Sunday, September 23, 2018

Reassuring Clients After Reports of Grooming Tragedies in the News

I speak as a professional pet groomer in the industry for over 20 years. Below is my response to the spate of articles that came out in September 2018 covering 47 deaths over a 10 year period tied to grooming at Petsmart: (including the original story at NJ.com and related pieces at Cleveland.com and Time.com)


How do you report 47 tragedies without mentioning the roughly 2 billion safe grooming shop visits happening in the same time frame? We can't dismiss these individual dogs or what happened to them, but they are outliers, not the norm. Statistically, the car ride to the grooming shop is more dangerous for your pet than anything that might happen during a nail trim or a bath or a haircut.
Here are some numbers to help put this in perspective (disclaimer: I'm not a statistician, so feel free to check the math, but even if the numbers aren't perfect, they provide a clearer picture of the actual threat involved in dropping your pets off for grooming). Also, because there have been incidents at private shops as well, it's worth looking at the grooming industry as a whole, rather than singling out corporate locations.
It's challenging to pinpoint exactly how many professional pet groomers are currently working in the US, but the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that in 2016, there were 296,400 jobs available in the "Animal Care and Service Workers" category. That includes trainers, veterinary assistants, kennel workers, and more, so pet groomers make up a sub-set of that number. According to Petgroomer.com's annual industry survey, 41,271 businesses advertised grooming services in 2017. Many of those businesses will have multiple groomers employed and other businesses may not be advertising at all, so it's not unreasonable to estimate that there are somewhere around 200,000 professional pet groomers currently working in the US. Average workload varies, but if we simplify and say that they're all grooming 5 dogs per day, 240 days per year, that's 240,000,000 grooms happening in this country in one year.
The NJ.com investigation tallies 47 deaths over a 10 year period, but it's impossible to know exactly how many more there may be when you factor in private salons and unreported incidents. For the sake of argument, let's put the number at 500, which seems shockingly high until you factor in the total number of grooms happening. 500 out of 2.4 billion puts the odds of a pet dying in connection with a grooming service over a 10 year period at 1 in 4.8 million.  In comparison, the odds that you'll be struck by lightning in your lifetime is 1 in 3,000.  From here, you could make the argument that taking your dog to the groomer once every month for 10 years increases his odds to 1 in 40,000, but that's not really how it works.
Almost all grooming shop deaths (which happen so rarely that almost none of us will ever be involved in one in our 40+ year careers) are related to pre-existing conditions in dogs exacerbated by stress. Dogs who are groomed regularly are safer in a shop because these dogs tend to be calm and cooperative. If they've been going to the same place for a while, their groomer will know them well enough to identify signs of distress. Most groomers understand risk factors in grooming very well (ie: stress is more dangerous for breeds with flat faces, for animals who are overweight, for senior pets, and for pets with certain medical conditions) and will either adjust their process to minimize stress or will refuse to groom an animal outright. 
What is common in the industry, are situations where the pet groomer plays the hero -- noticing something off and sending a dog and its owner to the vet, who then diagnoses a serious illness like a heart condition or diabetes or a cancerous tumor.
Going to the groomer regularly is much more likely to save your pet's life than to destroy it. And if nothing so dramatic happens, it's important to consider that the odds that an average pet will suffer from a lack of grooming is very high. Chronically overgrown toenails can cause arthritis, undiagnosed ear and skin infections make pets miserable, and unchecked matting can get so tight that it cuts off circulation to the skin. The list goes on, and this is what groomers work to repair or prevent both in their shops and through education every single day.
Everyone in the grooming industry is concerned about what happened to the individual dogs in question and we all follow these stories very closely. We support standards of safety and advanced handling training for anyone who works with animals. There's a lot of talk about regulating the industry and there have been many attempts to pass laws named after animal victims of grooming shop tragedies. Unfortunately, arbitrary rules applied to grooming doesn't seem to be the answer to keep pets safer. After all, Petsmart has one of the most extensive lists of employee do's and don'ts in the industry. What keeps pets safe are well-informed groomers in supportive settings who are empowered to use good judgement. 
As a pet parent, it's important to seek out a grooming establishment that you feel you can trust. And while there are some irresponsible, poorly trained, overstressed, unkind and/or simply unlucky groomers out there, the majority of us are well-informed, safety-conscious, conscientious, and completely obsessed with the health and happiness of our client pets. 

