How to Read Classic Dog Body Language – Appropriate Composure for the Pet Professional

We work with pets because we are passionate about them. It’s simple: we love what we do. Yet it’s important to remember that every dog is an individual. Not only do they look different, they all have different physical and emotional characteristics. Different personalities.

Some dogs receive clear directions from their owners. They have rules and boundaries at home. This makes them very easy to work with in a professional setting. Other pets will not be well-mannered in a professional setting. The personality quirks we all experience working with pets will vary from dog to dog.

  • Many will be perfect angels
  • Others will be mildly annoying
  • Some will be potentially dangerous to work with for both the handler and the pet

Based on your level of pet interaction experience, you should be able to work through many of these personality quirks. Your commands to the pet need to be clear, concise, and consistent.

Dogs are primarily non-verbal communicators. However, they do have a very clear language of their own. It is up to us to interpret that language. The good news? Dogs are very clear in the messages that they give us.

I firmly believe that 98% of all dog bites are preventable. If you have read the pet correctly, getting bitten is highly avoidable. At times, you will need to take appropriate precautions to protect yourself. You need to gain control of the situation in a manner that is safe and respectful of the pet. It’s important to your career not to become injured. Remember, your hands are your livelihood.

Whenever working with pets, it is always critical to remember the 3 C’s. As a professional you must remain:

  1. calm
  2. cool
  3. collected

…at all times – in all circumstances.

There are many different types of dogs. Many will require special handling techniques. Plenty of groomers or stylists are good with all personalities. Others have honed their skills. They specialize in working with dogs with special needs such as puppies, geriatric dogs, or aggressive dogs.

Here is a collection of basic dog postures we see every day. Every position indicates a different attitude. This is by no means everything you will need to know about “reading” dogs. If you are working professionally with them, this is just the tip of the iceberg.

You will need to gather loads of information about canine communication. By doing this, you’ll learn to work in harmony with dogs. When that happens, you’ll instantly feel the rewards. You’ll quickly learn how to respond to them in a non-verbal way.

By being knowledgeable in canine body language, you’ll keep both you and the pet safe at all times. The more time you spend studying dogs and working firsthand with them, the more proficient your skills will become.

Our number one responsibility to the pet and its owner is to always treat the pet with the utmost respect using humane handling practices.

Basic Body Language of the Pet

There are basic body positions that you need to recognize immediately when observing a pet. The eight basic positions have been illustrated for you below. Spend some time observing dogs so that you can instantly recognize these eight positions.

Non-Threatening Body Language:

  1. The Relaxed Stance
  2. Play Bow
  3. Submissive Body Position

These 3 indicate dogs that are safe to approach in a calm, gentle manner. These dogs are generally easy to work with and respond well to basic commands. Normally, an enthusiastic dog will need a little firmer command while a submissive dog will respond better to gentler techniques.

Use Caution When Approaching Body Language:

  1. Highly Submissive Postures
  2. Stressed Posture
  3. Alert Body Posture
  4. Defensive Body Position
  5. Offensive Body Position

 

These positions indicate you need to approach with caution. Based on how you interact with them, they may feel comfortable and slip into a nonthreatening language. If they do that, it indicates they are safe to approach.

If they feel threatened in any way, they can easily slip into the flight or fight mode. This is their natural defense. If you have them tethered with a lead and not under control, this flip of personality could easily manifest into a very difficult situation. This is a pet that could attack, bite, urinate, defecate, or release its anal glands.

Working with pets is a highly rewarding career option. However, if you don’t truly understand canine body language, passion can quickly turn into frustration. Use your passion early in your career to learn everything you can about their body language. It’s an invaluable skill to have.

Happy trimming!

Melissa

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Bubble Baths and the Holiday Grooming Rush?

If you have a reasonably busy salon and have been at this for a few years, you know the holidays mean crunch time. You’ll be grooming most of your regular clients in days instead of weeks. Do you have control of your schedule?

main image tubYou may find yourself racing to juggle the demands of your business and your family. Keeping your customers happy is crucial to the health of your salon, but not at the expense of those you love. Don’t let the insanity of the holiday season put a damper on your festive mood.

I learned the hard way. Grooming super long hours up to 14 days straight before Christmas left me totally exhausted and spent. I was definitely a Scrooge throughout the entire holiday season. I knew I had to make a change when one Christmas I literally slept through the entire day.

Here are a few ideas from myself and my team of seasoned grooming pros to help you make the most of the holiday rush.

