How many times a week do you deal with a matted dog? If you are like many of us, it’s more than once. For some, it might even be a daily occurrence.

When this situation comes up, there are immediate questions that needs answers:

  How do you talk with the pet parent?

  How do you tell them they are not taking care of their pet properly?

  What are the consequences of their neglect?

  What can you do for them today?

•  What can you do for them in the future?

As a professional pet groomer, we always need to remember, humanity before vanity. Can you demat a badly tangled coat? Probably. Should you? Not necessarily.

Once in while, a client will have a legitimate reason why their dog is in poor condition. Occasionally, I will demat a dog if I sense it’s a one-time occurrence. I know the tricks to get a dog detangled relatively quickly. I have the skill, products and tools to do it safely and humanely. However, there are two main reasons why I won’t always do it.

1. The dog has a low pain tolerance.

2. The client may not understand the work involved to fixing this situation for their dog.

Here’s a perfect example: Years ago, I had a Bichon owner who always brought her dog in matted. This Bichon had a dense, curly coat. She was a regular six-week client. The owner was always immaculately presented when she dropped her dog off—her clothing, her hair, her makeup, her shoes, her jewelry, her nails … you get the idea. Her dog was always on the edge of whether we could brush it out or not. She never brushed the dog at home between grooming. Because we had a grooming school, I felt the dog was a great advanced student dog. He was quite tolerant of the brushing process, making him a super lesson dog for dematting.

One time, this client missed her regularly scheduled six-week scheduled appointment, and when she came in two weeks later, the dog was in very poor condition—matted all the way to the skin. We told her we were going to have to start over and would need to shave her Bichon. It was the only humane option. She was horrified. She couldn’t be seen with a naked dog! There must be some way to save the coat.

There was. She could get the dog brushed and combed out herself and bring it back. We told her this would take some time to do, but we would need to be able to sink the comb in all the way to the skin and pull it easily through the coat. We gave her a thorough lesson. We even sent her home with the proper tools. We asked her to come back when she felt her Bichon was totally combed out. Then, and only then, could we give him his longer, fuller Bichon haircut.

She went home determined she would be able to get him detangled. A few days later, she returned. When we did the comb test, do you think he passed?

Unfortunately, no. She watched the comb clearly get hung up in the coat on the first pass. 

We asked her to take the dog home and continue working on him.

Long story short, she returned six more times before she understood our position and what it takes to safely and completely address matting issues. We shaved the dog. We were able to leave a little tiny bit of extra coat on his head and a tiny bit of fluff on his tail. Everything else was starting over.

When her sweet Bichon finally grew out, about 12 weeks later, we set her up on a two-week maintenance schedule. She never missed another appointment. 


Dealing with Matted Dogs

There are the three options for clients who bring you a matted dog:

1. Teach the pet parent how to brush.

2. Help the pet parent understand and appreciate a shorter trim if their pet goes too long between grooms.

3. Recommend the pet parent book more frequent appointments if a shorter haircut is undesirable to them.

When faced with a matted dog, how do you have a conversation with the owner?

The conversation needs to be sincere. It needs to focus on what is in the best interest of the pet. You need to be sympathetic to the reasons why the dog got in this condition. (Stop rolling your eyes … I can see you.)

When you speak with an owner, they need to understand there’s only so much we as groomers can do. The last thing we want to do is hurt, injure or bring discomfort to their pet.

Dogs have the mentality of a two-year-old child. If a client’s two-year-old child, grandchild, niece or nephew came to them with their hair matted all over their head, would they ask the child to tolerate having it combed out? If the tangles were tight and right next to the scalp, making every stroke of a comb or brush painful, they would most likely trim the matted hair out. Have you ever tried to remove gum or candy stuck in a child’s hair? Imagine the same impossible tangle right next to the scalp, covering the entire head. Trimming off that hair would be the most humane thing to do, even if the end result is not the haircut you would typically prefer.

It’s similar with a dog, only with the dog, the hair isn’t just on their head. It’s all over their entire body. You might be able to salvage a very small section, but it’s not fair to ask the dog to submit to a lengthy dematting process. Most dogs do not have the pain tolerance or patience to sit through it. It could take hours to thoroughly brush and comb a dog out. Plus, there is a high risk of injury to their skin. And to top it off, asking a dog to sit through an extensive dematting process could be traumatic. It could influence their behavior for the rest of their grooming life.

