By Michell Evans
“Hi Michell. I have had many calls lately for dogs that are old and struggling with grooming. I feel like I have the patience to work with them and someone needs to take care of them. But I am terrified that a senior dog will pass away in my shop. I feel bad turning them away but they take so much time and they are exhausting.” –Laura P.
Hi Laura. When it comes to senior pets there are many things to consider. First of all, when a dog is young and fit, he/she can help with grooming. Unlike humans, a dog can stand and move well enough to be groomed by the time they are just few months old. Teaching a puppy or dog that is new to your clientele is basically like teaching them to perform a series of tricks, kind of like agility. Some dogs are so well trained to perform their grooming tricks that they will offer the paw that they know you will reach for next.
As they age, they can show weaknesses in their body and their mind. Some may become almost entirely incapable in their bodies, while others may become completely unaware of their surroundings—and some will suffer from both. They are no longer capable of being helpful with their body and/or they are unpredictable in their actions. At this point you are no longer just their groomer or stylist, but you are now a grooming caregiver. Before, they could do their part, now they need you to do your part and help them do theirs. It takes a whole different kind of skill to work with these dogs. It is actually more like cat grooming.
The best–case scenario is when a pet is in the care of one groomer throughout its entire life. It can be easier to work with a pet that is suffering from dementia, pain or disease if you can remember how they used to be. If they were always a stinker about having their nails done, for example, then you know it is more likely that they are fussing about having their nails done than because of pain or weakness. But if you do not know the dog and they fuss for having their nails done, you have no idea if they are actually in pain or if they were always a stinker for having their nails done.
It is safe to assume that all dogs over the age of seven have some aches and pains; after the age of ten for sure and after fifteen it is an absolute certainty.
When someone with a senior pet inquires about becoming a client, one of the first questions you should ask is, “Why are choosing to change groomers?” You are asking this question because you are fishing for information about why they would choose to move a senior pet to a new grooming caregiver.
Typically, by the second half of a pet’s life, the owner will have settled on a stylist. There are countless reasons why they may be looking for someone new that have nothing to do with the dog. For example, their groomer has retired, they recently acquired the dog or they just moved to the area. But if the reason is that the current stylist has told them that the dog has become too difficult in its final years, this is a red flag.
If you choose the very difficult job of becoming a grooming caregiver for a senior or disabled pet, consider having clients sign a release form. This is a simple agreement that states if the pet should injure itself or others or expire while in your care, you are not liable. In most states the laws protect groomers from having to pay huge amounts of money for these types of disasters, but it never hurts to convey the risks to the client and protect yourself in the form of a signed agreement.
Consider having the owners of your most elderly and/or disabled pets wait in the lobby or stay local and be on–call when you work with their pet. You might also want to have them help. There are, indeed, situations in which the owner can be more of a help than a hindrance, and they are also witnessing the whole thing so there is no mistaking the difficulties you and the pet face.
Try to book these pets at a time when you have few distractions, where you can get them done as quickly and comfortably as possible, and when you have support staff in case you need help. These services can be intense so schedule a small break afterward to recuperate.
Never allow the owners to leave the pet with you for much longer than the service actually takes. This will decrease the odds of the pet passing away in your care. Unless of course, you are also providing daycare and boarding services.
If you are concerned about taking these pets due to overall health, consider asking them to obtain a health certificate from their vet within ten days prior to their first grooming with you. Airlines do this for a reason. At the very least, a conversation with the owner about the overall health of the dog is important. The unexpected consequence of this may be that the local vets get to know you as the senior dog groomer. Eek. The upside to providing excellent care to senior pets is that there is a good chance that the owners will get another dog when this one passes and they will likely choose you as the stylist for their new pet.
Modifying the style and/or grooming schedule to accommodate the pet’s needs can be helpful. A shorter style that lasts longer, an altogether different style or a more frequent schedule may be required as conditions for you to be their grooming caregiver. There may be a point at which these decisions change from being what the owner wants to what is best for the dog and the grooming caregiver.
Be sure to charge appropriately for being their pet’s grooming caregiver. In most cases, these pets will take at least half an hour longer and then you need a few minutes to regroup afterward. This should all be at the expense of the owner. Consider having a higher rate for pets that need more than a groomer or stylist, but who actually need a grooming caregiver.
Good luck and enjoy taking care of the oldies but goodies! ✂️