Safety First

The grooming salon can be fraught with peril for pets and groomers alike if you do not have the right processes, equipment and education in place.

There’s a certain amount of risk inherent in grooming. After all, we are working—often with sharp cutting objects—on live and sometimes unpredictable animals. There is bound to be a slip-up every now and then.  But there are things groomers can do to minimize the risk of injury to themselves and to the four-legged clients they work on.

When it comes to avoiding injuries to pets and the groomers working on them, keep in mind that accidents are much more likely to occur when you are rushing. With this in mind, try to keep the grooming process calm and unhurried, even if you are running behind. Instead of speeding up, look at other ways to solve the issue. Call customers to extend pickup times by 15 minutes or re-assign tasks so one person is not as rushed—whatever it takes to keep the grooming process on a calm and even footing. Moving quickly is fine, as we need to do that to optimize income, but don’t rush. If you find yourself regularly dashing about in order to get those last few animals out the door, rethink your scheduling strategy. 

Injuries to pets and groomers can also be prevented with training and preparation. Make sure that every staff member is trained correctly in all facets of grooming and pet care, and think ahead as much as possible. For example, remove collars if dogs are crated to prevent tags from getting caught on doors. Make sure the doors can be removed easily in case something does happen. I once had an upset Poodle turn his head sideways, open his mouth wide and angrily bite the wire grid of the door. He then couldn’t open his mouth wide enough to let go and panicked. Wire cutters saved the day. Although the crate door was a total loss, the dog checked out fine. As my handy set of wire cutters demonstrated, it’s important to anticipate anything that can go wrong and be ready for it. 

It should go without saying that it is vital that every employee in the salon knows how to handle dogs. A struggling, unhappy animal increases the chances of brush irritation and injury. Luckily, there are ways to hold, carry and restrain dogs that will not harm them. It is also important to know when to quit or change tactics. A frightened dog pulling against your hold on his leg can injure it badly. 

Keep in mind that a perfect groom or accommodating a customer’s request is not worth potentially injuring an animal. If the coat is too matted to comfortably demat for the animal, explain that a “smoothie” or “do-over” trim will be needed this time, but then, with more frequent visits, the coat can be left longer. 

Always be aware of where the entire length of your shears is aiming. If you are concentrating only on the center, the tip could be too close to a part of the dog that you aren’t working on. Never trust a dog to not move. No matter how long you’ve been grooming that dog, no matter if he’s always stood like the Rock of Gibraltar, hold his ear to edge it. Hold heads securely to do any finish work. Always have your hand on the dog near where you are clipping or scissoring, as this will give you an instant’s warning if he moves, and you will have more control.

Safe Equipment Means Safe Grooming
Equipment selection and maintenance is important, too. Make sure your equipment is in top-notch condition. It’s easy to give an animal clipper irritation with a dull blade, and a rusty one can put a pretty good cut on a dog. Be aware of your tools. I once gave a dog an abrasion on his tummy that looked like the worst bleeding skinned knee you’ve ever seen. I had picked up a #10 blade out of a newly sharpened pile and didn’t notice that the cutting blade had been incorrectly set, so it was above the comb blade, touching the skin directly. 

Clean your blades regularly and have them sharpened as needed. The minute you think “oh, that’s getting dull” take it out of circulation and put it in a designated space to be sharpened so it won’t be used accidentally. 

Replace the blade drive on your clippers regularly. Put it on the calendar by the manufacturer’s recommendation and just do it—don’t wait until you think they need it. A worn drive not only gives poor results, it encourages groomers to use muscle to push a blade through the coat instead of allowing the clipper to do the work, and that’s a common cause of clipper injuries.

Be aware of the small stuff. Most of us have had a dog kick a good set of shears onto the floor. Not only is it not good for the shears, the risk of the dog cutting a pad badly is huge. Always close shears before putting them down anywhere (that’s good for the shear), and never put it on the table (that’s good for the dog). Utilize containers that attach to the grooming post, install a drawer under the table or use a nearby surface, but avoid putting them on the table. Good work habits like this make the salon environment safer for everyone.

Speaking of a safe salon environment, it is important that you regularly go over your grooming day mentally to see where there might be room for improvement. Are there products you can use that are safer for the pet than those you are currently using? From ear cleaner to styptic powder, there’s always another option. Some ear cleaners contain alcohol, which cleans well and dries but can hurt in sore ears. Zymox works using enzymes instead of alcohol, and ClotIt stops bleeding without the sting of most styptic powders. Shampoos and grooming sprays can have a multitude of different ingredients, too. Pick those that work while staying low risk. Cleaning products, as well as grooming products, should be considered; there are products that clean effectively while still being safe for people, pets and the environment.

