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Breaking the Cycle

Breaking the Cycle

By Daryl Conner

It happens to all of us. It is that customer with that dog (or cat!). The people are perfectly nice. The pet is fine to work with. But there is a recurring problem, and it can create a vicious cycle. It goes something like this:

Mr. and Mrs. Brown bring their long–haired puppy to you for its first visit. You discuss styles, and they are happy when they pick the dog up. You take time to talk to them about brushing, suggesting proper tools, technique and frequency. Six to eight weeks later, the pup is back, with a few small tangles, but nothing you can’t easily take care of. You groom the dog, and again, all is well.

A couple of months go by, and the pup returns. This time it is quite tangled. You explain dematting charges and groom the dog. It takes extra time because you must do a lot of brushing before you can give the pet a similar haircut as before. The owners grumble a little when they pick up because of the added fee. (In an alternate scenario, you don’t charge an extra fee, even though you had to spend more time, and you are the one grumbling.)

At the next visit, the dog is severely matted. The coat is growing and the owners are either not brushing or not brushing properly. You inform them that the dog is going to have to have a short haircut, and you take time to explain again about maintaining the coat by brushing and combing at home. They grudgingly agree to the shorter clip, but when they come back, they are not happy with the drastic new look.

Then, since they didn’t like the way the dog looked after being clipped close, they wait several months before coming back in, so the coat grows out. And guess what? When they finally come back in, the dog is matted again. The cycle is set into motion.


What often happens next is a merry–go–round that is decidedly not merry. These are customers that we cannot seem to please. They refuse to maintain the coat at home but won’t bring the dog in often enough for us to keep it in good condition. They blame us if we charge extra for dematting and become terribly upset if the coat is clipped short because we have no other options.

We have two choices with a customer like this: The first choice is to keep doing the maddening dance with them. The second (and better) choice is to try to break the cycle. Unfortunately, this can be terribly tricky. Here are some suggestions you can try:

• Make another attempt to teach them proper brushing techniques. Invest more of your time to give them a hands–on lesson and have them actually brush and comb the coat properly so they can see and feel what the process really entails. Have them bring their grooming tools with them. Often pet owners have wildly inappropriate brushes for their dog’s hair type.

Institute a “one–time only dematt program.” This is a policy that states you will only dematt a dog once, and then only if you can do so without causing the dog undue discomfort. If the dog returns with serious matting, the coat will be clipped.

• Explain to the customer that you are currently unable to make them happy because they are not bringing the dog in often enough. Insist on a schedule that will allow you to maintain the desired hair length even if they don’t brush at home. Depending on the pet, that may mean that you need to see the pet for a bath and brush–out as frequently as every other week.

If this is not an option, insist that the dog be kept in a short trim and still maintain a 4–6 week appointment schedule.

• Be firm about pre–booking and keeping a regular appointment schedule.

To be honest, I have had limited success with the above ideas. However, in those cases where I am able to get through to a pet owner and get them on a regular schedule, they tend to become excellent, loyal customers.

If they continually make appointments then call to cancel and delay them, bringing in a tangled dog, again and again, then it’s time to have a firm chat with myself. These are the types of customers that cause groomer burn out. I must remind myself that my life will be much less stressful if I send them on their way.

I experienced that very thing recently with an oversized Standard Poodle customer. We were well engaged in the dance I dread. After several successful early grooms, the dog had arrived in a severely matted condition. I had clipped him with a 7F blade, leaving a short teddy bear type trim on his head. The owner hated it. Three months later he was back, and said, “We don’t want you to cut anything except over his eyes and around his anus. His hair is perfect now.”

I knew that once he was bathed, dried and brushed, the hair would look considerably longer. In my head, I was plotting how I would groom him. I would take off about half the hair, and he would look about the length he did before I did the work. If I did this, I stood a chance of having him in decent shape at his next appointment. But, as I was brushing him out, I had the sudden insight that I no longer wanted to be involved in the cycle we were in.

I knew that if I groomed the dog the way he asked, he would be a matted mess by his next visit. But I did it anyway. I brushed him, gave him a sanitary trim, cut over and around his eyes so he could see, and rounded his feet. I wasn’t happy about it, but it was what the customer asked for. When he picked his dog up, he sighed happily and said, “This is perfect.”

I told him I was sorry, but I would be unavailable to him for further appointments. I suggested another groomer, and then I sighed happily. The cycle was broken. ✂

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