Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Bichon Frise pet styles

Because curly coats are so much fun to scissor, I have ended up with quite a few Bichon Frise clients over the years. Most pet styles are based on show grooming but are modified to suit the lifestyle of the dog owners. Bichon Frise show clips have changed quite a bit since I began my grooming career. The style has gone from a huge bell type head with long ears to a round head with invisible, incorporated ears, a "bubble" of hair over the eyes, and a neck crest. The current Bichon clip accentuates the expression of the breed by highlighting the dark eyes and nose. It is also a lot of hair for the owners to maintain. As a result, most clients request the Bichon look but without the hair. That can be a challenge.

Hairstyling preferences are also a question of taste. Some owners simply prefer long ears, or want short faces to avoid drippy beards. Some groomers are very rigid about breed styling, and are determined to groom only to the breed profile. I have always felt that my job is to do my best to provide the owners with the clip they want, as long the coat is in the condition for me to do so, and provided it does the dog no harm. The real trick is in interpreting exactly what the owner wants, as their definition of "short" or "long" and mine may not jive. I like to suggest to people that if they see a photograph of a style they like, they should show it to me just as you would your human hairdresser. A photograph at least gives us a visual mutual starting point. This has always worked well for me, with the exception of one time where the lady brought me a photograph of a West Highland White Terrier and wanted her Bichon's head to look just like it. I'm still not sure what my goal there was supposed to be, but it reminded me of the time I brought a photo of Meg Ryan to the hairdresser and the rib-cracking sigh he gave me.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

In-Home Grooming: Where do you bath the dog?

“Where do you bath the dog?”

This is usually the first question people ask when they inquire about in-home grooming. The answer is pretty simple: wherever you want! So far I have used bathtubs, jacuzzi tubs, walk-in showers, laundry tubs, and kitchen sinks. As long as the dog can fit comfortably and safely in the space, I will use it and I come prepared.

  • I bring my own bathmat with me to avoid scratching the tub and to keep the dog from slipping.
  • I use a hair-trap over the drain.
  • I have knee-pads for kneeling.
  • I have a hose that attaches to most laundry faucets.
  • In other areas that have no spray hose, I use my Secret Weapon.
  • I bring my own towels and shampoo.
  • I dress appropriately and don’t mind getting wet.
  • I wipe down and clean up the area when I’m done.
Your dog gets a professional, quality bath in the comfort of their own home and I do my best to leave the room as I found it.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Questions Answered

"Hello Cousin, Regina my Cockerpoo (more poo than cocker) gets matted easily, I bought clippers to be able to shave her and ,as you suggested above, start new. She is VERY curly and I can't seem to get the clippers to glide through her hair. What am I doing wrong?"

Ha! What a great question! I have the lovely long-winded answer I promised you.

Many people purchase commercial pet trimmers with the laudable intention of grooming their pets at home. Nearly as many end up discarding those trimmers in frustration and returning to their regular groomer with a hangdog expression and a patchy looking pet. The problem is that there can be more than one problem. The equipment, coat type, and coat preparation all combine to create an impossible situation for the pet owner.

Pet trimmers of the type you can purchase in Walmart are not usually powerful enough to handle a matted or dirty coat. The motor can often heat up and the blades may drag. Trimmers may also have an integrated blade that does not detach. It can be replaced, but not sharpened. To have a longer clip you will have to use a plastic snap-on comb. These combs will not pass through any tangles or matts and will contribute to the frustration. These trimmers can be great once the coat is trimmed off and you can use them to maintain the style.

More expensive, professional grade clippers are more durable and powerful. They also have the option of using a wide variety of detachable blades of different lengths. The blades can be sharpened when they are dull. You can often find a used or refurbished set of professional clippers for a reasonable price.

If you have a set of professional clippers and are experiencing difficulties it might be because of the blades. I have found that new blades come with a residue on them that renders them dull straight out of the package. To remove the residue you will need to immerse the blade in a special blade wash, and sometimes the stuff is so hard to get off you will have to repeat this several times. Because of the friction from the high speed at which they move blades also need to be oiled before each use. Only a small amount of oil is required or it will get all over the dog. A blade that has been used for some time will heat up, hot enough to burn. The blade wash can also be used to cool the blade down.

