Never Too Careful

In today’s climate, when pet owners are on high alert about perceived dangers in the grooming salon, groomers need to take every precaution to protect the animals and themselves—as always.

Safety in the grooming salon has always been important, but recently, the media has put a huge spotlight on the issue. From a six-year-old Terrier in Cranford, N.J., that allegedly incurred a grooming salon injury leading to euthanization, to dogs dying while being dried, to dogs with dislocated or broken limbs, burns and cuts, the media and the Internet is full of horror stories gone viral. And accidents do happen.

Let’s face it, groomers are working with live, unpredictable animals and sharp cutting objects. The possibility of accidents is very real. We have all handled that crazy pet that will just not stop fighting, or caught the no-warning leaper right before it hits the end of the grooming loop, or tried just one more time to tidy that last hair on the whirling dervish puppy, sometimes with poor results. But do we do enough to foresee the preventable accidents?

We all work to prevent accidents, but we can only guard against those we have thought about. Learning from other groomers, seminars, blogs and organizations can prevent accidents from happening to you. It also helps to try to envision every single thing that might go wrong in the course of a grooming and the best way to prevent it. I have come up with a few to consider.

For example, how do you prepare for a dog that has gotten loose? One suggestion is to have an “airlock” installed— outside the door, fence in a small area with a gate, so that if a dog does happen to get out, he will only get out into a fenced area. Another idea is to have some version of the airlock with a Dutch door that opens into the grooming area. Doors that open inward prevent dogs pushing their way out—although customers can still open them at just the wrong moment.

Got dogs jumping off the table? Consider using some type of overhead bar that allows the use of a loop around the neck, as well as one around the tummy—but make sure they are wide enough to prevent discomfort. You can also use a loop around the neck and under one front leg to prevent pressure on the trachea. No matter what, never groom without some kind of quick-release mechanism on the loops that can be used even if the full weight of the dog is on it. The Swivel Panic Snap sold by Groomers Helper is a good example, as well as the company’s handy Loop Adjuster that includes one. And if you’ve ever had to scream for help while supporting a slippery soapy Golden that managed to leap out of the tub while clipped to the screw-eye in the back, you’ll remember to put them in the tub too.

Dryer Safety
Dryers are a cause for concern for many clients right now, so to prevent heatstroke or heat exhaustion in dogs, make sure the dryers in the salon are safe. Yet, keep in mind that while air-only or thermostatically controlled dryers are good, nothing replaces watching dogs carefully at all times.

Air conditioning, of course, is ideal. Add a dehumidifier, as it will make a room feel even cooler. Also, be aware of the temperature. Remember, dogs cannot cool themselves as efficiently as humans, so if you are uncomfortably warm, know the dogs may be at risk.

What about preparing for dogs that fight to the death over everything, especially nails? Consider a sling arrangement or a Groomer’s Helper. Some dogs quit struggling immediately when they are held off the table in a sling or confined with the Groomer’s Helper, which also keeps pressure off the trachea.

Is dryer noise making a dog go ballistic? Try a Happy Hoodie (happyhoodie.com). Ears dry much faster, and the risk of blowing air into the ear canal on a struggling pup is nearly eliminated. Many dogs are also calmed by both the gentle swaddling effect and from the noise reduction—worthwhile on several fronts.

Among the most horrific-looking incidents—oozing burns, scraped-off skin and more—are generally caused by uneducated owners dealing with hot spots created by clipper irritation, sensitivity to shampoo or flea chemicals. Treat irritation with Zymox spray, Chris Christensen’s Peace and Kindness or a similar product, and send the owner home with an explanation and suggestions for what to use at home—cornstarch or witch hazel—and when to contact the veterinarian.

Hematomas of the ears after shaving are another common issue that arises when clipping matted dogs. Use precautions: clip a small section of the ear at a time to release pressure gradually, use Vetrap or a Happy Hoodie to put the ears on top of the head so blood cannot pool at the bottom, and consult a veterinarian as needed. Also, make sure the owner knows what to do in case swelling begins.

These are only a few of the things that can go wrong in a grooming salon, and they are intended to spark your imagination. Do your best to be prepared for anything.

