To ensure the health of both pets and staff, every grooming salon must have a comprehensive list of safe-handling policies in place.
photo courtesy of Groomers Helper
Handling pets safely is one of the most important elements of grooming. It is mind boggling how many potential accidents are waiting for us each day. So, it is important to prepare for the worst and hope for the best every chance you get. Think through every aspect of your day, from the minute a pet comes through the door to the time the pet exits your building, and make sure your shop’s policies have safe handling techniques addressed for every situation. In order to maintain a safe and effective pet care environment, everyone must abide by those policies.
Here are a list of safe-handling rules that I would suggest every salon put in place:
Rule #1: The pet must be on a short lead at all times with a properly fitted collar.
They should not be on an extend-a-leash, and I prefer they not have a harness. While leashed, the dogs should be within arms length of the owner and under control. When taking them in, never reach out to a pet that is in the client’s arms, as it may bite protecting its owner. Ask the owner to put the pet on the floor and hand you the leash. You may then scoop up the pet with one hand and hold its head away from you with the leash in the other.
Rule #2: Collar and leash should be removed while in a kennel.
Only aggressive or fearful dogs may have their collars and leads left on with the lead secured outside, but a person must keep a close eye on the pet at all times. To prevent issues, I recommend that aggressive or extremely fearful dogs are groomed straight through whenever possible and should be charged extra.
Rule #3: Properly restrain pets in the tub, to and from the table and on the table.
This is why the Groomers Helper loop is a must in my salon. The grooming loop needs to be properly locked down, and you should only be able to squeeze one finger between the loop and the dog. It must always be attached to the grooming arm when on the table. Pets must never be left unattended on the table or in the bathtub, and pets should be kept within arms reach at all times when not crated. There are very few exceptions to this rule. One is a dog with a collapsed trachea, which should never have a loop around the neck. I normally place the loop around the pet and under an armpit in these cases.
Rule #4: Never let your guard down.
Often, you get bitten by the dog you least expect it from when you least expect it. Always position yourself outside of the bite radius of the pet when grooming and bathing. Never put your face in a pet’s face, as a bite can always occur.
Rule #5: Stay in control.
When it is necessary to exercise a dog outdoors, it is a good idea to walk it in a safe fenced-in area if possible. When walking the pet outside of a fenced area, I recommend the dog be fitted with a choke collar, and the lead must be looped around the stylist’s wrist. The stylist should also be evenly matched with the pet.
Rule #6: Be extra careful with aggressive pets.
I prefer my groomers use the Groomers Helper and/or a muzzle when pets exhibit aggressive behavior. Remember when a pet is wearing a muzzle, you must monitor the pet closely until the muzzle and Groomers Helper are removed.
When an animal is being difficult, it is always nice if you have a second set of hands for assistance. This could prevent injury to the animal and the stylist. When assisting other stylists, keep in mind basic animal-safety guidelines and stay out of the bite zone. I recommend that you charge an extra fee for additional help when needed.
Rule #7: Keep necessities close by.
Both the phone and grooming tools should be within arm’s reach of the stylists when the pet is restrained on a table or in a tub. Tools should not be difficult to keep nearby when a pet is restrained on a table or in a tub. However, the phone can be more challenging. If you can’t get to the phone, I suggest your message say something like, “It may be before or after hours, or we are very busy with the pets right now. Please leave your name, number and the reason for your call, and we will return you call as soon as possible.”
Rule #8: Don’t leave pets unattended in the tub or on the table.
If you need to attend to customers, the pets should be removed from table or tub if there is no one on duty to assist you. It is not worth making a scene in front of the customer or having a pet get injured.
Rule #9: Always have your dog properly restrained before trimming nails, plucking ears and cleaning anal glands.
Trimming nails is a particular challenge for many of us. There are so many pets that don’t like their nails trimmed—some would just as soon kill you as let you try. I find that my Groomers Helper is my best friend in these situations. Make sure the loop is on tight. Then slide the clamp up the grooming arm so the dog cannot reach down for your hands. I normally start with the back feet to see how it is going to go, then pull the front feet just out of the bite zone and trim. If the dog is really aggressive I will muzzle them, but I rarely need to if I use my Groomers Helper correctly.
