Barbara Bird, aka BBird, has been grooming since 1971 and opened Transformation Pet Center in Tucson, Arizona in 1977. In the salon, BBird specializes in Bichons and scissored trims, hand stripping of Terriers, and cat grooming. She has been writing and speaking to groomers for over a decade, and received the Cardinal Crystal Achievement Award as Grooming Journalist of the Year for 2006 and 2007. A regular contributor to Pet Age magazine, Barbara also writes for The Bichon Frise Reporter. She has authored and self-published three books, including Beyond Suds and Scent - Understanding Pet Shampoos and Conditioners. She has also developed a line of aromatherapy products, The Scented Groomer, and conducts online extended education classes at GroomClassroom.org.
One of the most crucial variables in determining the successful outcome of a pet grooming session is the behavior of the animal. Even the most adept pet stylist can only do so much for a dog that is lurching, jerking, dancing, mouthy, or laying flat as a pancake on the grooming table. Animal-handling skills are just as pertinent for a “master groomer” as styling skills, but there is a limit to what a groomer can be expected to accomplish with an uncooperative pet in a single session. Behavioral training requires repetition and consistency. That means that what happens at home between grooming sessions is probably more likely to shape behavior than what the groomer does in two hours at the table.
Yesterday I descended into Groomer’s Hell with a handsome young Portuguese Water Dog. I rarely see this breed, and I was excited to have the opportunity to start a grooming relationship with a new client and her 6-month old PWD. It was to be the dog’s first groom. That should have been my first hint of what was to come. The coat may not seem to need much work before six months, but the behavior does. Fortunately, the owner was honest and warned me that the dog was “rambunctious”. I pictured a happy, excited, wiggly puppy. BTDT and lived through it. I should have looked the word up. Rambunctious: “1. Uncontrollably exuberant. 2. Unruly.” In other words, T.R.O.U.B.L.E.!
The young beast was nearly ungroomable. It took all I had, and I have a lot of skills to bring to the party. These are some of the behaviors we encountered:
Incessant excited barking in the pen, in the bathtub, & on the table (this somewhat abated after two hours of my ignoring it).
Leaping, lurching, thrashing, standing on rear legs and waving forelegs, dancing and not keeping feet on the table.
Not allowing face to be brushed, or even held – pulling away, and mouthing – there was no way I could use clippers on the head or face, I did some rough scissoring.
Not allowing forelegs to be groomed – mouthy, had to be muzzled, pulling away, trying to leave the table.
Did I say mouthy?
Thrashing about while being clipped near genital area. ( The dog was not neutered). Not allowing feet to be held – pulling, barking, mouthing, and lurching.
All grooming requires patience. Sometimes it is a bit of a dance. This grooming was not so much of a dance; it was a wrestling match. It was also a match of will and wits. I accomplished the grooming goal, but only because I have advanced abilities, especially patient persistence and the ability to scissor a moving target. It required way more than I should have to do, and did not look nearly as good as I had envisioned. Clearly, the dog had not been prepared for the grooming experience, in spite of having graduated a six-week training course. My fervent wish is that dog trainers would offer training for behaviors needed for grooming. I also wish that owners of dogs that are going to need to be groomed start puppies out early with accepting grooming as a part of life. Some of the behaviors we groomers need help with are:
SETTLE – This is a part of some basic training courses. For dogs with excess excitability, however, it needs to be prioritized. Dogs need to be able to settle down and focus on the activity of grooming.
STAND FOR GROOMING – It is impressive that your dog has learned to “sit” on command. On the grooming table, we need her to stand. Sitting is a way of resisting having the backside groomed. Some little dogs will lay flat on the table and turn into a heap of jelly-with-hair. This is also not helpful in a grooming situation.
NO MOUTH! Mouthing the groomer is NEVER acceptable. Mouthing the groomer is NOT play biting, it is trying to stop the activity by mouth to hand action. This is a real precursor to biting the groomer and must be discouraged.