The Older Pet
Pay particular attention when handling geriatric pets, as they are most at risk as they become less aware, less able to stand, and less able to tolerate the grooming procedure. Failing hearing and vision can easily lead to accidents. If a dog cannot see the edge of the table, it may step right off by mistake.

Carla Freestep, owner and groomer at Land of Paws Pet Grooming, in Chico, Calif., is very attuned to older pets and uses a number of techniques to make grooming safer and easier on both the dogs and the groomer. “Soft, orthopedic rubber matting in the tub and on the table helps an old dog get secure footing,” says Freestep. “Some older dogs have issues with collapsing tracheas and cannot have any pressure on their necks. For these dogs, I use the Hanvey wide hip strap to support the back end, and tuck a towel underneath the straps if the dog needs cushioning.”  

Perhaps the single most important thing she does is train older dogs to lie down when being groomed. “After being trained to stand for grooming all their lives, some dogs don’t want to lie down,” she says. “It’s counterproductive to force it, so gradually teaching the dog that it’s okay to lie down and relax is a process. I think it’s a good idea to start training the dog to lie down for some things when he begins to reach his golden years—before he gets to the point where he can no longer stand up, yet is too stoic and proud to admit it.”

With geriatric pets, as well as with any other animal, make sure that any difficult behavior is not being caused by pain, illness or injury. Steroids can make nice dogs crabby, arthritis can make any dog snap, and sore mouths can turn a dog into Cujo when you touch their face. Report any change in behavior to the owner, and suggest a medical checkup whenever advisable. Owners may not know a dog has pulled a ligament if he isn’t limping—but pick the foot up on the opposite side, and he may tell you about it in no uncertain terms.

Another big aspect of safe handling techniques concerns the groomer’s safety. That should be in the forefront of everyone’s mind in a grooming salon. Some precautions to take include using non-skid flooring and having basket-style muzzles that completely surround the snout available in every size. Muzzles can calm the dog as well as prevent bites, as it takes away its choices about biting. Groomer’s Helper has products to prevent dogs from biting groomers, spinning around on the table and sitting. Use whatever is needed to keep pet handlers safe.

What about those that work alone, mobile or storefront? How would you get emergency help if you were attacked by a dog, fell or became ill?

Debi Hilley, popular blogger (groomwise.com) and owner of A Cut Above in Albany, Ga., suggests that groomers have a phone with them at all times or even a panic button on their person, and not just in the van, on the desk or in a purse. “Many of the panic buttons can be worn as a necklace, and it takes very little energy to be able to activate them in case of an emergency, and some come with fall detection,” she says.  

Hilley relates an instance of a mobile groomer who fainted in a diabetic episode, and two dogs died as a result of his medical emergency. No one knew he was in distress. He did not have a panic alarm. Panic buttons work like alarms; when they are set off, the company is notified, which in turn alerts emergency services. Apps are available for many phones that provide a similar function, notifying a preset phone number.

At the end of the day, however, always remember that you should not be afraid to say “no.” If a pet or groomer is going to be put at too much risk by grooming a pet, don’t do it. When faced with biters, geriatric dogs or neglected dogs, evaluate the risk, sure, but don’t hesitate to say no.

Also, ask questions. If a biting or geriatric dog shows up suddenly on your appointment list, find out why. Odds are someone else thought the risk too high and suggested a veterinarian, but the customer doesn’t want to do that and has come to you. That is not a customer you need. Send them to a veterinarian where the pet can be safely sedated, if need be, and injuries treated immediately if the worst happens.

With neglected dogs, the risk factor shoots sky high, so make the client take ownership of that if you do accept them as clients. Make every, single matted-dog owner sign a release clearly stating that they have been informed of the risks involved in grooming and that they do not hold the groomer or salon responsible. Owners of geriatric and difficult dogs should also be informed of the specific risks that go with their pets’ grooming, and they too should sign a release saying that they have been told the risks and approve the work anyway. But don’t be a hero—stay safe, stay humane, and stay in business for a long time to come.

Carol Visser is a Nationally Certified Master Groomer and Certified Pet Dog Trainer. Formerly a pet product expert for PetEdge, she and her husband Glenn now own Two Canines Pet Services in Montville, Maine, which provides grooming, boarding, training and day care services to Waldo County.

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