By Khris Berry
We often focus on behavior in our careers as Pet Professionals. Learning to manage the behaviors around us is key to having more successful, lower stress, safer grooming days.
Keeping the dog quiet and still, protecting ourselves and the pet from bites, scratches, the oft–popular alligator roll and extreme reactivity or anxiety which may prevent us from continuing our grooming service. Managing each of these behaviors dictates the course of our day–to–day interactions with our clients.
If you have groomed for at least a minute or two in the span of a grooming career, you can appreciate how poor behavior in a pet can complicate your schedule. But what about when the poor behavior comes from a human instead of a pet? This article will examine the “human” side of our careers, including common bad behaviors, and offer suggestions on how to manage them.
The Customer (All of them)
Do you remember the first time you saw an adult throw a credit card at a receptionist? How about the last time you saw a young soccer mom (kids in tow) verbally assault a groomer because she had unrealistic expectations? What about a middle–aged housewife throw a reality television –worthy fit because her dog’s eye lashes were inadvertently trimmed?
Any of the situations would cause even the kindest person to develop a tough external shell for protection. Equally, each of these situations was relatively unheard of as recently as a decade ago. Psychologists will agree, that as animals do, people learn by mimicking what we see. We are a vision–driven species. Consequently, reality television has lowered our society’s threshold for bad behavior. From our social media outlets with people acting poorly in public to our television programs and movies—consumer appetite for sensational behavior has reached a fever pitch.
For service providers like pet groomers, this means that we will unfortunately experience some of these same sensational behaviors in our interactions with the pet owning public. Here are some tips for dealing with “scary” behaviors in clients:
Practice calm, quiet confidence. When a customer is emotional, adding emotions to the conversation is the equivalent of adding gasoline to a blazing fire.
Learn to draw lines. When we have an out–of–line customer, we let them know their behaviors are unacceptable by calmly stating that we will not continue a conversation with them until they can be calm. Often a suggestion to the customer to sleep on their issue and you will gladly discuss it tomorrow when everyone has clear thinking can be enough to thwart a heightened issue. It’s not only acceptable to expect, but also require a client code of conduct with your business.
A client agreement. Having a signed agreement stating that they will treat you with respect, discuss their pet’s grooming service directly, openly, and honestly is a great idea. It dictates how you will interact with them in the future when an issue arises.
Don’t take it personally. This may be the hardest step to follow. We develop relationships with our clients and their pets and when they act out, many groomers are quick to experience hurt and betrayal. Remember, it’s really just business. You have a business agreement with them—nothing more. Many people have stressful and difficult lives. While you shouldn’t become someone’s proverbial punching bag, you can find comfort knowing that they may have simply reached their personal coping limit in your lobby. In the words of a famous princess, “let it go.”
The Pet Professional (Hey, that’s you)
There is no denying that grooming is a career for animal lovers, but not for everyone who loves animals. What personality traits make a good groomer? That is an algorithm no one has quite perfected yet. Independent, strong (mind and body), tenacious, kind, compassionate and possessing high problem solving skills would be my top contenders for personality traits.
Groomers have a reputation. Depending on who you ask, it could be defined as a stigma as well. A look at the flawed side of groomer personalities may reveal negative tendencies: verbal insults bordering on rudeness, unprofessional actions, losing temper with co–workers, pets, or customers, lewd or crude actions while grooming a pet and general unbecoming behaviors for a professional.
Psychologists have widely come to believe that self–sabotaging behavior could be a coping mechanism for issues such as stress, pressure and social demands. Self–destructive behaviors may also signal deeper issues such as lack of confidence or feelings of unworthiness. Regardless, the end result is the same; all of these behaviors limit growth and success both professionally and personally.
Here are some common self–destructive behaviors: self–harm, overeating or undereating, spending too much money, too much self–sacrifice, fostering self–defeating mindsets, forced incompetence (to remove pressure of success), self–pity, harming others and lashing out, social suicide, refusing to seek or accept help, physical or mental health neglect, and sabotaging relationships. Do any of these sound familiar? Many of us can fall victim to the “human–ness” of these on our bad days. After all, remember that customer from the beginning who threw their credit card at you?
Remember, behavior is a learned thing. Here are some practices you can implement to prepare yourself to shape new, more successful behaviors:
Practice self–care. It’s okay to say no sometimes. It’s okay to take a reasonable lunch break. It’s okay to practice pride in your skills. It’s okay to practice humility and let someone else shine as well. Eat slower, eat less, eat more, eat healthier. Put ‘you’ first sometimes, and it will be easier to put ‘you’ last other times.
Find your center. Do some self –discovery. What are your morals, standards, beliefs, deal–breakers? Learn how you wish to be treated and accept nothing less. Then treat others the same. Set goals. Then create plans on how to reach them. Find the ‘you’ in your own life. Whatever your truth may be, embrace it.
Exercise your people skills. Many pet groomers say, “I’m a groomer because I don’t like people.” This baffles me, as I have never yet met a dog who scheduled his own appointment, drove himself to the groomer and paid his own bill. You are a service provider to PEOPLE who own pets. Learn the art of small talk–it takes practice. Social isolation and social anxiety are not a badge to be worn with pride–learn how to overcome them. Social skills are vital to your chosen profession.
Yoga, meditation, therapy. Now I am beginning to sound like a guru, or self–help expert at the least. There are many benefits to finding your center through yoga or meditation. Sweat, stretching and balance poses can cure many things. My personal favorite is Doga; incorporate your own dog into yoga practices in the privacy of your own space. Meditation can be five minutes in your car at the end of the day; it can be found on a blanket at lunch under the shade of a favorite tree.
Give your brain an opportunity to rest, even for a moment here and there. If yoga and meditation don’t help you reach your happy place, there is no shame in finding a good therapist. They are equivalent to a tour guide on your journey to happiness and peace.
What else? Caretaker fatigue—it’s a thing. Groomers have a difficult job; you have to provide care and communication for the pet’s owner but also carry a huge responsibility to provide grooming services to pets who are not always appreciative or cooperative. Groomers often have endless compassion for their subjects and I am constantly amazed at the acts of kindness and patience that I see daily in grooming shops. But that care comes at a price, and often groomers pay it personally by experiencing caretaker fatigue. Often mislabeled as burn–out, practicing the suggestions above can help you overcome this burden and refuel yourself so you are mentally and physically prepared to provide the best care possible for every pet you meet.