Groomer to Groomer

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Shop Safety

Part 1

By Mary Oquendo

Did you know that I do celebrity impersonations? My best was an impression of Carl Lewis (Olympic gold medalist for track and field) the day Cody escaped out the front door of the salon where I was working. This salon was located alongside a busy four-lane main road.

How did this happen, you ask? The groomer was not in control of Cody, as he was off lead. Cody jumped over the half door separating the reception and work area. He proceeded to bolt out the open front door that was no longer secured because a client was walking in.

Your reception area, though, is much more than where clients enter and leave. It is where you make a first impression. Size doesn’t matter; presentation does. It includes lack of clutter, good sanitation, emphasis on pet safety, and professional behavior. Upon arrival, your clients will notice a professionally attired staff, any prominently displayed awards and certifications, and whether your facility looks and smells clean.

Do all of the exterior doors and windows close securely? An open window with a screen is not secure. Are the pets under your control with cats coming in carriers and dogs on lead? I require clients who bring dogs on a flexible lead to lock it in position. I do not want miles of flexible lead wrapping around myself or other pets. As soon as a dog is checked in, his collar is replaced with my slip lead. Most owners leave the collars too loose, which makes it very easy for a dog to slip out of it.

Do you have an answering machine? Repeated distractions by any phone give the clients the impression you’re disorganized or inattentive to their needs. Your attention is always on the client in your presence. Include on your outgoing message a time all calls are returned.

A clearly posted sign stating your salon policies will save time during the check-in. It could cover anything from drop-off to pick-up times, late or missed appointments, payment, right of refusal, and so on.

The check-in process is the time for clear communication with the pet owner. Neither you nor the client wants to spend 20 to 30 minutes checking in. Well-thought-out, organized forms ready to go will streamline the process while showing professionalism.

Let’s start with the client information card. You, not the owner, fill out a card for each pet, because your own handwriting is easier to read. Allow for five means of contact: address, email, phone number, cell number, and work number. Important pet information on the card includes vaccination history (after being bitten is not time to find out the status of rabies protection!) and any personality or medical issues. If the owner states no medical issues, offer a few possible suggestions such as allergies, seizures, heart conditions, or diabetes. It may jar their memory.

The back of the client information card details the grooming. What products did you use? This is very important should an allergic reaction occur. Did you clearly print which blades you used and the type of haircut received on the card? The client signs and dates the card at each visit and is notified of any changes to salon polices since the last visit. You can add a client agent line for drop-offs by friends, children etc.

Another form is the veterinarian consent form. If an emergency arises, it allows you to bring the pet to a veterinarian for treatment. It would include the name of the vet, under what circumstances you would bring a pet in, who pays for what, and credit card information with an authorized amount. Keep a list of local veterinarians, their phone numbers, and written directions to the after hours or emergency veterinarian hospital, as well as a phone number to one of the pet poison helplines.

In my opinion, the snout-to-tail assessment is the most important part of the check-in. You are going from snout to tail with deliberate intent and purpose to determine the overall health of the pet. You want all pre-existing conditions noted before the groom with the owner present.

As a bonus, the time spent on this activity presents a good opportunity to educate your client on proper pet care. An educated client is a good client. This investment of time will reduce “misunderstandings” and give your clients the tools they need to make educated choices for their pets.

Before you begin the assessment, have a muzzle ready. Always remember: any pet in pain or moved into pain can and will bite. This is part of my greeting with every pet. As I am saying hello to them, I move my hands over their bodies and check their eyes, ears, and mouth. It takes but a moment.

I will send anyone who is interested a Pet Tech Snout to Tail Assessment Form. Email me at [email protected].

The assessment should include the following:


Teeth in poor shape will cause mouth pain, and smaller dogs tend to have more problems than larger dogs. Mouth pain is one explanation for why a dog will be snappy when grooming the face. It hurts! Educate your clients on proper dental care. It is a good opportunity to sell dental products.


Hardened discharge may have irritated or raw skin under the scabs.


Foul odor, redness, and/or discharge can be an indicator of ear infections. Very thick ears may be a hematoma or contain severe matting.


Arthritis or a prior injury will cause pain when touched or moved.


Pain in the area may be arthritic or neurological in origin. It may also be a prior injury.

Nails and Pads

The area should be checked for injuries and overgrown nails.


If there is distension or hardness, you should refer immediately to the vet.

Anal Area

Is there a foul discharge or any cysts apparent?

Skin and Coat

Look for lumps, bumps, and warts. Note their location. Are there any injuries that need immediate attention? Can you even see the skin? The coat may be matted, and you don’t know what you will uncover.


This is a good time to assess the pet’s reaction to being handled.

Encourage your clients to continue this assessment at home to track their pet’s overall health. Problems found early stand a better chance of successful treatment. Recommend that any concerns found during the assessment be checked by a veterinarian, and make sure any changes are noted at future grooming appointments.

If you find any significant matting, then the matted pet release comes out. It details the risks associated with the stripping process and any additional costs.

Before they leave, have your clients initial an estimate of the groom on the client information card. If for any reason the style or cost needs to change, notify your clients first. Remember, you have five means of contact on the client information card. I prefer a price range rather than an estimate.

Your reception area is the heart of your business. It is where you get to know your two- and four-legged clients. More importantly, it’s where they get to know you.

It took us over an hour to capture Cody and keep him away from the busy road or from taking off into parts yonder. I am not sure the real Carl Lewis could have kept up with me that day. We were lucky and had a happy ending. The potential for a much different outcome was there. ✂