Groomers: please feel free to share this post wherever you feel is appropriate. And remember to talk to your clients from the heart when they come to you with concerns. It's not your job to defend or defile other groomers or other businesses. It's important to act as a representative of the industry as a whole. Be honest and transparent, but resist the urge to gossip or take sides against competitors. When you're talking to clients, remember to have compassion for everyone involved in an accidental pet injury or death. 

When clients or potential clients mention the latest news horror stories, your job in that moment is to make them feel comfortable leaving their pet with you (even if they've been coming to you for a decade and you're feeling a little hurt because you think they should know better). It's not helpful to criticize or speculate about how age or size or other characteristics of the animal or about any unrealistic expectations or neglectful behavior on the part of the owner or how overworked, under-trained employees or various equipment or techniques may have contributed to a grooming shop tragedy. You can certainly and should talk about those things in other forums, especially in the context of evaluating the safety of grooming for individual pets. Facebook groups, industry websites, grooming magazines, workshops, and tradeshows are all there for you to participate in the discussion and continue to develop the varied and specialized skills that make pet grooming such a remarkable trade.

Be thoughtful, be kind. Happy grooming.
- Vania

Monday, July 31, 2017

Grooming How-To: Asian Fusion Inspired Trim on a Poodle Mix

With the popularity of poodle hybrids on the rise, we've all seen an influx of clients dealing with the high-maintenance needs of poodle-type coat who aren't interested in a poodle-type look. For many, that means a full, shaggy headpiece (what I like to call a "muppet head") that's prone to matting and all the usual wet beard issues we see in sheepdogs, schnauzers, and other dogs with a lot of facial hair. In response to the messiness, many doodle/schnoodle/somethingpoo owners decide to split the difference between a poodle's shaved face and a full muppet head and settle on something in a snap-on comb length all over the muzzle and chin. I have many clients who take this route and it works well.

We usually treat the body the same way, with an all-over length that follows the dog's natural shape. Sometimes we leave a bit more hair on a scissored pillar leg or do some sculpting to play up the dog's angulation, but these are all what owners like to call "puppy cuts" -- a basic, generic, one-size-fits-all style that varies only in its length. It works for so many because it's both practical and cute.

But the fact remains, there's not a lot of room for style or flair when the goal is to leave a uniform inch or two of hair all over a dog's face and body. It can feel like a lost opportunity, because the wonderful thing about poodle-type coat is how many options it gives you for turning up the wow factor. The recent Asian fusion grooming trend is a wonderful way to capitalize on the versatility of a poodle-type coat without making the dog "look like a poodle" while still sending clients home with a reasonably low-maintenance look.

This little schnoodle has been through a variety of styles, starting with her very first haircut as a several-months-old puppy, when she got a 1/2" comb (that's a 1 or orange comb) on her body and chin, with everything else scissored to match, to her current Asian fusion inspired look. There's a lot about settling on a style for a dog that's really about problem-solving than aesthetics. This dog likes to chew her ears, so we decided to take them short. Her owner is good at keeping her combed out in between appointments, so we can leave her legs fairly long, but they also have an active and busy lifestyle, so we want to make sure they don't get too long. Sometimes that means trying things and then asking the client for feedback, as well as taking note of the condition of the coat when the dog comes in for their next appointment

My number one principle of flair is contrast in length. This dog gets a #5 blade on her body and I set the length of her legs by skimming into them (working off the shoulder on the outside of the front legs and off the thigh muscles on the back legs) with a 5/8" comb (that's a 0 or yellow comb). I want the legs to get slightly wider at the foot to emulate the Asian fusion flared leg but without leaving that much length. I set that width by lifting the foot and scissoring around the pad at whatever size I want the leg to be at the bottom. No matter how big the leg, I always take the front of the foot tight to the nails. I leave nail trimming to the end of my groom so that I know the nails will disappear behind that scissored front edge. If you cut nails earlier, as many do, make sure you don't take the front of the foot too short or you will expose the nails and mar your silhouette.