Another fun time is plucking and cleaning ears for some dogs. It is not my favorite part of the job, but it needs to be done. Unfortunately, most of the pets we groom feel the same way. I have a few techniques to get to the ear canal without getting bitten. For example, on small, round-headed breeds, I use the air muzzle and the Groomers Helper. I pull one ear out at a time, pluck and flush, and then pack with cotton before the bath. Another method is to hold the lead, a bit of scruff and the ear open while the pet is attached to the Groomers Helper. If needed, I will muzzle, but I typically do not need a muzzle if I use my Groomers Helper correctly. Again, just make sure you have everything close and ready.
Anal gland cleaning is to be done on every pet during its bath in my salon. In my shop this is a mandatory procedure unless the pet is being treated by a vet or the owner requests otherwise. Of course, many dogs do not want you to do their glands. So, I use the hooks in the tub farthest away from me and attach a Groomers Helper. Then I pull the pet to the other end of the tub so it cannot turn and bite me. In most cases, this will do the trick; but if the pet is extremely aggressive, I might use a muzzle.
Rule #10: Take care with a pet’s eyes.
When using any product other than tearless shampoo around the face during a bath, treat the pet’s eyes with a drop of eye lubricating solution or some form of eye protection. In my shop, we only use HydroSurge Hypo Tearless Shampoo around the face. Another helpful thing we do is wash the face last and rinse the face first. When I rinse, I also include the eyes.
Rule #11: Use force dryers carefully.
Force dryers are not to be used full strength around the head and ears, or on geriatric pets. Never blow the forced air directly into the pet’s face. On the head, start from the back and turn both motors on with the nozzle off at first. If the dog is uncomfortable, then use only one motor. If it continues to struggle, fluff dry the pet to straighten its coat, and remove dead coat and any remaining tangles.
Rule #12: Wear protection.
Stylists should wear ear protection whenever using force dryers, and breathing protection over their nose and mouth during the drying process and when cutting hair.
Rule #13: Be careful with cage dryers.
Cage dryers are only to be used on problem pets and only on the “low/warm” or “air/cool” settings. Keep the pet in view at all times.
Rule #14: Watch for trouble signs.
Because animals cannot communicate their needs to us verbally, it is important to monitor pets for warning signs of stress. If serious, call their veterinarian first, and then place a call to notify the owner.
Critical signs that a pet needs immediate attention include:
• Difficulty breathing, blue tongue or raspy breath sounds.
• Collapse/inability to stand or walk.
• Loss of balance or consciousness or seizure activity.
• Penetrating wound or cut.
• Bleeding that does not stop within five minutes.
• Heatstroke: heavy panting, weakness, temperatures greater than 104 degrees Fahrenheit.
Signs that you should recommend a visit to the veterinarian after the grooming appointment include:
• Swollen or distended abdomen, with or without vomiting.
• Vomiting or diarrhea with blood.
Rule #15: Prepare for emergencies.
If immediate veterinarian attention is needed, you must have a pre-signed consent form from every client for your preferred or closest veterinarian’s office.
Rule #16: Be gentle.
There is never an excuse for heavy hands. Striking a pet with any object, or pulling on a pet’s legs, tail or neck is unacceptable. Gently lifting, holding and supporting the limbs and body parts are the only acceptable procedure.
The only reason for restraining the pet with a grooming loop is for the safety of the stylist and the pet. The loop should hang straight when pet is being restrained but not tight. The loop’s longest part should hang between the area of the Adam’s apple and the withers. If needed, use the complete Groomers Helper to safely restrain unruly pets, while keeping the pet as comfortable as possible at all times. If a pet is not comfortable, it will not behave. Remember to rely on other stylists when necessary.
Rule #17: Keep everything clean.
You must provide a clean/disinfected area for each dog. This includes your tools, the table, the kennel, the tub and all of the surrounding areas.
When I think safe handling, I can’t help but think of every aspect of the grooming process—from restraining pets to keeping the environment clean. Remember, there are no short cuts for safe handling of pets, just good tools and experience.
Christina Pawlosky is a Certified Master Groomer, professional handler, breeder, and successful pet store and grooming shop owner (The Pet Connection) since 1985. She is currently the National Training Manager for Oster Professional Products and produces grooming DVDs through her website GroomerWorks.com.