The type of coat you are trying to clip can be a challenge. Fine coats or undercoat can get trapped between the cutting edge and the main part of the blade. If even one hair is between the two surfaces the blade will jam. To add to the fun, some blades just tend to be prone to jamming and some do not. I have one magical 7F that works on any coat, and three more that each respond badly to a different type of coat. That is another reason why the pet trimmers with non-detachable blades can be a problem. It isn’t easy to clear a jam in the blade. With a detachable blade that is jammed, remove the blade from the clipper. Slide the cutting edge to one side without removing it entirely. Blow on the blade and use your fingers or a toothbrush over the comb and cutting edge to remove any trapped hair. Slide the cutting edge entirely to the other side and repeat. Replace the blade on the clipper and give it another go.

Finally, you mentioned that Regina’s coat is very curly and that she needs a do-over haircut. With a matted coat you need to clip under the matt line. You can not clip over the top. This means you will probably end up with a very short haircut. My go-to blade for a shave-down is a 7F. Most clipper kits come with a 10 which is quite short but fine for the purposes of a do-over. You will not be able to use any snap-on combs if there is matting. I like to wash the dogs before I clip them because I find it is easier to clip a clean coat. If you can use a forced air dryer to blow dry the coat that can help to lift the matts away from the surface of the skin. A clean, dry, straightened coat will be easier to clip.

You may need to make a starting point if the coat is very matted. With extreme care!!! slide a pair of scissors between the shoulder blades and, using tiny snips, create a small line following the spine. Only close your scissors if you are sure you have hair and not skin. Once you have that starting point you can use your clippers. Matted coats don’t clip off cleanly and you have to move slowly. I find it works best if you work the clipper in a “U” shape. Don’t force the clipper through or you might nick the dog, and be mindful of the blade temperature.

I hope this was helpful to you. Let me know if you have any more questions and I’d be happy to help!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Importance of Grooming Your Dog

Wow. Who knows when this poor little Lhasa Apso was last groomed? Lhasas are not a shedding breed, so if their coats are not brushed and combed out properly, mats can form very easily. When mats get wet, through rain, snow or bathing, they tighten until they form a felt-like strength. Moisture can cause bacteria and fungus to grow causing hot spots or even worse infections. The dog's skin is stretched tightly underneath the knots, and her blood recedes. It is then impossible to brush out the dog without torturing her and damaging her skin. The only prudent course is to "strip" the coat off, and allow her (and the owners) to start over.

What a difference! The poor little Lhasa has been "stripped" on a #15 blade. That is just about the closest blade that we can use, but it was necessary in order to clip below the mat line. As you can see, the coat came off all in one piece, which indicates just how tightly the coat has woven together. Hopefully her skin, as the blood rushes back to the surface, will not suffer any irritation. Let's also hope that her owners will do a better job of maintaining her coat this time! Non-shedding breeds should be groomed every four to eight weeks depending on the owner's lifestyle and commitment.

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Return of Supergroomer

The Supergroomer believes that I can lift and move nearly everything I encounter, dogs and furniture especially. She is responsible for my getting stuck on the stairs with a full sized mattress, although I have to say that I could have made it all the way up if the mattress had had a decent handle in a reasonable location.

Since Supergroomer scorns assistance, I have picked up many big dogs without help. I have found that with good form, most dogs can be lifted onto the table or into the tub. I actually tend to lift almost all dogs this way, regardless of their size. Standing perpendicular to the dog, facing its side, I will bend my knees and squat. I reach one arm under the dog’s chest, between the front legs, and place my hand on the shoulder. The other arm reaches under the dog’s abdomen, between the hind legs. I hug the dog to me closely to prevent wiggling and stand up, keeping the dog’s spine level. It is important to bend the knees and not deadlift the dog. It is also vital to avoid twisting and turning. For the dog, a level and close to the body hold will keep them calm and safe.

Beware a panicky dog who still attempts to wiggle and flip around while you are holding them. The torque can cause you to twist your spine. A “helper” dog can also give a little hop, jarring your spine or giving you an accidental headbutt. A very well-behaved dog will often offer to put its front feet up on the table or tub edge. If the dog cooperates and doesn’t change her mind because she thinks it’s funny, you can lift up her back end. Remember to bend your knees.

When I lift or carry a particularly big dog in this way I usually hear a chorus of, “No wonder you have a bad back!” It is true, I do suffer from sciatica and pinched nerves in my shoulder and neck. I would like to point out that the neck and shoulder issues actually come from scissoring and brushing. The sciatica is entirely my son’s fault. I did not develop my back problems until I was a pregnant groomer.

