• Hackles

After the recent Pets at Home scandal involving scissors and a Cockapoo's tongue .... https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-cambridgeshire-46578056 ... I felt compelled to write this as a timely reminder to dog owners who may be under the false impression that grooming is just a nice pampering experience involving a warm soapy bath and hair style for their dog … grooming is a risky business involving extremely sharp 7 inch scissors, clipper blades that can cut to surgical lengths but most importantly, it involves dogs who are not robots or statues and cannot have the risks of moving or licking their lips while having their beard trimmed explained to them!

Now before you get all outraged about the appalling lack of professionalism and possible lack of care and attention to this much loved pet with the chunk cut out of his tongue, I must explain that of all the blade related accidents that can happen whilst grooming a dog, this is one of the most likely to happen. I have been grooming for 7 years and have had many near misses with dog's tongues that have a habit of nervously popping out whilst scissoring round their mouths. Trust me when I say it takes skill and experience to hold a wriggling dogs muzzle closed and scissor with the other hand completely safely. Some dogs will stand quietly but even the easiest of dogs are never very keen having their faces trimmed, they try to avoid being held, anticipate the scissors closing, move at the last moment and very often lick their lips just as your trying to snip off a wet, grimey bit of beard. For those of you with Shih Tzus, let me say they are the hardest as they are small with difficult to hold muzzles, have squashy faces with skin where it shouldn’t be and it is nigh on impossible to stop their little tongues nervously darting in and out!

Other likely injuries include:

· Nicking the tops of ears where spare flaps of skin lurk

· Nicking under eyes where the skin is very delicate

· Nicking armpits

· Clipper rash – usually from close shaving off matts

· Snipping a nipple

· Nicking various parts of the foot

Basically anywhere that is awkward to get to. In the 7 years I have been grooming, I have nicked an armpit, nicked the top of the ear flap with clippers, nicked a Shih Tzu under the eye and with some regularity cut the quick whilst trimming nails – even vets do this, it is usually not serious despite the apparent blood bath! Given the 100’s of dogs I groom a year, injuries are very low compared with the potential for risk and I've not yet had a serious incident. Don’t get defensive, but the biggest risk to dogs is from coats in bad condition that are knotted and matted – groomers have to spend time with sharp blades removing these which is very often awkward, uncomfortable and stressful for the dog and is when the majority of accidents are likely to happen. Groomers don’t nag you about brushing your dog regularly to make their lives easier, it’s to make your dog’s life easier!

Now, I don't know the specifics of the incident with this dog, but I do know from the various groomers forums I am part of that that it has caused unbelievable vitriolic outrage amongst dog owners and much sympathy and support for the groomer involved from fellow groomers who know only too well how easily this can happen. What I will say is that groomers are most definitely dog lover’s and it is very unlikely it was carelessness on the part of the groomer, who I have no doubt is devastated to have caused this injury. The owner himself has admitted his 20 month Cockapoo is ‘bouncy’ which in groomering language means ‘all over the place' - yes, it's a puppy and a Cockapoo puppy at that. From what I have read, it seems that perhaps Pets at Home didn't explain fully what the vet had done (tidied up the flap by taking the chunk out – the groomer herself didn't actually cut off this piece of tongue!) and left it to the owner to discover this at home. But, keeping some perspective here, to say his dog was "badly injured" is gross exaggeration. By his own admission, the dog “doesn’t appear too bothered” – whilst not ideal, this is not a serious injury. And to simply assume the groomer was wilfully careless or negligent is absurd and ignorant of the potential risks involved in grooming.

I can't speak for all groomers, but I am in no doubt that the vast majority take great care when grooming dogs but that doesn't mean accidents can't happen. I say again, dog’s are not statues and very often are far more difficult to handle than most owners realise. As my clients can testify, I have a lengthy consent form which they must read and sign - it’s not intended to absolve me of any wrong doing, it is to make owners aware of the risks involved, and then it is up to them to decide whether they continue with the groom and accept the potential risks.

Groomers love to use the word ‘pamper’ and owner’s love the idea of ‘pampering’ their fur baby and of them having a relaxing 'spa experience' … seriously, it’s not. Some dogs genuinely enjoy a bath, a blow dry or a good brush out and obviously feel better afterwards, but most don’t 'enjoy' the process, at best they tolerate the experience. Whilst I love making a dog look fabulous and feel great when a haircut goes to plan and looks show worthy (admittedly not often!) basically speaking, much of the grooming I do is functional - bathing honky mutts who have rolled in something breathtakingly disgusting or clipping off urine soaked matts of the aged and slightly incontinent. It’s hard, smelly work. And yes, we use very sharp scissors.

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It's blow out time again, our furry friends are shedding, leaving clumps of hair everywhere they go. But how many of you are actually considering booking your dog in at the groomers for a de-shed treatment? It's probably the most valuable service I offer, that both you and your dog really benefit from.  I have clients tell me they have gone from hoovering the dog hair in the house everyday to once per week 😄

Dogs shed all year round, but most double coated breeds have an obvious shedding or 'blow out' period twice a year around Spring and Autumn. Short haired terrier types, can shed all year round, leaving their spiky little hairs stuck in any soft furnishing they come into contact with - my English Bulldog is one such breed that is constantly shedding.  But with a vigorous bath, blow dry with the blaster and a good going over with a de-shedding tool, I can drastically reduce the amount of hair she leaves behind.

