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]


  1. Linda says:

    Im so glad to see this response. I am a grooming salon owner and have tried explaining this to clients when yhey ask if their pet has to be caged. For the safety of everyone, employees, clients, and the pets, there are so many safety reasons to consider.

  2. Renee Pedersen says:

    Well written response! I tell owners with “cage” issues, (we always call them crates, instead of cages, which seems to help a little), that my job is to hand them back a happy, healthy, well groomed pet. I would rather lose a client than have to make that terrible phone call telling them that their pet has been badly injured or even killed, which can happen in the blink of an eye.

  3. Karen Silva says:

    Wow! I totally agree with everything in your article Michell! Yes, cages are expensive but vet bills can bankrupt you and possibly end your career. After almost 50 years with safe , sanitized kennels, Thanks to Shoreline, I have never had a dog fight , escapee or employee injury. If a client approaches me with a cage issue and is not interested in paying the express fee , I refer them to one of a couple of cage free salons near me and wish them the best. I don’t have time to convince anyone of the eminent dangers.

  4. Tes says:

    I have been a pet groomer for over 30 years and we have always crated the dogs in our care. Best for everyone! Recently a grooming Salon in our area that boasted cage-free grooming had someone come in their back door and a pup go out that door at the same time. The pup was missing for 2 days. Fortunately they found him and he was stressed but fine! I highly recommend crates!

  5. Debbie says:

    I owned a non kennelling salon for 11 years. The owners were very happy with my setup and so were most dogs. I had to odd dog that did not want to socialize and those ones were worked on immediately and sent home as soon as they were done. never did I have to break up a dog fight. I supplied toys, water and sleeping places. All grooming was done on benches attached to the wall. I had a bench for drying dogs and a bench for brushouts and a bench for haircuts. the majority of dogs I groomed were happy to come and some did not want to leave. I was highly recommended by many veterinarians and breeders and some people travelled a long ways to have their dog groomed in my shop. If I had to do it all over again I still would not use kennels in a shop. The biggest down side was that it could get very noisy from dogs barking at people coming to the door but usually that did not last long. As long as you are the leader of the pack, you shouldn’t have problems with dogs running at large. A must for a non kennelling shop is secure gates or doors and your grooming area needs to be escape proof.

  6. Louann says:

    I just can not even imagine what a nightmare a cage free salon must be to the groomers trying to groom in that type of enviroment. Dogs on the grooming tables have got to be so distracted, as well as constantly trying to get off the table to join in the “fun” they are missing on the floor. I certainly would not want to groom in this type of setting, as the dogs on the table would be in constant motion and so in danger of an accident during the grooming process. Also what about the dogs mouthing and chewing on each other after grooming? The doggie daycares in our area have a very high rate of accidents because there is no supervision here. Daycare owners think daycare means just turn them all loose in a yard together and let them have a good time. Scary to think this is now the new “thing” for grooming salons. We use metal baby beds for most of our small dogs in our grooming salon and clients and pets both think it is fantastic. Plenty of room and not climable. Even used baby beds would be better than loose on the floor, as long as no one chews wood.

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