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?
Once in a great 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.
- The dog has a low pain tolerance.
- The client will not appreciate the work.
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 – the clothing, the hair, the makeup, the shoes, the jewelry, and nails. You get the idea. Oh, and she drove a Cadillac.
This was a woman who was used to getting her way. Her dog was always on the edge of whether we could brush it out or not. She never brushed the dog at home between groomings. The dog was a great advanced student dog. He was quite tolerant of the brushing process making him a super lesson dog.
One week she missed her six-week scheduled appointment. When she showed up two weeks later, the dog was trashed – matted all the way to the skin.
Crest. Head. Legs.
We told her we were going to have to start over. We would need to shave her Bichon down to the skin. He would be naked. 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 combed out HERSELF and bring it back. But we were going to have 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 told her to come back when she felt her Bichon was totally combed out. Then, and only then, would we would give him his longer, fuller Bichon haircut.
She went home determined that 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?
Not a chance. She watched the comb clearly get hung up in the coat on the first pass.
We told her to take the dog home and continue working on him.
Long story short, she returned six more times before she finally gave up. We shaved the dog with a #7F blade. 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 naked.
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. She learned her lesson.
Here are the three options for clients who bring you a matted dog.
- The pet parent needs to learn how to brush.
- The pet parent needs to learn to like it short.
- The pet parent needs to book more frequent appointments.
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 for 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 their 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 scar them for the rest of their grooming life.
Even if a dog does have the tolerance for it, the cost will be extensive. Tell them what your hourly rate is. 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-$120 for the dematting, alone. Money talks, so most of the time you can stop there.
If you sense the client is willing to pay your dematting rates, move into your next talking point: what’s in the best interest of the pet.
While it’s good to know they would be willing to spend the extra money to have the dog combed out, it’s also important to see if the dog will even tolerate it. At this point put the dog on the counter or grooming table. Grab your combination comb, sink the wide toothed end down to the skin – and give a firm tug. Gauge the reaction of the dog. Most of the time they will flip around with extreme displeasure. It’s visually clear to the pet parent their fur baby is being hurt. That’s exactly the reaction you want.
Most pet parents cannot stand seeing their dog in pain. If they understand this condition is painful to the dog they can often be trained not to allow their pet to become matted again.
The reaction of the pet, how deep the pet parent’s pockets are, and whether you feel the owner can be rehabilitated into a well-trained client will determine where your conversation will go next.
Most of the time, you’ll want to go with the humane route – and that means a full shave off. I might – or might not – 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 that this is the only option for their pet.
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.
- Learn to brush
- Learn to like it short
- Book more frequent visits
Talk to them about their lifestyle and how their pet plays a role.
Ask if they are willing to find the time to properly brush and comb their dog between professional groomings. 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 groomings, 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 – skip to the chase. I would simply tell them, no – I will not comb their dog out. There are no other options other than to shave the coat off.
Talk to them about rebooking their next appointment in 6-8 weeks. By about 12-14 weeks they 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 simply shaving the matted coat off, I encourage having 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. However, that doesn’t give you the excuse to be careless. 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.
There are limits on what you can – and should – do for the animal. Be honest. Be sincere. 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, stick to your guns. It’s the client’s fault the dog is matted, not yours.
Mentally prepare your client the worst-case scenario: a totally naked dog. Over-estimate the amount of time it’s going to take. Over-estimate the amount of money it’s going to cost. Over-estimate the risks involved with dealing with a severely matted pet. If you do that, anything beyond naked or less expensive or even a mild nick is going to be seen in a positive light by the client.
Unfortunately, there isn’t an easy rule for solving the problems of tardy or no-show clients. The good news is that you have lots of options to help deal with it. Depending on how busy you are, cancellations can either be a blessing or a curse. In either case, if you have a client who is chronically dismissive or disrespectful of your time, you need to be proactive and correct the problem.
Our kennel, Whiskers Resort and Pet Spa, experienced 68 reservation cancellations over the 4th of July holiday. During the summer months, Whiskers runs at over 100% occupancy rate with its 180 rooms. During peak holidays such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, and Spring Break, Whiskers charges a $50 deposit for all reservations. This deposit is nonrefundable if the cancellation takes place two weeks prior to their check-in date. In the past, the deposit has not been charged for Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, or Labor Day. That will be changing.
For years we’ve tracked grooming appointment cancellations at The Paragon School of Pet Grooming. Despite our continual efforts to knock the rate down, its remains a persistent 10%.
In the pet grooming industry, time is money. Clients who are chronically tardy or don’t show up for their appointments create havoc for both your schedule and your pocketbook.
(However, if you are overbooked, it can also be a blessing.)
There is no perfect solution for this problem. Everyone has a slightly different take on this situation. Some salons run on a very tight schedule while others are more relaxed. And let’s face it, there are times when the client has a legitimate excuse. So, what do you do?