The horrible hormones of pregnancy cause a woman’s joints and ligaments to loosen up and, I suspect, mutate. (I did not enjoy pregnancy, not one little bit.) Loose joints were combined with the lifting, bending, stretching and twisting that normally accompanies grooming, but now occurring with a belly in the way, and the ever increasing weight of my son bouncing happily on my sciatic nerve. One of the most miserable experiences of my pregnancy was not with a large dog, but sitting hunched over my belly trying to groom two tiny little Yorkshire Terriers that I couldn’t quite reach. I ended up with quite a painful back problem that did not abate once my son was born. I tried chiropractic care and it did help somewhat, but I decided to reduce the number of large dogs I was grooming.

On a day when I was running the mobile grooming business and my son was about two years old, I stopped by to have lunch with him at my mother’s house. I bent to pick him up, a little sideways I guess, the way you do when you are going to swing the child up on to your hip, and WHAM! Something snapped in my low back. I actually managed to carefully put my son back down, and then I hit the ground in considerable pain.

Because Supergroomer believes in keeping a stiff upper lip, rub dirt on it, keep the blood flowing, and all that stupid stuff, I finished grooming my scheduled dogs for the day. I’m not sure how, because the mobile vehicle had quite a big step up to get in the back. I went home, took many pills and went to bed. The next day I could barely move. I couldn’t groom for about a week. I could barely do anything for about a week. I couldn’t get in and out of the truck. Going to the bathroom required a serious commitment because it hurt so much to sit down and get up. My husband offered to get barbeque tongs so that I could pull up my pants. I got stuck in our big claw-foot bathtub because I couldn’t make the big step out.

Grooming is very hard on the body and mind. Supergroomer makes it harder. I really have learned from my experiences though I still lift big dogs and my son, who has grown much larger. I listen to my body, and try to keep it strong and fit with yoga, running, and strength training. And I buy a lot of Advil.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Where can I groom a dog at home?

As much as I am enjoying my Mardel table and as easy as it is to carry, do you know what is even nicer? Not carrying a table. I’m still trying to master not bringing absolutely everything that I’ve ever owned with me “just in case”, so having one less thing to carry is terrific. Fortunately what I have been telling dog owners for years is true; one of the best places to groom a small dog is the top of the clothes washer or dryer. Chest freezer height is also very comfortable. I am about 5’ 7” so if you are a little bitty thing or Andre the Giant you may disagree with me. The laundry room usually provides a power source that is equal to any equipment I use.

I have also used a few workbenches, bathroom counters, and kitchen counters and they were all quite convenient. Obviously the goal is to find a raised surface that is a comfortable height. I bring a bathmat with me to provide a non-slip, easy to clean surface, but the whole area that you are working in should be easy to clean as well. You don’t want a lot of doodads that can get knocked over by the dog or the blow dryer. Make sure there is adequate light so that you aren’t squinting in the dark.

Brushing, combing, and trimming the nails on any sized dog is much easier if they are raised up on a non-slip surface. Grooming on the floor or in your lap provides too many avenues of escape. It also can be difficult to see what you are doing and awkward to reach all the areas you need to reach. Those with larger dogs could try a picnic table. Make sure you do not leave your dog unattended while he is on the raised surface. You don’t want them jumping off and possibly causing an injury.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A Comb that Combs

I worked with a young groomer who was struggling to improve her finishing work. She had trouble with her blades snagging when she was using clipper combs or getting a smooth finish when scissoring curly coats, and her straight coats often looked choppy. “Comb up!” I would tell her when she asked me for help, and I would go over with my comb and show her. My comb would catch in the coat, indicating that she needed to comb the coat out more thoroughly before she could proceed.

“But I did,” she insisted. I would go back over the coat again with my comb and show her how to properly comb out and comb up the coat. I was confused because she was a good groomer, not sloppy at all, but she didn’t seem to be able to comb a dog properly. It didn’t make any sense.

One day when I went over to help her, I forgot to grab my comb. “Here, use mine,” she said. I picked hers up from the table and tried to run it through the coat. To my surprise, it sort of slid over the top of the hair instead. No matter what I tried, the comb didn’t seem to, I don’t know, comb! I looked at it closely and it resembled my own in many ways. It was metal, sturdy, with a combination of fine and coarse spaced teeth. Very normal. It just didn’t bloody work!

Since then I have encountered mysterious combs like this a few more times from different manufacturers. There is nothing that outwardly distinguishes them from other combs, but there must be something about the finish. The poor victim who is trying to use the dud comb has no idea that life could be so much easier.

