Holistically Restrained

All Things Paw

By Michelle Knowles

A very serious question was asked of me this week that had to do with what I thought, holistically, about the use of restraints and restraining techniques during the grooming process. I get the impression that many groomers are confused about no-restraint, and kennel–free options when wanting to be more holistic in their approach to grooming their clients’ pets. 

According to the dictionary definition, holistic means treating the whole individual while considering mental and social factors (rather than just the symptoms of the disease or skin issue.)

Being holistic is simply taking into account the mental, physical and social health of the animal one is working on and has very little to do with being anti–restraint. Every dog and cat comes to the grooming table with an individual personality, level of social skills, routine behaviors that are developed by living with their particular family, individual grooming needs and baggage of every grooming experience that he or she has ever encountered. All of these factors come into play from the moment you greet them at the front door to the moment they go home. 

Most dogs in a regular salon or mobile appointment are fairly used to the process or are being trained and conditioned to the grooming routine. Some pets, however, must be restrained to keep them safe and to keep the groomer safe. It is the job of the groomer to meet each individual pet at the level of energy that the particular pet requires for a safe and productive grooming experience. 

I specialize in the pets that have been hurt, are terrified, have social issues and some that are just plain ornery. On any given day I have at least three or four “red zone” pets that I am rehabilitating. They have continuously taught me that every new individual pet that I meet for the first time needs a tailored behavioral plan in order to best serve the grooming process, as well as the health of the mind and spirit of the animal. My ultimate goal with every pet is to envision a future where muzzles are not necessary, calmness is given and received, and the pet loves coming in for the experience—not just to get the groom done at any cost. 

Every pet I serve is on a certain level of this journey. I believe that in order to heal the skin or make the coat beautiful, one must help ease the spirit of these precious beings that live in a world of energy. 

Restraints and restraining techniques are simply tools that an animal care specialist uses to keep the grooming process safe. Holistically, how you approach the restraint tool or technique and how it is applied in each individual case matters more than not restraining at all. 

There are methods that I prefer over others, but this does not mean that my way is better, or another groomer is wrong, it simply means that my preferences are shaped by my successes. I prefer not to use muzzles and can count on one hand the times that I have used one in the last fifteen years. This doesn’t mean I won’t use one, I simply try other methods first, like towel wraps, grooming loop manipulation and, at times, a brave assistant to provide a distraction. 

I have only met a handful of dogs in my lifetime that truly hate to be kenneled, as many of them prefer to have a den to go to in order to relax. Cage-free is a wonderful environment if the groomers in charge have strong dog language skills. If not, this can be a disaster waiting to happen. 

I feel that everything that we offer our clients—no matter what our specialty—is valuable and works for that individual and the clients they serve. My hope is that groomers who are feeling guilt because they secretly want to restrain sometimes can feel free to exercise caution and safety above some vague standard of care that really doesn’t serve the individual pet. Groomers are rich in individuality themselves and each one has a certain level of skill in handling behaviorally challenging pets and services offered. 

Animals are like people; they don’t like everybody and sometimes there are personality clashes between groomer and pet. It is our responsibility to recognize this and make sure that each pet has the chance to be paired with someone that connects with them. It is more important to approach each pet with an open heart and make sure they receive the level of love, care and safety that they deserve. ✂️

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