Choosing a Pet Groomer

by Paul Konrardy

You want your pet to look and feel its best and that means taking it for regular grooming.

Grooming services can include a haircut, trimming or shaving, combing, brushing, bathing, clipping nails, ear cleaning and teeth cleaning.

WHN TIP – Love Your Pet! According to a survey by Furminator, Inc., shedding is the major cause of negative feelings for pet owners towards their cats and dogs. Regularly brushing, cleaning, and grooming your pet will decrease shedding and increase the healthy, shiny quality of your furry friend’s topcoat.

“Every dog [and cat] benefits from a professional groom, and no, haircutting is not mandatory,” says Tracey Fisher, Resident Dog Grooming Specialist at PetSmart. “Professional grooming encompasses important steps such as cleaning the ears, clipping the nails, brushing out dead hair and improving the condition of the pet’s skin and coat with health-enhancing shampoos and conditioners.”

Getting Started

  1. Make a list of what you are looking for when choosing a groomer.
  2. Evaluate grooming needs and options.
    • What hours/days are you able to drop off/pick up your pet for grooming?
    • Consider your budget. What can you afford to spend on grooming?
    • How often does your pet need to be groomed?
    • How far are you willing to drive?

WHN TIP – Start Young: If you get a dog or cat, start the grooming process when they are young so they get used to it early.

  1. Get opinions from a variety of sources. These can include:
    • Family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers for recommendations.
    • Breeders, animal clubs, your current vet or local animal shelter.
    • Local and online directories.

WHN TIP – New to the Area? If you’re moving to a new area or home, ask your current veterinarian, breeder or groomer for recommendations in that area.

Service Basics

Here is a “starter list” of questions to help narrow down your grooming choices.

  1. Where is your practice located? (Consider if it will be easy for you to get there from both home and work.)
  2. What hours and days are you open?

WHN Expert TIP – Scheduling: Being able to drop off and pick up your pet at times that are convenient to your schedule will help prevent your pet from having to be at the salon longer than necessary, according to Tracey Fisher, PetSmart

  1. What types of services are available? How much do services cost?

WHN Expert TIP – Average Costs: The Humane Society says to expect to pay anywhere from $35 or more for a shampoo and haircut.

  1. Are you accepting new clients?
  2. How soon are appointments available?

WHN Expert TIP – Call Ahead: “I try to get an exact time to bring my dogs in so they don’t have to wait in a cage for hours,” says Beth Shaw, Humane Society National Council Member and Chair of Karma Rescue’s Advisory Board

  1. How long do appointments last?
  2. Can I/Do I have to leave my pet for the day?
  3. Are you familiar with my breed of animal?
  4. Can you do a breed-appropriate haircut?
  5. Will you be able to handle my pet’s special needs such as ________?
  6. Do I need to bring proof of vaccination or other records with me?
  7. What are special services? (cost for detangling matted hair, burrs in fur, etc.)

The Groomers

Ask about the grooming practice:

  1. What type of training programs do the groomers attend?
  2. Are they members of any grooming organizations such as the National Dog Groomers Association of America?
  3. What types of licensing and certifications do they (or your store or the vet) have?
  4. How many years of experience do they have?
  5. Do they have liability and other necessary insurance (such as?)
  6. What kind of animals does the groomer own?
  7. How many pets have they groomed that are the same as my pet’s breed?

WHN Expert TIP – Photo Finish: “Ask to see pictures of their work, especially photos of your pet’s breed,” says Frances Greenspan, Animal Groomer and Communicator

  1. What type of shampoos and conditioners do you use? Do you use dryers on pets?
  2. What do you do to calm pets down? (Some groomers might sedate pets with drugs before grooming.)
  3. What do you do if a pet is sick?
  4. What are your safety procedures in case of an emergency? (A dog or cat loses control, etc.)

WHN Expert TIP – No Federal Rules: “No federal agency regulates or licenses groomers, therefore, it is important to find out the training qualifications and experience level of the groomer. A training or safety certification is your assurance that the person working on your pet has taken the time and care to learn how to groom your pet safely,” says Tracey Fisher, Resident Pet Grooming Specialist

The Facility

Once you have narrowed your choices, make an appointment to visit the groomer’s practice. You may want to visit a few groomers before making a final selection. If you do, jot down notes:

  1. Does it feel safe and inviting?
  2. Is it well-lit?
  3. Are the rooms clean and in good shape?
  4. Are there any unpleasant odors?
  5. Are the cages clean?
  6. Are dogs and cats caged separately?
  7. Do the other dogs and owners seem to be relaxed and happy with the services?
  8. Do you like the appearance of the other animals after their appointments?

