Are You a Compassionate Groomer?

By Malissa Conti-Diener

“You see, it’s the love with which you do things that radiates; it’s not the things that you do”

— The Law of One (The Ra Material)

There are a lot of murmurings right now in our industry over the “Stress–Free”, “New Age” style of grooming. Lots of different approaches and many different philosophies all to do with what some of us have been doing for a very long time. But if you haven’t been grooming in this way, there is always time to make a positive change. 

When I first started out grooming, I always put “Gentle, Holistic Grooming” on all my cards and marketing materials. People would always get hung up on those words together. Gentle? Holistic? How much skill does it really take to shave a dog? (I know you have been asked that question before.) Why would you want to point out that you are intentionally gentle with the animals you groom? 

I have been explaining my services long before these wonderful buzz words started popping up in the pet grooming industry. I embraced compassion for the whole animal a long time ago and never looked back. Keeping a mindfulness about myself, my work and how I do my job has served me well—even though it was a rough crowd out there. I never turned away from my passion for compassionate care and, therefore, those that were searching for a different kind of grooming for their pets, sought out my services. 

I am delighted to see so many seasoned and new groomers looking for a more healing approach to their grooming philosophy. Taking a good look at growing in compassionate care is now the goal for many groomers out there. But how do you start? It is easier than you think….

Do we ever really think of our profession as a compassionate one? As pet grooming professionals, we often lose sight of why we became pet groomers. We often get caught up in the daily grind of our lives and forget about the “why” in our business and focus only on the “how”. By doing this we cheat ourselves and those around us out of our most prized possession —compassion. In the grand scheme of things, compassion should be our number one priority. 

Do you know the true meaning of compassion? It might be different than what you’ve heard before. It’s so much more than feelings of empathy or care. Based on the Latin roots of the word, the meaning of compassion is to “suffer with.”

Webster’s dictionary defines compassion as: Noun, a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.

Those are slightly misleading words because not all the pets and people we see are suffering or stricken by misfortune (that we know of). However, we can apply these related words as well to compassion’s definition. 

RELATED WORDS: mercy, empathy, tenderness, sorrow, benevolence, humanity, sympathy, kindness, grace, compunction, lenity, heart, yearning, clemency, softness, consideration, condolence, charity, commiseration, humaneness

Of all those related words, humanity, humaneness, kindness, tenderness and heart stand out to me as a professional holistic pet groomer. 

I begin each workday the same way. I take a few minutes before I start my work to center myself. I push all the negative and draining thoughts from my mind and body. I meditate (focused prayer) on releasing all that energy to the universe and ask it to replace it with compassion and love. I ask to share it with the animals and people I encounter through out my day. I make a promise to myself that I will let go of any judgements to humans and animals. I give myself permission to let those negative emotions pass over and through me, allowing only patience and tolerance. 

Yes, it sounds great, but it’s not easy to stick to! I struggle daily to keep myself open to being nonjudgmental and compassionate. When you feel yourself losing that compassionate heart, or frustration is creeping in, it is easy to re–set. Take a minute to step away, refocus your breathing, shake off what ever has you distracted from your connections and get your mind right so your body can follow the cues. Simple and easy to do for anyone, anywhere, at any time. You just have to do it!

Pet grooming is a very “it all has to be done” kind of job. This is self–imposed and also driven by client expectations of us as professional pet groomers. We basically have one job to do (give a haircut) and there is a finite amount of time for us to complete each task for each pet. Customers expect us to have a can–do attitude when it comes to grooming their pet. They also expect us to be compassionate when caring for their animal. 

Sometimes customer expectations are realistic and sometimes they are not. As pet groomers, we should have a strong desire to alleviate any suffering that an animal may encounter while in our care. However, how much of your energy is actually focused on the animal and not just on the job at hand? When we compartmentalize the animals we encounter, we lose all energetic connections. We need to always keep in mind that the focus on the actual living, breathing being we are working with is imperative. Notice I said “with”; I didn’t use the term working “on”. 

We are working with these creatures and this is the first step in understanding compassion. Like the etymology of the word, we need to understand that we have to be ready to “suffer with” this animal as it goes through the routine of a grooming session. Now, we never want to make anyone actually suffer, but look at each thing you need to do to complete your job with the point of view of the animal always in the forefront of your mind and actions. 

A grooming session can be loud and scary and set off a host of anxiety triggers for most pets. We need to understand that, to a pet who is new or fearful, these sights, smells and energy vibrations can be a very frightening experience. Now put yourself in those four paws and think of how the entire grooming process feels from that individual animal’s point of view. This is what I mean by “suffering with” that animal. Maybe we can change the word from “suffering” to “sympathizing” or “having empathy” for these pets that cross your hands and hearts daily.

Are you grooming in a high–volume way that does not allow for any type of compassionate interactions with the animals? Now is the time to shift your focus and your energy on “why” you groom, more than the actual “how” or the mechanics of it. High–volume grooming is not a sustainable way for us as professionals to work. It takes its toll on our bodies, mind and spirt, as well as the pets we are trusted with. There are always going to be busy and chaotic days in our business—it’s how we handle them that matters to us and our four–legged customers. 

How do we find, regain or discover our compassion? 

As groomers we are faced daily with a wide variety of scenarios between humans and animals. How do you approach these situations? Do you let emotions, frustrations and external problems affect how you do your job? Are you able to separate yourself from all these “things” that affect all of us, and place your focus on what the animal is trying to tell you? 

Take a little extra time during the grooming session to slow down, hone in on your natural ability to connect with the pet you have in front of you and just breathe, relax and be mindful of all the things you are asking this animal to do for you. If you can not spend extra time with a pet while working, then maybe you need to approach your whole grooming system with a new compassionate set of eyes. Our goal in compassionate grooming is to never force anything, but with gentle loving kindness, meet that animal where they are and know that sometimes it takes more than one grooming session to get the “job” done. 

How do we get the job done, yet still maintain a balanced and tender approach to the pets and people? Look at each pet individually, knowing and understanding that no two pets are alike. Begin to train your human customers to see grooming in a new way. We are never looking for perfection in a groom, but what is perfect for that animal at that time. 

Example: “Fluffy may be a little uneven, but she was really struggling with having her legs touched today, so we didn’t force her, and we did what we could as gently as possible. I noted her discomfort in her file, and the next groom we will try again. Thank you for understanding that this isn’t about a perfect haircut, it’s about treating your pet with kindness and listening to them”. 

Each day is different for us, and also for them. Just because a pet has a grooming session that day doesn’t mean it’s their perfect day to get groomed. We all have encountered the grumpy/anxious/naughty pet at one appointment, and the next time you see them they are in a better mood. We do what we can to help them, in that moment

Of course you have to re–adjust your booking times and prices to reflect the additional time with each pet, but overall these are small changes to your business with a much larger impact on your customers who truly are looking for that stress–free, compassionate grooming session for their pet.  

In working with both animals and humans, trust has to be the main ingredient in our business formula. If we can explain to our human customers why we are doing things this way, they will feel like they are actively choosing your compassionate grooming services over other grooming businesses who have a different philosophy. 

Once you understand that every client is not for you, it stings less when a client tells you they aren’t interested in your “new style” of grooming. There is enough for everyone, and with the right marketing, education of yourself and the customers, you will draw in the people and pets that are looking for you. If you have an open mind and heart, and are willing to do the work in a compassionate way, prosperity and positivity will flow your way. ✂️