Many people believe that coat care is a one step process and consists of one tool: The Brush. This is incorrect (and often they are using the wrong brush anyway). The brush and the comb are used together, and it is the comb that tells you if you have done a good job. If you can not get a comb through the coat, all the way to the skin, brush and comb again. I like to use a combination comb with fine and widely spaced teeth because I find it to be efficient. The wide teeth are used to find and pick apart matting, and also to fluff the coat. As my combs age the outside teeth on either end bend because of the way I use them to break up a tangle. The fine side of the comb is for finishing, making sure that all the tiny matts are out.

A combination comb can also be used effectively on a shedding dog, and with some coats are more useful than any brush. The coarse side cards through the coat, pulling out the bulk of the undercoat. The fine side can find any thick patches that remain and remove the finer fluff. I offer as Exhibit A, Cleo and the product of three minutes with my combination comb. (Cleo is blowing her coat right now and we will repeat this process every couple of days until she looks like a smooth coated dog. No kidding. Every year, twice a year, she does this and every time I am shocked. My other two don’t do this.)

I highly recommend the Chris Christensen Buttercomb #000. It seems expensive for a comb, but it is very effective and lasts for years. Compare it to your current comb and you will probably switch. Any comb that is comfortable in your hand and effectively passes through the coat will do though, whether it costs $2 or $40. Make sure you can hold it comfortably or you won’t use it and will have wasted your money anyway. I have another comb that looks identical to the Buttercomb but its back is squared off. It makes it very uncomfortable to grasp and gives my hand a cramp. Some cheap plastic handled combs will also break apart leaving you with a handle and an impossible-to-hold-on-to remainder.

Remember when you are combing to stretch the skin of the dog slightly and to support in your hand any matts that you may be trying to break apart. You do not want to yank and pull on the coat of your dog and have them suffer a miserable experience. Brush, and then comb, then repeat. Use the tools together and use them often. You will find it much easier to maintain your dog’s coat.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Mardel Tables: A Review

When I started in-home dog grooming, I was pretty well supplied. I had a lot of equipment from when I had the salon and mobile grooming businesses. However, my portable grooming table was quite large, heavy, and awkward to carry. Very few of my dogs are of a size that requires that table. I wanted to reduce weight of what I was toting, and the number of trips it took to bring my equipment in and out of the houses.

After some internet research (I think am the Queen of Google), I decided on a lightweight ringside table from Mardel Tables. I sent an email inquiry regarding the cost of shipping to Canada, and ended up in an extended conversation with Mary Ann. Basically, she told me that what I thought I wanted wasn’t what I needed. For safety reasons based on the varying dogs that would be on the table, she recommended the Mini table instead, which is only slightly heavier and has a carry handle.

“Great,” I replied, “I’ll take it, and could you also throw in a folding mini grooming arm?”

Once again my bright idea turned out to be a dim one. The mini grooming arm was not appropriate for what I would be doing. Mary Ann offered as a safer alternative a narrow grooming arm that they would cut down to a shorter length for me. My final order was an 18” x 30” x 33”H Mini table with a Narrow grooming arm cut to 36”. A grooming loop was included with the order.

I am very pleased with the table. It is very easy to carry because of the lighter weight and handle. It is very sturdy when set up and a comfortable height. I love, love that the table top is blue. I can’t imagine why manufacturers make black table tops. The eye strain is atrocious. The blue finish provides excellent contrast for black coats without causing a glare with white coats. The shortened grooming arm is a very convenient length. I use bungee cords to strap it to the table when it is folded flat.

The customer service I received from Mary Ann of Mardel Tables was excellent. She was very helpful and honest in her recommendations. My emails were answered promptly and courteously. The table was shipped well wrapped and protected. Even better, the table was shipped from the United States using the postal service and I received it in Canada two days later. My experience was very positive and I highly recommend Mardel Tables.

Sunday, September 12, 2010


Let me be clear. The Supergroomer is not a classic heroic character. She is usually an antihero, and occasionally a villain. A delusion of heroism that crops up in my mind from time to time, the Supergroomer encourages me to attempt actions that are clearly unwise or beyond my capabilities. She is responsible for most of my physical injuries and definitely for my mental burnout. It is the Supergroomer who says “Yes” when the answer should be “NO WAY”. She can be both the angel and devil on my shoulder, whispering mad ideas mixed with genius so that I cannot tell the difference.

It was the Supergroomer who agreed to groom an enormous Newfoundland on a day when she knew I had no assistant coming in to the shop.

“He is so well behaved,” she said. “You can do it by yourself.”

