Big love...

A new potential customer called me today.  She sounded like a lovely person, and was very anxious to tell me all about her 6 month old Cocker Spaniel puppy.  She told me that she had raised Cocker's for many years, but had been without one for a while. And this new puppy... well, you could tell that she was totally and completely in love with him.  She went on to describe him to me.  "He looks like leopard. He looks like a zebra. I am sure you have had a lot of experience with the breed, but I know you have never seen a dog marked like this one."  My curiosity was piqued.  She went on to describe how beautiful her dog is, waxing poetic about his virtues.  I smiled to myself because I know full well how it feels to love a dog like this woman clearly loved hers.  Before she hung up she asked for my email so she could share a picture with me.  All day, as I worked, I looked forward to having time to see what this fabulous puppy looked like.  My mind fairly reeled.  I was picturing something like this: 



Or this: 

Cocker2Finally I had time to peek at my email.  And here is the picture she sent me. 



A very cute puppy, to be sure.  But not quite what I anticipated based on her description.

And all of this made me think, people can be awfully touchy about their pets.  I remembered back to when I first adopted our Pug, Smooch.  He was an adorable puppy, and I was head over heels in love with him. I took him to my vet for a check up.  "Isn't he CUTE?" I gushed.  My vet is a really nice man, and an excellent doctor. I like him, a lot. But when he looked at me and said, "Yeah, if you like space aliens," I was crushed.  


I had to have a firm talk with myself to prevent changing vets.  It hurt my feelings, and my puppy certainly did not look like a space alien.

(Well... maybe a little.)

And on this same note, my sister made up a song about her daughter and son in law's dogs, in which she called one of the dogs a mean name. She taught the song to her toddler granddaughter, and was surprised when her son in law took great offense.  

So what is the point?  The point is that people are awfully sensitive about their pets.  And that is why we, as groomers, need to be careful when we talk to people about their beloved dogs or cats.  For instance, I know a groomer who told a customer, "Your dog is getting fat."  The customer was so offended he found a new groomer.  I had that thought in mind today when I told a customer that is Westie was getting a little pudgy.  I chose my words carefully. "It seems like your girl has been eating well over the holidays."  He laughed and said that she had, indeed, been given a lot of extra treats.  "Well, just like people, we all need to cut back a little once the holidays are over.  You don't want to put strain on her joints."  He nodded in agreement, made another appointment and headed out the door, telling his dog they were going to do more walking and less snacking. 

Like dog

Keep this thought in mind, as you care for the animals entrusted to you. A misunderstanding or even a joking remark taken the wrong way can cause a customer to walk out and never come back.  People love their pets, I sure love mine. I bet you love yours, too.  Take it from a woman who gave her heart to a space alien and choose your words carefully when taking about the objects of big love.  

Hand stripping... it's not JUST for show dogs...

I loathe being involved in controversy, and may be inviting some with this post, but I am feeling bold so am going to jump right in.  True confession... I strip pet terriers.  I know groomers who think this is a stupid idea.  Some think this because they don't understand stripping and how it affects hair regrowth on terrier (and other harsh) coats. Some think that stripping is painful and mean.  Others think it's dumb because they consider it be a waste of time stripping a coat on a dog that is not a show prospect. So, here are my thoughts on the topic. 

If a customer has a terrier with a decent coat and they want their dog to retain proper coat texture and color, I am happy to offer what I call "pet stripping." This is NOT show grooming for terriers, or keeping a coat in rolled condition.  Are we clear on this?  NOT SHOW GROOMING. It is merely using techniques that allow the pet to keep some semblance of a proper coat, on a pet grooming rotation.  Show coats are worked on far more often, (usually weekly) than the average pet.

Let's talk a little bit about stripping verses clipping.  When you clip a coat, you are removing an even layer of the tips of the dogs hair. There is some evidence that this can alter the dogs shedding pattern, so that old, dead coat remains in the follicle for longer than it might if it were left to it's own devices. This means that often the coat loses its rich, true color, because you are clipping off the most colorful part of the hair, and because the stuff left behind is often dull.  The coat texture also changes, and becomes softer, because the guard hair has been clipped and the soft, duller colored undercoat is exposed.  When you strip the coat, you are pulling the dead guard hairs out of the follicles, encouraging new hair to grow. If the dog has a proper coat for its breed, that new hair will have rich color and crisp texture. 

Here is an example.  Meet Toffee.  She spent the first few years of her life at a breeders house.  I am not sure if she was shown, but the breeder does show her Scotties and strips them herself for the show ring. Toffee had been stripped and not clipped previously. When her new owner got her she had recently had a litter of pups, and had been spayed.  She had not been groomed for a long, long time. She looked like a shrub on short legs. This picture shows her after I have groomed her twice, at 6-8 week intervals.  The "before" shot shows her 7 weeks after her last visit with me.  Still a shrub, despite my previous efforts.  Trust me, I took a LOT of hair off during those previous visits, but she still needed more work. 

IMG_0914After a bath, dry and brush out, I did normal clipper work to tidy up her paw pads and potty area.  I also clipped her ears, cheeks, and under her throat. I used a 7F blade, against the grain on her cheeks and throat, and a 15 blade on her ears.  I brushed her "jacket," (back coat) so it lay as flat and smooth as possible, and brushed and combed her furnishings.  Then I used Coat Kings to "muck out" a lot of dead under coat.  If you look at the hair pulled from the coat with a Coat King, you should be able to see the small root at the end of the hair shafts where it was pulled from the follicle. The roots are very small, because the hair is dead, but if you don't see them, it means your tools are cutting the coat and not pulling it out.  This time I also used the Andis deshedding tool, which I just bought after reading Debi Hilliey's review of them here:

I have to agree with her.  MAGIC.  Well worth the small investment, (it is under $20.)  After I had pulled out gobs and gobs of dead coat with these tools, I used stripping knives to pull out more of the guard hairs on her jacket and tail. I also used them to card out even more undercoat. I  trimmed up her ears, beard , and eye brows.  I rounded her feet with scissors. I shaped up her tail a bit where there were straggly hairs, even after I had hand pulled a lot of coat there.  I used a combination of a stripping stone and a fine stripping knife to remove more coat from the top of head. I was happy to see that there was quite a lot of new, deeply colored, harsh coat coming in on her head, in her eye brows, and in her jacket after my previous two sessions pulling dead coat.  Please note: pulling out dead coat is NOT painful to the dog. I have literally had dogs fall asleep when I am stripping them.  

I spent about an hour and half working on her coat.  In case you are curious, my fee structure for this kind of work is this: I charge my base price for the groom on that breed if I were doing a typical clipped cut, then add $1 per minute for the time I spend removing dead coat by hand.  Toffee's new owner and I were both delighted with how she turned out this time. 

IMG_0918She is a work in progress, but is looking more and more the way a "proper" Scottie should. I have to share a little secret with you here.  This was a FUN groom.  It is enjoyable to see a coat going from looking blown and dull and crummy to seeing it come in rich and fresh and harsh.  I enjoy exercising skills that I do not use every day, and new tools, to create a look that pleases both the pet owner and ME!  >grin< 

I have about 10 dogs that I use "pet stripping" techniques on.  People drive several hours to have me perform this service, and don't blink when I tell them the fee.  If you would like to learn more, check out this excellent blog by Barbara Bird.  There is a lot of information available on breed specific sites, as well.