Grooming 101: Finding the Right Groomer For Your Pet

Patty Khuly
Picking a Groomer

I’ve always been lucky. Except for a trio or so of my foster dogs, my pets have largely dodged the need for professional grooming. Sure, I live with Bulldogs whose skin issues beg for up to three baths a week, but messy bathing I can manage. What I can’t easily abide is the careful clipping and meticulous manicuring groomers are so good at.

But that’s not all they do. A great groomer is way more than a simple technician versed in the strange and varied ways of pet fur. With a steady hand and an even steadier way around a nervous dog, they cleanse, bathe, clip, and snip despite all that furry unruliness –– typically in less time and for way less cash than you’d expect for such expert results.

Thank God for groomers, is what I say.

Trouble is, finding a great one can seem more like suffering a spree of bad dates on Match.com than you might expect –– especially since it seems like there’s one on every corner in certain parts of town. But grooming is not just any service. As with veterinary medicine, it’s one where your pet’s health, comfort, and safety are at stake at each and every point of contact.

That may sound overly dramatic, but grooming is not without its pitfalls. I’ve not only seen the possible dangers of grooming firsthand, I know just how valuable a really good groomer can be as part of any pet’s comprehensive healthcare plan. After all, grooming is a healthcare issue. I even wrote a post on it - Ten Reasons Why Your Vet Might Want To Play Groomer. Which is why you should be every bit as careful when finding a professional groomer as when you’re looking for a veterinarian. (Yes, really.)

With that in mind, here are the steps I recommend my clients take when in search of a great groomer:

#1 Identify your grooming goals.

Where I live, there are groomers who will spend hours on the perfect show clip, those who will just serviceably keep dogs clean and healthy, and everything in between. Knowing what you want and need helps refine your search.

#2 Price

Some of my go-to groomers are the super-fancy Miami grooming all-stars I can always count on to please my patients and their owners. But because price is an issue for most of us, finding someone you can affordably enlist to groom your pets regularly is crucial.

#3 Location, location, location

If they’re not nearby, you’ll be less likely to get it done in a timely fashion. In some cases, mobile grooming is a must.

#4 Good references

Request references. The most important element in the preliminary selection of any groomer comes down to one thing: references. Ask your friends, family, veterinarian, pet sitter, etc. And feel free to cross-reference with the Better Business Bureau for extra info. The weight of this factor depends highly on the degree to which you trust those whose opinions you’ve sourced.

#5 Certification

Ask about their certification. The National Dog Groomer’s Association of America is an organization that offers certification and membership for groomers who meet certain criteria. For more info on whether certification matters to you, visit the NGAA website.

#6 Take a tour

Unfortunately, location, pricing, service offerings and references are only a starting point. Checking out the place is next. Is it clean, comfortable-looking, safe (no exposed wires, etc.), and are all pets-in-process well attended to? While you’re there, ask about record keeping too. Are there intake forms? Is your pet’s health a question?

#7 Have a chat

A pre-grooming discussion might seal the deal one way or the other. But be willing to walk away if you don’t get a warm fuzzy feeling. Here’s another chance for the groomer to ask about your pet’s health. Does she suffer from arthritis? Have any past ear infections, etc.? It’s always important to discuss these issues.

#8 Red flags

Always watch for red flags. A facility that won’t let you take a tour is a bad sign. A groomer that doesn’t ask about health concerns is also problematic, as is a non-mobile facility that doesn’t ask about vaccination status.

Then there’s the sedation issue: A pet that seems extra-quiet or even sedated after a grooming is a very bad sign. A groomer that asks if you’ll bring a sedative next time? That’s on the questionable side too.

So now that you’ve found a groomer that fits your needs, it’s time to give it a go. I recommend that you stay nearby on the first visit, especially if your pet is notoriously fractious or especially anxious.

Above all, stick with grooming professionals who obviously take your pet’s health and safety seriously. Did your groomer find a lump? Identify an ear infection? Mention a behavior issue? Suggest you might want to see a professional for these or any other condition?

If so, you’ve very likely selected a winner! While that might seem like the most obvious kind of advice a vet might render, given that the most obvious pros and perils of grooming are medical, it’s a top consideration any way you look at it.

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