8 Ways to deal with Tardy and No-show Clients.
- Call or text to confirm the day ahead. Sometimes clients just need is a gentle reminder to avoid a scheduling conflict.
- Breathe. For some pet stylists, having a cancellation is not a big deal. It doesn’t happen that often. The clients are well-trained and respectful of their appointments and time. In some cases, it might even be a relief.
- Overbook. Service businesses do this all the time to ensure they are full. The key here is to have a variety of pets on the books. If there are a few easy jobs sprinkled between the more difficult ones, you will get through your day, even if your cancellation rate is below the 10% mark.
- If they are 10 or 15 minutes late – call them. If they can make it into the salon within a few minutes, keep the appointment. It’s easier than trying to refill it – unless you don’t want to! If you opt not to honor their appointment, rebook them for another time. Don’t wait 30 or more minutes and then explode when they walk in the door expecting to keep their appointment. It’s better to make the call right away and know what your next step should be. This method offers you more control over the situation. With some clients, you need to personally point out why it’s important for you and/or your team to have set appointment times. This can be done in a friendly – yet firm – professional manner. This tactic also works well with non-chronic cancellations.
- Have a 3 Strike Rule. Some people are just forgetful. Others are just plain disrespectful. Others are downright rude. If the client will not respect your time, you don’t have to continue to put up with it. Occasionally, there are solid reasons why someone misses an appointment. Life happens. The 3 Strike Rule covers clients who are chronically late or don’t show up for their appointments. If you’re going to set up a 3 Strike Rule, what are the consequences? Do you refuse to groom the dog in the future? Charge a cancellation fee? Do you have a client prepay a nonrefundable amount for the scheduled next appointment? If you make a rule, there must be consequences. Make a policy, then consistently stick with it.
- If the client cancels, fails to show up, or is tardy beyond being able to groom them at their appointed time, reschedule them. Don’t do them a favor by squeezing them in the next day or two. Push them out at least two weeks. I’ve known many stylists that are so busy they have NO flexibility left in their schedules. If a client misses today’s appointment they can’t get another one until their next pre-scheduled appointment. This works exceptionally well for stylists that are booked out weeks, months, or even a year in advance. It can be a hard lesson for the client but it is generally very effective. Rarely do they miss another appointment.
- For clients who are chronically tardy or don’t show up, charge a late or no-show fee. You won’t always get it, but if they book another appointment, you can tack it on to their next grooming fee. You could also consider raising their base price to include an inconvenience fee.
- If you have a client who simply cannot adhere to a schedule or does not respect your time, have them prepay prior to their grooming appointment. This should be a nonrefundable amount. After all, your time is valuable and it’s worth money. If they cancel, you can’t get your time back nor the money you would have earned if they had kept their appointment.
Are there exceptions to your rules? Absolutely.
If you don’t already track how many cancellations you have each day and each week – start tracking it. Find out what your cancellation average is per day. Once you know the number, you can be proactive in correcting the problem.
Another way to look at it is from a dollar standpoint. At Paragon, our average cancellation rate is 10%. If you apply the 10% rate to your situation and you do 20 dogs a day at $50, that starts to add up! That translates into losing two dogs or $100 every day! Times that by five days a week and you’re at $500 of lost revenue. To me, it’s worth taking the time to simply call and remind people of their upcoming appointment the day before!
We are in the business of building positive relationships with our customers, both the two-legged and four-legged variety. Your personality and the type of relationship with your clients dictates how firmly you adhere to the demands on your time. Remember, these customers not only affect you and your time, they ultimately affect your schedule and your other clients. You need to be warm, caring, and maintain your professionalism.
Just because you are warm and caring does not mean you can’t set rules and boundaries. Remember, you can still provide great customer service and have a mutually respectful relationship that benefits both you and your client.
Last week was a week none of us want to deal with. We had to make the difficult decision to bid farewell to one of our beloved Maremma Sheepdogs. Most of us who have had multiple dogs have a few “heart dogs.” Cache was one of mine.
Maremmas are livestock guardian dogs. Their natural instincts allow them to take responsibility, making their own decisions in the absence of their owners. This means they are very independent thinkers. They decide for themselves how best to deal with prospective invaders (people or varmints) or potentially dangerous situations. Typically, the breed is not well suited as a typical household pet. They need space and a job to do.
Cache’s personality was true to her breed. However, we heavily socialize all our Maremmas. When we are in public, ours are soft, gentle, and friendly. On our own property, their natural instincts come out loud and clear. Cache was serious about protecting her turf, the animals she was raised with, and guarding us. She always made me feel comfortable and safe. She was with me most of the time, whether it be at work or at home.
Last year a nasty growth had to be removed from her third eyelid. The vet felt he got good margins and she healed up in no time. Seven months later, the growth was back. This time, when we had it removed we sent it in to be tested along with full blood work.
