Recently, I was asked to fill in at a friend’s busy grooming salon. I can’t say I’m as quick as I used to be at prep, but I’m still thorough and enjoy it. There is something so very satisfying about taking a dirty, disheveled dog and turning it into a shiny, sweet-smelling pet with every untangled hair in place. As I worked, I reflected on how different the brushing and bathing part of grooming has become since I began in the field in 1982, when I attended grooming school.
The school was one of the first and best, with up-to-the-minute equipment and techniques. The school had just acquired new box force dryers and taught us to brush a dirty dog to perfection before the bath, but we had a limited number of shampoos and products to choose from. About the best thing we had available to apply to that double-coated, once-a-year-client pet was good old-fashioned elbow grease–we brushed and raked laboriously (and painfully, for the dog) for ages.
We used sprays or cornstarch to break the lock of hairs clinging together as we brushed or cut through mats before the bath.
Boy, we have come a long way as a craft. These days, each dog heads to the tub immediately. Recirculating bathing systems push aerated shampoos through the coat, eliminating that time-consuming first step of wetting the coat down. Crème rinses are used as needed. After some hi-velocity drying in the tub, most breeds get a break in a cool cage dryer before being hand dried. A plethora of sprays are available to make the jobs of detangling, straightening, texturizing and drying faster and easier.
During my recent stint, a geriatric malamute that had not seen a brush or a grooming salon since last spring tottered in, taking short steps with her hind legs, a good sign that she wouldn’t be able to tolerate a lot of standing, let alone tugging. I popped her in the tub and used a detangling shampoo, in a recirculating bathing system, twice. The second time I added a good amount of conditioner before using a force dryer to push the dead coat further away from the skin. Then I applied a leave-on conditioner and force dried some more.
By then the old girl was ready to lie down for a while, so she went in a large crate with a fluffy towel and a drink of water for a cool air break. When she went back up on the table a good spritz with a silicone-based dematting spray and more force drying, and the little remaining hair brushed out readily in about 10 minutes. She looked great, smelled great, had every hair separated and was able to physically handle the grooming. Using the products and techniques in play 30 years ago, I would either have had to clip her quite short, or would have needed two days to do the job to avoid overtaxing her. And we both would have hated it.
A source at Miracle Corp explained how the company’s detangling shampoo works. Vitamins B5 and E are absorbed into the hair follicle, essentially conditioning from the inside out. An ingredient used in human cosmetics, polyquaternium-10, forms a film to allow hair, brushes and combs to glide through the coat, while reducing static.
Dave Campanella, director of sales and marketing at Best Shot Pet Products, tells us that when the cuticle (the outer layer of the hair shaft, made of overlapping scales like roof shingles) is dry and open, it’s harder for dead hair to slide away. Using products, such as Best Shot’s UltraWash Shampoo, UltraPlenish Conditioner and Ultra Vitalizing Mist Dematting Spray, can snap the cuticle shut speeding shedding and brushwork by 30 to 50 percent. They are also designed to hydrate the hair, smoothing out those scales. Campanella points out that using the right shampoo and techniques can also minimize repetitive-motion injuries for the groomer.
According to Ed Berman, owner of Tropical Products in Salem, Mass., where many brand name shampoos and conditioners are manufactured, there’s a lot of science behind the improvements in the “tub tools” available to us. He says one-step conditioner shampoos are becoming popular as they represent a large time savings.
There are shampoos and conditioners today designed to make our work go faster and easier, and to solve problems ranging from dry skin or itching to poor color and incorrect coat texture. Experiment away with what’s out there–you’ll find your job becoming easier, and easier on your four legged clients–a winning combo.
Carol Visser is a Nationally Certified Master Groomer and Certified Pet Dog Trainer. Formerly a pet product expert for PetEdge, she and her husband Glenn now own Two Canines Pet Services in Montville, Maine, which provides grooming, boarding, training and day care services to Waldo County.