The Blame Game

By Stuart Simons

It’s 4pm on a Wednesday afternoon and i’m enjoying a rare day off. The phone rings and it’s the salon. My heart always misses a beat when they call because if they are contacting me, it’s usually something that the manager can’t sort out herself and needs to be escalated to me. That’s what comes from being a business owner. One of my staff goes on to say that an owner has called and informed us, accusingly, that her French Bulldog has bitten her whilst she was giving him a bath and that the dog has never been frightened of water before. She then goes on to explain that, because of this, she took him to a high street groomer who also struggled and had to give the dog back unwashed whilst blaming us for supposedly previously giving the dog a bad experience. We explained that all of our grooming areas are covered by CCTV and, assuming that we did the groom within the past month, we would be happy to share it with her to show her how well behaved her dog was whilst in our care. Having checked our notes, nothing was untoward. 

That’s when I noticed the date. The dog came for his groom with us on the 26th May 2022. The telephone call was the 12th October 2022, 5 months after his groom. I don’t keep CCTV from 5 months ago and so I couldn’t help with visual proof that the dog was well behaved whilst in the salon. HMMPH! 

Having called the owner, and after trying to placate her and explain to her that he was as good as gold with us. The tone suddenly changed and she went on to accuse us of holding her dog under the water leaving him traumatised and now unwilling to have a bath. Obviously, I politely took exception to the accusation and one thing led to another, she put the phone down on me, not before a lovely swearing tirade. Perfect. (Is it too early for wine?)

Could I have handled it better? Probably. I was, however, insulted by the accusation, especially when every effort is made to ensure that each and every dog has a nice experience within the salon. We don’t run torture chambers, we are pet groomers and I must say this at least once a day to owners that expect the impossible. 

The whole sorry episode got me thinking though…

……With pet ownership in mind, why is blame so quickly given to the groomers? 

It occurs to me that we aren’t seen as skilled workers by dog owning people. I have lost count of the times that I hear owners say ‘Ohhhh she/he hates coming  here’ or ‘Ahhh what a lovely job you have, just playing with dogs all day’. If that is the public perception, then there is no wonder that we get the blame for anything and everything, even a dogs fear of water that we inexplicably created some 5 months ago. As an industry we don’t help ourselves. Our trading bodies allow membership from anyone that says they are a dog groomer without proof of any relevant training. Yes, It’s absolutely true that my mum (an ex Dr’s Receptionist) could happily register with them as a dog groomer and open a salon next door to mine without any formal training or proven knowledge. A scary thought when you think that the truth of the matter is that the brachycephalic dogs need mo more than a teaspoon full of water to drown, the scissors we use are razor sharp and the high velocity dryers can burst an ear drum or remove an eye in one fail swoop. 

Lots of things could have been to blame for this poor dogs sudden fear of the water. They are sentient beings just like us and can suddenly have anxiety to all sorts of situations. A professional and qualified groomer would have the tools to do the job limiting the risk of such occurrences but one can’t rule out that fear wasn’t instilled in the dog within my salon. It is quite unlikely but i’m willing to be open to it. I have irrational fears and anxieties that my friends think are ridiculous but it doesn’t make them any less real to me. A good groomer should work with the dogs anxieties in mind and use reassuring techniques to try and reverse the fear. It can take time but it is possible. We have achieved this many times within my salon. Much better to take this angle than to vilify the previous groomer and wash your hands of the dog. Someone has to change this poor dogs thought process at some point or it’s going to be a miserable and not to mention smelly existence. 

If you compare the same problem to humans, it’s quite ludicrous. Suddenly a child has an irrational fear of water, they scream and hate the bath and just want out. I think most parents can relate to this behaviour. Was the first instinct to call the hairdressers they went to before their first day of nursery and accuse them of child abuse leaving them with this fear. No of course not. The child doesn’t want a bath, that’s it! If the child gets away with challenging behaviour, he/she knows he can use it again to get out of a situation. Challenging behaviour reinforced. Dogs learn just like we do! 

To sum up, finding people that we trust is of course imperative when it comes to our pets care but you also have to take in to consideration whether or not the person caring for the pet has the skills to work with all different dogs from all different backgrounds and with all different personalities. A knowledge of breeds and what they have been used for in the past is essential when considering a haircut for our four legged friends. For example, Terriers require different handling and styling techniques to poodles and so on. Also, home care is something owners must take far more seriously, brushing in between grooms benefits a dogs physical and mental well-being and serves to give the dog a much nicer experience within the salon. Most professional groomers have to try and battle an owners expectations of what’s possible within a time frame that won’t cause harm to their dog. Unreasonable requests can be draining but remember, your groomer is simply looking out for your pets physical and mental wellbeing whilst in the salon. if they say it needs to go short, then it probably does. Our salons must be a positive place, not a place of fear and trepidation because an owner hasn’t brushed their dog at home and wants us to keep it long. Early introductions to the grooming process also limit anxieties. Puppies learn fear at about 8 months so to introduce them to a lifelong process at that age is plating the seed, As soon as their jabs are done and its safe for the dog to go to the groomers, get them in. Gentle introductions and regularity are key and leave the dog without fear for the remainder of their grooming life. 

Check that your groomer has been trained to a professional standard by visiting, the only register of groomers where a professional qualification within the industry is required for membership. 

Remember, if your dog has changed his/her behaviour in recent weeks, it might be best to get a vet appointment. Some things can be wrong internally too. These can also lead to personality changes and challenging behaviour. 

9 times out of 10, it’s not your groomers fault.