Brushing Up on Bathing

To achieve the best bathing results, groomers should be utilizing all the products, techniques and equipment that are available today.




When I began grooming in 1982, the rule of thumb was to brush an animal completely and thoroughly before bathing and drying, in the hopes that it would prevent severe tangling. Today’s groomers have a little more peace of mind when it comes to easy, quick bathing. Not only are they learning better techniques, but they also have a plethora of new products and equipment at their disposal. 


One of the biggest parts of grooming any dog is the bath. For some dogs, ears/nails/bath/dry might take up most of the scheduled time. For any dog that requires finishing work—whether that’s clipping or scissoring—the final product is always improved if the prep work is done correctly. Streamlining the bathing process benefits everyone involved, from the pet to the groomer to the customer to the business.


These days, many groomers will put most dogs in the tub as soon as they arrive. While this may take some getting used to, it’s ultimately a blessing. It makes me think back to the sweet little Maltese that I brushed endlessly as a student. As tolerant as she was, tugging on a dog for hours on end is just something I’d never do today. Luckily, I don’t have to.


There are dozens of products that make bathing, brushing and drying easier. For heavily matted dogs, it’s best to pre-brush, or at least break up some of the heavier mats. Of course, there are always dogs that should not be brushed and instead require a smoothie—a kind term I just learned for a shave-down.


For dogs with a coat just a step below cast-matted, begin by applying a product such as Survivor by Eqyss, Liquid Silk by Pet Silk or Cowboy Magic. After the dog’s dry, use tools/brushes to break up the mats. For dogs with just general matting, simply pop them right into the tub.


Bathe all dogs using a shampoo and conditioner designed for loosening mats. Force and towel dry, and then apply one of the many spray-on products designed to help with de-matting.


That poor Maltese would have done well with a light spray, such as Opie & Dixie’s Organic Rosehips Dry Shampoo—which uses herbals and oils to allow a brush to glide through and reduce static without leaving a residue—or ikaria Coat Mists. The Stuff, GloCoat, Best Shot’s Ultra Vitalizing Mist and Jodi Murphy’s Matts Happen are other solid options.   


Personally, I keep two spray bottles of The Stuff on hand—one at the recommended 15:1 dilution rate and one at about 30:1 for finer, softer coats. After it’s spritzed on and the coat’s dry, or barely damp, hand-brush under an air stream to help separate the coat. It’ll be mat-free in no time. Keep in mind that products will work differently depending on your technique and whether your water is hard or soft, so some experimentation may be required before you find the right one.


The same process works for double-coated dogs that need a bit of extra help getting rid of excess undercoat. Shedding breeds such as Huskies, German Shepherds and Bernese Mountain Dogs can benefit from being force-dried right in the tub while still full of soapsuds or conditioner. This struck me as a ridiculous idea until I tried it. Is it messy? Of course. But I’d rather scrape wet, soapy hair off the wall in the tub area than have it cover every surface in the shop and have to breathe it in as it’s floating around.


To help with speed-drying, products such as Davis’ Quick Dry spray and shampoo and Show Season’s Speed Dry are both viable options.


“Bathing systems are better, dryers are better, clippers are better and some grooming products are better, too,” says Dallas Van Kempen, president of Carlsbad, Calif.-based Eqyss Grooming Products, Inc.


“The ingredients available are better performing than ever, if you choose the right one,” continues Van Kempen. “A quality shampoo saves a groomer time, as it will work in faster, rinse out faster and reduce necessary dry time.”


In the Know

There are many techniques that can improve bathing. Finding them out is as simple as talking to dryer and shampoo manufacturers, attending seminars on the topic and speaking with any (good) mobile groomer.


Mary Oquendo, owner-operator of Pawsitively Pretty Mobile Grooming Salon in Connecticut and author of The Mobile Groomer’s Bible, explains that she prefers to dry larger dogs in sections.


“I’ll start with one of the rear legs, with a towel under them, one against the tub wall and a Happy Hoodie on their heads,” she explains. Once each section’s dry, she then brushes it out to give the dog a much-appreciated break from the HV.


A big part of the technique is how you handle dogs and cats both in the tub and throughout the drying process. Always keep in mind the safer they feel, the less they'll object.


Teri DiMarino, president of the California Professional Pet Groomers Association, has been teaching her Bather/Brusher Certificate class for a while now, and although it highlights safety, techniques and equipment, it’s also filled with helpful tips.


One of the pointers she gives is to make sure that the pet you’re grooming has a solid footing in the tub. She explains that if a pet feels comfortable, they’ll cooperate better with the groomer and reduce the risk of injury. After all, leaning in at an angle and trying to lift a 75 lb. dog can be hard on one’s back. DiMarino recommends using a raised grate, which will keep the dog from standing on suds. Of course, there is the risk of a toe, nail or pad getting stuck in the grate, but that’s easily preventable with a mat.


Noise is another factor that can stress out animals and groomers during bathing. Selecting a dryer with a nozzle that reduces noise caused by the air stream touching the dog is a good start. Groomers can, and should, use ear protection. Getting a product such as the Happy Hoodie will help reduce the noise for the dog, but Mike Forcelli, president of Poly Pet Tubs, believes that the tub’s material has the largest impact on noise level.


“The Poly Pet Tub is made of high-density polyethylene so not only does it not leak, but water or a metal sprayer hitting the sides is much less noisy for the dogs,” he says.


Utilizing a recirculating bathing system, such as the HydroSurge by Oster or the Bathing Beauty by Hanvey, is much easier and faster than the traditional bathing process. Since the nozzle/sprayer applies soapy water right into the heart of mats and tangles, it leads to an easier brush-out.


Using any shampoo delivery system will speed up the process, but to improve it, groomers should consider microbubble technology. Pioneered in Japan, the technology uses tiny bubbles to deep clean pores and hair follicles.


Coquitlam, British Columbia-based and Belleville, Ill.-made Thera-Clean offers a system that features tiny bubbles that are only 15-20 microns (1/3 the size of a red blood cell), which allows them to penetrate deeper into the hair follicle. The bubbles have a negative ionic charge that helps them adhere to positive charges—such as oils, dirt, yeast and bacteria—and lift them right out of the skin.


“Even skunk oil has a positive charge, so the bubbles pull it right out,” says Kyle Darling, president of Thera-Clean. “As more and more pet owners are asking for more organic, all natural, or holistic menu options for the pets, the Thera-Clean bath provides precisely that.”


Darling believes that the system can build an entirely new revenue stream once clients see the results. Since the bubbles clean deeper and remove bacteria and allergens more effectively, medicated shampoos, conditioners and creams are able to work more efficiently.


Although Hanvey’s Bathing beauty was a huge eye opener for me in bathing practices, utilizing the current products and equipment that allows me to put dogs straight from check-in to tub was probably the biggest gift I’ve given myself since my first electric table. It’s faster and easier for everyone, and I make more money. We’re lucky to be in a constantly-evolving industry filled with people who are always looking for a better way to get things done. I wonder what’s next… PB


Carol Visser has been involved in the pet industry since 1982 in various capacities, including grooming in and owning a busy suburban shop, working as a product expert for PetEdge, teaching seminars and training dogs. She was certified as a Master Groomer with NDGAA in 1990 and as a Certified Pet Dog Trainer in 2007, and she continues to enjoy learning about dogs and grooming at her small salon in rural Maine.

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