Unfortunately, we learned she had a very aggressive form of cancer that takes over the entire system in a short amount of time. The best thing we could do was keep her comfortable and enjoy the limited time we had left with her.
The first few weeks she was pretty good, but then her appetite started to fade along with her weight. Within a month we had to entice her to eat. We added eggs to her kibble. When she started turning her nose up at that, we added ground meat. Before long she was eating around every kernel of kibble, eating only the meat. Even though we fed her twice a day, she was not consuming enough calories to maintain any weight. We increased the ground meat. As we increased the straight protein, her system had a hard time digesting it. We found ourselves having to do regular spot bathing to clean up her hind end.
At the end of May, Judy Hudson and Sue Zecco arrived for National Dog Groomers Association of America Certification Testing at the Paragon School of Pet Grooming. They came in a few days early just to hang at our farm, ride horses, cook healthy meals, and drink a little wine.
Judy watched me as I tried unsuccessfully to entice Cache to eat. By this time, I was making small raw meatballs for Cache. I would mix it with a little bit of her kibble and feed her by hand. I could always get her to take the meatballs but I could not get her to eat any of her kibble.
Ms. Hudson is a natural problem solver. Judy has been around my dogs quite a bit. Even though Cache’s mind was still sharp, Judy knew she was going downhill quickly. She needed to eat something more than just a small about of raw meat.
That’s when she asked, “Would Cache eat meatballs if you mixed other things with it?”
She suggested utilizing a food processor and creating custom meatballs more suitable for Cache’s digestive system. Judy proposed we soak a small amount of kibble in hot water until it was soft, then add some cooked rice, a little bit of bacon grease, and some raw meat. If we needed more moisture we could add some bone broth. Sort of like a pâté. Brilliant!
We quickly pulled out the food processor and got to work. We ground everything up until it was the consistency of cookie dough. Once it was mixed well, we tested it. I rolled out five ping-pong ball-sized meatballs and offered them to Cache. After a couple sniffs, she tried the first one. She did not hesitate on the second, third, fourth, or even fifth meatball!
I was thrilled! But as happy as I was that she was eating, I had a huge fear looming in the back of my mind.
The following week I left for Australia for a 10-day speaking engagement. I was terrified Cache would not hang on until I returned home. I knew if we could get her to eat, there was a good chance she would make it until I got home.
My husband Marc had been gone during Judy and Sue’s visit. When he got home, I showed him how to mix up these enticing pâté meatballs.
Cache rode to the airport with us as I left for Australia. I told Marc he needed to send pictures of Cache every day. He did. Lots of the photos were of her enjoying her meals. Sitting on the couch. Getting belly rubs. Laying comfortably in her bed – many times totally upside down.
When I returned home, Cache was in the car when Marc picked me up. I wanted to cry. My girl had waited for me.
Her mind remained sharp. She was alert. She was responsive. She seemed comfortable if she was lying down. Unfortunately, her legs were giving out. Before I left, she was just very stiff. When I got home, she was severely lame on three legs.
I was able to spend 5 more days with her before she told me it was time. Her legs refused to work any longer. Even when she could no longer walk, she still looked forward to her meatballs.
We bid good-bye to my sweet girl on June 22, 2017. Cache had just turned 11 years old.
I wonder if it was the pâté meatballs or the fact we were feeding her by hand that had made her eat so well. Honestly, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that she was able to eat up to the very end.
I used a full-size food processor. I would mix up a batch to last for three or four feedings. Cache normally weighed about 85 to 90 pounds. When she was sick, she dropped to about 65 pounds. We fed her twice a day, 5-7 meatballs with each feeding.
Cache’s Pate Meatballs
Equal amounts of:
- moistened dry kibble
- cooked rice
- cooked or raw ground meat
- 1 or 2 hotdogs
- small amount of avocado oil, olive oil, or bacon grease
- enough bone broth or meat stock to form a dense dough-like consistency
Place moistened kibble, cooked rice, ground meat, and hotdogs into the food processor. Grind until mixed. Add oil or bacon grease. Grind until incorporated. Add enough bone broth or meat stock to form a dough-like consistency.
Place mixture in a sealed container and store in refrigerator until ready to form pâté meatballs. If cold, heat for 30 seconds in the microwave to soften the pâté slightly. Roll out enough meatballs for a single meal in a size suitable for the dog.
Place in a bowl, on a plate, or hand feed.
Cache was a special dog to me. She was way more than just a dog or a pet. She truly was a fur child in my eyes. One of my heart dogs. I’m so grateful for my time with her. I have beautiful memories of my girl.
This recipe worked wonders for Cache. If you are struggling to get a dog to eat, maybe this meatball pâté will work wonders for your dog, too.
Try out the recipe and tell us if it helped your pet, too. Jump on the Learn2GroomDogs.com Facebook page and share recipes that you love for your dogs!