Be Prepared with Dispensable Products

Make sure all your supplies are stocked up and organized. The last thing you want is to run out of anything! Here is a shopping list to help you.

blog list

Walk around your salon well ahead of the rush. Open doors, look in cabinets, and check drawers. You want to have everything stocked up and at your fingertips. There’s nothing better than doing a thorough walk-through and making a list of supplies you need.

Stick to Your Schedule

Plan out your days. Just prior to a major holiday, the demands on your schedule can quickly spiral out of control. Do you want to work your normal schedule or add on a few hours here or there? Some professionals add work days to their week to accommodate clients. The choice is yours. Whatever you decide, make sure your best clients are pre-scheduled in premier slots in your appointment book. Ideally, it’s best to do this well before the holiday season hits.

Know your limitations. Know what your obligations are to your clients and family. Create a schedule that works for you – and then stick to it. It’s okay to say no.

Quote In A CircleFood Is Your Fuel

As tempting as it may be, surviving the holiday rush on the wonderful food gifts your clients bring is not the best option! Early in my career, I learned the hard way that cookies, candies, nuts, and other holiday treats can’t help you operate at peak performance.

Eat. Real. Food. If it comes from a window at a drive-through, it does not qualify as real food, in my book. Equally important, attempt to bypass any processed foods.

Prepare. Shop the perimeter of your grocery store. Focus on fresh foods. Take a day to prepare large batches of healthy food. Then pre-package it in individual servings. Freeze anything you can.

Cook ahead of time. Never tried batch cooking before? There are plenty of ideas on Pinterest and YouTube. Or simply double or triple your favorite recipes. Personally, my attitude is if I’m going to cook, I’m going to fill the grill, load up the oven or pull out my largest pot. It doesn’t take much more time to double or triple a recipe once you get started.

Make good choices. Whatever you choose, make sure it’s fast and easy to eat. Juices and smoothies are great on-the-go items. Hard-boiled eggs are economical and easy. Sliced fruits, veggies, and lean proteins keep energy levels high. Drink plenty of water.

Know your options. If you don’t want to do the cooking yourself, stock up on menus from your favorite restaurants and choose healthier items that help you maintain a consistent energy flow throughout the day.

Train Your Clients

Some days you have time to visit with your clients. However, the holiday season is not one of them. Train them to respect your time – even if you are mobile. It’s your responsibility to make sure every pet gets your full attention and it’ll be hard to do that if you’re running behind all day.

There are ways to tactfully and politely remind them you have an extremely busy schedule. A big smile and a genuine thank you can go a long way when you need to keep moving.

holiday-stressTake Time to Breathe

The holidays are a special time. Not just for your family, friends, and your clients – but also for yourself. It’s important to reserve quality time for every part of your life.

Having grooming systems firmly in place allows you to be highly efficient. The more seasoned you are, the more likely you have mastered this technique. It comes in handy when your time is limited.

Essential oils can use helpful to energize yourself or slow yourself down. Some brands come up with blends or you can make your own. They can be diffused in the air, inhaled directly from their bottles, or added to bath water. Many oils can be applied directly to the skin.

Common oils for relaxation would be lavender, lemon, ylang-ylang, geranium, and frankincense. A few essential oils used to increase energy are peppermint, white fur, lemon, and basil. Many of the citrus based oils have the ability to uplift and de-stress.

Carve out a little special time for yourself. Maybe it’s a soothing bubble bath at the end of a long day. Some people love massages or manicures. Others enjoy sitting down for a few quiet minutes to decompress with a beverage of choice.

The holiday season can be magical – even if it is one of your busiest times. The best way to ward off being a Scrooge is to do some planning. Think about the upcoming weeks leading to the new year. Take control. Put pen to paper and plan your schedule. Know where the crunch times are and when you have a window of space.

A little bit of thought and planning can go a long way to make the holiday season both financially rewarding, personally enjoyable, and filled with blessings and gratitude.

Happy trimming!

Melissa

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Are You Taking Care of Your Best Customers?

CSRIt’s hard to believe, but the major holidays are just around the corner. What does your appointment book look like? Are you booked out until after the holidays?

If you are, CONGRATULATIONS!  Give yourself a huge pat on the back. Being proactive with your schedule feels great, doesn’t it?

If you’re still trying to fill holes in your schedule, there’s a question I’d like to ask.

Do you know who your most valuable clients are? Whether you are a solo flyer or work with a team, you can benefit from knowing what type of client brings in the most revenue.