Know Your Clients
Some pets have existing health problems that can increase the risks associated with grooming. Ask owners to identify any issues. Keep in mind that questions like, “Does he have any medical conditions I should know about?” may get an automatic “no.” However, asking if a pet has “any medical problems such as frequent ear infections, seizures, diabetes, chemical sensitivities, old muscle injuries or surgeries that may make it harder to stand?” may spark something. I once had a Poodle seize badly while being groomed. The owner hadn’t mentioned it when I asked. She just didn’t think of it—it was so normal for her dog it didn’t occur to her as a medical condition, just something that happened to her dog. 

Injuries to groomers are the other big risk in our industry. Here, knowledge and training will go a long way toward increasing everyone’s safety. First, know dog body language. Study it. Dogs are mostly non-verbal, so that’s how they will tell you what they are going to do next. It is rare for a dog to bite without warning, but people think they do. Oftentimes, the person who was bitten just didn’t notice or didn’t speak the dog’s “language” well enough to understand. 

Most groomers think they are intuitive or good with dogs when they’ve really learned to unconsciously read body language. Learn to do it consciously. Turid Rugaas, a Norwegian dog trainer, wrote a book titled On Talking Terms with Dogs: Calming Signals that explains some of the most important communications dogs will give you. Remember that since dogs can’t talk, they may be in pain and not able to tell us. Be very sure that this isn’t a dog’s reason for reacting before restraining them to accomplish the grooming. 

The better we can get a dog to behave, the more quickly we can groom him or her. And time is definitely money for groomers. Use whatever equipment is necessary. I hear groomers say (with great pride), “Oh, I never have to use muzzles.” Why wouldn’t you use them? It is true that not every dog will tolerate them well, but in many cases the dog is conflicted and a muzzle can resolve that for him. He kind of likes you—maybe you speak kindly or give him treats—but the intrusive stuff you want to do to him is not to his liking at all. Therein lies the conflict. Should he be polite? Should he bite? Should he warn you not to do that anymore? 

Putting a muzzle on a dog that is conflicted to the threshold of biting may well calm him. He doesn’t have to worry about whether to allow you to brush him or trim his nails, or whether to bite you to get you to stop. You’ve reduced his choices and therefore the conflict. Please use a basket style muzzle, though, as the fabric ones that are supposed to close the mouth are meant for short periods only, not to wear for a grooming session. If they are not fitted perfectly, a dog may be able to open his mouth enough to get your finger in it, but not enough to open it enough to let go. You can get a worse bite from a dog wearing one of those than from an un-muzzled dog.

One of the best things to come along in the name of groomer safety is the Groomer’s Helper—a positioning and safety system that inventor Chuck Simons says reduces the dog’s bite radius by 90 percent. The system includes a special grooming loop that fastens onto a grooming arm both where it normally does and onto the grooming arm by means of a ring at the bottom of the dog’s throat, which reduces the chance of damage to the animal’s neck while pulling or fighting. The pressure is off the trachea but holds the dog in place. Like a horse on crossties, they quickly learn how much they can move around and usually accept that. They seem to understand that they are fighting against themselves, as a human isn’t necessarily touching them, and they accept the restraint and, as with a muzzle, calm down. They can’t spin, it’s harder for them to avoid you and they can’t easily get close enough to bite. 

Simons points out that once a groomer knows the dog can’t bite, they relax too, which further calms the dog. And there are other advantages. 

“Veteran groomers say they wouldn’t still be grooming if they didn’t have the Groomer’s Helper,” says Simons. So many of us have bad backs, wrists or arms, making it difficult to control unruly animals.  “The Groomer’s Helper allows you to use less muscle and bend over less. Grooming is easier as well as safer.” 

Another item from Groomers Helper that every pet stylist should have is the panic snap. It’s an effective quick release for grooming loops that is patterned after those used for horses. The panic snap will not release on its own, but it will easily release when triggered by a human. I use them on the table and in the tub—anytime an animal is restrained in any way. 

Being prepared for any eventuality puts you in a mindset where you are always thinking about what could happen, which decreases the chances that it will. Think ahead, use common sense, try to put yourself in the dog’s place, and you may find that you’ve decreased accidents as well as increased profitability by being able to groom more dogs more quickly.

One final thought: No matter how careful you are, the day will come when a pet is cut, gets an irritation or shampoo in the eye, has a seizure, falls or jumps off the table, or has something happen that causes injury. You can minimize the results if all staff has had quality pet first-aid training. Pettech.net is one good option, and some grooming shows offer classes in first aid. Have a pet first-aid book handy and the phone number for local veterinarians and the closest emergency clinic along with a pet poison center posted on the wall by the phone.


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