By Mary Oquendo
As groomers, as much as we would like to finish a pet to our standards, it isn’t always possible. I have three such dogs as clients.
Cher is a 15 year–old Yorkie, whose limitations are due to her age. The aptly named Iffy is both geriatric and cantankerous. And then there is Pica. Pica is a 6 year–old Rottweiler. Her affliction centers on her teeth. Pica is the only client of mine who has ever destroyed a muzzle.
To successfully groom pets such as these, it begins with clarity between groomer and owner. Start with opening up the appropriate dialogue.
All owners of elderly pets get my Old Lady Speech
I convey to the owners, with kindness, that their pet’s grooming needs have changed or are changing, and the comfort of their pet is my primary concern. For some, it means grooming more frequently. Pets with thicker coats that are not well maintained by the owners or require clipper work will need grooming more often to reduce the overall time it takes to groom them. For others, it means less frequent grooming. Short-coated pets can increase the time between grooming without impacting the amount of time needed to finish them. As perfection is no longer an option, I may recommend a comfort trim. This is a nice way of saying that they now need an extended sanitary clip, as they are not as neat as they once were when pottying. I will always ask what is the status of any medical concerns of their senior pet.
I may suggest grooming on the “installment plan” if I cannot safely complete grooming in one session. The installment plan breaks up the grooming into two or more visits. As this will drive the price up, most pet owners opt for whatever can be accomplished in one sitting. I am very clear that the grooming is over when I feel the pet has had enough.
This conversation can spark visions of the future death of their beloved pet. It can be very emotional for some owners. As I am a mobile groomer, this conversation usually happens over a cup of coffee in their kitchen, which helps to remove any sterility. I spend whatever time I need to ensure the owner that I will always take the very best care of their pet.
Then there are the aggressive pets that get the Grumpy Dog Speech
My safety and that of your pet is my primary concern. To prevent career ending or physical injury to myself, as well as harm to your pet, the groom is over when it becomes dangerous for either of us. My minimum charge is $—. Other options include adding a second groomer and that will incur a fee of $—.
I don’t have an owner assist me with their aggressive dog because if their own pet injures them, then my business is liable for that injury. Sometimes owners will tell you upfront their pet is aggressive or nippy, but not always. I have waivers that clients must sign agreeing to either of the above.
So, how can you tell if a pet is aggressive before you start grooming him?
I insist on first–time owners staying for the nose to tail assessment of their pet. During check–in of any new pet, I do a thorough nose to tail assessment with the owner right there. Exercise caution with unknown pets especially around their faces. It is important for owners to be aware of the behavior of their pets, which is why I never lie or sugar coat any pet’s behavior.
I have had way too many clients call me because they think their former groomer must have done something to their pet because “all of a sudden” their pet is now badly behaved for grooming. Most likely, it wasn’t all of a sudden, but rather the groomer not being honest in their assessment of the pet’s behavior with the owner as the pet’s behavior changed gradually over time. For established clients, the assessment is just as thorough, but minus the owner.
I am always looking for reasons this pet should not be groomed today. Is he in pain? A pet in pain is more likely to bite. Take it from me. I learned the hard way, getting two stitches in the palm of my hand from the nicest arthritic Golden Retriever. Is he coughing? Coughing may be indicative of heart failure. Are the gums sticky? One of the early signs of dehydration are tacky gums. Are the gums paler than normal? If I see paler gums, my recommendation is to go directly to the veterinarian’s office, as blood is not pumping properly, particularly important to senior pets as they have a harder time regulating their body temperatures. Senior pets can overheat or chill quickly. I watch for signs of aggression or tensing while checking them over. I really want the owner to be aware that their pet could be a bite risk. I may even recommend that this pet’s needs are better served by grooming in a veterinarian’s office.
I discuss any concerns found during the assessment, as well as the prioritizing of the groom with the owner. We discuss what is important and what is not. I start with what is important, as I may not be able to complete the groom. I don’t make promises or end the conversation with ‘I’ll try’ or ‘I’ll do my best’. Many times that’s all the owner hears and is disappointed when my best is not what they envisioned.
During the groom, I pay attention to body language and signs of fatigue. As the professional, when I decide the groom is over, the groom is over.
Neither Cher, Iffy, nor Pica are groomed to perfection. But their needs are met. In all cases, the owners are happy because I have always kept an open and honest dialogue with them. They are groomed good enough. ✂