The dog did have exquisite manners and, like the gentleman he was, heaved himself up and put his front paws on the edge of the raised bathtub. “See! You only have to lift half of him,” the Supergroomer said. With a mighty grunt, like the hammer throwers at the Olympics or that notorious tennis player, I managed to heft the back end of the giant dog up and into the tub. There were lights, purple and red lights, that exploded into my vision along with some serious dizziness and a little disorientation. But he was up there.

I phoned my husband. “What percentage of your body weight are you supposed to be able to lift without killing yourself?” I asked.

“Why? What did you do now?” he said.

“Nothing, nothing. I’m just curious.”

Once my breath returned, I bathed the Newf and used the high velocity dryer to blow out most of the moisture in his coat. Then I tried to get him out of the tub. “Down is easier than up,” said Supergroomer. “Gravity, you know.”

The Newfoundland knew about gravity too. He was big enough that he generated his own field. No matter what I tried, I could not get him to put his front legs on the edge of the tub. Because he was raised up, and incredibly heavy, I couldn’t lift him over the edge myself. Then he had enough. He lay down and I was toast. Practically in tears, I phoned my Dad. “Could you please come over and help me lift a dog?”

My folks lived close by, so the Newf hung out in the tub for a short time while we waited for Dad to arrive. “Holy crap!” he cried. “I thought you needed help lifting a dog up! How did you get that thing up there by yourself?”

The two of us wrestled the dog out of the tub, and I saw those fireworks again. Amazingly, my heart did not explode, nor did I get a hernia. But not from lack of trying.
Artwork is trademarked by Chris Cowley, Windchill Studios

Saturday, September 11, 2010


Hello, my name is Stephanie and I am a Shampoo-aholic.

At one time in the salon I must have had twenty-five gallon sized bottles of shampoo and at least as many smaller bottles and samples. Fifteen years ago when I was an apprentice, my teacher used one simple, cheap, no-name line of shampoos. There was a blue one, a green one, a yellow one and an orange one for fleas. They were okay, but they didn’t smell very nice, the dogs usually needed several baths and my hands would crack and peel after a time. When I bought the salon and began purchasing my own supplies, I started to do some research. To my surprise, I found that the variety and quality of pet shampoo now rivals human shampoo. A bewildering variety, in fact.

What makes them different? Why would one variety be superior to another? Which shampoo is appropriate for what dog? Those are excellent questions and a little beyond me to answer in detail. I highly recommend reading BBird’s GroomBlog. She has made quite a study of the chemistry of shampoo and has also written a book on the subject.

I require several different shampoos for different reasons. I keep a basic, all around shampoo, suitable for the majority of dogs that I groom. In addition, I have a gentle whitening, brightening shampoo, used for white and light coloured dogs. I need a medicated shampoo for dogs who have irritations, hot spots, allergies, and greasy coats. I usually have a soap-free oatmeal shampoo for dogs with dry, itchy skin or those who can’t tolerate the medicated shampoo. I have a conditioning shampoo with silicone for dogs with matted coats or those who shed. Finally, I keep a simple, soap-free, colour-free, perfume-free, tearless, hypoallergenic shampoo. This is useful for extra sensitive dogs and owners. I carry the basic shampoo in a medium bottle and the others in small bottles to reduce the weight I carry as an in-home groomer.

I select my shampoos based on many factors. They should be free of animal cruelty. I want them to be effective when diluted to the manufacturer’s recommendations. There is no point in buying a shampoo that is supposed to dilute 50:1 if it is little better than plain water at that dilution. When I say effective, I mean that I want them to get the average dog clean within two baths, one if used with a quality bathing system. Soap-free is a grand ideal but a useless one if the dogs are still dirty. If they are effective, they should not be too drying. I need a shampoo that rinses easily and quickly so that no residue remains to irritate the dog. They should remove odour without being too heavily perfumed if they are a scented shampoo. Scent is pleasant but subjective and many people have serious sensitivities these days. Finally, the coat should respond well to the shampoo and not seem too limp or too tacky when it is dried.

It seems a lot to consider, but I have sampled dozens of shampoos and you would be surprised at the differences between them. Some clean better in hard water than soft water and vice versa. Some seem perfect in every way, but inexplicably make too many of the dogs itchy no matter how well they are rinsed, or give the groomer dry, cracked hands. I once found a really nice shampoo but did not realize it had almond oil as an ingredient. It made the client’s nut sensitive son break out in a rash each time he petted the dog.

