There are two sides to the grooming safety issue—the groomer must stay as safe from bites and scratches as possible, and the animal must stay safe from injury, as well. It won’t matter how great a groomer’s styling looks if the animal sustains a preventable injury.
In the interest of the safety of both the groomer and the animal, groomers sometimes have to restrain a recalcitrant animal in order to get the job done, and there are several ways to do it. It is up to the groomer to decide which restraint system to employ on a case-by-case basis.
Nooses are a common and often suitable means of restraining dogs. They loop around the animal’s neck with some type of fastener or slide to prevent the dog from squirming and opening the loop enough to escape. Nooses should have a breakaway system, panic snap or an easy-to-open luggage clip on them in case of emergency—without such a system, if a big dog jumps or falls off the table it’s well-nigh impossible to support enough of its weight for long enough to release a noose.
Muzzles are often used to prevent biting. Many dogs, once muzzled and having realized they cannot bite, stop struggling and accept the grooming. Muzzles are made of plastic, wire or fabric, with or without openings on the end for the nose. Plastic and wire-basket muzzles are a surer protection against bites, but dogs probably don’t find them as comfortable.
Becoming more common are restraint systems consisting of grooming arms or poles that extend over the table, designed to hold the dog in place by means of a ring on a noose or head halter that can be attached to the post. Tables can also be equipped with belly bands that prevent sitting and can help support geriatric animals.
Chuck Simons, who manufactures The Groomer’s Helper, explains how his pet-handling system works: “It’s modeled after a means of controlling horses. The halter attaches to ties on either side of the head. The horses quickly learn where the ‘footprint’ is—how far they can go forward, backward and side to side.”
Dogs find the limits in the system, too, and figure out that the groomer is not the one pulling on them. They quickly realize they are struggling against themselves and stop. A ring on the bottom of the noose moves the pressure away from the trachea. Dogs can’t reach as well to bite, and they can’t spin about to avoid the groomer’s touch. The full system allows a groomer to keep a dog from sitting, from away, or jumping or falling off the table.
Simons says The Groomer’s Helper isn’t really a restraint system; it’s a safety and positioning system. “It’s a tool,” he says. “The ultimate responsibility for safe animal handling lies with the animal handler.”
Groomers can also reduce the animal’s stress and lessen resistance by making the experience a positive one. Using treats to reward good behavior and items such as the Happy Hoodie for force drying to alleviate pet’s fears can go a long way.
Groomers should learn to speak “dog,” and try using the calming signals that dogs use with each other to defuse a frightening situation. Not approaching directly, lip licking, yawning, looking away or turning the head away, blinking—all of these gestures or behaviors mean “I’m not looking for any trouble here!” when used dog to dog. It has yet to be proven whether using the same signals human to dog works, but what have you got to lose except perhaps a little dignity? Keep your shoulders down and relaxed, speak softly, and try to avoid leaning over a dog. Aromatherapy products and massage can also help relax an upset pet.
Cats are a special subject as far as restraints go. They generally don’t like being restrained and will frantically fight against restraints that a dog will simply accept. A frightened cat in a noose may actually fight hard enough to break its neck, so it’s always a good idea to use some sort of harness instead. Many groomers use a figure-eight around the neck and under one armpit.
Cat muzzles that cover the foreface often work well as cats tend to just hunker down on the table if they can’t see. Some groomers use gloves, made either of a nitrile material that is supposed to help teeth/claws slide off or heavy leather that is supposed to protect your hands and arms. In my experience neither works against a cat seriously determined to scratch or bite, but they can give you an extra second to get the cat in a cage.
A towel or screen rack in the tub for the cat to cling to can be helpful. Quickly wrapping a towel around a cat that starts to flip out is often the best solution. No matter what you use, remember that cats can die of stress so remain alert for signals of overstress.
Safety for both groomer and animal is a necessary element for business success. Keep in mind that not every animal can or should be groomed, and don’t hesitate to recommend that a difficult one be groomed at a veterinarian where chemical means of restraint can provide safety.
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.