I use the same technique to set the length around the front and the back feet, focusing on making all four feet the same size. When I scissor the front legs, I go straight up towards the body on the front of the leg and then scissor a straight line to connect the area where I skimmed off the shoulder to the newly scissored side of the foot. I scissor the back of the leg straight up and down at whatever width I want that leg to be in side-view. For more drama, I would take the leg in tight above the elbow and flare every aspect of the leg -- front, back, inside, and outside. Keep in mind that true Asian fusion requires leaving a lot of hair at the bottom of the leg, which amps up the maintenance requirements between grooming appointments. For this dog, we're doing a lower-maintenance leg whose flair comes more from its overall length in contrast to the body than from how dramatically it flares from elbow to foot.

On the back leg, a true Asian fusion style starts short at the hip and flares like cone down to the foot. The front leg and back leg look very much the same. But in the modified version we're doing on this schnoodle, I'm giving her a more classic poodle-style rear leg, focusing on angulation to give her some flair. So, I take her tight from her point of rump down to the bend of her stifle on the back of her back leg. I leave a little hock hair and echo the curves on the back of that leg with a little bit of curve and a hint of a knee on the front of her back leg.

The inside and outside of the legs are scissored in parallel lines, like a poodle leg. I finish them with a little bit of a bevel, tightening up the hair at a 45 degree angle around the base of her feet to keep it off the ground.

She has a short dock on her tail, so I usually scissor it round like a bunny tail. Many poodle mixed dogs have long tails and you can do a fan, a flag, a plume or whatever style your client prefers. If she had a proper poodle dock, I probably wouldn't do a typical poodle pom tail on an Asian fusion inspired look. I'd either take the entire tail the same length as the body or I would leave it longer all over without any shaving at the base.

Like the rest of her clip, this dog's head isn't quite proper Asian fusion. Her hair doesn't have the plushness required to stand the way I'd like muzzle hair to stand up for that kind of cut, so I leave more hair and work with it the way it does like to sit instead of teasing it and filling it with products that aren't going to last in between haircuts.

I start her head with a 3/8" comb (that's a 2 or blue comb) on the chin. One of the hallmarks of this style of head is a nice, short chin that helps move focus up towards the dog's eyes. I also run the 3/8" comb in exactly the same places I would shave a poodle face if I were doing a donut style muzzle. I run it down the sides of her head, along the line from eye corner to ear opening that I would use to set a poodle topknot. The only difference is that I'm clipping downward instead of against the grain of the hair. I run the snap-on comb behind the mustache area, under the eye and shorten up everything behind the back corner of her mouth.

I trim up her eye corners and clean out her stop. Then I comb her muzzle hair forward and trim off everything that falls past a point about 1/4" past the end of her nose. Normally, you would want to trim off in line with the end of the nose, but leaving that extra hair helps this dog's muzzle retain its shape. You want to clean the lip area under the nose and trim stray hairs around the upper lip.

Next, I fluff the mustache hair out to the sides and I scissor it into an oval shape, leaving the sides as wide as they'll go without falling under their own weight. I leave plenty of hair on the top of the muzzle, combing that straight up and neatening just a little. On a nice, plush coat, that hair is meant to sit in front of the lower half of the eyes when viewed head-on, giving the dog a soft, stuffed animal sort of expression. This dog's hair doesn't do that, so our goal is to give her a low-maintenance face that evokes some of the shaggy muppet look and the Asian fusion teddy bear look at the same time.

Finally, her topknot is hand-scissored and blended into the neck in the back and into the cheeks on the side. The profile view of the Asian fusion head is very distinctive and this dog does fit very well into that profile. The topknot has a visor similar to a poodle, but angled a little more sharply away from the eyes.

