By Gary Wilkes
We all know dogs. We know what they do. We humans have been around them for about 15,000 years. You could sit down and list most of their known behaviors off the top of your head. They run, they bark, they bite, they chew things. They also nuzzle, snuggle, lick, pee, poop and roll in noxious, decayed things. Despite our collective knowledge of canines, one of the most common, naïve comments by people is “he’s never done that before.” This isn’t a casual comment like saying it’s the first time your nine-month-old male dog lifted his leg, it’s usually a response to some bizarre or tragic event – like my neighbor’s dog that slipped out of the gate yesterday, followed the family car down the street and across a busy thoroughfare. He didn’t make it. The father explained why they were so surprised by the dog’s behavior by saying the magic words – he never did that before. He certainly isn’t going to do that again.
Be Prepared: Savvy Pet Ownership Revealed
The Boy Scout motto is “be prepared.” If you weigh that against the “he never did that before” mantra you will instantly see which one works best. One assumes that any behavior a dog can do is possible. The other lives in a world where if it hasn’t happened yet it doesn’t require a moment’s consideration. As the person most involved in a dog’s life outside the immediate family, you are in a perfect position to help your clients get savvy. The direct benefit for them is a less frustrating and potentially much longer life with their pet. For you, retaining a client is a very good thing. They rarely make grooming appointments for dogs that didn’t make it.
Preparing Your Clients
Like no other profession, groomers know more about what a dog might do than just about anyone else. This makes you the perfect source for “be prepared” lessons periodically along the way. Here are some suggestions of simple topics you can bring up in a conversation to get your clients thinking about what their dogs can and may do, someday.
Most dogs are capable of skilled, serious aggression. As infants, they play-fight with miniature ferocity until they become adept at using aggression. This behavior is often allowed to develop as the pup grows to maturity. While the act of play-fighting may lay dormant for many months, the dog still gains coordination, speed and stamina as it ages. If some event triggers the aggression when the dog is an adult, we hear the magic words. The most common times to watch out for aggression are the advent of sexual maturity, (about 8-9 mos) social maturity (12-24 mos.) and when new dogs are introduced into the family. Being able to ask questions about a dog’s development makes the perfect entre into suggesting training in advance of the need to react to an aggressive event.
One of the behaviors most likely to lead to “Gee, he’s never done that before” revolves around outdoor gates, front doors and garage doors. There is a reason why every municipality has dog catchers – it’s because dogs escape and range freely. While some owners allow this, most don’t. Sometimes it’s the pool guy who accidentally left the gate open. (Which is why a discussion of this topic can help you head-off a tragedy.) There are products available that can metaphorically lock the door on this possibility. PetSafe makes a product called the Paws Away. It is a form of containment system that uses a small transmitter connected to a collar that gives a sting if the dog gets too close. They are meant to be used indoors but putting them in a sealable plastic bag can teach a dog never to approach a gate unless invited. They are fantastic at teaching dogs not to charge the front door and escape. While your sales stock is likely stuffed with SKU’s, this is a product that can dramatically help your clients prepare for the future and you can make a profit on it too.
There is nothing more disconcerting than returning home to a couch with a huge hole in it, unless it’s a $3,000 hearing aid crunched on the floor. When a dog passes through its teething stage from about 5 mos. to just shy of a year, it’s a great time for you to quiz your client’s about the dog’s behavior. While the majority of dogs grow out of incessant teething some persist for a year or more. Often your knowledge of the problem, based on subtle signs from the owner, can head off the problem before it gets to the “he’s never done that” stage.
Every year, people get rid of dogs because they are finally fed up with urine soaked carpets. From puppyhood to old age, regularly reinforcing a dog for correct elimination makes this highly unlikely. If a dog poops in a formal living room at age two and he’s truly never done it before it either means some kind of illness, a total lapse on the part of the owners or failure to plan ahead and make sure the dog is devoted to pottying outdoors.
Many pet owners cannot walk their pets in public without a struggle. The “he’s never done that before” often takes the form of their dog lunging and/or attacking another dog. Using a head-halter is the best way to prepare for this possibility. Halters give the handler a mechanical advantage. Instead of having to resist the entire dog, only the muscles that connect the neck to the head come in play. If a dog lunges at another dog, a very light pull back on the leash turns the dog’s head. That means the bite will not land and the dog will get “a mouthful of feathers.” For people who are not savvy dog handlers, halters are the correct solution to this problem. They are also a product that you can sell. Hint: Dogs on halters are less fractious when they come into your shop because they cannot lunge forward and an owner can comfortably control their dogs as they stand at the front counter.