When it comes to the busy holiday season, knowing how to prioritize appointments can be very helpful. As much as we would like to get to every client, there are only so many hours in a day. It can be hard to decide who gets appointments and who gets turned away.

This chart might help you determine who your most valuable clients are. Typically, it’s not the client paying the most money per groom.

tableLook at the revenue generation on the one, two, and three-week clients. Even with heavily reduced grooming fees, it’s amazing how $20 can add up week after week!

I’m not saying this is what you should be charging for your dogs. I’m just giving you an example. You can see how the numbers works out. Test the numbers using your own pricing averages.

Quote In A CircleOne of my companies automatically gives a five-dollar discount for clients that book every 4 to 6 weeks. Once they get under three weeks, the discount is even bigger. This is great for keeping the books full – and the dogs stay in good condition all year long.

It’s pretty amazing once you see the math, right? Hopefully, it gives you clarity on who should get those premier appointments spots.

Let me ask you this: is it fair to either the client – or to you – to take an eight-week client over someone you see every four weeks? What about a four-week client over a weekly client? Ultimately, the choice is yours, but I know who I’d pick!

When booking appointments, start with the clients you see most often. Reward their loyalty with the best appointment slots.

Take care of your weekly and biweekly clients first. Then move into your three-week clients. If they don’t have appointments, reach out to them in whatever method works best for your business – call, text, or email. With any luck, the last two appointment days before the major holiday(s) will filled with your regulars. Those days will be a breeze for you.

Once those clients are taken care of, start booking your four-week clients and continue down the line. By the time you’re done, you’ll know you’ve taken care of your most valuable clients in a way that is both systematic and fair. If you still have slots available, go ahead and fill them in as the phone rings.

If you are using this system to book six month to a year out, make sure you communicate with your clients. They should know when you’re unavailable due to vacations, family obligations, educational events, or peak grooming times. Helpfully offer them alternatives so their pets stay in excellent condition. You may need to be more flexible on times or even offer to have a substitute stylist when you are not available.

The holidays are always a blur! If you’re overworked, underappreciated, and totally worn out for your close friends and family you won’t enjoy the holidays. You need to make the time for yourself and those you love. I can still hear the disappointment in my mother’s voice when I was so exhausted from grooming, I could not make it to our traditional Christmas Eve family gathering.

This prioritizing system helped immensely. Being a little more organized and proactive meant I could take care of my best clients and still have the energy to enjoy the holidays with my family.

Don’t limit yourself – you can use the system to fill your books all year round. Ultimately, it depends on how in demand you are and how busy your schedule is.

Whatever way you implement the system, it’s a great way to take care of your best customers. Take care of them and they’ll take care of you. Most importantly, you’ll both be taking the best care of the pets you love.

Happy trimming!

Melissa

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Challenging Dogs on the Grooming Table

Blog ImageWhen I first started working with dogs, I worked with a groomer who didn’t have a lot of patience with them. Dogs danced. They panted and drooled. They sat down – a lot. They growled, pulled, snapped, and bit. The groomer was constantly struggling. It did not take long before I began to think most dogs were naughty on the grooming table.

Eventually, the groomer moved on and I got a promotion. I went from being a kennel worker to grooming. It was not an advancement I was looking forward to.

I came from a horse background. The better I understood the behavior and psychology of horses, the stronger horsewoman I became. The horses I worked with became my partners. We were a team. When you’re dealing with large animals, that’s exactly what you want.

I quickly applied this concept to the dogs I was working with every day. Sure, I had to learn the haircuts. More importantly, I had to learn how to win their trust and cooperation. I needed to get inside the mind of a dog.

This idea was confirmed when I went to a large dog show in Chicago. I was working on learning how to identify breeds and learn their haircuts. There was a special bonus about attending the show. Barbara Woodhouse, a world-renowned UK dog trainer, was there. She was going to be working with some difficult dogs. It was one of her specialties.

I remember sitting in the audience looking down onto the floor of the auditorium. She was working with an Afghan Hound in full coat. She had a light show lead on the dog but the dog would not walk. It had to be carried to the center of the arena. When the dog was set down, it curled up in a small ball, trying to become invisible. It was clearly terrified.

Barbara Woodhouse approached the dog with confidence. She bent over the dog and soothed it with long methodical strokes to its head and ears while speaking in a very calming sing-song type voice. Even from a distance, I could see the dog starting to relax.

Within moments, she coaxed the dog into a standing position. However, it was evident the dog was still very scared.

