Elodie W. was a dog groomer (actually she supervised a team of groomers) for many years until she switched to another profession. I asked her to share her insights, what irritated her, and what she wished grooming clients would know, and she didn’t hold back. I removed a lot of profanity from this article because I didn’t want people to avoid reading it; suffice to say, though, Elodie (and I, in some cases), feel very strongly about many of these things.
The skill you must have
Elodie believes strongly that all owners need to be able to brush their dogs. “No matter what dog it is, it needs to be brushed and you have to have the right tools.” Further, owners need to know when a mat is forming so it can be removed:
You NEED to know that extensive dematting HURTS and can cause bruising, cuts, and rashes. YOU ARE YANKING HAIR OUT OF SKIN, and that hair often has brambles, leaves, branches, toenails, all kinds of shit in it. DO NOT ARGUE when a groomer says shaving out mats is kinder and easier. If you INSIST on extensive dematting, understand it hurts your dog, it makes the groomer upset because they don’t like hurting your dog, and it will be expensive as @#$& because it is time consuming and hard work.
Tools of the trade
- “Do not use over the counter flea shampoos. They are toxic to cats, most of them, and at the least they don’t work and can cause dry skin, allergic reactions, etc.”
- “Do NOT use your own damn shampoo for a dog. Your pH is different. It will dry your dog’s skin out. Trust groomers when they recommend good, solid dog shampoo brands.”
- Elodie recommends using the right kind of brush for your dog (kind of a duh, you’d think, but you’d be amazed from a rescue standpoint how many people with hugely fluffy dogs have never heard of a Furminator, for example). She recommends slicker brushes for dogs with undercoats; soft bristle brushes for Yorkies, Maltese and Havanese (DAMPEN THE COAT BEFORE BRUSHING SO YOU DON’T BREAK IT — Elodie’s emphasis); and a curry brush or shedding blade for pits, boxers and greyhounds.
Do’s and don’ts (mostly don’ts)
- Play with your dog’s feet as a puppy, or if it is a rescue, at the very least socialize it to its feet being touched. Same with ears, mouth, legs. It makes your vet and groomer way happier, and it makes your dog WAY less stressed out for nail trims.
- Do not try and remove a tick if you don’t know how to do it. Take your dog in somewhere. I saw SO MANY infected, impacted ticks on dogs. (Our rescue group also had a lot of people who thought their dogs’ nipples were ticks, so seriously, get to a vet until you are experienced. — Moretta)
- DO NOT put rubber bands for bows around a dog’s ears. I saw TWO dogs with ears removed because of this and I had to personally cut bands off other dogs. DON’T DO IT. (This is so disturbing. “Toy dog” is a breed category, people, not an actual type of dog. — Moretta)
- Don’t lie about things that may make your dog aggressive or fearful. It’s best to let us know when a dog WILL BITE, than to lie and say they won’t. If I know your Chow will nip for toes, I am prepared for that and will be in the mindset that this dog may try and bite me for something. That keeps us so much safer.
- Shaving is not going to make your dog cooler. Your dog does not sweat through their skin. They can get heat stroke if you strip them of their fur. It is insulation. This is not a big deal for terriers and other single coat breeds. But double coated dogs like Huskies and Malamutes and Chows DO NOT NEED TO BE SHAVED*. They have hair for a fucking reason and you are DECIMATING their coat. A lo-shed treatment — which pulls out undercoat, and is painless — is so much better for your dog. If you can’t handle that, don’t get a double coated dog. Bad groomers talk you into shaves because it’s easy money, but it ruins their coat.
I hate it so so so much. I HATE seeing naked Goldens and hearing, ‘He’s so much cooler!!!’ No. He isn’t. He’s still panting. Brush your damn dog, clean his coat, and treat it properly.
(From a rescue standpoint, a shaved Chow is nearly impossible to place. As Elodie points out, in addition to it taking the coat forever to grow back out, it looks ridiculous. It also will never be the same. Interestingly enough, when our rescue would get a Chow Chow who was seriously matted, people would come out of the woodwork to donate money earmarked for their grooming — most of them were Chow owners who knew how important that was. — Moretta)
- Sometimes, though, the fur has got to go, and that’s something you should trust your groomer about. Elodie says that sometimes with dogs with bad skin conditions or nasty matting, it may be better to just get rid of the hair..
I met many dogs with urine burn and ring worm and open sores and maggots in their skin… and sometimes that hair has to come out. usually because the dog has been neglected terribly. I’ve shaved many a shih or poodle or the like OUT of a giant mat. Not kidding you.
- Speaking of shaving, Elodie has what seems like obvious advice, but I guess some people don’t have a lick of common sense. Don’t shave your cat unless it’s super matted. I have scars from cats that lost their minds over being shaved and I really don’t blame them — it’s traumatic for them, and their skin is paper thin.
Your dog shouldn’t suffer to be beautiful
I have a few axes to grind, so I asked Elodie her thoughts on some grooming choices.
- Overly long bangs are a pet peeve of mine, so I was interested to see if Elodie agreed with me. It turns out she has no issue with bangs around a dogs eyes as long as the dog can see and the hair is clean and not matted. She pointed out, “The longer it gets, actually, the easier it is to keep them out of their eyes…the hair grows straight up and straight down on Yorkies and Shih-Tzus, so if it’s long, it lays flat and keeps their eyes clear.”
- I also asked her about tear stain remover, which some toy dog owners use. They have always bothered me because you are effectively bleaching your dog fur right next to their eyes. it’s always struck me as the height of superficiality. “Tear stain removers are @#%*. I never did find one that worked. What works is wiping your dogs eyes every day, preferably with distilled water if you have it. We personally used diluted hydrogen peroxide, just a touch, on a cotton pad, but then we also knew what we were doing. I wouldn’t recommend anything but the water, the other stuff is expensive and some of it is harmful.”
The grosser stuff
- Some groomers will express dogs’ anal glands, but Elodie believes that these are best done by vets. As she points out, doing them wrong can hurt a dog.
- I asked Elodie what groomers prefer if a dog really reeks from rolling in something or being sprayed by a skunk. Should owners try to clean them up a bit first or just bring them in and tip more? Her answer: “Groomers have a de-skunk shampoo, at least most do. It cuts through really vile stuff and I do not think it is easily available to owners off a shelf. Also bathing can make mats worse and so it’s better to let groomers decide how to proceed with a real mess of a dog.”
Finally, it’s very possible to find a groomer who’ll deal with your dog’s special issues. Elodie, for example, specialized in known biters. “I just asked what caused biting, worked with dog, and would muzzle when needed.” She also noted that hounds and corgis hate to have their nails done, and some dogs hate dryers, so she would use air and kennel dryers for dogs that was safe for. (My Chow Chow hated the hair dryer so much he would snap at it when it was simply hanging next to the groomer table, so his groomer would just air dry him. It took a long time, but it was worth it for all of us.)