The last piece of her head is the ear trim. Any ear style is permissible in Asian fusion, from long and flowing to shaved very short. The two major considerations are maintenance and contrast. Because she chews her ears, this little girl gets a #4 blade on the outside and a #40 inside and the edges are trimmed to the leather, following the ears' natural shape. She could easily get an even shorter blade on the ears and still be cute. I like to leave them a little bit fuzzy because her coat is always just a little stubborn about fluffing straight and the bit of wildness a #4 leaves fits in nicely with the rest of her look.

Asian fusion styles are great to offer to clients who are open to some wow factor but aren't into the poodle look and modified Asian styles are perfect for clients who want something different without upping their pets' maintenance requirements.

 Remember that grooming should always be customized to the dog, its lifestyle, maintenance needs, and the preferences of the people who care for it and look at it every day, but you still want to give yourself a little bit of space to put your own creative, artistic stamp on your work. Encouraging your clients to allow you to try new styles and techniques helps keep you interested and motivated at the grooming table. And it can make things more interesting for your clients as well. It turns the dogs' style into a conversation piece which dogs usually enjoy because of the extra attention. It's a great way to stand out from your competition and it can help drive new business as well.


Monday, July 24, 2017

Grooming How-To: Lion Clip on a Pomeranian and Cats

Pomeranians come in a variety of shapes and sizes and, similarly, there are many variations on the lion clip that you can do on them. This is my preferred pattern placement for lion clips in general with some customization to suit this particular dog.


The lion clip (or lion cut) is a nice compromise between long and short styles, allowing the dog (or cat) to show off some of the natural shine and beauty of their topcoats while reducing the amount of hair that you and the owner have to manage in between grooms. You can use snap-on combs or blades in whatever length the client is looking for, from a #10 blade all the way into snap-on comb lengths. You can leave the mane natural, run a snap-on comb to set the length, scissor it into a highly sculpted shape, or use thinning shears for a shorter, but less fussy look.


For this haircut, I'm using a 3/4" stainless steel snap-on comb to set the body length and doing some light shaping with 25 tooth chunkers on the mane. I like this longer body length because it preserves some of the coat's ability to protect the dog's skin from the sun and insulates a bit against the heat. It also is long enough to shed somewhat normally, which helps reduce the risk of post-clipping alopecia (failure of the hair to grow back in properly) after grooming.


I like to set the back of the mane a little behind the shoulder blades and then angle it forward so the bottom edge passes just in front of where the front leg joins the body. (A common variation is to set the mane further back so that it ends behind the front legs. In that case, the front leg feathers are usually left longer.) The style you choose is entirely up to you and your clients, but I prefer to set the mane in a way that mimics the placement of an actual lion's mane.


To set the pattern, I part the hair along the edge of the mane. I comb the mane forward and the body hair backward, towards the tail. Then I clip a clean line from the part backwards. This leaves a nice overhang, where the longer mane hair falls across the pattern line, hiding it (assuming the mane hair is left long enough).

I run the snap-on comb over the body, belly, underpart of the chest, and all over the dog's rear end. (This is the exact same pattern I would use for a cat or for a shorter lion clip except that when the body's shorter, it's usually more convenient to shave about halfway down the legs and end in boots than it is to blend. More on that later.)

With this longer length, I have a lot of options for disguising faults. If the dog had especially long legs or a weak-looking rear end, I might skim the pants to leave more fullness rather than taking them the same length as the body. Scissoring the rear into a "bubble-butt" can help give a dog a cuter shape. Because this dog has a good-looking backside, I clip his pants the same length as the body to show it off.

If a dog is short-legged and/or has a long back, it helps to take the back of his rear shorter than the body length. This isn't usually something you would do for a pomeranian, but for clients with shih tzus, a nice, tight rear can help make them appear more compact than they really are.

Similarly, leaving a little extra hair on the front of the back leg and on the back of the front leg will make a long-backed dog appear shorter.

Another trick for long-legged dogs is to leave a little extra hock hair and scissor it with a slight curve when viewed from the side. Leaving a little more hair is always a good idea for dogs with skinny or misshapen legs so that you can give them a nicer profile.

