By Khris Berry
Like many pet professionals, most groomers are shocked and sickened when reading headlines regarding animal abuse at the hands of pet professionals. We dedicate our lives and careers to being good animal stewards and in service to our client’s pets. When that relationship goes afoul, the entire industry pays the price. It is the responsibility of every single professional who chooses to work with a pet to self–police and commit to the protection of that pet when in their care.
Animals have no voice; we are their only resource for safe and professional treatment. Anyone who has ever trimmed a Pug’s nails will contest that even the most patient professional can be tested at times. As grooming professionals, you must determine when an animal has been pushed to their limit of mental and physical safety. There is no badge of honor awarded for being able to push a bad dog through a groom. Likewise, there is no shame in stopping a grooming service gone bad and advocating for the pet in question.
“Step away from the Shih Tzu.” If you have never heard these words, you may not have an Animal Advocacy program in place in your salon. Often, a person standing by can better monitor the pet’s respiration and physical condition than one who is actually performing the service. If your salon provides grooming services for hard–to–handle pets, you may consider introducing an Animal Advocacy program so that each animal has a representative to oversee their needs during a difficult service.
Another factor that may contribute to rough or abusive handling by the pet professional is the mental, physical, or emotional state of the person who is providing the service. Pet service professionals need to provide for their own mental state and self-care. Overworked, overtired, and stressed stylists are a recipe for problem handling. Pet groomers and staff should have open and authentic conversations about their feelings and ability to handle difficult pets.
Networking with other groomers, finding avenues outside of the workplace to vent, and learning to leave your work at the “office” are all techniques which many groomers find helpful in achieving an acceptable work/life balance. Like many careers which elicit an emotional response from the person providing the care, groomers must likewise ensure that they are keeping their own emotional tanks on full.
At this point, you may be wondering about the highly aggressive Cockapoo who tried to eat your hands yesterday or thinking of the little Terrier who wagged his tail before trying to personally remove your flesh with his teeth—yes, even those pets deserve a voice. That voice may tell their owners to seek sedation grooming or the help of a training professional before trying your grooming salon again, but there is a fit for every dog with special needs.
Becoming familiar with basic and advanced canine behaviors—beyond the traditional sit, down, and stay—may interest the groomer who finds that they enjoy the challenge of working with traditionally difficult pets. Learn to head off and address problem behaviors by seeking education on canine body cues and handling techniques designed to cater to the needs of the aggressive pet. By applying appropriate handling techniques, many problem behaviors can be modified and improved over time. There are many resources readily available which offer techniques that can be easily incorporated into a salon setting.
A common handling misstep taken by many pet stylists and staff is not utilizing the range of tools they are provided. There are many devices designed for the safety of both pet and groomer during the grooming process. The proper use and application of tools such as muzzles, slings, hammocks, and restraints can be valuable assets in keeping everyone safe and calm during a stressful groom. When a groomer feels overwhelmed, a break to regroup and assess the situation will allow you to make certain that you use your available resources before tragedy or mishap strikes.
Practice calm, quiet confidence. This tip is often overlooked due to its simplicity. Raised voices and frantic movements do not instill a sense of comfort on the animal—particularly if you are dealing with a stressed or frightened pet. Dictate the tone and pace of the interaction; this technique allows the pet stylist to either move as quickly or slowly as he/she deems necessary to be safe and calm. This is not an easy feat at times when the client is demanding their dog be finished quickly, but having open and frank conversations with pet owners will allow them to understand that you, the groomer, have their pet’s best interest and outcome in mind.
Finally, demand a zero tolerance policy from your facility and co–workers. Frank discussions about acceptable and unacceptable limits are a necessary evil. The results will create an environment which allows all pets protection during their grooming process. Your clients and their pets deserve it and today’s culture and industry demands it. ✂