are magazines that offer doggie advice and the latest styles like 'Fido Friendly' and 'Hound' . No Joke!

6. Referrals: Ask as many of your trusted friends and neighbors who they use and why. People are always happy to share their good experiences, they can also tell you who not to use as well. This might be one of the best ways to find a good groomer.
What is the philosophy of the grooming salon? This may seem like a strange thing to consider but hear me out on this one.

  • Some salons bring all the dogs for the entire day into the shop first thing in the morning. The dogs wait all day for their scheduled time to be groomed then and all the pet parents come back at the end of the day to pick up. Great if they also offer doggy daycare that your dog can join, otherwise, will your dog be happy sitting in a cage all day with other dogs barking all around. Consider if your dog would be okay with that and are you okay being separated for an entire day as well?

  • Some salons offer a package but when you pick up they tack on ear cleaning (because the ears where dirty) and anal gland expression (because the anal glands seemed full), and before you know it all the extras end up costing more than the actual groom. This at times can be underhanded so look at the pricing beforehand and ask questions to find out what comes with the packages, what is extra and what are those extra costs.

  • Transparency was always important to me when I was picking a groomer for my Maggie. This was years before I became a groomer and didn't know much about what I was looking for, but I really appreciated that everything was in the open and I could see how all the dogs were being treated. I still think it's important and when visiting a potential groomer make sure you are allowed to walk through and see all the activity that's happening behind closed doors.

  • Some groomers consider themselves an important factor in the health and well-being of your dog. The groomer touches every inch of your pup on a regular basis and they can tell you if there is anything out of the ordinary that you may not have noticed, any ear issues, lumps, bumps, or sores.
Shampoos and conditioners. 
This is a big one for me...find out what brand of shampoos and conditioners are being used in the salon. With a little googling you can find out if they contain toxins and we're obviously looking for lower tox here. Dogs have thinner skin (less layers then us) and easily absorb toxins through their skin and into their bloodstream. They have a very sensitive sense of smell and can absorb fragrances into their lungs as they breathe, allowing the toxins to be processed through their liver. 

Some groomers will use less expensive shampoos that are laden with toxic ingredients and fragrances, then they charge you for a "cologne" so your dog smells good. Your dog should smell great from a good quality shampoo, no additional toxic sprays necessary. Those "doggy colognes" are pure hormone disrupting chemicals and neurotoxins for you and your pet...just say no!!!   If you love a groomer but not so crazy about the toxic shampoos they use, bring your own shampoo. Most groomers are totally fine with that and if they aren't then they aren't your right groomer.

Product usage. 
What cleaning supplies do they use in the salon and to wash the towels? Again, if they are using bleach or ammonia to clean the floors with and your pet is walking on the floor absorbing residue through their paw pads and inhaling the fume since their noses are close to the floor, that is not very healthy for them. 

Today, there are so many sources of lower tox cleaning supplies that have been proven to kill more germs and bacteria without leaving harmful residues and fumes behind. When a wet dog comes in contact with a towel that has been laundered with a detergent that has toxic ingredients the moisture from the wet fur reactivates the detergent residues on the towels allowing it to quickly be absorbed into their bodies and bloodstream. We can do better for our furry kids!

What's that smell? 
Let's face it, there are some really smelly dogs that come into a grooming salon plus all the pooping that happens (all totally normal), the salon can get pretty smelly. Is your salon turning to toxic laden air fresheners or candles to mask the odor? These can be very dangerous for dogs who are more susceptible to breathing in the hormone disrupting neurotoxins in air fresheners, plug-ins, candles and oil fragrances. 

One of the busiest booths at the last grooming convention I attended, was for air fresheners. They were selling bottles of toxic fragrances in the form of essential oils to diffuse in their salons. My head was pounding just from walking by that booth. I feel bad for the pups that have to breath that in for hours while they're being groomed. What I found in my salon is that once you switch to non toxic cleaning supplies and shampoos, those bad smells disappear...totally true!! 

I diffuse pure essential oils known for their calming properties to keep everyone's nerves soothed (I choose doTERRA oils). There are times when I will have 8 dogs in my salon (a large number for my little spa) and you can hear a pin drop, no barking and mostly napping.

Patience patience patience. 
Grooming dogs requires a ton of patience. Every step along the grooming journey can be a dangerous one for dogs, so care must be taken throughout the entire process. It helps if the groomer loves animals and is compassionate about what they do. Go with your gut on this one, does the groomer you're interviewing seem kind and caring? Watch them interact with other people and dogs, does the energy feel right to you. Unfortunately, there are a few groomers out there that get into dog grooming because it's easy to learn and always in demand, they aren’t compassionate about helping animals and it shows in their attitude towards dogs.

The luxurious spa myth. 
Picture your perfect day of pampering at a beautiful relaxing spa! Do not confuse that spa vision with your dog's idea of getting groomed! Very few dogs love going to the groomer, they would much rather stay home and play with you. 

I've seen it thousands of times, most dogs play their owner with the anxiety card, they shake and give their owner the "please don't leave me look" and it works, the pet parent sweet talks and promises treats, it reminds me of my kids and those dreadful preschool drop offs!! Once the parent is out of sight, most dogs immediately stop shaking and walk to the tub for their bath. 
If your dog is really fighting you and won't get out of the car, maybe they aren't being treated properly by the groomer.

Special Needs and Concerns. 
Is your BFF older and require more care and time with their grooming? Do they have joint issues, an illness or allergy issue that need extra assistance and care? Some grooming salons are all about the numbers and get as many dogs through as possible and will not make any exceptions for any special needs. They aren't wrong, grooming is a numbers game and can only be profitable with more dogs through the door. 
Fortunately, not all groomers have this same philosophy and will do what they can to comfort the dog.  If your dog has special needs, your vet may be able to recommend a groomer better suited for your dog.

Social time. 
Some grooming salons allow the dogs to walk around and socialize while they are waiting for their groom or for pick up. In theory this is a great idea but how does your dog handle other dogs getting up in their biz? 
If this sounds right up your dog's alley then make sure the salon requires all appropriate vaccinations such as Rabies and Bordetella (sometimes referred to as kennel cough).

In conclusion: 
There is much to consider when choosing this very important person in your dog's life, doing a bit of research upfront when picking the right groomer will make everyone's life easier in the long run.
Listen to your gut and take your BFF's temperament and personality into consideration.

Do your part and be a respectful pet parent to your groomer. You are trusting the life of your pet with this person and you want Fluffy to have the best possible treatment and that starts with you.
Show up on time, be pleasant and understanding. Grooming a dog can be compared to grooming an infant, unpredictable with non-stop moving.

Accidents do happen, every piece of equipment is very sharp and using the tools on a constantly moving target can sometimes end in nicks and cuts. This is an unfortunate reality of grooming. Hopefully this will never happen to your pet but if it does please be understanding, chances are the groomer feels 100x worse about it then you or Fido.

Once you get notified that your pup is ready to go home, don't delay in picking up, Fluffy is waiting anxiously to be reunited with you.

I hope you found this article helpful, let me know in the comments your experience choosing your perfect groomer!

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