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Do You Deal with Challenging Dogs?

When I first started working with dogs, I worked with a groomer who didn't have a lot of patience with them. Dogs danced. They panted and drooled. They sat down - a lot. They growled, pulled, snapped, and bit. The groomer was constantly struggling. It did not take long before I began to think most dogs were naughty on the grooming table.

Eventually, the groomer moved on and I got a promotion. I went from being a kennel worker to grooming. It was not an advancement I was looking forward to.

I came from a horse background. The better I understood the behavior and psychology of horses, the stronger horsewoman I became. The horses I worked with became my partners. We were a team. When you're dealing with large animals, that's exactly what you want.

I quickly applied this concept to the dogs I was working with every day. Sure, I had to learn the haircuts. More importantly, I had to learn how to win their trust and cooperation. I needed to get inside the mind of a dog.

This idea was confirmed when I went to a large dog show in Chicago. I was working on learning how to identify breeds and learn their haircuts. There was a special bonus about attending the show. Barbara Woodhouse, a world-renowned UK dog trainer, was there. She was going to be working with some difficult dogs. It was one of her specialties.

I remember sitting in the audience looking down onto the floor of the auditorium. She was working with an Afghan Hound in full coat. She had a light show lead on the dog but the dog would not walk. It had to be carried to the center of the arena. When the dog was set down, it curled up in a small ball, trying to become invisible. It was clearly terrified.

Barbara Woodhouse approached the dog with confidence. She bent over the dog and soothed it with long methodical strokes to its head and ears while speaking in a very calming sing-song type voice. Even from a distance, I could see the dog starting to relax.

Within moments, she coaxed the dog into a standing position. However, it was evident the dog was still very scared.

Mrs. Woodhouse continued in her sing-song voice, explaining what she was doing while giving reassurance to the dog. She gently and methodically moved her hands over the dog's body. The Afghan was slowly starting to relax. It's topline leveled out. Its head started to come up. As she got towards the rear of the dog, she let her hand slide to the inside of the thigh and gently stroked the inside of the leg.

The dog gave a yawn and then a shake. She softly praised the behavior. The dog's tail came up as it looked to Mrs. Woodhouse for direction. With that, she asked the dog to move forward. It did. Within moments she had the dog fully gaiting on a show lead around the arena. It was amazing.

I will never forget how she was able to gently and confidently work the dog out of its fear in just minutes.

I thought to myself, if Barbara Woodhouse could have such a quick and positive effect on this dog, I needed to learn how to have the same effect.

When I first started grooming, many dogs coming into the salon lacked confidence. They were uncooperative. They struggled. I needed to win their trust. Watching Barbara Woodhouse taught me handling was a learnable skill I needed to master.

I became fascinated with dog behavior, psychology, canine body language, and natural dog training. I read training books by Barbara Woodhouse and Carol Lea Benjamin. I studied canine behavior and psychology. I spent hours watching dogs naturally interact with one another and with humans. I thoroughly enjoyed learning how to use Tellington TTouch® develop by Linda Tellington-Jones. TTouch influences animals in a way that develops trust, and helps forms a harmonious bond between the pet and the person. It can also have a positive effect toward changing unwanted behavior.

Before long, I had very few difficult dogs to work with. Dogs who had been challenging to handle were becoming calm and cooperative. As I gained more experience, it took only moments to gain the trust and respect of my four-legged clients.

Here are a 15 of my favorite handling thoughts and practices:


1. Dogs are hardwired to think like dogs.
2. Dogs live in the present.
3. Dog take their clues from their handler, so set limitations, rules, and boundaries immediately.
4. The canine species is a pack animal - dogs need to accept and respect us as the pack leader.
5. The word NO is one of the most overused words in the dog's home environment - use a different sound or word to indicate undesirable behavior.
6. Never work on a pet you feel is dangerous to itself or to you.
7. Always maintain the 3 C's: Calm - Cool - Collected.
8. Dogs are silent communicators and are highly responsive to your energy.
9. Never take an unfamiliar pet directly from the owner's arms.
10. Always maintain some form of physical control - properly adjusted leads or safety loops.
11. Be a life-long learner of canine psychology and body language.
12. Not all pets are candidates for all professional grooming settings.
13. Humanity always comes before vanity.
14. If the eyes glow red or green - don't groom the dog.
15. Your hands are your livelihood - always protect them.