Clients who have a de-shed treatment for the first time often can't believe the amount of hair that can be removed from a dog that doesn't even appear to be shedding that much. I can easily fill a 10 gallon tub with undercoat from a Labrador and black sacks have been filled with the undercoat from German Shepherds (GSD). Even my sister's tiny short haired Chihuahua gives up a good handful. 

Removing dead undercoat is a basic maintenance job just like trimming their claws. As well as helping keep dog's cooler in warm weather, removing dead undercoat helps prevent knotting and matting. So often I have to carry out what I call the ‘culotte clip’ - shaving off the matted areas on the backs of thighs on GSD's, Collie's, Retrievers, Spaniels because the area hasn't been de-shedded or thinned and all the dead hair has become matted, stinky and damp. In truth, regular bathing, blow drying and a de-shed at the right time of the year keeps the coat in good condition and stops the need for unsightly clips. Additionally, close clipping/shaving, though solving the immediate problem, actually makes the area more susceptible to matting as the coat grows back like fuzzy velcro.

It's a misconception that de-shedding is just a good brush out. For some short coated breeds, that is all that's needed and it can easily be managed at home. Others require intervention to help them give up the hair. The process of de-shedding often begins with the 'blaster', the high velocity dryer used to blast water off the coat after a bath. When used on a dry coat it separates and loosens dead coat, helping dislodge dirt and all manner of coat clinker. Once in the bath a variety of mitts or rubber combs are used in conjunction with conditioners to massage and stimulate the skin and coat to shed. After the coat is blasted again and dried, specialised bladed tools are used to remove remaining dead undercoat but leaving the top coat undamaged. Coat King's, Furminator's, rakes, shedding blades and coat grabbing slickers come in a range of designs and what works for some won’t work for other's - unless you are familiar with the tool you need, you're best off taking your dog to a groomer who'll have all manner of tools at their disposal. (Not to mention that de-shedding a large, thick coated dog is hard, messy work!)

I can’t stress enough the benefits of de-shedding and regular bathing and blow drying, older dogs in particular. Old dogs with heavy coats and long hair that are prone to matting such as long haired Collie's, GSD's, Labradors, Retrievers, all Mountain breeds, Pomeranians etc - it is absolutely essential for their wellbeing. Old dogs hold on to their undercoat which can lead to real problems if left untended. The dead undercoat builds up making them itchy, smelly and scurfy and matts quickly form preventing air from circulating near the skin, giving bacteria and fungi a perfect breeding ground. Old dog's skin just like humans, becomes papery, thin and can be very sensitive so they are far less tolerant of brushing and de-matting, meaning that in severe cases they have to be shaved - not ideal for an old dog. Regular bathing & blow drying (approx every 6-8 weeks) is not just about cleaning the coat, it's a painless way to reduce the need for time consuming brushing and de-shedding which old dog's can find uncomfortable and tiring.

Why not book your four legged friend in for a de-shed and see the difference :)

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  • Hackles

In an ideal world we'd all be brushing our dog's coats on a regular basis to keep them knot and matt free. However, in reality, few of us actually get round to doing this regularly and when we do, we find the knots and matts tend to occur in awkward and sensitive parts of your dog's body, like armpits, tummys, legs and the groin area - invariably we give up because of our dog's protestations! Not leaving it till your dog's coat has begun to resemble bad taxidermy and having the right tools can make all the difference. Many of my clients show me the brushes they (claim to) use and in most cases they don't have the right tool for the job. The following are what I consider to be essential items for owners to help keep their best friend's coat in reasonable condition:

Flexible Slicker Brush - Forget bristle or pin brushes that are commonly available in pet shops, these are generally used for 'finishing', not brushing out knots. The flexible slicker is great for a wide variety of coats and is very effective at brushing out knots. They come in a several tensions - soft, medium and firm - for general purpose use I recommend the 'medium' brush. There are several makes, Groom Professional Flexible Slicker Brush and the Activet Pet Brush (Glitter Green) which are ideal for pet owners as they are reasonably priced - they must be use with care as they can easily pierce the skin.

Metal Comb: Often called Greyhound Combs, one half has wider teeth and the other half narrow teeth - a 'fine/coarse' comb will suit most coats. The metal comb should be used after brushing to make sure you have picked up all the knots.

Detangling Spray: If you're going to tackle those knots, then you need a detangle spray - it lubricates the hair shaft, making it easier to comb through. Most work best when used on a wet coat and then combed out when fully dry. If you don't want to bath your dog, spray the knot or matt, let it dry then tackle it. There are loads of detangling products on the market, but I can recommend Mist Magic, Wondercoat or Canter Mane & Tail for hardcore knots and matts!

Shampoo: The most common question I get asked by clients is what shampoo to use . . . not human or baby shampoo, or Fairy! Dog's have sensitive skin with a different pH to humans so you must use a proper dog shampoo. With so many shampoos on the market, it can be a real headache deciding what's best for you. As a groomer and complete product whore, I've tried loads and always end up coming back to Double K's Ultimate - it is a brilliant all round shampoo that cleans and conditions, and is suitable for a wide range of coats. It is uber concentrated so should last for ages. For really sensitive skins Double K Oatmella is also a great choice.

And that's all you really need (at a pinch you could get away with just the flexible slicker and detangling spray). It'll makes such a difference to your dog's experience at the groomer's, and of course your groomer will love you!

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