The Four C's of Restraint-Free Grooming | Groomer to Groomer

The Four C’s of Restraint-Free Grooming

By Hannah Ziegler

There are four main keys to grooming restraint–free. I call them “The Four C’s”: Compassion, Connection, Communication and Consistency.

Beginning with only twenty clients, my salon has flourished over the past four years. With no advertising budget and only my faithful clientele to spread the word, my work days are full and I am booking months in advance. When I get a new referral, one of the first things I say is that I do “restraint–free grooming.” 

But what is restraint–free grooming? 

Restraint–free grooming is exactly as it sounds—grooming without restraints. That means no grooming loops, no muzzles or Elizabethan collars, and no other people. I work alone, specializing in aggressive and fearful dogs and cats. Yes, I have been bitten. Yes, I have had pets jump off my table. But I would not exchange this approach for any other method.

Restraint–free grooming has allowed fearful and aggressive pets who hated being groomed to feel calm and protected. The majority of my pet clients cannot wait to be groomed. A number of clients tell me that, as soon as they turn onto my road, their dogs go into a frenzy of excitement.

 So, how does restraint–free grooming work? And what do you need to know to apply this method of grooming in your own salon? 

There are four main keys to grooming restraint–free. I call them “The Four C’s”: Compassion, Connection, Communication and Consistency. 

Compassion

 Most of us became groomers because we love pets, love caring for them, and love making them happy and comfortable. If that is the case for you, then you are already on the right track. 

The most important aspect of compassion is to have the desire to understand and the willingness to empathize with your pet clients. For example, as pets age, being groomed can become painful and exhausting. It is vital to recognize that taking time for fine details is less significant than the comfort of your aging pets. It is more about comfort than perfection. Having concern for the wellbeing of each pet that comes through your door is key to restraint–free grooming.

Connection

Have you ever had a pet come to your salon that you cannot seem to connect with? Something about them puts you on edge. Their nervousness seems to infect you. No matter what you attempt, they consistently shy away from you. You know that you need to get them groomed, but how will you accomplish this? If a pet cannot trust you, it is difficult to utilize restraint–free grooming. Making a connection with all of your pets is crucial. 

Connection is when you form a strong bond with your pet clients. You must lead by establishing trust, safety and reliability to form this union. I will employ play, praise and food as bonding techniques. 

One of my pet clients used to cower in the corner as soon as she arrived. She would shake profusely and avoid all contact with me. I had to build her trust by utilizing her love of play. Each time she had an appointment, her owner brought in her favorite ball. We would spend a few minutes before each grooming playing and developing that trusting bond. After she was finished getting groomed, we played until her owner came to pick her up. Providing play before grooming instilled trust, fun and relaxation that transferred to the grooming table. Playing after she was done allowed her to be rewarded for the good job she did on the table.

I am not excluded from this connection obstacle. There have been a number of times when pets are so frightened from previous experiences, or so aggressive that their fear, anxiety and mistrust places a barrier between us. 

So, how can we effectively break down this barrier without causing more anxiety? This is where the third “C” (Communication) helps you triumph. 

Communication

Communication is essential to demolishing these barriers. The more you know about the pets’ past experiences, the better you can assess the situations and address those distances. 

What if these pets are rescues and there is little or no information about their past? What if the owners are not forthcoming with information about their pets? That is where my favorite type of communication comes into play: body language.

We all have had to learn and teach ourselves to better understand subtle human responses to read each other’s body language. But, as groomers, we need to learn the body language of pets as well. If dogs are wagging their tails, we generally assume they are happy; however, if a dog’s tail is stiffly wagging, that can express apprehension and can be easily misinterpreted. 

Can you tell the difference between an aggressive growl and a playful growl? Can you differentiate between various types of aggression and protection? 

We need to be aware of our own body language as well, as it can easily affect the pets in our salon. We must set aside our emotions and the circumstances we are currently going through, and only be in that moment with the pet in front of us. 

Consistency

From long hours to different pets, consistency is not a word commonly associated with the grooming business. However, being consistent with the training, routine and clarity used with your pets is an important aspect of restraint–free grooming. 

When I have new pet clients, I know I need to begin training them as soon as they enter my salon. Teaching pets to stay on your table or in the tub with no restraints is demanding. Numerous times pets attempt to escape. They constantly move or dance on the table. They try to avoid water at all costs. It seems like there is no possible way these pets will ever learn to do what you ask of them. That is where patience is imperative. Not all pets will learn what you are asking the first, second or twenty–second time; however, being persistent and consistent always pays off in the end.

One of the fastest ways pets learn is through consistent routines. The dynamic between groomers and pets drastically improves when pets know that each time they are groomed, the same pattern will occur. Providing a pet with a clear order of events (such as nails, ears, bath, dry, groom, and play) will eventually allow you to groom without giving a word of direction. From pet to pet, this order changes depending on the need, personality and behavior of the pet, but should be consistent for each individual pet.

Taking Practical Steps

Let me state that restraint–free grooming is not for every salon, groomer or pet. You may have rules in your salon that require you to use a grooming loop at all times. You may be new at grooming and do not feel comfortable going restraint–free. Also, not all pets can be safely groomed restraint–free. I have been able to use restraint–free grooming on 98% of my pet clients; the remaining 2% have strong reasons why I cannot use it on them.

Teaching a pet to stay on the table or in a tub is a very similar process to teaching them to remain standing while being groomed. It requires not only patience, but repetition—a lot of repetition! 

If a pet sits when I need them to stand, I follow three steps. If they are new and do not understand the command, I continue to step four:

  •  I ask them to stand.
  •  I show them the hand signal. 
  •  I wait a minimum of 45 seconds.
  •  I either lure them up with a treat or gently apply pressure under them.

Verbal and visual communication are just as important as physical touch. If a pet jumps off my table, I choose not to get upset or angry, I simply ask them to get back onto the table and wait. 

I must look ridiculous to people if they could see me; right arm extended to the table, body angled a step or two away like a statue until the dog approaches the table. As soon as they put even one paw on the table, they get praised. If they back away from the table, we do it again until they know they will only get full praise when all four paws are on the table. Think of it as a game rather than a hindrance.

I also do not let pets jump out of the tub. I will use my entire body to block them if necessary. If a pet puts their paw on the edge, I gently move them back into position, over and over and over again. You follow the same steps to groom restraint–free in the tub as you would when you ask a pet stand.

Dedicating the extra time needed for restraint–free grooming can set your salon apart and take your grooming to the next level—and also allow the pets in your care to further enjoy the grooming process.  ✂️

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