Personal self-confidence stems from education and experience. Continue to learn new ways to communicate with the pets you handle. The more self-confidence you have, the more successfully you will work with animals.

Never put a dog in danger. Always use respectful but effective handling methods. Do not let your emotions get the best of you. Don't let frustration get in the way.

Always know how your equipment performs and what can happen if you do not use it properly. You need to establish yourself as a pack leader but never at the expense of the dog.

For most of us, grooming dogs is a dream come true. However, every job has its challenges, including grooming. Not every dog loves the grooming process. Most dogs, when skillfully handled with respect, can be groomed with minimal stress to both the pet and the groomer.
Pick trainers you admire and follow them. Study the natural body language of dogs. Learn as much as you can about canine behavior and psychology.

The better you can communicate with the pet you're working on, the less stressful your job is going to be. Most people who have been in the business for a long time have mastered the art of canine (and/or feline) communications. It doesn't matter whether they are working on a regular client or one they only see a few times a year. Rarely do they have difficult or naughty dogs on the grooming table.

It does not mean experienced groomers don't get challenging pets. They do. They just have the skills to handle that pet more effectively than someone with fewer handling skills. If they have a consistently full appointment book, they have the option to make choices in their clientele. Whether they continue to work with a difficult pet or refuse it in the future is totally theirs.

Experienced pet stylists set the rules, limitations, and boundaries automatically - many times without ever saying a word. Even if they do have issues, they know how to effectively deal with problem pets in a safe and gentle manner. Do you know their secrets?


Do You Struggle to Get Clients to Rebook?

Rebooking clients is one of the easiest ways for groomers and pet stylists to boost their income. Encouraging clients to rebook on the day of their service will help keep a steady stream of pets coming into your salon.

Clients that rebook before they leave return on a much more frequent basis than those who do not. Let's face it - life gets busy. Personally, if I did not rebook my own hair appointment before I left the beauty salon, I'd be there a lot less frequently than every five or six weeks! Our pet owning clients are no different.

Many groomers don't encourage their customers to rebook their pet's next grooming. They think the client will come back when they are ready. While that may be true, it's more likely the client will not return as often as they should.

As a professional, it is up to us to educate our clients how often they should return based on:

• hygienic needs of the pet

• coat condition

• trim style

• activity level

• level of home maintenance between appointments

Most pets that are considered a part of the family require regular grooming. These owners share their lives, their homes, and sometimes even their beds with their four-legged family member. These pets benefit from weekly or bi-weekly bathing. Ideally, pets that require haircuts should be trimmed every 4 to 6 weeks. How often you handle hand stripped pets will vary based on the coat type and the technique used to strip out the dead coat. These dogs will need to be groomed weekly to a couple of times a year.

Pet professionals who understand the impact of rebooking realize that is not just a courtesy, it's an important business building strategy. Educate your clients about the rebooking process. Encourage them to set aside time to keep their pet's coat in peak condition.

Here are 4 Tips to Ensure Your Clients are Rebooking with Every Visit

  1. Stress Maintaining a Schedule - As a professional pet stylist, it's your job to educate your client. You know what it takes to keep their pet's coat in peak condition. Find out how the client would ideally like their dog to look and learn their budget. Talk to them about how much at-home care they are willing to do between grooming appointments. Discuss the lifestyle of the pet. Once you know the answers to those questions, you can suggest the ideal number of weeks the pet should go between professional grooming appointments.
  2. Suggest Dates - Don't just ask the client if they would like to rebook their next appointment. Suggest an ideal appointment date when you should see them again and have your calendar ready to set that appointment. If the client is hesitant, politely informing him that the best spots are already being filled can often help him make the decision to arrange for the appointment before he loses out to someone else.
  3. Offer an Incentive to Rebook - Small incentives can be a great way to keep clients coming back. Offer a small discount if they book their next visit within six weeks or less. Or offer them a free service with their pre-booked appointment. If they rebook weekly, bi-weekly, or every third week - offer them a special discounted rate to maintain the frequency of their visits. Do the math - you'll probably be shocked at how steeply you can discount a weekly or bi-weekly client on their regular grooming price and still make more money on an annual basis.
  4. Train Your Staff - Rebooking is a courtesy to the client - and a benefit to you. Make sure your entire team understands the importance. The key to success is to ask EVERY client to rebook their next appointment before they leave.