HOLD FACE – Allowing the muzzle to be held, or the whiskers to be held is utterly vital to safe grooming around the eyes and mouth. Free-hand scissoring around the head of a dog that is bobbing and jerking is nerve wracking and highly hazardous.
HOLD FEET – Holding the feet is necessary in order to clip nails, clip hair from between foot pads (bottom of foot) and trimming. This is a dominance/submission issue for many dogs.
ALLOW DEEP BRUSHING AND COMBING – Although initial grooming sessions for the young puppy need to be pleasant and not stressful, at some point the dog that is going to be groomed for a lifetime needs to be encouraged to tolerate thorough brushing and combing of the coat. Otherwise, the pet needs to be taught to allow the legs to be handled well enough to allow a shave down. On this PWD, I could do neither thorough brushing of the front legs OR run the clippers down the legs. The most I could do was a little light brushwork and scissor over tangles. Arghh!
ALL’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL! This nearly unbearably stressful experience was made tolerable by the understanding and humorous nature of the owner of the rowdy PWD. I charged a $20 “Naughty Fee” over my estimated grooming charge and she tipped generously over that. Taking home extra cash always soothes my wounds, and helps keep me supplied with Advil. Being able to be bluntly honest with the owner about my experience with the dog allowed me to actually look at the possibility of grooming the dog again. I told her flat out that, on a difficulty scale of 1 to 10, this grooming was a 10. There was no brushing it off as “slightly rambunctious”. I strongly urged neutering. That boy needs some help to calm down! I also suggested some homework, such as brushing the legs and face. Although it was a serious situation, we were able to laugh about it. Any customer of mine who can pick up on my sense of humor and help me laugh about the trials and tribulations of pet grooming deserves another appointment.
About the Author: Barbara Bird has been grooming since 1971 and owns Transformation Pet Center in Tucson, Arizona. She is a Certified Master Groomer with IPG, Inc., and is also certified in Non-Sporting breeds with NDGAA. She is a popular speaker and educator in the pet grooming industry, and a free-lance writer for Pet Age magazine and eGroomer. This article was published on the GroomBlog, www.groomblog.blogspot.com and on the Bird Talk blog at www.groomwise.talkpad.com/Birdtalk. Please contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to reprint or use this material.
Let’s face it, the concept of cage drying has gained a terrible reputation and is a hot-button issue for many professional groomers, not to mention pet owners, PETA, and the press. During a recent discussion of drying methods on the Groom_TNT@yahoogroups email list, a groomer wrote: What I take issue with is cage drying. I force dry, then just set the hair with heat. But you are right, people have been teaching and doing LAZY grooming for a long time. I think cage drying is lazy and dangerous. This is why I'm mobile now, I don't have to hear all the excuses anymore for not drying!
Cage drying with heated dryers that hang on kennel doors has caused innumerable deaths in grooming shops. “Innumerable” because they are often not reported nor admitted. Sometimes a death can occur shortly after an overheating incident, or even days later, or can cause irreversible organ damage. Many responsible professionals continue to use cage dryers with heat, or heated drying cabinets, as a viable option. Heat is especially helpful in a cold, damp, climate. Nonetheless, the unfortunate accidents that have occurred besmirch the entire profession. Check out this recent thread on dogster.com for a glimpse into the public attitude toward cage drying. http://dogblog.dogster.com/2011/07/28/woman-sues-after-dog-dies-of-heatstroke-from-cage-dryer/
It is time to step away from the negative connotation of cage drying and find a more neutral term. I suggest we embrace the concept of passive drying. What I like about this term is that it is neutral, friendly, and encompasses a broad spectrum of practices. Passive drying involves allowing the dog to sit, stand or lay in a cage or pen with air blowing through the coat. Air may be heated or unheated room temperature air, known as ambient air.
