Grooming for Greatness

By Jess Okon, CPACP, CFG, PTI

In my decade of experience behind the grooming table, I have come across hundreds of “difficult” dogs. You know the ones I’m talking about; the tap dancers, the shut down, flat pancake of a dog that can’t bring itself to stand up, and my personal favorite—the snarling, lunging dog trying to bite the scissors out of your hand.

The history of our industry paints a picture of what we call “groomers’ mentality,” the do what you have to do to get the job done, attitude. We’ve created contraptions to hold them still, we have blow–dry boxes, hammocks for nail clipping—all of these tools to make our jobs easier. But are they really making the dog’s life better? Are we creating a positive environment to rehabilitate the dog that is terrified of grooming?

The pet industry has shifted. This shift has been positive, and I’m sure we can all attest to the industry’s financial growth over the last 10 years. Families are spending more money on doggie daycares, looking for positive reinforcement trainers and, overall, the average pet owner cares more about their dogs well being and enrichment. Now, how can we translate that to the grooming table?

I have had the very fortunate experience to be able to work with several Certified Professional Dog Trainers, and we have been able to create a positive training plan specifically for dogs that will require life–long grooming (think about the oodles of doodles you cringe over).

This took a while for me to understand; it took a whole different level of patience that most groomers (myself included) don’t have. We are used to the instant gratification of the start to finish product; the in and out in a few hours and on to the next one. But now, it is not a matter of start to finish, but a matter of how much can I get done on this scared, growling dog before he hits his wall and tries to bite me? How can I make this very loud, scary experience more fun; make this a game, and teach this dog to actually ENJOY grooming?

I took a couple of the most challenging dogs I had to groom, sat down with their parents and we came up with a plan together. I came up with a flat rate price for four weeks of grooming, and explained to the parents that I want to see the dog every week so that, little by little, I can get the job completely done.

One week we did the nails, the next week ears, and so on. Each time, going very slowly, using bully sticks, treats, and smears of peanut butter on the grooming arm, until eventually these dogs were jumping ON the grooming table, tails wagging waiting to play the next game (The Bucket Game is my favorite) and earn their treats.

Before I knew it, I had a bunch of dogs on this plan, and was getting dogs other groomers had deemed too “aggressive” to groom. When really, all these dogs needed was patience, confidence building and somebody to take the time to teach them that grooming isn’t scary. Their parents were thrilled with the results, and ultimately the haircuts were better and more finished.

groomer powersGroomers have the power to change lives. The question is, how much {more} work are we willing to put into our clients? The answer for me is simple. If I can build a positive relationship with the dog that is a lifelong client; that is a client who will send you referrals; that is a client who appreciates your time and energy that goes into making their dog a well–rounded and happier dog, then I am willing to put in the work. ✂

Jess began her career in the dog world right out of high school, starting as a bather/blow dryer. Having a lifelong passion for animals, grooming was the perfect fit. Jess’ career has branched out beyond the grooming table, yet grooming always remained her joy and love. Jess now acts as the Director of Canine Care for Applause Your Paws Dog Training Center, overseeing all dog health and happiness as well as the grooming department. Jess is part of the first group of professionals to receive her certification in Professional Animal Care through the Professional Animal Care Certification Council.