To what extent is nail clipping the foundation of professional grooming? Are groomers expected to clip nails, no matter what behavior the dog(s) manifest? Is the stress of nail clipping a reason to not do it? These questions are running through my mind as I fume, yes FUME, over the finale of Groomer Has It and Lisa Leady’s failure to win the title Groomer of the Year possibly because of her decision not to clip the nails of a mouthy, distressed, Irish Terrier.
I will tell you why I am upset. I think one of the big failures of our industry is the failure to acknowledge the importance of grooming stress on animals in our care. Lisa Leady made a decision that “the stress wasn’t worth it” and declined to wrestle down the dog to do the toenails. This decision was totally dishonored by the judging panel. Even the veterinary judge, who last year was such an advocate for the animals, on this matter said, “Why didn’t you just muzzle the dog?” Behavior management was placed above stress management. I hate to see this established as a professional model.
Two years ago, at a local grooming establishment, a five-year old Boxer died on the table when three people held him down for a nail trim. These groomers were simply doing what it took to get the job done. They managed the behavior without regard for the deadly potential of the stress. It was not the first time I had heard of death-by-nail-clipping. A year before that, I got a frantic call from an inconsolable groomer who had a 16 week old puppy die after being wrestled down for its nails during its first (and last) grooming.
Doing whatever it takes to get the job done is what I call the “cowgirl” model of grooming. This is how I was taught – put on your Big Girl panties, toughen up, and get the job done. The short coming of this model is that it teaches us regard our work as hand-to-hand combat rather than a challenge of how to do our job with the least amount of stress on the animal. And it fails to recognize the potentially fatal power of stress on animals. Bad behavior is often a manifestation of the inner stress the dog is feeling, but is sometimes regarded as simply “attitude” or retaliatory behavior. The dog is considered bad, not the stress.
There are times when nail care is clearly demanded, and time when it’s not so clear. When nails are dangerously long, curling under, growing back into the foot pad, or affecting how the dog walks, it can be obvious that nail clipping is worth a little stress. As a matter of routine, however, of Grooming 101, is nail clipping necessary no matter what? How much stress is too much, or how much stress is “worth it”? That’s a judgment call, and if a groomer of the experience and reputation of Lisa Leady is not to have her judgment respected, then what hope do the rest of us have?