In my salon, we do not use heated-air passive drying, but we often use cage or pen drying under fans. The Sahara Turbo dryer is another ambient air option, with three large hose “ducts” that can attach to wire cages or the exercise pen I have set up for larger dogs. The problem with heated air, in addition to the health risks, is that it dries hair from the outside inwards, “setting” curliness or kinkiness in the coat. This is the opposite result than normally sought. Fan drying moves a greater amount of air through the animal’s hair with less curling than hanging cage dryers. I especially like to use wire cages with fans on several sides.
This chihuahua mix is fiendishly unmanageable for any form of table drying. He is happy to dry under fans.
An option used by some groomers is to allow a pet to “drip dry” on towels while accomplishing another task. While not exactly passive, toweling is a method of drying that does not add heat or moisture to the room. Absorbing excess water from the coat with towels is an excellent way of beginning the drying process. Some groomers skip the towel and blow off the excess water with the forced-air dryer. While this practice is not bad, it can put a whole lot of water into the air of your drying area, which increases the relative humidity and can slow down all forms of drying. Once the air around a drying area becomes saturated, the water begins to fall back on the dog. It is like trying to mop up water with soaked sponge. This is especially likely in a small, enclosed area such as a grooming van.
A form of towel drying sometimes used for show dogs is “sacking”. This involves snugly wrapping a coat in towels or using a weighted toweling device to make the dog’s jacket dry tight and flat.
Is passive drying a lazy practice or does it reflect of a lack of standards of excellence? It is true that passive drying allows the busy shop to have two or more pets in the process at once, rather than grooming one-by-one. Is it lazy or unprofessional? It saves time and energy and allows the groomer to attend to more dogs per day. It also allows the solo groomer time to do book work, make reminder calls or tend to sanitation, rather than adding those tasks to the end of the day. Passive drying is also a compassionate option, as there are individual dogs that do not tolerate table drying. These dogs with issues, physical or temperamental, can be catered to and accommodated by the option of passive drying. Some may call me lazy, but I market myself as caring and compassionate. Sometimes I word it as “we accommodate the needs and tolerances of each pet.” One of my means of accommodation is the use of passive drying. My customers love it. The concept of passive drying is easy to explain and get across. Go ahead -- try it out for yourself!
Mickey has been coming to me for over eight years. Now that he is having serious rear end issues and can't stand for long on the table, we are happy to have this pen drying option.
Our Groom_TNT@yahoogroups email groomers’ group is having a discussion about which methods of drying produce the best results. Is it necessary to have a stand dryer? Is cage drying a four-letter word? Let’s take a look at drying methods through the eyes of an old veteran groomer who has been around since the Dark Ages. That would be me!
A Little History: In The Beginning, there were dryers on stands with arms, known as "stand dryers" or “arm dryers.” Dogs with scissored coats were meticulously dried with the arm dryer blowing air while the coat was brushed and stretched. The arm of a stand dryer can be moved to target a specific area for straightening. The groomer’s hands are free to work with the dog and the hair. The air of the stand dryer is heated by a heating element in the arm, which often has a control, and the air volume can also be adjusted. It took a lot of time to dry dogs this way, but produced a gorgeous result, with the coat separated and straightened to the max. In the salon where I apprenticed, we dried most dogs this way, including the owner’s Standard Poodles in show continental trims. THAT could take hours!
The Revolution Began: The 1980’s saw the emergence of a new option that came from the livestock barn: forced-air drying with a high-velocity (HV) dryer. One or two small reverse vacuum motors are used to blow air through a hose and nozzle to force the water off the coat, and stretch the hair by flattening it to the skin. This method of drying caught on immediately, as it offered considerable savings in time. It was great for thick, double coats, such as Bernese Mountain Dog or Rough-Coated Collies, as the forced air removes the undercoat. The forced-air drying greatly reduced the physical effort of brushing and raking and quickly became the choice for "deshedding" tasks. The old method of thoroughly brushing and combing the dog before the bath became obsolete. Working on a clean coat is much healthier for the groomer.