Currently I highly recommend the Show Seasons line, the Kelco line, and Best Shot products. They are reasonably priced and have a shampoo solution for any situation. However, with my addiction to trying new shampoos I may have more to recommend in a while.

Friday, September 10, 2010

How to Choose a Dog Groomer

Some people put more thought into things than others. This has been highlighted for me recently with a wedding coming up in our family. My wedding was very simple and small, and was still much bigger than I wanted. My dress was bought at the mall, invitations consisted of, “Hey, would you like to come to our wedding?”, our officiant was the first name on the list that happened to be free on the date we wanted, and said list was provided by the town hall where we had our very brief ceremony. We had a nice dinner afterwards at a restaurant with about twenty family and friends and then went home to collapse. First Chris helped me remove the approximately three hundred bobby pins impaling my skull. Our honeymoon was a day trip to Sudbury where we picked up a Schipperke puppy. We named him Vegas, which is where I wanted to get married.

In contrast, my beautiful sister-in-law-to-be has spent the last year fretting colour schemes, fabrics, wedding dresses, bridesmaid dresses, tuxedos, invitations, guest lists, venues, table linens, photographers, party buses, decorations, centerpieces, menus, dessert tables, wedding (not exactly) cakes, bonbonieres, hairdressers, makeup artists, DJs, flowers, wedding registries, accommodations and rings. So you see, people have different approaches to life.

This is apparently also true in choosing a dog groomer. People approach choosing a new groomer in many different ways. The most popular seems to be Price. The first question a groomer is usually asked on the phone is, “How much will it cost?” I can understand in this economy why the price of the groom might merit serious consideration. However, a groomer, shop, or corporation may set their prices using different criteria since they have different expenses or overhead. The cost of the groom may or may not include items like nail trimming, medicated shampoos, boarding fees (for all day stays), dematting, and taxes.

Perhaps the most unreliable ways to choose a groomer are what I like to call the three A’s: Alphabetical, Advertising, and Available. Some people just call the first name they see in the phone book. Others choose the prettiest ad or fanciest website. And every groomer gets desperate, last minute calls wanting to know if any appointment are available today, four o’clock on a Saturday.

Many clients also choose a groomer based on the shop’s proximity or the distance required to Travel. This can be very important for people with busy schedules, seniors, or those without cars. In the area I service some taxis will transport pets, but I have received a few panicked phone calls telling me that the taxi driver refused to allow the dog in the vehicle and the client needed to wait for another car to be dispatched. I also have few clients whose dogs and/or children get car-sick. The less time spent in the car, the better. Of course, this is where mobile groomers and in-home groomers are the most convenient choice.

Some people have special requirements for their pets that are important and for them, the Services available will help them make their choice. Certain breeds look their best when their coat is hand-stripped or plucked rather than clipped with clippers. Some people would prefer a show clip and require a breed specialist. Some would like colour applied to their pet. Others need to have their dog groomed and returned as quickly as possible; they need an express appointment. Not all grooming shops and services have these amenities available.

Experience and Qualifications would seem to be a good way to select a groomer. However, I must honestly tell you that I have met new groomers who are naturally talented and are educated in all the modern techniques and I have met older groomers who haven’t updated their skills in twenty-five years and have no interest in doing so. Currently in Canada there is no official licensing or educational requirement to become a groomer. Please, I repeat, there is no such thing as a licensed dog groomer in Canada. The qualifications of a groomer can be difficult to assess. Many of the grooming schools have been closed. There is no formal apprenticeship system. There are trade shows with seminars and workshops, voluntary certification programs available and occasional grooming contests. They can be used to assess how qualified a groomer may be, and also as to the Quality of their work. While different clients have differing standards, with one looking for a show style and another a clean and neat shave-down, both want to be pleased with the final clip.

We come finally to my personal preference when it comes to choosing a groomer. I consider Referrals to be one of the best ways to find any new service provider. You can ask your veterinarian, dog trainer, the gang at the dog park, or someone on the street whose dog is groomed particularly well. You can also check websites like for online reviews. You should feel Comfortable and Confident in the groomer you have chosen. All groomers should be insured. Your groomer should be friendly and professional and you will feel like your requests and concerns have been heard. Hopefully using some of these criteria you will find the perfect groomer for your dog.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Feet First

Over my many years of grooming I have learned new techniques and tricks, many of which contradict the original dogma. For example, rather than completely brush out, demat, and pre-clip (or rough-in) a dog before the bath as I was taught, I am far more likely to bath it first. It is far easier on myself and my equipment to work on a clean dog. Blow drying or force drying the coat can loosen up or even remove the mats, making half the work and feeling much more comfortable for the dog.

