Every grooming salon has its preferred style of keeping dogs contained while waiting to be prepped, bathed, dried, finished, or for their owners to pick them up. Choosing the right containment system is important, since everything runs more smoothly when dogs are readily available for the next step in the process. The need for an efficient system, therefore, is a key factor in deciding what works best. Safety, however, has to stand out as a top consideration when looking at the containment options available.
There are safety risks with each type of holding area for dogs. Fortunately, with a little forethought, groomers can minimize these risks and create a safe environment for the pets they groom, while maintaining efficiency.
Let ‘Em Loose
Some salons let the dogs loose in the shop. There are some benefits to this. Some dogs are stressed when caged, especially those that are not used to it. Customers also often like the idea that the dogs are not caged, and some dogs enjoy the social interaction, just as they do at a dog day care. Although there are positives, choosing to let pets loose can be a risky choice, as the dangers of fighting and transmitting disease are huge when almost unlimited contact is allowed.
The biggest risk to having dogs loose in the salon is they may fight, and not every stylist is trained to read dogs well enough to anticipate when a fight is imminent. Also, many dogs don’t handle that amount of freedom well and can experience a higher level of stress when set loose. Still, there are a few factors to consider when considering containment systems.
Open-front stalls, in which animals are tethered, are a popular choice for containment in a grooming salon. It is common for a salon to have several tiers with large stalls on the bottom, medium ones in the middle and small stalls on the top row. These can be a good option if they are built with partitions high enough to prevent stall-to-stall contact between animals, and if the tethers are adjustable enough to make sure dogs cannot step out too far and drop off the edge of the shelf, even if they turn around and try to back off. Most dogs also like the illusion of freedom that it provides, and owners that do not crate at home are usually thrilled that the dogs are not caged.
Tethering a dog by the neck, however, especially if it is not used to being tied, carries risks. Animals can and will pull on their own necks enough to cause injury, sometimes serious. Since there is no actual barrier, there’s also a risk that animals walking near by the stalls will make physical contact with the contained pet, whether aggressively or just nose to nose. The former can lead to injury, the latter to exchange of disease.
Cages are one of the safer possibilities for minimizing pet-to-pet contact, both from the perspective of fighting and of disease transmission, but they have their own set of drawbacks.
Some dogs have such a fear of cages that the sweetest of pets can turn into Cujo once they realize they are in one, making it difficult and time consuming to get them back out. Groomers need to be cautious, since struggling animals can fall while being removed from or placed into higher cages. Most groomers are familiar with cage-shy dogs and will also make sure that a leash attached to the dog’s collar is left hanging outside if it must be crated.
Some dogs express their displeasure at being crated by soiling it, sometimes repeatedly. Constant vigilance and getting dogs in and out quickly are the best solutions, although aromatherapy or homeopathic remedies may help reduce the stress causing the problem.
One serious risk with cages is that of injury, most commonly by wire grids. It’s a constant dilemma for salons whether to put grates in cages or not. Grates allow air circulation, which speeds drying; and if a dog urinates, the fluid falls through keeping clean dogs clean. Still, dogs can get its toe, nail or foot stuck in a wire grid.
Dogs can also damage their teeth by biting dividers or cage doors. I know a salon that had a young, healthy dog actually rip a tooth out in his panic at having gotten his teeth stuck on the bars. I had a poodle bite vertical bars by turning his head horizontally, and he couldn’t open his mouth wide enough to get loose again. (Wire cutters are now a permanent part of my toolkit).
Grate dangers can be reduced by placing a bathmat or yoga mat over most of them, allowing some space around the edges for air circulation, but there is little that can be done for the wire biters, except to avoid crating them.
Ideally, a salon should have more than one type of containment system available, even if it only uses one primarily. For example, if dogs are generally loose, have at least a few cages available for the shy or more aggressive dogs. Or, if a dog hates cages, try tethering it to the wall.
Most of the issues with containment can be minimized or eliminated with a little thought and planning. But if there’s one thing we all know as pet professionals, it’s that no matter how careful you are to ensure animals stay safe in your care, there’s a dog out there that will find a way to get into trouble. Stay aware of all dogs in the salon as much as possible, especially new clients, and try to use the containment method that suits each dog’s needs the best. PB
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.