Mrs. Woodhouse continued in her sing-song voice, explaining what she was doing while giving reassurance to the dog. She gently and methodically moved her hands over the dog’s body. The Afghan was slowly starting to relax. It’s topline leveled out. Its head started to come up. As she got towards the rear of the dog, she let her hand slide to the inside of the thigh and gently stroked the inside of the leg.

Quote In A CircleThe dog gave a yawn and then a shake. She softly praised the behavior. The dog’s tail came up as it looked to Mrs. Woodhouse for direction. With that, she asked the dog to move forward. It did. Within moments she had the dog fully gaiting on a show lead around the arena. It was amazing.

I will never forget how she was able to gently and confidently work the dog out of its fear in just minutes.

I thought to myself, if Barbara Woodhouse could have such a quick and positive effect on this dog, I needed to learn how to have the same effect.

When I first started grooming, many dogs coming into the salon lacked confidence. They were uncooperative. They struggled. I needed to win their trust. Watching Barbara Woodhouse taught me handling was a learnable skill I needed to master.

I became fascinated with dog behavior, psychology, canine body language, and natural dog training. I read training books by Barbara Woodhouse and Carol Lea Benjamin. I studied canine behavior and psychology. I spent hours watching dogs naturally interact with one another and with humans. I thoroughly enjoyed learning how to use Tellington TTouch® develop by Linda Tellington-Jones. TTouch influences animals in a way that develops trust, and helps forms a harmonious bond between the pet and the person. It can also have a positive effect toward changing unwanted behavior.

Before long, I had very few difficult dogs to work with. Dogs who had been challenging to handle were becoming calm and cooperative. As I gained more experience, it took only moments to gain the trust and respect of my four-legged clients.

Here are a 15 of my favorite handling thoughts and practices:

  1. Dogs are hardwired to think like dogs.
  2. Dogs live in the present.
  3. Dog take their clues from their handler, so set limitations, rules, and boundaries immediately.
  4. The canine species is a pack animal – dogs need to accept and respect us as the pack leader.
  5. The word NO is one of the most overused words in the dog’s home environment – use a different sound or word to indicate undesirable behavior.
  6. Never work on a pet you feel is dangerous to itself or to you.
  7. Always maintain the 3 C’s: Calm – Cool – Collected.
  8. Dogs are silent communicators and are highly responsive to your energy.
  9. Never take an unfamiliar pet directly from the owner’s arms.
  10. Always maintain some form of physical control – properly adjusted leads or safety loops.
  11. Be a life-long learner of canine psychology and body language.
  12. Not all pets are candidates for all professional grooming settings.
  13. Humanity always comes before vanity.
  14. If the eyes glow red or green – don’t groom the dog.
  15. Your hands are your livelihood – always protect them.

Personal self-confidence stems from education and experience. Continue to learn new ways to communicate with the pets you handle. The more self-confidence you have, the more successfully you will work with animals.

Never put a dog in danger. Always use respectful but effective handling methods. Do not let your emotions get the best of you. Don’t let frustration get in the way.

Always know how your equipment performs and what can happen if you do not use it properly. You need to establish yourself as a pack leader but never at the expense of the dog.

For most of us, grooming dogs is a dream come true. However, every job has its challenges, including grooming. Not every dog loves the grooming process. Most dogs, when skillfully handled with respect, can be groomed with minimal stress to both the pet and the groomer.

Pick trainers you admire and follow them. Study the natural body language of dogs. Learn as much as you can about canine behavior and psychology.

The better you can communicate with the pet you’re working on, the less stressful your job is going to be. Most people who have been in the business for a long time have mastered the art of canine (and/or feline) communications. It doesn’t matter whether they are working on a regular client or one they only see a few times a year. Rarely do they have difficult or naughty dogs on the grooming table.

It does not mean experienced groomers don’t get challenging pets. They do. They just have the skills to handle that pet more effectively than someone with fewer handling skills. If they have a consistently full appointment book, they have the option to make choices in their clientele. Whether they continue to work with a difficult pet or refuse it in the future is totally theirs.

Experienced pet stylists set the rules, limitations, and boundaries automatically – many times without ever saying a word. Even if they do have issues, they know how to effectively deal with problem pets in a safe and gentle manner. Do you know their secrets?

Happy trimming!

Melissa

MVpaw_no_Inner_whiteWhat are your favorite books or educational resources when it comes to learning dog (or cat) behavior, psychology, body language and dog training? Jump on the Learn2GroomDogs.com Facebook page and tell us.