When it is time to finish the dog however, my routine rarely changes. I always begin with the back feet. The back feet are furthest from the dog’s teeth, and that is important for a new groomer to remember. Certain breeds can be extremely fussy about having their feet touched. Starting at the back feet gives you a better view of the dog’s body language and having that extra distance between your hand and the dog’s head gives you a better chance to dodge. Dogs are even fussier for their front feet than their back feet, so if a dog reacts poorly to having its rear feet handled you can be sure that it will be a tussle for the front.

Unfortunately for fussy dogs, grooming of the feet is extremely important and should not be neglected. Dogs with furry feet must have the hair cleared from between the pads on the underside of the foot. Hairy feet collect and trap debris from the street and yard, and reduce the area available for perspiration. Since dogs perspire through the pads of the feet, hair that accumulates becomes damp and can form painful, pebble-like mats between the pads. Between the toes on the top of the foot is a common area for mats to form also, and usually that area is too sensitive for them to be combed out. With any area that is matted, moisture can’t escape and is an excellent breeding ground for bacteria and fungus. Clearing the hair can be done (carefully!) with scissors but it is far safer, more thorough and faster to do it with a clipper and #10 blade. Most dogs become accustomed to this very quickly.

“My dog is wrecking my hardwood floors!” is a common complaint heard by groomers.

Not only do overgrown toenails damage floors, they are terribly uncomfortable for the dog. Long nails can lead to splayed feet and aggravate back, hip, and arthritis conditions. In some cases it can affect the dog’s balance. Nails and dewclaws will actually curl around and grow into the flesh of the dog, leading to sores and infection. They can also catch and break off at the root.
Very few dogs will wear their nails down adequately through exercise. They should be trimmed monthly at the minimum, with some dogs requiring more frequent attention. The longer nails are allowed to grow, the more difficult it becomes to correct the problem. The vein in the nail will grow as the nail grows.

The best solution is to have your dog’s nails trimmed frequently so that stimulation forces the vein to recede. Each session should allow the nails to be trimmed shorter until they are once again the correct length. Nail trimming can be combined with a dremel or grinding tool which may encourage the vein to recede faster. If your dog vehemently objects to having the nails trimmed you may need veterinary assistance.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

My Pets

Although I have known groomers who didn’t have any dogs, most of us have multiple pets. I am no exception. Currently our animal family consists of three Schipperkes, a Bengal cat, and a domestic black cat.


“Schipperkes (skipper-keyes, or shkey-per-keyes).”

Schipperkes are a small, agile, active breed from Belgium, bred to guard the barges and chase vermin. In North America they are black, but in Europe I believe that cream and chocolate are also acceptable. They are double-coated and shed seasonally (one of mine ends up practically bald), hardy and hilarious. Intelligent, expressive, affectionate, and a little bit stubborn, they are little devil dogs that have won our hearts. Our first was sort of an unintentional acquisition but, like Lay’s Potato chips, we found we couldn’t stop with one. Alice is nearly thirteen, our male Vegas is nine, and Cleo is seven.

Growing up without a cat, naturally owning one became one of my fondest desires. Once I left home, I determined that I would have a pure-bred cat of my own. I explored several different breeds, admiring Burmese, Bengals and Maine Coon cats, and finally settling on a Ragdoll. We went to a breeder of gorgeous Ragdolls out in Mississauga. She kindly showed us around her immaculate modern home and introduced us to her small cattery, gamely ignoring the fact that Chris had erupted into monstrous sneezes the moment we passed through the door. He shuffled and snuffled after us, one of her tissue boxes tucked under his arm, until we had to acknowledge that another ten minutes might be the end of him.

“Sometimes people are okay in a house with just one,” the breeder suggested, hopefully.

Chris shook his head at me desperately, and off we went.

I abandoned the thought of a long-haired cat and dragged Chris off to the outskirts of Kingston to visit a breeder of Bengals and Pixie-Bobs. This house was much, much older, and the although the house was clean, the cattery was much larger. Chris was dubious and filled his pockets with Kleenex. We entered the cattery where a litter of fluffy Pixie-Bob kittens had free reign. They all promptly pounced on Chris, climbing his frame like a jungle gym. He was crawling with kittens, and not one sniffle. Amazed, after shaking free the last Pixie-Bob, we introduced him to a few Bengals. No reaction whatsoever. We came home with a gorgeous six month old male, Diego. He is now 9 years old.