Can’t make a choice?

  • Do a test run. Choose a simple service to start and see how it goes.
  • Be sure to mention or share your list about your pet’s health concerns and behavioral habits with the groomer beforehand.

Before The Visit

You’ve made your choice – now get ready for the visit.

  • Ask what you copies or items you may need to bring for the visit and services.
    • Adoption papers
    • Contact phone numbers for you, other family members and your vet
    • Medical and vaccination history
    • Registration papers
  • Bring along your pet’s leash, collar or any other items the groomer requests.

WHN Expert TIP – Avoid a Pet Swap: Ellen Palestrant, pet owner and author of Pretzel on Prozac: The Story of an Immigrant Dog once picked up the wrong dog when its collar was traded with another dog after a grooming. To avoid an unwanted pet swap, Ellen advises to “have some other identification on your dog – or another way of recognizing him other than by his collar before taking him to the groomer. After all, collars are removed during grooming and dogs sometimes emerge quite deflated after their hair-loss.”

  • Prepare a list of questions and possible health concerns to mention to the groomer. “Professional grooming is more than just a haircut; it’s about good health and hygiene,” says Fisher.
  • To meet your pet’s needs, offer a groomer as much information as possible – make a list of health conditions including:
    • Lumps
    • Allergies
    • Medication needs
    • Skin irritations
    • Sore joints
    • Scratching
    • Special care needs
  • Work with your groomer to develop a grooming style that fits your pet, your family’s lifestyle and works with your at-home routine. Think about seasons, too – longer hair for winter warmth? Shorter for summer heat?
  • Bring photos. Know exactly what you’d like your dog or cat to look like? Bring a picture along, “after all we do it with movie star haircuts all the time,” says Fisher.
  • Grooming a dog? Walk your dog before the appointment. Running off steam and making sure your pet has done his or her “thing” will make for a much better behaved and a happier grooming client.

At The Visit

  • Mention any quirks or behavioral traits to the groomer. Fisher says, “Information such as ‘he doesn’t like his feet touched’ or ‘he is afraid of loud noises’ helps us adjust or modify the experience so that it’s a positive one for everyone.”

WHN Expert TIP – Trust Your Gut: “Pet owners should always ask themselves ‘Am I comfortable with this groomer and this grooming environment?’ If the answer is no, cancel the appointment and re-schedule somewhere you are comfortable. Rely on your instinct,” says Sharon Zabala, Cathy’s Critter Cleaners

  • Ask if you can watch the groomer as he or she works with the animals.

After The Visit

WHN TIP – “I forgot!”: If after you leave, you realize you have forgotten to ask your groomer or a staff member something, don’t be afraid to call and get your question answered.

Here are some tips to help evaluate the grooming:

  • Was the groomer helpful, courteous and knowledgeable?
  • Did the groomer listen to my questions and answer them in a way that I understand?
  • Was the groomer respectful and considerate to me and my pet?
  • Did the groomer ask me questions?
  • Did the groomer seem rushed or was the groomer attentive and willing to spend time with me and my pet?
  • Did the groomer take down details about my pet’s needs, medications, vaccinations and important contact numbers (vet, emergency numbers, etc.)?
  • Would I prefer this groomer to be the primary groomer for all my pets or should I select different groomers for each pet?
  • Do I feel comfortable with my decision?

Trust your own reactions. If you aren’t comfortable with the groomer, consider finding another groomer. Also, remember that you may want to give the pet/groomer relationship some time. It may take more than one visit for you and your groomer to get to know each other.

If you like the groomer, schedule your next grooming appointment.

Remember – You’ll save money and extra grooming costs if you do a few maintenance tasks on your own, like nail trimming or brushing.

WHN Expert TIP – Winter Grooming Tips: “Keeping your pet’s coat mat-free and healthy will help your pet stay warmer and the coat and skin healthier throughout the winter. Heated houses can dry your pet’s skin and coat making it itching and uncomfortable,  possibly leading to matting of the hair. A professional groom will clean and condition both the skin and the coat to keep it healthy and your pet happy every season of the year,” says Tracey Fisher, PetSmart

Photo Credit: Unsplash

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