What to Do When Your Dog Has a Bad Hair Day

What to Do When Your Dog Has a Bad Hair Day

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Talk about a bad hair day. Rags went in for a trim and came out with, well, something a little more dramatic. "He looks horrible," shrieked his owner. Taking his cue from her, the newly sheared cocker spaniel hung his amber head in shame.

For most dogs, a day at the groomer is rewarding, but if things don't go as planned, you might watch your pup's self-esteem plummet.

"When he hears his owner shouting that he looks bloody awful, the poor dog thinks 'Oh, my God what have I done?' and tries to hide," explains Val Penstone, director of grooming for the Best Friends Pet Resort and Salon chain.

Rags didn't need a mirror to know he'd lost the beauty contest. His owner's tone of voice did that for him. "It really impacts the dogs. They think by the tone of the voice that they've done something wrong," says Debbie Gray of Elizabethton, Tennessee, a certifier for the National Dog Groomers Association of America.

Pretend You Love It

"It's when you tell him how pretty he looks that the dog gets happy. He doesn't care about the haircut," notes Sarah Hawks, a groomer in Newark, Delaware. So if the canine coif falls short of your expectations, pretend you love it, at least in front of your hairy hound.

Usually, a dog fresh from the groomer feels soft and clean and cuddly, making pretense unnecessary. "His family wants him around. The interaction with the owner is enhanced," says Penstone, a poodle owner who judges competition grooming.

Selecting a Groomer

Still, plenty of hair-raising tales abound, because of incompetence, ignorance or a combination of the two. For a happy outcome at the pet salon, follow these tips:

  • Don't use your dog as a guinea pig. Visit several groomers first, stresses Gray. Ask about their experience and training. Does the place look neat and clean? "A reputable groomer will show you around," says Gray.
  • Describe exactly what you want. "Be very clear," advises Penstone. "What you mean by 'short' may not be what the groomer means. Do you want 1/4 inch left all around? Two inches? We keep a style book in our salons to help owners identify what they want."

    In Rags' case, the groomer had done what she was asked to do. "I didn't want the classic cocker cut, which is sheared with long feathery legs," recalls his owner, Jane Birnbaum of Fairfield County, Connecticut. But she didn't communicate well enough what she did want. "He ended up with twig legs and a tank-like body," she says.

    Showing the groomer a picture saves a lot of heartache, adds Gray. "Unfortunately, grooming is not really standardized. There probably are five names for every clip," she says. For instance, the poodle clip known as a "clown cut" in Tennessee (short all over with a top knot and tail and pom-poms at the ankles) is known as "the bikini" in Illinois, and "the Miami" in Florida. "We really grill people," says Gray.

  • Agree on a fee. The $35 the receptionist quotes over the phone might not apply to a flea-ridden, matted mongrel that bites as well. Differences of opinion arise often enough that many pet groomers require animal owners to sign a release beforehand.
  • Establish a relationship with your groomer. "A lot of people get on the phone and make an appointment with anyone who'll take the dog that day," says Gray. "That's not the way to do it."

    Good groomers keep records, says Penstone. "You can go back a year later and say 'do what you did last time' and they can look up what size blades they used, how they did the legs and so on," she says.

  • Start good grooming habits early. This way your pooch will like pampering. "Some enjoy the process. Most tolerate it quite benignly. A few hate it, and that might be because they weren't conditioned to it early in life," says Penstone.
  • Buy a brush and use it. "The dogs who are badly matted come in depressed and really down. Once you get the hair off and the fleas off, they're real happy," says Gray. A sheepdog neglected for a year will be so badly matted the coat has to come off, then the dog's skin suffers. "You can't picture some of the conditions we see," says Penstone, who has pelts with four inches of matting all the way around.
  • Be calm and positive with your pet. "Act upbeat, like the dog is going to camp," suggests Gray.

    As for Rags, the groomer gave him an all-over clip the next day, and he pranced away, a happy camper indeed.

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