By Melanie Haber
Check-in, wash, dry, clip, check-out. Seems like every work day can be a fast-paced and hectic experience for you and your grooming pets. Many times it can even be difficult to remember the exact interaction with each pet because you are in such a hurry. Trends have changed though, many of our grooming clients are expecting their pet to receive a full-on spa experience, the same as what they would get when visiting a human spa.
In their minds they visualize their beloved pet being placed on a satin cushion feeling the absolute joy of a leisurely massage followed by a luxury soak with a bubbler and warmed towels awaiting them. We all know that, in all honesty, we just need to get things done and don’t have time for that!
But times are changing and many groomers have decided to take the grooming experience to the next level and become competitive with spa practices that make more money per pet with fewer clients per day. They work smarter, not harder. But how do they do this?
One thing I have found when I get the pleasure of working and talking with groomers of this caliber is that it seems to come natural to them. They actually adore the dogs that come through their doors. They seem to have a complete relationship with these four-legged dolls that they only see once every 6-8 weeks. You never see these pets “put on the brakes” at the front door when entering; they fly through the threshold and greet their groomer with love and affection. While this may come naturally to some dogs, you certainly don’t see it with EVERY dog. So, what do these beloved groomers do to be rewarded with this many loving and cooperative pets?
It is quite simple; they make sure that everything the pet experiences comes from a positive and gentle interaction. They are empathetic to the pet’s situation and put themselves in a position of thinking about and understanding what the pet is going through. From start to finish, these amazing ladies and gentleman think about the impact of their attitude, their treatment, their smell, their touch, their products, and the atmosphere from a pet’s point-of-view.
To learn how to do this, first set your personal positive tone. A pet can pick up on a person’s feelings very quickly and will reflect them. This is bad news if you are in a bad mood; pets pick up on this and can be negatively impacted. The good news is this works if you are in a positive mood too. And don’t fool yourself, talking nicely and smiling doesn’t fool a pet when it comes to reading body language and scent. If you are genuinely calm, relaxed, and happy, it will help the pet relax.
Second, it is important to note that you can impact a pet’s perception in your treatment of them during the bathing and scissoring process. Even if you are in a hurry, you can still be really gentle with the pet during bath time. During the bathing process, you can really use this time to connect with the pet. This is a very intimate experience that you share one-on-one with the pet because you are laying your hands on and interacting at a basic level through TOUCH. This is when your relationship of love and trust really begins. Connecting with the pet from head-to-toe passes your energy (negative and positive) to the pet.
This is the time you are able to learn where the pet allows you to touch them, how to respect the areas of their body they are sensitive to, and if there are any abnormalities, lumps, bumps or painful areas on the body. When a pet feels the safety of your touch, an intimate trust begins. Bathing is also the perfect time to offer a soothing massage while passing the shampoos and conditioners through the pet’s coat. Since it can take 5-10 minutes for a shampoo and conditioner to do their jobs properly, this gives you the opportunity to spend time with the pet on a basic level and time for the bond to develop.
While doing table work, it is important to be available to scissor from start to finish without moving the pet on and off of the table excessively. Every time a pet is taken off of the table it goes through a plethora of feelings. They think they are finished, they think they are going home, they think they can finally relax from standing etc… Now imagine feeling all of that and then being placed back on the table.
At one time, our spa had been experiencing a huge amount of interruptions during check-ins and check-outs and the pets were showing signs of anxiety, confusion, and some displaying physical responses like diarrhea or inappropriate urination. By simply waiting to start the grooming process until all check-ins were in and assigning one person a day to do all the check-outs, it decreased the negativity in the atmosphere tremendously. Just the simple act of refraining from putting the same dog on and off of the table several times made the pet trust the groomer’s actions instead of being confused by them.
Next, take time to think about smells. A dog relies on his sense of smell to interpret the world, in much the same way as people depend on their sight. The part of the dog’s brain that is dedicated to investigating smells is actually 40 times larger than that of a human. It’s been estimated that dogs can identify smells somewhere between 1,000 to 10,000 times better than humans can. This being said, what do you smell like? What does your spa smell like? What do your products smell like? One wrong smell can make or break a bond with a dog.
Make sure you have a change of clothes/apron in case of a potty or anal gland accident. Wash your hands between handling pets. Make sure your spa is clean and doesn’t smell like hundreds of dogs or molds and mildews. Use inoffensive smelling products that are gentle. Wash your towels each time for smell and health reasons. Some groomers may take short cuts and just dry their towels in between dogs rather than run them through a wash thinking that the pet being dried was clean anyway. However, just drying a wet towel does not remove the odors of the other pets and it can also potentially pass disease and illness between pets. Also, it is important to take the time to determine the least smelly cleaning products and laundry detergents too.
Now let’s talk more about touch. While we discussed how to have a loving interaction during bath time, let’s think about how touching the pet at other times can create a bond. Always offer a gentle hand for sniffing first, don’t just grab the pet, tug it around or toss it in and out of the cage. During human interactions, we practice politeness through handshakes, giving way and respecting each other’s space. This holds true for human-dog interactions too. Introductory, smooth, steady movements while touching helps keep the pets calm instead of quick jerky movements that put a pet on guard. Practice polite interactions with the pets even when speaking to them.
Sometimes it can get pretty crowded by the dog gate in our spa and I find myself, to the laughter of others, politely saying, “May I pass through please?” Rarely do the dogs move for me but it enforces a level of respect for the pets in our care and sets the stage for a courteous physical communication when I have to touch the pets to move them as I pass. Treating pets with this level of respect while greeting them, speaking to them, and touching them can increase your chance of building a strong bond.
Finally, create a loving atmosphere that emphasizes TRUST and SAFETY, from the pet’s perspective. Ever wonder what a dog experiences while at the groomers? Once our spa director was training the staff on handling fearful dogs and she did a video from a dog’s perspective two feet off the floor. She walked around with a camera lowered with a dog’s picture on it and instructed everyone to act like it was a real dog from front door to back door. It was amazing to see how many hands, feet and faces were shoved into the face of our “dog.” Also seeing the venue from the floor up showed us how clean or not our facility was. And how many potentially dangerous tiny things could be consumed, licked, or touched by a nose. I can only imagine what it would have been like if we could have recorded smells too.
We learned what it was like from the other side of the cage, with noise, dryers, shouting, laughing, and barking. It really gave us an empathic view from the pet’s perspective. Now pets have a much different experience with soothing music, calm voices, gentle dryers, and exceptionally clean facilities. We also use D.A.P. diffuser plug-ins that release a synthetic mother dog hormone in the air that instills the same feeling of well-being that puppies experience when nursing. Talk about building a loving bond!
There are many more ways you can create a unique loving bond with each grooming pet, outside of these suggestions, but it all starts with you. Developing the ability to empathize with every pet’s perception gives you the insight to provide the loving experience every grooming pet deserves. ✂