When Tippy Is Nippy

Grooming Matters

By Daryl Conner

The words that pet owners use to convey information to their groomer can sometimes be a bit amusing. “Tippy can be nippy,” a customer might say. The groomer may find that this phrase translates to, “Tippy will use his teeth with little warning and he will mean business.”

It is my belief that most dog/groomer bites happen because the dog is uncomfortable. That may mean it is frightened by being handled by a strange person and goes into “fight” mode, or it may mean that some part of its body is painful, and the groomer inadvertently causes discomfort during the grooming process, resulting in the dog attempting or achieving a bite. However, some dogs, due to temperament or even senility, will snap for no apparent reason. 

Most grooming industry leaders will advise groomers to turn biting animals away. A dog bite can be serious, life changing and even career ending. But we don’t always know that a dog is a bite risk until the groom is well under way. So, what does a groomer do when the dog they are working on tries to bite? 

There are basically two options: put the dog away and have the owner come get it, or do your best to finish the groom without anyone getting hurt. The choice is yours, but if you choose to try to finish the job, here are some tips to help you do so: 

Use proper restraint

A grooming loop attached to a grooming arm acts as a “seat belt” to keep dogs safely on the table. Adding an additional restraint system and loop to the grooming arm ensures that the dog’s range of motion is limited. This simple tool, properly used, can absolutely prevent many bites from happening. 

Enlist the Magic of an Elizabethan Collar

These cone-shaped collars, which dogs often must wear to prevent themselves from licking and chewing at an injury or surgical wound, can also keep their mouths away from a groomer’s hands. Some are rigid plastic, some are softer foam, but either can be incredibly useful in the grooming area. With a properly sized E-collar in place (one that is slightly longer than the tip of the dog’s nose), the groomer can safely work on all areas of the dog from the ears back. An added bonus is that many dogs quickly realize that they cannot reach to bite and stop even trying.

Grooming the Face

Let’s say you have used your grooming loop, your additional restraint system and an E-collar, and have been able to groom everything except for the dog’s face. If the dog has the sort of coat that does not need brushing, trimming or clipping, you are in good shape. However, if that face and head require grooming, things can get complicated. This is a good time to reevaluate; do you want to try to continue, or is it time to put the dog away? If you want to try to continue, here are a few options:

While the E-collar is still in place, you can gently ease one ear at a time under its rim to brush, comb and trim. Depending on the dog’s behavior at this point, you can also sometimes slide the E-collar up over part of its skull to trim there, and from side to side, exposing some of the cheeks to work on them. Likewise, the collar can be slid up, exposing the underside of the neck to reach some of the hair in that area so it can be brushed and trimmed. 

Muzzles can be used to prevent the dog from biting, but they will cover up much of the hair that needs to be groomed. In many cases, you can slip a muzzle on, remove the E-Collar and use your comb to tease out bits of fur from under the muzzle to groom as needed. Ideally you will have someone helping you gently but firmly hold the pet as you do this, because even with a muzzle on, teeth can often still contact skin. Keep in mind that even if you can get some of the hair around the mouth out so you can groom it, the result will at best be neat and tidy, but probably never terrific looking. 

One last ditch effort that I often employ when dealing with a dog that wants to bite me while I am grooming its face is to wrap a length of panty hose around the dog’s snout. The hose is soft and stretchy, and if properly placed (I usually encircle the jaws at least twice, snugly) and tied behind the dog’s ears, can prevent it from opening its mouth. This works best with small breeds. I can usually loop the hose on while the regular muzzle is on, then, once the panty hose is in place, I can remove the muzzle. Working quickly, I comb what hair I can out from under the hose and trim it. I never leave the hose on more than 1-2 minutes, but often that is all I need to trim up the last few bits of fur that need attention. Once the hose comes off, the job is usually as done as it’s going to be. 

Most owners that have dogs that “nip” are grateful that I have been able to accomplish any trimming at all, and gracefully accept if the finished product is less than perfect. 

Dealing with a biting dog is a serious challenge. Even the bite from a small dog can cause real injury. It is my hope that you never need to put any of these ideas to use, but if you are confronted by a nippy Tippy, the above ideas will help keep both of you safe. ✂️