By Linda Kirkland
I entered the dog world as a reporter – I was fascinated by the amount of time and attention people spent on dog fashion and trends. Personally, I always cooed when I saw the perfect AKC hairstyle designed for each breed. I joined Yorkie 911 Rescue as a volunteer and became involved in animal rescue, animal advocacy and fundraising
This put me in a rather unique position between animal fashion and animal rights – the two don’t always coincide, and I decided to focus on that disconnect. And it was this focus that led me to learn more about, and eventually pursue a position in, dog grooming.
Grooming a dog is a great responsibility. It is dependent on the dog’s life stage. It’s an intricate part of animal care, and the groomer carries a great responsibility.
Well, for one, Laverne Campbell. I had the good fortune to meet Laverne at an international grooming event – she has been a teacher for more than 30 years and plans to publish a grooming textbook. Her passion is to share her standardized approach to a pet’s health, beauty and overall well-being – none of these elements should be sacrificed in favor of another.
Laverne agreed to allow me to study under her on a one to one basis, and my plan is to share her insights with as many dog owners as possible.
Laverne’s grooming facility is at 77 Worth Street in Manhattan at Downtown Grooming by Laverne – 212.285.4900 (The Waggingtail http://www.thewaggingtail.com). I’m there five days each week. It is a cooperative of professionals that offers an integrated, holistic approach to animal wellness, including rehabilitation, physical therapy, vet services (Worth Street Veterinary Center http://www.worthstreetvet.com), (DapperDogTraining http://www.dapperdogtrainig.com), agility training, even bereavement counseling for families that have lost their pets. (Animal Bereavement http://www.aprillang.com)
I arrived thinking it was all about the haircut. There is so much more. Initially, I was limited to the bath. Simple, right? Well, I learned that there are an unlimited amount of skin disorders that can plague a dog through its life, and an experienced groomer needs to have the knowledge to identify, diagnose and treat each effectively. Pictured is Ruby who suffers from a skin disorder. Laverne discovered a natural remedy, which killed the parasites and allowed Ruby’s hair to grow back
Also, each dog’s coat is different, and the groomer must be experienced with each type of coat to assure the best results. Since I’ve been working with Laverne, I have been trained to assess the dog’s condition and report back to the owner exactly what needs to be done – and in many cases, it’s a complete surprise to the owner that there’s anything amiss.
There’s also a whole new litany of terms to remember. I learned about the technique of de-shedding (which is when you remove excessive undercoat to maintain healthy skin and relieve the nasty hairs that accumulate on you furniture and clothes) courtesy of a Bernese mountain dog that weighed almost twice as much as I did. The same dog also decided to give me a lesson in who was to be the alpha dog – he dragged me out of the grooming room and almost got me to the elevator before Laverne intervened.
Laverne has since taught me how to handle a dog with a combination of respect, composure, and assertiveness, so that there have been no repeat performances. The key is to develop a relationship in which the dog feels safe and is willing to be compliant – as the dog whisperer so famously says, “there are no bad dogs only bad dog handlers.” And understand that Alpha dogs come in all sizes, from “mini” like a Yorkie or “jumbo” like my mountain dog.
And once you’re past the behavior and handling issues, there’s the technology of grooming. There is any number of methods and tools to care for and style a dog’s coat, and the assortment of scissors, blades, comb, brushes and other implements are truly mind-boggling. However, a professional groomer must understand and be comfortable with every one, or literally risk putting a dog through pain or discomfort for hours. Laverne’s objective is to provide the utmost care in providing a stress-free environment for the dog so that he is not, traumatized – the worst outcome is fear of the grooming experience. “You must know what to do, and do it with skill and ease. The dog knows.”
And that’s where I want to leave you. It is all about the dog, and about finding a qualified and appropriate groomer.
We all want our dogs to look great, and want to be sure they are in caring, responsible hands. Any groomer you consider should be knowledgeable about appropriate breed standards, but just as importantly, be kind, compassionate and understanding. As Laverne puts it, “All too often a person is made to feel embarrassed or guilty because their dog may have a disability, or is shy or aggressive. Don’t accept this.”
And don’t hesitate to ask questions. Ask the groomer how many dogs he or she styles each day. Ask to see the facility. Watch to see how the dogs are treated. Stand outside and watch who goes in, who comes out, and check their attitudes. It’s an important part of a dog’s life, and it’s worth taking the time to investigate.