By Gary Wilkes
Of all the people in a dog’s life, a groomer sees them more than anyone outside of family. Additionally, groomers have dog-savvy that many vets, vet techs, trainers, and rescue people don’t. That means, with your knowledge, you are the perfect person to make sure a dog lives a long, healthy, happy life. Whether you like it or not, you are the perfect person to guide your clients’ dogs’ behavior.
The Pressing Need
If you are wondering why it’s important for someone to guide a dog’s learning, consider this: Every year, millions of dogs will be surrendered to shelters, given away, or simply set free because of their behavior. Statistically, this is most often fatal. The behaviors that put them in this position are surprisingly innocuous to dog pros; soiling the house with urine and feces, jumping on people, darting out the front door, destroying property, and biting. Your clients tell you about these things until they are no longer your client. That’s because a client with no dog doesn’t need grooming.
Marie Antoinette: Dog Expert for the Masses
In the world of dog experts, the solutions to these problems are limited. They suggest methods that are tedious, ineffective, complicated, and often require constant monitoring – or their final recommendation, “just live with it.” This is a “let them eat cake” kind of suggestion worthy of someone out of touch with reality, like the 18th century Queen of France.
For the masses, cake is not an option. For dog owners, living with a house that smells of urine or having a child knocked down by an unruly dog are things that cannot go on forever. Additionally, dogs that destroy shoes, books, backpacks, and any other item a child might need for school will eventually outlive their welcome. That puts dog owners between a rock and a hard place. They are shamed if they try to confront the behavior directly by terrible predictions of dire side-effects from punishment. They are intimidated by shelters and rescue groups if they contemplate giving up the dog. They are often left to descend into living by the dog’s standards.
One such “cake” solution is popularly offered to owners whose dogs jumps on guests. The proposed solution is “turn your back to the dog” – sometimes styled “stand like a tree”. Frank Adams, an experienced trainer uses this quote to sum up how that works. “My dog used to jump up on me. I tried turning around and giving my back so she walked around to my front and jumped again.” There seems to be no awareness by dog experts that real people have real time and money constraints on solving problems. For instance, my current client’s 12-week-old Boxer is named “Daisy” but should be named “Shredder”. I have never seen a worse example of a puppy ripping someone’s hands and arms. That behavior had to be stopped immediately. That is a real situation that a client might pose to you. To help your client you have to know someone who can correctly answer this question: how do you stop a behavior, now? If you find such a person, you have taken a big step toward learning how to help your clients.
The bigger question for you is who is going to help solve this problem. If you offer only grooming services, the behavior issues will have to be fixed by someone else. Trainers are the people most likely to be able to help your clients create a dog they can live with. That raises the question of which trainer is the right one. Dog owners often don’t have a clue about this and start cold-calling or looking up Google promos on the internet. If they pick the wrong one you may lose a client. That’s where you come in.
The First Component: Be Involved
If your clients blunder along trying to find behavioral solutions to their dog’s problems, you have missed a big opportunity. If you can guide them through the process it strengthens their knowledge of your care for them and their dog. However, you can’t be that person unless you have an open line of communication with your client about behavior.
When you get a client with a new puppy, do you know when the pup is housetrained? If the client comes in with train-wreck skin on their hands and arms, do you inquire why? When the dog comes in and leaps all over your groomers, does it generate a conversation or do you simply take the lead and “stand like a tree”? Remember, dogs are discarded for things that a dog-person takes for granted. It may even be a behavior you allow your dogs to do.
The Second Component: Know Your Resources
While it’s easy to be complacent about things that aren’t directly connected to grooming, they may still have an influence on your success. Losing clients because of behavior problems is a reality. Believing that “someone” is going to fix the problem may not end well. That is why it’s a good idea to know who can fix problems. It is my belief that every grooming salon should have a “go to” person for training referrals. Someone you can trust based on past experience. That requires some effort. Here are some thoughts on how to find the right person to help you retain those behaviorally lost clients:
- Ask trainers to introduce their service to you. Any trainer that doesn’t realize the power of having a groomer willing to refer clients isn’t the person you are looking for.
- See if the trainer will do a presentation to your staff. This will give you some hints about the trainer’s ability to communicate and their professional demeanor.
- Ask about rates and policies. If a client pays all the money up front, what happens to the money if they stop the training? This may not seem like your business but the double edged sword of referrals is that if a client feels cheated by a trainer, some of the irritation will rub off on you.
- There are currently no training organizations that have anything like a hands-on certification in handling behavior problems. If a trainer has “credentials” in the form of letters after their name, ask if they were certified in a live test. The odds are that they didn’t actually have to train a dog in front of an examiner. So ask them to train a dog at your facility. Those who are interested in your referrals should be open about what they do. This can also be a perk for your staff. Let them bring their own dogs in and see if the trainer can improve their behavior.
- Try to find a trainer who seems genuinely sympathetic to the problems encountered by your clients. Your intuition should be able to see this. Someone who shows condescension toward regular dog owners isn’t likely to give them respect.