A few years ago I had found a stray cat on the street and brought her home. We didn’t find her owners, so we kept her. Jessie was part of our family for a couple of years but she unfortunately had an immune disease and we weren’t able to save her. We all missed her terribly, including Diego who seemed at a loss. After a time we discussed adding another cat, and went to an adoption event at PetsMart “just to look”. We came home with Licorice, a gorgeous black young domestic cat. She and Diego skipped right over the “getting to know you” introduction routine and she made herself right at home.

So our house is full of fun, although Connor is a fan of symmetry and is campaigning for a third cat to make the set. He’s campaigning for a baby sister too, but that isn’t going to happen either.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Playing Favourites

I have been asked many times which are my favourite dogs to groom. Most of the time the question refers to my breed preference. I have in my career had a chance to groom many purebred and mixed breed dogs, and almost every coat type. I have scissored, plucked, stripped, shaved, clippered, sculpted, thinned, de-bulked, etc. etc. I still haven’t encountered any corded or hairless breeds, but I have a friend who has offered the chance to try her Chinese Crested so I may get there yet.

The question seems simple but has a complex, multi-part answer, dependent on the day and my mood. For example, you would think that all small, smooth-coated breeds would be low effort and easy money, but the thought of a Manchester Terrier or Miniature Pinscher fills me with dread while Pugs and Miniature Smooth Dachshunds are a joy. No offense to any particular breed by the way. My preferences are based purely on my experiences, and yours may have differed completely.

When you factor in that there is not necessarily any correlation between my favourite breeds to groom and my favourite dogs to groom, it becomes very difficult for me to give any kind of straight answer to the question. Over the years I have fallen in love, frequently, deeply and forever. Love, illogical and unconditional, has had nothing to do with my enjoyment of the haircut the dog received but often made those dogs shine in my memory.

The best answer that I can give you is that I like to scissor, and I can fiddle quite happily with a Poodle (especially a Standard) for a considerable time. Curly coated breeds like Poodles, Bichons and their mixes offer a dramatic before and after, and a great deal of satisfaction. It helps that they usually have lovely temperaments, and I have groomed many over the years that I have adored.

However, I remember a Miniature Dachshund named Squirt, and a Yellow Labrador Retriever named Mackenzie who both smiled like you wouldn’t believe, corners of the mouth curling right up in a fabulous grin. I remember two Shih Tzus named Molly, one who rode in a bike basket, topknot streaming in the breeze, the other who refused to pass by the shop door without coming in to say hello. I remember another Shih Tzu named Katie who would rest her chin on my insignificant chest while I put in her pink satin bow. Rookie, a Bouvier mix, the apple of her daddy’s eye. Toby, the enormous Yorkie with the slow kisses. Duchess, Di Di and Dharma. Pixie and Oreo. Susie and Gen Gen. Tramp and Seamus. Nikki and Holly. Kali. Tabitha. Macey. So many more.

I have so many favourites. I fall in love. My heart breaks.
Artwork trademarked by Christopher Cowley, Windchill Studios

Monday, September 6, 2010

Talk to the Animals

“Are you getting any answers?” the client chuckled as she passed by the laundry room where I was grooming her dog.

I tend to maintain a continuous monologue as I groom, delivering a play-by-play, coaxing, reasoning, cajoling, and chatting away. (But very rarely baby talk. That gives me the creeps. Even when talking to babies.) Often I ask for the dog’s opinion, or ask if she saw where I laid down my comb. You would be surprised at how many dogs totally know where the comb is, but lie and look the other way. This has been my habit for many years, ever since I discovered that it makes for a calmer, more companionable grooming experience. My theory is that normal, friendly tone of voice is relaxing and reassuring for the dogs. My other theory is that it confuses them.

Confusion as the goal was behind my other habit, which I have had to curb somewhat since beginning the in-home grooming. Singing. I am not an especially good singer. I’m not the worst you’ve ever heard either, and you can generally recognize the tune I am warbling at least. I have a high, squeaky, Snow White type voice that went out of fashion in the 1930’s and is totally unsuited to any music written since. I do love music however, and love to sing along. I can’t remember the words particularly well, so one or two bars tend to repeat endlessly, but I have fun. And nothing perplexes a dog more than belting out a few stanzas of Hot Blooded while you are trimming around their eyes. Confusion distracts from their nervousness, boredom, or plain orneriness and allows me to get the job done.

And since it’s nearly impossible to groom and dance...
Artwork trademarked by Christopher Cowley, Windchill Studios