One thing I remember hearing over and over when I was growing up as a child was my mother telling me to “be careful!” I remember thinking to myself, “Why is she worrying so much about me being careful?”
Well, now that I’m an adult and have experienced all the things that can go awry in life, I really understand her constant worrying about me being careful. To put it simply; accidents happen, even to the best of us.
But why should I be more cautious if it’s just an accident?
Even with the best efforts of exercising caution, accidents can happen. However, in my experience, in many of those cases the accidents were avoidable in retrospect. On a daily basis we have our clients put their trust in us to take care of their precious four–legged family members. They expect that, as professionals in the field of pet care, we will not only exercise caution and safe handling practices, but that we are fully aware and knowledgeable about the proper ways to hold, restrain, handle and groom their pets. They expect that we know how to avoid injuries to our best abilities, and should an injury arise, how to properly deal with the situation.
Let’s go over some of the most common and avoidable handling issues that I have seen, experienced or heard of in my grooming career and how we can try to avoid those issues in our daily grooming routine.
Grooming table and bathtub safety are two of the most important parts of the grooming process. The pets that we groom spend the majority of their time in our care in either or both of those places. One of the most common and avoidable accidents that can occur are falls when dogs either try to jump out of the tub or off the grooming table, which can result in very serious injuries. The first and golden rule is to never leave a pet unattended in the tub or on the grooming table. We must always maintain control of the pets during the grooming process.
Wet feet and wet floors around bathing areas are a recipe for disaster, but fortunately there are some simple steps you can implement to avoid those dangers.
When bathing dogs, always make sure to have the dog restrained with a grooming loop or safety lead that can be clipped or anchored to the inside of the tub. There are some really great rubber or vinyl restraints that are specifically designed for use in bathing areas, as the nylon grooming loops that are designed for table use can become worn and torn easily when they’re used in the bathtub, and the metal parts can begin to rust, creating unsanitary and unsightly conditions.
Using a non–slip mat in the bottom of the tub can also help to prevent dogs from slipping around during the bath—especially for dogs that tend to be nervous during the bath. Sometimes a slip inside the tub can cause leg injuries, so creating a stable place for those nervous pets to stand on can help to calm them and ease their fear of the bathtub. Some companies in our industry have designed slotted and slightly elevated mats that allow the water to run underneath the dog while providing a secure place for them to stand and feel more stable and secure.
Creating a Positive Experience
Many of the pets we groom can have a fear of water and bathing in general, but a little patience and gentle handling can desensitize the pets we groom from this fear and you can create a more positive experience.
If you are working on a pet that has a fear of the bath, try starting with very low water pressure and hold the stream away from the dog. Slowly introduce the feeling of the water, starting near the back feet and rear and work your way toward the front of the dog and the head, letting the water gently roll down the neck and face. Take caution to avoid getting water in the ears or nose. As the pet becomes more comfortable you can slowly increase the water pressure.
When removing pets from the tub, many will instinctively try to jump, so always try to keep the pet under control and lift them out if possible. If you have a tub with a door and ramp, make sure the dog doesn’t try to bolt out of the tub. Be sure the floors are dry to avoid slips and falls (for the pet and you!)
It can take some time to reverse bad experiences from the past or irrational fears of this unfamiliar experience, but I have changed dogs from extremely skittish and panicked pets to dogs that will calmly accept their bath.
Grooming table safety can be just as disastrous with careless handling, but with proper handling these accidents can be avoided. A dog that is fearful and out of control while using clippers or shears can result in cuts or nicks. Always assess the pet’s behavior and level of stress while using sharp tools during the grooming. I like to keep my free hand on the dog while I’m using my clippers or scissors so I can feel the dog move or shift its weight, that way I have a moment to move the clipper or scissor away from the pet. This can be the difference between a close call and a call to the vet.
Always make sure the dog is restrained with a grooming loop that is secured to the table arm while they’re on the table. The most common placement is around the neck, but for dogs that tend to jump around or try to lay flat out of fear, a neck loop can cause trauma to the trachea, restrict breathing or inflict other neck–related injuries. So, in this instance, I like to use the seatbelt placement, which is done by putting one of the front legs and the neck through the loop so the loop lays like a sash across the chest and under one front leg. This is also very useful for dogs that suffer from collapsed tracheas to avoid pressure against the throat.
There are also other restraints, including some that clamp onto the grooming arm and can be clipped to the lower part of the grooming loop to help keep the dog’s head facing forward and keep control of the dog. This can be especially important during the trimming portion of the grooming. Remember, the more control you have, the calmer the pet will be!
When you have to clip nails or shave the pads on those really jumpy pets, there are also hammock–style products that help to keep them under control. These are typically made from a nylon fabric with four leg holes or a solid panel that you suspend from the grooming arm over the table. You place the pet in the hammock and slightly lift them off the table to where they’re comfortably suspended above the table. This usually helps them to settle down, giving you the opportunity to clip the nails or pads with ease, and you can avoid accidental injuries to a pet that franticly tries to jerk their leg or roll over to avoid the essential parts of grooming.
Body language also plays a big role in safe handling of pets. If you’re frustrated and visibly shaken, the pet will in turn become agitated. Staying calm and collected when handling a fearful pet will get much better results than trying to dominate them. When dogs are scared they will only become more fearful from quick movements and aggressive handling. Speaking to them in a calm, soft voice will ease them more than a loud, sharp tone. Elderly dogs that are having issues with sight, hearing or joint pain can be especially sensitive to this.
Even dogs that have been well–behaved clients through most of their life can become nervous from the sound or pressure of water, high velocity dryers, loud noises or quick movements, sending them into a panicked state. Never push a pet beyond what they are showing you they can handle and know when it’s time to stop and give a break—or in some cases—end the grooming and discuss your concerns with the owner of the pet.
Implementing safe handling and common sense protocols into your grooming process can help you to avoid accidents and serious injuries. Stay calm and in control and don’t be afraid to make the decision to pause, stop or reschedule a grooming on a pet that isn’t willing to accept it. Gentle hands and a kind spirit will go a long way to make the grooming experience for both you and your clients a happy and healthy one. ✂️