Finding a high quality dog groomer – after COVID-19

A well groomed dog.
Roxy strikes a pose!

When the world opens up again after COVID-19, you will need to find or re-engage a high-quality dog groomer so that Fifi can strike a pose and look her very best! I hope you were pleased with your provider prior to social distancing. And when businesses resume, I trust your favourite will still be available. But in case not, you may want to plan ahead. A groomer may not top your list of critical animal practitioners. However, your choice requires specific and important criteria. I have created a series of questions below that will allow you to explore these criteria. For your dog’s safety, you might want to evaluate your present groomer through the same lense. We can be lulled into a false sense of security. So let’s begin!

What to look for when finding a high-quality dog groomer?

My primary consideration in determining if a dog groomer meets the highest standards is safety. I don’t hesitate to ask important questions to confirm that their clients’ dogs are carefully managed and not mistreated. Safety is first! The quality of a dog’s haircut is very much secondary!

Here are the questions I ask every groomer when I’m finding a high-quality dog groomer.

How many dogs at one time do they have on site?

  • The lower the number the better. And I don’t take Roxy to any groomer that has more than 3 dogs at any given time.

Where are the dogs kept between grooming stages?

  • Since your pet will be left with one or more unfamiliar dogs, it’s safest for all of them to be placed in crates while waiting their turn. This is another great reason to crate-train your dog, if he isn’t already. Any group of canines can erupt into a fight if they are stressed. The salon experience can produce anxiety as dogs anticipate their session, and can generate aggression because they are sharing space with dogs they don’t know. Even if your dog is normally very friendly with other dogs, remember you are probably expected to be elsewhere. And your dog cannot rely on you to sooth him. Plus your dog may relate well to other dogs, but not all dogs do. You definitely want to avoid potential dog fights, bad feelings and unnecessary vet bills! And another good reason for crates at the groomers is how can the groomer possibly concentrate on precise cuts while dogs roam free!

Does the groomer express the anal glands of every dog they groom?

  • This might seem like a strange question. But I only found out about 5 years ago that most groomers routinely express all dogs’ anal glands as part of the normal grooming routine. I was shocked! So I discussed this with my veterinarian. And Dr. Steve Avery told me that a dog’s anal glands should only be expressed by a veterinarian or veterinarian technician for medical reasons and not otherwise be frequently done. This is because the more these glands are manually expressed, the more the gland will require to be manually expressed. Moreover, if done incorrectly, the anal gland can be permanently damaged.

So why do groomers express dogs’ anal glands?

  • You could be wondering why groomers are trained to express dog anal glands to begin with! Well, a dog groomer once told me that they do it before they wash and dry the dog. This is because some dogs, out of the stress of being groomed, will massively express their anal glands in the middle of grooming. Then, due to time constraints, the groomer would not be able to wash and dry them all over again.
  • So, if a groomer tells me that they regularly do express dogs’ anal glands, but they pass all the other criteria questions, then I specifically direct them NOT to express my dog’s anal glands. I will trust they will stick to their promise since they met all of the other ethical criteria. And if my dog begins to have anal gland issues, then I will suspect that they did not keep their word and I will find another groomer. But keep in mind, you can find many groomers with a strict policy that they never express the glands for the safety of the dogs! Such as Pawla’s Grooming where I bring Roxy.

Does the groomer use a heating unit to dry the dogs instead of manually blow drying each dog?

  • These units are referred to as “heating cages” or “heating boxes”. I first became aware of this equipment in grooming facilities about 5 years ago when I saw a story on a TV news story about the prevalence of these units and the dangers associated to them.
  • Groomers use them to air-dry dogs while they groom other dogs. It’s a time- efficient method to dry multiple animals. They avoid having to manually blow dry all of them.
  • At the time I saw that news story (I can’t currently find it on line), it seemed that only the large corporate stores that offered pet grooming were most likely to be using them. But I did find these credible online news sites that featured stories about the danger of these heat boxes:

More about the dangers of the use of “heat Boxes”

  • But soon after I saw that story, I asked my independent groomer that I had been going to for a few years if she uses these heat boxes. She said yes, but not for my mini poodle. Her fur type needs to be manually blow dried to style it properly. So I had no qualms continuing to bring Roxy. I stayed with this groomer until she had to move out of my area. After she moved, I sought out a new groomer. And initially every groomer I spoke to said they used heat boxes. A couple were located in medium size veterinarian facilities as either independents or on staff. And others were small independent grooming services.
  • One of the groomers located within a veterinarian clinic, outright said to me they would NOT agree to not use their heat boxes with my dog. So onwards and forwards I went in search of a high quality dog groomer.

Ask if you can drop in to visit their business with your dog before the first appointment

  • I suggest you visit the groomer before the first appointment. That way, your dog can see the place and meet the groomer before being left there for that first time. You also get to spot check the business to see how they run and maintain it. This opportunity to get a good sense of the groomer and associates should also not be missed.
  • The groomer may say that you need to make an appointment. That is not necessarily a bad sign. Because if they are busy, they might like to plan for your visit when they aren’t in the middle of grooming a dog. Fair enough. But it’s a lot better if the groomer says you are welcome to drop by any time! When finding a high quality dog groomer, the groomer should have nothing to hide and be very accommodating to have you visit without an appointment.

Pawla’s Grooming is a perfect example of a high quality dog groomer

  • They only have 2-3 dogs on site at any given time. And if you request your dog to be crated while waiting between stages, they are glad to do so! Plus, when I have arrived early to pick up Roxy, she is always in a crate. But even the dogs that are not crated, there’s only a maximum of 2 other dogs potentially roaming the space where the groomers are working (not in an a separate room).
  • They NEVER express any dog’s anal glands.
  • They immediately invited me to drop in any time I wanted when I asked about visiting.

In the end…what does this all mean in finding a high quality dog groomer?

Well, part of the process of finding a high quality dog groomer reflects our values as dog parents. In respect to the questions pertaining to the number of dogs on site at one time, and whether they use heat boxes, it all comes down to the groomer maximizing their facility. They strive to groom the maximum number of dogs per day so that, rightly so, they make a profit. They are not in business to lose money.

But this also has to do with keeping the price down low enough to be competitive and to please the customer….you, the dog parent! Even the policy some groomers have of automatically expressing a dog’s anal gland is designed to save you money. They don’t want to turn around and charge you more because they have to wash the dog all over again should the dog have a stress accident.

So what does this mean to you?

So in essence, you, the dog parent, need to be willing to pay more. Otherwise the groomer is incentivized to have to have too many dogs on site at once and has to place dogs in the heat box , or express every dog’s anal glands. Are you willing to do that? I can honestly say that I would be glad to pay more if it guarantees a more personal service to keep my dog safe and stress free. Being groomed in itself, at the very least, can be exhausting for the dog to stand still for that long.

Of course it comes down to affordability. But prior to welcoming a dog into our homes, we need to be diligent in factoring in grooming costs along with veterinarian costs and high quality nutritious food. And it’s also planning to pay a sufficient price to pet care services such as groomers so that they can be there for us. And they deserve a living wage.

Check out other topics that I have written about!

Yours in better dog care, Judy

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