Cage Free Salon: Is It Safe?

Ask The Grooming Tutor

By Michell Evans

“Hello Michell. I am finally opening my own dog grooming salon. I am so excited! I am very strongly leaning toward a cage–free salon. There are many reasons for my decision; cages are expensive, the owners don’t like to have their dogs in cages, dogs don’t like being in cages and it brings me joy to watch them run around and play with each other. I know this is a controversial subject. I wonder if you have any advice? Thank you.” –Karen

Hi Karen. Congratulations on becoming a salon owner! It is your job, and yours alone, to assume the risks of your new grooming salon. You need to ask yourself several questions about the risks involved with a cage–free salon. In the end, it is up to you.

First and foremost, the client expects to get a well–groomed, happy and healthy pet back from you in a few hours. Safety is the number one thing that owners want from you, even if they don’t know it. They can’t even imagine the possible risks, and they should not have to. It is your job to make sure they never have a nightmare come true. The dogs are only in your care for a few hours per month. Simply focus on providing the service that the client expects—grooming.

Consider that your job is not to provide their pet enrichment, exercise, socialization or fun. Leave that to the businesses who sell those services, like daycares. If you are providing day care services, be careful to provide a safe area separate from the work zone and charge the client for the additional service. Trip hazards, falling tools and confrontations between dogs could cause possible injury to both pets and employees.

Second, it is true that quality–built kennels can be an expensive investment. In many cases a start–up salon does not need very many cages. Maybe you can start with a few used airline crates and buy something nicer after you have saved some money.

Groomers get hurt tripping over dogs and breaking up dog fights. Dogs get hurt by getting into dog fights, getting tripped over and having tools dropped on them. Keep in mind that you need enough savings to cover vet bills and to cover the void in the salon’s income due to an employee out on worker’s compensation leave. These outflows and voids come long before any insurance compensation. Your liability and worker’s compensation premiums might go up after a claim.

Cage–free and barrier–free are two different things. Many salons use exercise pens, play pens, baby gates and rooms to separate dogs. These are good options if you have a lot of square footage. Keep in mind that square footage will be more expensive than cages. If the dogs are safely away from the work zone and separate from other strange dogs, you are still providing a safe environment for the dogs.

If you have a few dogs in your clientele who have cage phobia and simply cannot be caged, set up an express groom for that dog so that he/she does not need to be caged at all.

Most groomers do not take the time to understand—much less install—pack structure. They don’t know how strong the pack instincts are in their clients’ pets. These drives can click into high gear when a dog is taken into an area with strange dogs.

When a new dog comes into an area that another dog claims, the new dog is often seen as an intruder into “their personal territory”, rather than a new–found friend. This often leads to either territorial aggression, dominance aggression or fear aggression. The issue of rank may have already been settled by the current pack and the game may be going according to their rules. The new dog will not know the rules and can easily get into trouble. In a busy grooming workspace there is no time to monitor these behaviors.

With every single decision you make in your new salon, there should be a risk assessment. You will do yourself, your clients, your clients’ dogs, your employees and your business a favor if you always choose the safest route. Good luck! ✂Have a question you want Michell to answer? Please send questions to [email protected]