Having an appointment book that is 50% to 70% pre-booked is like money in the bank. It's a security system that allows you to breathe easily. It ensures you will not lose clients or revenue from light client bookings. It is one of the easiest ways to guarantee your income and keep your pet clients looking and feeling their best.


Are You a Fast or Efficient Groomer?

We all have different reasons why we love our careers. For most of us, our careers started because we were obsessed with dogs and cats. What a fabulous way to make money - doing something you enjoy. My guess is that many of you not only love animals, they're also a hobby and a huge part of your lives. I know very few career opportunities that allow pet lovers to work in a field they truly adore.

I love helping people who are passionate about their career choices. I always encourage people to seek out personal growth. To look at ways to do things better, more efficiently, and with greater focus. Raise the bar. Set personal goals. Set limits. Develop strategies. Ultimately, the pet, the individual, and the business wins.

If you are a solo stylist, you get to make up your own rules. Work at your own pace. There is very little pressure to move beyond your comfort zone.

However, if you work with a team, you will usually have quotas to meet and rules that you need to follow. The business sets up these boundaries in the best interest of the client, staff, and the long-term health of the company. If someone does not meet quotas, it creates a frustrating situation for the rest of the team in terms of time, quality, and financial stability.

Years ago when I ran a mobile operation, our minimum quota of grooms per day was six - or the equivalent of six. Thus, two slots were given for larger jobs such as Standard Poodles and heavy-coated Cockers. If someone had something very small on their roster, they were always given an option to groom another small dog. As long as the vans were routed well, this quota worked out well across the board for years.

There was one exception: Sue (not her real name).

Whenever I hired a new mobile stylist, I always started them with just four dogs and combined that with a very wide arrival schedule. All of our stylists knew this right from the get-go. The quota they needed to meet was six grooms per day. The funny thing about Sue was that she didn't care about the number of pets she groomed or the amount of money she made. Although she was passionate about animals and people, she did not groom because she needed the cash.

For a long time I was extremely frustrated with Sue's performance. She would arrive at base at eight o'clock in the morning to pick up her van. Many times she did not come back to base until well after eight o'clock at night. The most dogs I could ever get her to do was five.

It took me a while to realize the frustration was all mine. As a business owner, it's critical that I pay attention to the financial numbers - but there's a bigger picture: customer service.

When I looked at Sue's scheduled re-bookings, she could rarely take on a new client. Her clients absolutely loved her. She wasn't the fastest groomer. She wasn't a competition level stylist - never would be. Her grooms were basic, neat, and thorough. However, she was the most compassionate person I have ever hired. Not only did she enjoy the pets, she was passionate about her clients.

To Sue, her career was more than a means to a financial end, it was her social and entertainment outlet. I swear she had breakfast, lunch, and dinner with her clients. She ran errands for them. She shoveled their walks. She loved the senior citizens and the geriatric pets. She would talk with them for hours!

Hmmm. These were the clients my highly efficient stylists wanted to avoid like the plague. Once I came to terms with this concept, I ended up making it work in our favor.

I let Sue slide on the quota. She was dealing with all those clients the rest of my team would rather not do. By letting Sue focus on our more time-consuming clients (and enjoying it!), it allowed the rest of my team to focus on making quotas and/or exceeding them. It worked.

So even though I let Sue slide - only doing five grooms a day when the actual quota with six - it allowed the rest of my team to focus on grooming more pets. Not necessarily faster - just more efficiently.

There's a big difference between grooming efficiently and grooming fast. Grooming efficiently involves doing a good job. Grooming too fast, in my eyes, translates to sloppy work. When I look at developing a grooming team or training new staff members, I always look for people who have the ability to focus and work efficiently.

