By Teri DiMarino
I love being a pet stylist. It’s difficult for me to comprehend doing anything else, but sometimes I just can’t bring myself to tell some people what I do. First, you have to say it twice, like they didn’t hear you the first time. “You’re a what?” they ask with a deer-in-the-headlights look on their face. I travel a lot and really avoid conversation with the person seated next to me for this very reason. I just despise the patronizing attitude some people have toward my chosen profession. “Oh, you’re a dog groomer. It must be fun to play with the puppies all day.” That would be like me saying, “Oh, you’re an attorney! Don’t you just love driving around all day chasing ambulances?” Both are an insult and do nothing but reflect a definite ignorance that many people have about both professions.
What is one of the first, if not the most annoying, questions I am asked when people find out what I do? “How often do you get bitten?” My stock answer is “Hardly ever. Good groomers don’t get bit.” The inquisitor is usually disappointed, fully expecting me to hold up a bloody stump of a hand with the dog still attached and gnashing away. The truth of the matter is that after over 40 years of grooming, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been bitten to any memorable degree… and have fingers left over, both literally and figuratively! I have to admit that these incidents happened due to carelessness on my part. I was, quite simply, not paying attention and didn’t see it coming.
Nobody deserves to get bitten, but it can and does happen. It is up to us to keep these incidents to a minimum by educating ourselves in proper handling techniques as well as the use of the helpful equipment available to us. How many of us know a groomer who is constantly getting bitten? These people usually talk about getting every nasty dog in the neighborhood. They also appear to be burned out from all the hard work they have to put in for what they feel is very little pay. Life just isn’t fair to them, and everybody is out to get them. Well, talk about what goes around coming around! It never occurs to them that they may be the very reason the dogs don’t behave. The dogs don’t want to be around this unhappy person!
Inexperienced or intolerant groomers have a tendency to “over-handle” a dog, ignoring the fact that proper handling techniques are so important for the safety of the dog and the sanity of the groomer. For example, a groomer who is constantly repositioning the dog on the table or grabbing and moving them uncomfortably is doing nothing but further annoying an already edgy pet. At that point, the animal will do everything to get away into a more comfortable situation. All of this takes up valuable time, and it is a lose-lose scenario. This “bad Karma” can make for a very unpleasant situation and can result in injury to the groomer, the pet, and on occasion, both! It should never have to get to this point!
Steady, calculated, and safe handling techniques can help avoid an antagonistic situation. If you can start off calmly with a moody dog, chances are you can end on a happy note. We may not get total cooperation, but it is my goal to try to get the dog to tolerate the procedures. Tolerance is a good thing, and sometimes it’s all we can really wish for. If you are defensive in the beginning, many times the dog will feel your apprehension and return those feelings with similar actions. We all know that these pets can read your “aura” and know how you are feeling about them. Look into calming methods of massage, like the Tellington TTouch. Add some essential oils and aromatherapy, turn off the head-banging rock & roll for some calming music, and you just might be on your way to a more pleasant groom.
Let’s take a quick look at these pets. Are they old and crippled? These dogs are not going to learn like a puppy, and trying to teach them something they will not or cannot do is unfair to them and to you. You’ll need some patient handling here. Using a rubber comfort mat, like the kind you stand on, offers these older dogs a softer surface on which to stand as well as more secure footing. And what about that puppy? He’s going to need some patient and gentle lessons to teach him to be a well-behaved adult. This baby may have gotten a face full of water by an owner trying to bathe him, and now he is afraid of anything coming near his face. It is our job to desensitize him to those past unpleasant experiences and help him gain confidence that you are not going to hurt him. We do not want to reconfirm his fears and give him a reason to be bad.
Let’s face it—we do things to these pets that owners don’t give a thought to doing. For example, we hold them firmly to trim their nails. We put “stuff” in their ears and clean them out. We put them in a bathtub and do the anal glands. (Show me an owner who ventures into that territory!) Then we expect them to sit still while we brush them, dry them, and run weird “buzzing” machines all over them. I guarantee you that these are NOT things the owner does regularly. It’s easy to understand why these dogs act up or lose their patience. A lot may hinge on the previous groomer’s actions, and let’s face it—not everybody is patient and understanding.
Sometimes when performing unpleasant tasks like trimming nails or dematting, you get an incorrigible that just needs a little extra control. This is where some of the innovative tools of the trade come in. Muzzles are normally a first line of defense when it comes to dealing with an overly aggressive animal. Taking away their “weapon” will usually diffuse a potentially hazardous situation, allowing you to do your work safely, but I don’t like muzzling a dog just for taking a swipe at me for something as incidental as trimming nails. My action may be perceived as aggressive, and the pets just react in defense. Sometimes this can’t be avoided. What about the old dog with the heart condition or bronchitis? You can’t safely put a muzzle on him! This is where items like Elizabethan collars come in handy. They can safely let you do your work while keeping the “business” end of the dog out of your way. These work wonderfully on cats, as well.
While grooming loops and posts are the standards in the industry for tethering and controlling the pet, they don’t work for every dog. The toy breed with the trachea issues will not be able to tolerate it, and the not-yet-leash-broken puppy can panic. What about the dog that just won’t stand still? All these situations will test even the most resilient groomer. Typically, I do not mention specific products in my column unless there is not a competitive equivalent to be found for an innovative piece of equipment and I find it to be a huge advantage for the professional stylist. The “Groomer’s Helper” is one of these items, and I consider it to be “the third hand” that we often wish we had. It is a non-aggressive, safe, and secure way of controlling most unruly animals.
While there are many items out there to help make our jobs easier, remember a piece of equipment is only as good as its operator. The best and safest equipment in the world is useless if it is not used correctly if you lack the patience, understanding, and compassion it takes to be a good groomer. I think you can see how an impatient groomer can unnecessarily create and escalate a situation with a dog. If you still find every dog in your day—every day of the week—misbehaving, then maybe it’s about time you quit grooming and go chase some ambulances.