Degree of Difficulty...


I'd like to introduce you to a dog I groom that is very difficult.  Her name is Jenny and she is 10 years old. I've been grooming her since she was a wee little puppy.  You will laugh when you see her.  Ready? 



She weighs all of 7 pounds. And she's CUTE.  But she is a  handful. And therein lies the rub, people don't understand that a tiny, fluffy, sweet little pet can be a problem to groom. Many groomers have heard customers say, "He/she is so small, and will be fast/easy to groom." Well, that is not always true. 

 Here are some ways a tiny difficult dog can be a problem: 

  • Small dogs are delicate. If they struggle, fight and flay about during the grooming process, they can cause themselves injury. 
  • Small dogs have tiny body parts. Clipping those wee parts on a dog that does not want to be worked on is an invitation to nicks, cuts or abrasions. 
  • Due to their size, small dogs can be difficult to muzzle and/or restrain.  They can also move very erratically, throwing their bodies around. Refer back to the first point, these animals are delicate and can easily be injured. 

What Jenny lacks in size she makes up for in attitude. She bites. She flails, flips and flops, and has perfected the crocodile roll. She tries to leap to her death off of the table any chance she gets. She leans so hard against the grooming loop she causes herself to cough and choke.  And then she bites some more.  Years ago I worked in a multi groomer shop and met Jenny. I groomed her for about a year, and figured out some tricks to manage her bad behavior.  Then I went on vacation and another groomer there had Jenny on her schedule.  She had trouble with her and had to have another groomer stop what they were doing to help. They charged the owner extra because it took two people to groom her.  The owner is fiscally conservative, (isn't that a nice, polite, phrase?) and was outraged that he had been asked to pay more than the normal rate.  He got right on the phone and called a few other groomers and asked, "Would it take two people to groom a toy poodle?"  The other groomers all said no. Those other groomers never met Jenny. 


Here is how I groom this dog. First off, right into the tub.  Two shampoos, a finish rinse, ears cleaned. Then she is towel dried and we head to the table. I hook a loop to the grooming arm, and also fasten her to my beloved Groomers Helper.  I absorb as much water as I can with a towel. Then I spray her with Quick Dry and brush it through her coat. I trim her nails.She hates it.  I turn on the dryer,  low. She hates it.  I work from her rump to her head, and when I get to about mid body she tries hard to bite the dryer and/or air flow.  This can be dangerous, so I have to keep the air flow away from her nose/mouth so she does not injure herself.  I get her mostly dry, then stop, and brush her all over. Return to drying.  A Happy Hoodie helps to cut down on the sound that agitates her, but it does not slow down her struggling for every, single, bit of the process. 

Once she is dry I use a slicker brush and go over her entire body. Then I repeat with a comb. Once she is tangle free I use my trimmer and trim: tail band, potty patch, muzzle, and then the oh-so-difficult paws.  In order to give this dog traditional shaved "poodle feet," I have to lay her gently on her side, and hold her down with my forearm. She tries to bite, with all her might. I  shave the underside of each paw, then carefully remove the hair from the top of each toe. All this while she is on her side, making gargoyle sounds and being most unhappy with me. It's a neat trick.

I let her up, re-fluff and then clip her body. Her owner likes her to be fairly short. They cannot manage to brush her. She bites them. No surprise there.

For Jenny, the worst is over now. I have done the things she hates the most, and neither of us are bleeding.  This is a huge win. 

She is fairly tolerant of me scissoring her top knot. Her people like her ears to be very short.  That helps.  They also like a bow.  This is problematic, but do-able.  The whole groom takes me one hour. One hour of fierce concentration. I am able to groom the diminutive Jenny because I am old, and have 34  years of experience. Not everyone could groom this tiny terror.  And some might feel badly that they could not. Because, after all, she is wee and CUTE. But size and degree of difficulty to not go  hand in hand.  My end results are not fabulous. But considering her behavior, I am pleased. Her owner is, too. He has come to  understand that she is a project. 

Not every hard-to-groom dog is a muscle bound, double coated, wonder. Sometimes "trouble" comes in small, adorable, packages.  As degrees of difficulty go, size does not always matter. 

As groomers, we need to  understand that a tiny dog can be just as or even  more challenging to groom than a large one. And we need to charge accordingly. If a dog causes you to trot out every good handling trick you have learned, you need to be compensated for  your knowledge. Even if the dog is no bigger than a loaf of bread. 





Handy trick...

Sometimes I assume that every groomer knows every trick of the trade that I do. And I know many reading this will know this trick, but I have to remind myself that there are newer groomers here who might benefit from this information, so here 'tis!  But first, the back story.  

I have a customer who owns several Scottish Terriers. One is a dog she shows occasionally, and one is a puppy show prospect. The other two are older pet dogs.  She lives several states away from me, but brings the dog she shows to me several times a year.  She normally has the pet dogs groomed closer to home.  She called recently to set up an appointment for the pet boys.  "One bites," she said, apologetically.  It was sort of like telling me that water is wet, in that I was not shocked to hear a Scottie might be temperamental. When they brought the dogs in she said, "THIS one. He bites. His other groomer puts TWO muzzles on him at all times." (Two?!)  I scooped him up and put him in the tub. "Aren't you going to put a muzzle on? I don't want him to hurt you," she said. I appreciated the warning, I really, really did, but in my experience, few dogs are in-the-tub biters.  I had been warned, was watching his body language carefully, and assured her all would be well.  

As luck would have it, he was matted quite severely.  I used Best Shot Ultra Max and Best Shot conditioner on him, then scooped him out of the tub and had him sit on the table, wrapped in a dry towel for a bit.  I got my trusty Elizabethan Collar out of the cabinet and in a blink had it snugly fastened around his neck. The grooming loop was behind the collar, so if he managed to get the collar off with his front feet, he would still be securely anchored to the table and couldn't fall and hurt himself. I had the loop attached to my beloved Groomers Helper. (This particular E collar is a Comfy Cone. I prefer it to the rigid plastic ones.) 


Next I saturated the matted coat with Artero dematting spray, and began to dry the little guy.  So far so good.  When his body was dry, (I was saving his bitey head for last) I began to brush.  The matting came out fairly easily, but he wasn't really fond of the process.  He tried to spin to bite, but was stopped by the groomers helper, plus, his ability to see where I was, was hindered by the soft cone around his neck.  The cone also reached out past the end of his muzzle, so he could NOT reach to bite me.  I was able to get his entire body dematted, brushed, combed, clipped and trimmed with no fear of his teeth meeting my tender flesh. I didn't have to muzzle him for any of this process, because I was safe the entire time.  No muzzle means that he was able to breathe and pant normally, and he didn't have to feel anxious about having a foreign thing on his face.  I believe this kept him calmer and made the grooming experience go more smoothly.

The next time I groom this dog, I will work on his face first, before I make him crankier by grooming his body.  In this instance, I was getting to know him, and what his triggers to biting were as I handled him.  I kept calm, played soothing music, and we were able to get him done in record time.  

Grooming his face was another matter altogether, and will be another blog post.  The point of this blog is that a nice E collar is a valuable addition to any groomers tack box.  This one folds flat, is soft and pliable, and can be hand washed and air dried if it becomes soiled. I don't need to use it very often, but it comes in very handy for some dogs.  It is particularly nice for brachiocephalic (short muzzled) dogs such as Shih Tzu, Pugs and such. You know how tricky it can be to muzzle those breeds, and how important it is for them to have the ability to pant freely so they do not become over heated. 

If you've never tried using a cone on a snappy dog, I hope you will.