To me, being efficient means doing a great job in the least amount of time.
I recently heard one of our industry leaders say, "I don't know many wealthy groomers." I don't, either. I do know a lot of groomers and stylists that make a comfortable living and love their careers. Being able to work efficiently translates into creating larger client lists, larger paychecks, and the ability to breathe easily at the end of the day.

Unlike Sue, the majority of us have other responsibilities, outside interests, families to care for, and households to run. We may even have businesses to manage. Not to mention maintaining the health and well-being of both ourselves and the four-legged clients on the table. As much as we love our jobs, we can't afford to be tethered to a grooming table any longer than necessary.


What Keeps Clients Coming Back?

When a student graduates from The Paragon School of Pet Grooming, I love to hear about their success stories down the road. They might work for someone else or work for themselves. They love what they're doing and their careers are thriving. But what makes those graduates successful?

For many of them, it might not be what you think.

We all have good friends. When you think about those friends, what traits draw you to them?

My good friends are honest, dependable, self-confident, empathetic, and are good listeners. They have integrity. I enjoy being around them.

Bottom line, I trust them.

Not every groomer needs to be an all-star stylist to succeed. However, having repeat clientele is the lifeblood of any business. It does not matter if you are a solo groomer or work with a team of pet stylists with a support staff. Getting customers to come back on a regular basis pays the bills.

We are not in the business of washing and styling pets. We are in the trust business. For many of the clients that we deal with on a regular basis, their pets are an extension of their family.

I'm not a parent but if I were, I would never leave my child anywhere I felt apprehensive about the facility, the people, or about any part of the service. Most of our clients feel the same way about their fur babies. If you are going to be successful, your clients need to trust you.

To be a successful pet groomer or stylist, you need to have repeat clientele. Repeat clients are attracted to the same types of characteristics as your good friends. When you get others to trust you, it's easier to grow your clientele and/or your business. It allows you to give all your clients and the pets exceptional service.

8 Traits That Build Long-Term Trust

1. HONESTY

Always tell the truth. Don't over estimate what you can do for the pet. Don't underestimate the risks. Tell the truth about how you see things. If you make a mistake or error, gracefully admit it. Explain what happened in ways other can understand. Take responsibility for the error and make it right.

2. TACTFULNESS

Being honest does not mean you have the right to be rude. Framing your words in kindness and compassion does not minimize the message. Skillfully dealing with unpleasant or difficult situations will always get better results.

3. Be consistent in your behavior and the services you provide. Be someone others can depend on to give consistent grooming, timely service and personal attention.

4. EMPATHY

Be tolerant. Be considerate of events and negative experiences that may have affected the clinet or the pet. Make exceptions to the rules when common sense dictates.

5. CONFIDENCE

Confidence lends credibility. Demonstrate your knowledge in general conversation without taking down the client. If you honestly know your craft your confidence and know-how will shine through in a professional manner. You will be able to make sweift, skillful decisions based on the pet's condition, attitude and the clients wishes.

6. COMMUNICATION

Communicate effectivelly. Whoever is asking the questions is in control of the conversation. Ask quesetions as to the client's lifestyle. Lead them down a road of realistic grooming options for the pet based on what you have heard. Listen to the client.

7. INTEGRITY

Having integrity means doing the right thing. It's an admirable personality trait. It means a person is ethical and is consistent in their actions.

8. WARMTH

Smile. Be friendly to both the client and the pet. Find something in common with your client or something you sincerely admire about their pet. Treat them with kindness, dignity and respect. Educate them in a warm and friendly manner when they need it.

Unfortunately, trust is fragile. If you lose it, it can be very difficult, if not impossible, to restore it.

You can't fake a genuine relationship built on trust. The same characteristics that build a good friendship will build strong relationships with your clients and their pets.

Trust can take a long time to build. Yet it can take only a moment to weaken or disappear because of one senseless act. Without trust, you don't have a business - or a job.

Trust keeps clients coming back. Repeat clients keep your business healthy. Take the time to build trust and strengthen relationships with your customers - you'll be amazed at the result!