It is always best to begin the conversation with the pet parent keeping the dog’s comfort, well-being and safety in mind.  It is recommended this is your No. 1 priority.  

Even if a dog does have the tolerance for it, the cost of dematting may be extensive. Inform them of your hourly rate. Estimate how long the dematting process would be. On a small dog, it might be about two to three hours (and yes, I would estimate on the high side), plus the regular grooming time.

If my hourly rate was $60 an hour, the customer would be looking at an extra $90 to $120 for the dematting, alone. This can weigh heavily on the decision the client makes. While it’s good to know they would be willing to spend the extra money to have the dog combed out, the dog still may not tolerate the process of dematting. Be sure to inform the pet parent that even if you feel you can brush the pet clear of mats, and the pet parent is willing to spend the money to allow for the time this will require, oftentimes it is the pet who will ultimately dictate if we can proceed or not.  

Most pet parents cannot stand seeing their dog in pain. So, if they understand this condition can be very painful to their dog, it stands to reason that they won’t allow the pet to become matted again.

Most of the time, you’ll want to push for the humane route, which means a full shave off. I try to salvage a small amount of coat on the head and tail, if possible. Mentally prepare the owner for what the dog will look like after the grooming process. Remember to emphasize this is really the only option for their pet.


Avoiding Repeated Problems

Once you settle on what you are going to do that day, talk about future haircuts and how to maintain the dog so it never gets in this condition again.

Remind them of their three options: Learn to brush, consider keeping it short, or book more frequent visits.

Also, talk to them about their lifestyle and what role their pet plays. Ask if they are willing to find the time to properly brush and comb their dog between professional grooming. If they are, give them a thorough demonstration on proper brushing and combing techniques for their pet’s coat type. We always keep the necessary tools on hand in our retail area. Make sure your clients leave with the proper equipment to maintain their pets at home. Having a handout outlining proper line brushing techniques is also extremely helpful.

If they don’t have the time or the desire to brush their pet at home between grooming, talk about booking more frequent appointments and setting them up on an economical maintenance schedule. The maintenance schedule could be weekly or biweekly.

If the dog is just too far gone, if the client is a repeat offender, or you just don’t have time to deal with a matted dog, cut to the chase. It may be best to simply tell them, no, you will not comb their dog out. The best option is to shave the coat off and begin anew.

Talk to them about rebooking their next appointment in six to eight weeks going forward. After about 12 to 14 weeks, the pet should be grown in enough to be able to get the trim of their choice, if they want to maintain a fuller look. They might also opt for a simpler trim style that is short—one length all over. Their choice will be based on how they want to care for their fur baby.

Regardless of whether you are doing a brush out on a matted dog or shaving the matted coat off, I encourage having the owner sign a matted pet release form. This form opens the door to talk about the dangers involved with matted coats. It’s a simple fact: if the dog is extremely matted, there is going to be a higher risk of injury to the pet. If you talk about it prior to the grooming and the dog does get injured in any way, most of the responsibility has been lifted from your shoulders. 

Even with a signed agreement, take extreme care and caution throughout the process. The last thing any of us want to do is injure a pet. However, when they are severely matted, the risk of them being hurt is always present.


Remember these key points:

• It is always important to do what is in the best interest of the dog.

• There is a limit to what you can do.

• There’s a limit to what the dog can tolerate.

• You are a professional pet groomer, not a magician.

Mentally prepare your client for the worst-case scenario—a totally shaved dog. Overestimate the amount of time it’s going to take. Overestimate the amount of money it’s going to cost. Overestimate the risks involved with dealing with a severely matted pet. Be sure the client understands your position of exercising caution and keeping the pet’s best interest in mind. If you do that, anything beyond naked or less expensive is going to be seen in a positive light by the client.

There are limits on what you can—and should—do for the animal. Be honest. Be sincere.  

This is not a time to punish the pet parent for their pet’s condition. In fact, that is not your concern.  The pet’s health and comfort is. Keeping the pet foremost in your mind when coming up with a solution will always play in your favor. Even if the client is upset, maintain your position. Your role as a professional grooming expert is to help remedy the situation with your experience, education for the pet parent, and care for the pet.  PB


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