Splitting Hairs - Groomer to Groomer

Grooming Matters

Splitting Hairs

By Daryl Conner

When I was a new groomer, it was common practice for customers to bring badly matted dogs in, fully expecting that we would dematt the animal. And we did. It was a routine event for groomers to invest hours removing tangles, and rarely did we charge extra. It was all in a day’s work.

Then grooming shows and seminars began to pop up across the country. Groomers were becoming more educated, and were networking and discussing our unique profession among themselves. The industry started to become a bit more unified and professional. And then the internet became easily accessible to people, and groups designed just for groomers started popping up. Ideas were shared and groomers, who often worked alone or in small groups and felt isolated, were suddenly surrounded by hundreds of people with whom they could share ideas and techniques.

Some brave and experienced groomers allowed that they would not dematt just any dog, and the rest of us perked up our ears and took notice. We learned that we could refuse to perform certain tasks. The tide began to change. But one thing has not changed; many pet owners still bring badly tangled dogs to us and say, “I don’t want him shaved.” What is a groomer to do?

With more modern dematting products such as bathing systems, high velocity dryers, hand tools, shampoos, conditioners, tangle smoothing sprays, potions and lotions, the work of ridding a pet of mats is easier than it once was. However, performing extensive dematting is not always a good idea. Knowing how to effectively and humanely brush tangles out is a skill that every good groomer should possess. We should also possess the wisdom to know when to use that skill. Following are some guidelines to help you discern if dematting a pet is a good idea, or a horrible one.


• Some dogs will tolerate the process needed to rid their coat of tangles quite well. Other dogs will behave as if every stroke of the brush or comb is some form of medieval torture. Groomers need to discern which of these personality types the dog is early on.

• Similarly, some dogs have delicate skin which is easily irritated by even minor amounts of brushing and combing. Among others, toy breeds with white or light colored coats are likely to fit this description, as are elderly pets.

• Beyond the pet’s capacity to accept dematting, there are the owners to consider. I am unlikely to dematt a dog which is regularly presented to me with a matted coat. For those pets, a short haircut is best. However, if a pet owner that normally has their dog groomed regularly and takes good care of the pet has one instance in which the coat got out of control, I may exercise my skills and save the coat to the best of my ability.

I do tell people that I have a “one time magic wand rule”. That means I will dematt their pet (if possible, and if the animal will tolerate the process) just once. If it comes in matted again, I will clip the coat short. I make my rule very clear so that the owner does not expect me to perform miracles at each visit.

• Keep in mind and educate the customer to the fact that a matted coat is a damaged coat, and that more damage will occur during the dematting process. Damaged coat will tangle more easily. This can create a vicious cycle.

So how should a groomer react if a customer demands that they dematt a dog? If your relationship with the customer is such that they insist you perform work that you feel is impossible, impractical, or unkind, you are already on shaky ground. This requires you to take control of the situation; firmly and professionally.

Let’s do a little role playing. Mrs. Strict brings you a golden doodle that has not seen a brush in 4 months. Upon your initial examination of the dog’s coat, you feel that she has areas of thick, clumpy matting on all four legs, her chest, ears, face, and tail. Mrs. Strict says, “I absolutely do not want her cut short. I hate how she looks when she has short hair.” Your evaluation tells you that if the dog will accept dematting, it will take you at least an additional hour of work to brush these tangles out. Turn this into a teaching opportunity.

Using a brush, and more importantly, a comb, show the customer what it will take to remove just one of the mats. Put the dog up on a grooming table and have the customer use the brush and comb. Explain to them that you must be able to get the comb from the pet’s skin to the tip of the hair, all over the dog, before you can do the hair cut she desires. At this point you might consider offering some options:

1) You can offer to let the customer take a brush, comb and some dematting spray home and brush the dog out. If the customer accepts the challenge, one of two things will most likely happen. The first is that they manage to remove the tangles. The second is that they will see how difficult that is and acquiesce, allowing a short haircut.

2) You can offer to dematt the dog, being very clear that this is a painstaking, time–consuming job and there will be an additional charge. (Many groomers charge $1 or more per minute, on top of the regular grooming fee. Offer a realistic estimate so the owner can decide if they choose to spend additional funds on the project.)

3) Explain that you can clip the dog short this time, then get it on a regular 6–week schedule so that in the future you can offer the longer style she desires. Remind her that hair grows quickly and that the dog will be back to her fluffy self in just a matter of weeks.

What if Mrs. Strict then gets snarky with you and says something like, “You must not be very good at your job,” or, “This is your job and I expect you to do it,”? A calm and professional response is needed. I would suggest something like, “My skill is not in question, my willingness to perform the job you are asking for is.”

If you feel the dog cannot be safely and comfortably detangled you might say, “It would be ethically wrong for me to do what you are asking because it would be painful and perhaps dangerous to your pet.”

And if she persists? “We cannot seem to agree on the best way to care for your dog, so I believe another groomer will be your best option.” The key here is to remain calm and matter of fact.

One of the best things about being a groomer here and now is that we, as an industry, have become more professional in the past several decades. We offer a unique skill set to the pet owning public, and we should be proud of our knowledge and expertise. Sometimes it can be a challenge to educate people about what services we can offer to them, but it helps to remember that ultimately it is the pet owner that holds the key to the condition of their dog’s coat. ✂

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