Groomers gradually learned to apply the techniques of high-velocity drying to more and more of the drying tasks in the commercial salon; so much so, that some now regard the stand dryer as a dinosaur, a thing of the past. Some grooming schools no longer teach the techniques involving stand dryers, and train students to use only forced-air drying with a little brushing to straighten coats. Many new groomers not only want the forced-air option, they search for the dryer with the most force.
Are HV dryers better for the hair? It can be argued that drying with high-velocity air is not as damaging to the hair as the constant brushing to stretch the hair under the arm dryer. We know that brushing causes wear and tear to the hair cuticle, stretching the wet hair can cause breakage, and the application of heat can be brutal to hair. However, some of these same concerns also apply to our method of forced-air drying. HV drying can whip the ends of hair, causing dreadful knots. Also, if natural wind is a factor in the weathering of hair, is not the powerful air of the high-velocity dryer having similar adverse effect? Some of our high-velocity dryers put out high heat. I don’t think we can give the forced air plus brushing method a total pass in the coat damage department.
What’s the best way? I knew you would ask! Personally, I like to keep all options on the table. (grooming table joke!). Certainly, forced-air dryers are the most efficient. However, they tend to be loud, and some dogs are very uncomfortable with the air pressure or the noise. I have no doubt that there are groomers who have mastered the use of HV dryer and brushing and can achieve a perfectly acceptable fluff-dry result. The key to straightening with an HV dryer, imho, is that there must be enough force placed on the hair while it is straightening. In any form of drying, forced-air or stand dryer, the hair must be stretched before it is thoroughly dry. Brushing the coat while still damp can provide this key element when using the forced-air dryer.
Standing by the stand dryer: Although I use a stand dryer for a small portion of my overall drying, I have not been able to wean myself entirely from the arm dryer. I still perceive a noticeable difference in some coats that are finished the last bit of the way with brushing the hair under the air (stretch-drying). The hands-free aspect of the stand dryer is important to me. Also, I like having the option of the gentler air of the arm dryer for puppies, old dogs and others who have issues. I also will use passive drying with these individuals. (See next article) At my second table, where I do not have room for a stand dryer, I use the Chris Christensen
Hold-a-Hose. This has a flexible arm with a cradle to hold the HV dryer hose (or a hand-held dryer) and gives a hand-free advantage without the huge footprint of the stand dryer. Warning: Cheap clamp style third arms are a waste of money. Look for a device that has a cradle with bungee cords to hold the hose.
Table Worksoffers the original design of this type of holder.
The Great Debate: The issue of what is the best method of drying brings us to the question of what is “good enough”. What is the standard you hold for your professional result? Are we to hold ourselves to a show ring perfect fluff-dry for everyday pet grooming? Can pet owners distinguish the difference between a perfectly straightened coat and one that is not? Do they care? If you are going for the perfection model, be sure your prices reflect the time involved. Also, please, make sure the pets can handle the extra table time it might take to get that show ring look. What would the dog vote for?
Speaking for myself: In my own practice, I have a shifting standard of expectation. I consider myself an advanced stylist offering excellent grooming. However, I often accommodate the needs of the moment and don’t try for a “ring perfect” grooming for every animal. I try to achieve the best possible result with the coat, temperament and behavior I encounter on the grooming table. The client's expectations and the available time are other important factors. I compromise a lot with older animals or dogs that have issues. I like being flexible in preparing a dog's coat. I use a combination of forced air drying and brushing, brushing under the arm dryer, and passive drying with fans. Rarely do I use the stand dryer for a full fluff-dry as I was taught. Nowadays, I use the force dryer much more than even ten years ago. I teach students to use the force dryer first, and only reach for the arm dryer for the last bit of straightening, or for ears and face work. I challenge myself constantly to see if I can get as good or a better result with a different combination of methods. My experience is that coat preparation is more a matter of commitment to excellence than any particular equipment or method of drying. Here are some examples of my work that illustrate my fluff drying results:
For more information on drying, you might be interested in an article I wrote for Pet Age magazine on the science of drying as applied to pet grooming. Here's a link.