I recently moved and needed to find a groomer for my German Shepherd Lola. First stop: The only grooming salon in my new town. Immediately upon opening the door, I was assaulted by the foulest odor. I don’t think the place had ever been cleaned. One down, many more to check out.
While it might be tempting to choose the cheapest place or the groomer closest to home, you should find the right place for you and your pet. Here are the five most important things to look for:
Sure, grooming is a hairy business, but that’s no reason for the place to be dirty or smell bad. Are the floors clean? What about the tools they use? And how do they clean/sterilize those tools? There is no way I would’ve taken my Shepherd inside the above-mentioned place. Animals already get tense when they encounter new situations. Can you imagine how that smell would make a dog feel? And if the groomers don’t want you to see where they actually do the work, go back out the door.
“Experience is a must, particularly if you have a difficult pet, have very high standards, or want a haircut that requires a lot of skill,” said Lucia Scordamaglia, who groomed dogs, including three of my German Shepherds, and cats for Petco for seven years before leaving to work in health care. “Since there are very few state regulations on grooming training and licensing, and no federal regulations, you will often find that individual groomers have vastly different backgrounds when it comes to where and how long they have trained.
“Ideally, look for someone who has been through either an on-the-job, mentor-based training program or a grooming-school program. You should also look for someone who has been out of school or training for at least a year. Most groomers gain the bulk of their expertise by having been on the job for a number of years.”
Most of my Shepherds have been rescued and have had some bad experiences. The last thing they or any pet needs is someone who doesn’t have patience, who isn’t kind in his touch, or who doesn’t enjoy the job. My Shepherd Lola can’t stand loud voices, so it’s important her groomer talks to her in soft, gentle tones.
“If you meet a groomer who seems to be uncomfortable around your dog or other dogs, then they likely won’t be a good fit and are probably best avoided. Most of us groomers love animals so much we will snuggle your dog when they come in and take all the kisses we can get,” Scordmaglia said. “Dogs are emotional creatures, and they can sense when someone is wary of them or angry. Having a groomer who is calm and happy around your dog can help keep their grooming experience happy and can help their behavior during the process.”
“Finding a groomer who has basic training in dog health, first aid, and CPR can be critical,” Scordamaglia said. “If something happens to your dog while at the salon, it may be your groomer who saves their life. Check that they have policies and plans in place for how to handle a potentially life-threatening situation before it occurs.”
She also pointed out that groomers often notice potential medical issues first.
“Groomers usually see your dog a lot more frequently than the vet, and because the grooming process is up-close and personal, they can often notice changes (lumps in the skin, rashes, ear infections, broken teeth, behavioral changes, etc.) that may need medical attention before they become obvious,” she said. “I once noticed a small lump on the elbow of a dog I groomed regularly. The dog’s owners hadn’t noticed it but said they would check it out right away. The next time they came in, they thanked me and told me the veterinarian removed a lump. Thankfully, it was benign. They were grateful I had found it because if it had been cancerous, it might have saved their dog’s life.”
“A good groomer will want to share their knowledge and experience with you and answer questions you might have. If a groomer is seeing your pet regularly, they should be able to give you recommendations each time you come in about maintaining your dog’s overall health and well-being,” Scordamaglia said. “Your groomer may notice that your dog’s breath is getting a little stinky and that his teeth have some plaque buildup. They should recommend ways for you to help manage this at home as well as letting you know when it may be time to see the vet. A groomer who is uninterested in discussing things with you or never gives you reports on how your dog is doing may indicate that their interests are not in the right place and they may not be giving your dog the kind of attention and care she deserves.”
Now that you’ve found the right groomer, shoot for consistency.
“Once you find a groomer that you and your dog like, it can be very beneficial to stay with that groomer,” Scordamaglia said. “Groomers who regularly work on a specific dog create a special bond and relationship with that dog. This makes for a better grooming experience for both the groomer and the dog. Many injuries to dogs and groomers come from working on an unknown dog. A dog may have aches and pains we do not know about or may bite because the groomer did not know that he becomes aggressive when someone touches his belly.”
Read more about grooming:
About the author: Kat Merrill is a writer who considers it a blessing and a privilege to have been owned by five German Shepherds so far. She also had two cats, a beautiful pair of rats, and many fancy goldfish over the years. Although Kat started out as a cat person, she now considers herself a dog person who is dedicated to rescue animals. A former newspaper reporter and editor, she is now writing a series of children’s books and has recently started a blog at katsuniverse.com. You can also find her on Twitter @katsuniverse and on Facebook.