This pomeranian is solid and nicely built, so I trim enough off his front feathers to echo the shape and size of the back leg. The size you choose to leave the front leg is up to you -- some groomers prefer the front leg to have more hair than the back, while I choose to balance the front and back equally. For this dog, I trim the hock hair short and straight down towards his foot.

For longer lion clips like this one, you simply blend the clipper work (skim with the snap-on and then scissor to finish) into the lower leg for a seamless transition. But if you used a shorter blade length on the body, you'll need to transition your clipper work into the legs. The easiest way to do this is by leaving boots, the tops of which usually start around the top of the hock in the back and roughly halfway down the front legs. For manes that end behind the front legs, the back legs often end in boots while the front legs are blended. Again, it's personal preference. If you're doing a blended front leg, though, always be sure to pull the foot forward and check the underline, especially where the leg connects to the body, for stray hairs that don't need to be there.

Pomeranians are supposed to have small, rounded ears, so I like to trip off the hair at the tips. I do this by running my thumbnail up the ear until I'm over the edge of the ear leather and then scissoring off the hair beyond it. After the ear tip is tight and rounded, I comb up all the hair around the ear and scissor it so that nothing sticks up past the newly trimmed ear tip. You don't want to trim tight to the sides of the ear, just tight at the tip and blending out to the sides. You'll have to comb the hair up a number of times and ask the dog to perk his ears up to make sure you've gotten all the strays tamed.

Rounding the ears is optional, but most pomeranians look more polished when the hair around their ears is combed out and the edges of the ears are cleaned up a bit.


After you've set the ears, you can move down into the mane and blend out any sticky-outies. Most of the time, I like to leave a mane with a natural edge, so I don't trim anything below the forehead. But this dog's owners like his mane tamed down some, so I use my chunkers to take length off around the front and clean all the edges. Using chunkers rather than regular shears helps preserve the soft, natural look of the mane, which I prefer over a heavily scissored version. I also like how much faster a quick clean-up with chunkers is as opposed to a detailed scissor trim.


Since I am shaping up this dog's mane and not leaving it natural, I've set my pattern straight across the bottom front edge. I used my chunkers to give the mane a reverse teardrop shape, coming into somewhat of a point between his front legs. For a non-scissored mane, I would achieve this same shape by making sure my clipper pattern comes to a point between the front legs. If you're not scissoring your mane, the edges will fall however your clipper work is set. If your shave line is uneven or out of shape, your mane shape and edges will reflect that.

The pads of his feet are shaved, sanitary areas cleaned out, ears cleaned, and nails clipped. The feet are neatened up the same whether the legs are blended or end in boots -- in a standard golden retriever-style foot. This pomeranian has a full tail, trimmed into a long fan shape.

This pomeranian's finished groom is pictured below. On a six week schedule, he stays reasonably neat-looking and tangle-free in between appointments.

I've also included some photos of cat lion clips with a few more variations. The black and white cat has a mane set exactly the same as the pomeranian, but the edges were left completely natural. She was clipped with a #10 blade and has boots set at the top of her hocks and about halfway down her front legs. For cats who are cooperative, I sometimes use thinning shears to soften the edge of the top of the boots, but for most cats, I make as neat a line as I can with my clippers and leave it at that. This cat has a lion tail, created by shaving to about 2" from the tip of the tail. The tip of the tail is unscissored. Dogs can have lion tails as well and, if they have a blunt end to their tail, I'll often scissor to shape them into a more natural-looking teardrop shape like the one on this cat. I like a nice, long poof on my lion tails so they look elegant rather than comical.

The persian tabby in the last photo is in yet another version of the lion clip, this one in a #10 body, with boots like the black and white cat, and with a full tail like the pomeranian, but without a mane. His head is shaved right to the point where the back of the skull meets the neck and around behind the jaw line. You can further blend the transition line with thinning shears, but if you hit the right spot, the transition should look decent with clipper work alone. For cats who don't love the grooming process, my philosophy is, "Good enough is perfect."

And that's the lion clip -- versatile, customizable, stylish, and not difficult to execute. The hardest part is figuring out your preferred style and adjusting it to suit the animal you're putting it on.