Foxy Fido – Q & A with Kim Gallagher, owner of Unleashed Pet Spa

My Cairn terrier looks her best after a trip to the groomer; her coat is clean, neat and shiny, her eyes are free of sight-obstructing overgrown hair, and with clipped nails she has a jauntier walk. As much as she enjoys rolling in anything smelly, she actually seems to be in especially good spirits when she’s well-groomed. All dogs, even short-haired dogs with smooth coats need some grooming, and I sat down with Kim Gallagher, owner of Unleashed Pet Spa in the East Village to go over some of the ins and outs of dog care. Unleashed Spa is a great place to see grooming first hand since the groomers work behind clear sliding doors in full view of the spa boutique. Unleashed also offers accommodations for self-service bathing and grooming with everything provided to get Fido clean and dry.

Q: How often should a dog be bathed?
A: Every 6-8 weeks. You don’t want to do it too often because the skin could dry out.

Q: Any tips for making a bath a positive experience?
A: The best advice I can give is for you to be calm. If the dog’s feels you’re anxious then he will too.

Q: What are the best products to use? Shampoo? Conditioner?
A: The pH balance in dog shampoos is different than what’s used for people so it’s good to use a product made for dogs. Most dogs don’t need conditioner. I would recommend using conditioner on a dog’s coat if they have a mat, and you’re trying to get it out. While the dog’s wet, you soak the mat with conditioner, and comb it out with the conditioner in the hair.

Q: Can a regular hair dryer be used to dry the dog?
A: It can be. I recommend first brushing the dog out to remove knots. If he has knots when you dry his hair, as the hair dries, the knots shrink and matting can result. You can use either the warm or cool setting on the dryer, and comb or brush the hair as you dry. A slicker brush is good on most dogs.

Q: At the groomer’s what’s the difference between cage drying and table drying?
A: If a dog could speak, he would request the cage dryer which is slower and quieter and done at room temperature or low heat. We have several types of dryers; there’s a stand up dryer that’s really good for styling a dog,and a forced air dryer which is quickest, safest and room temperature but can cause the most anxiety for a dog since it looks like a snake, makes noise, and we’re shaking it around.

Q: How should a dog’s coat be cared for on a weekly basis?
A: Brush it and comb it. The frequency depends on the dog’s coat and the length. The point is to keep the coat free of any knots because little knots can become a big mat.

Q: How often do most dogs need a haircut?
A: It can be every 6-8 weeks when the dog is bathed, but it the owner’s prerogative. If it bothers you when you see bits of hair growing in front of the eyes, then it’s time to come in for a haircut. You definitely want to do it before a dog gets matted or can’t see.

Q: Do some people just come in for the trim around the eyes and the sanitary trim?
A: Yes, some people request just those to keep their dogs neat.

Q: What kinds of dogs can be handstripped and how is that better/worse than regular haircuts?
A: Handstripping is done sometimes on terriers, dogs with a wiry outer coat but mostly that’s done for show dogs. Some people prefer it, but it’s a very laborious process. We do it here, it’s much more expensive than regular grooming but most of the time it’s done less often than regular grooming. You pull hair out of the dog by hand to maintain the wiry, coarse topcoat. The undercoat is softer and a different color than the top, and the standard for show dogs is to maintain the texture and original color of the outer coat.

Q: How do you determine the right shape for a dog’s haircut?
A: Groomers are trained in school to know the standard cuts but there are also books to refer to. We ask the owner’s what they prefer, not everyone likes the standard cut, for instance, it may be more convenient for them to keep their dog’s coat shorter or they have a different vision. For instance, with Schnauzers a lot of people want a so-called puppy cut, and that usually means one length from head to tail, it might be really short or longer.

Q: Do you use scissors or a clipper and how does that affect the look?
A: We use clippers but always finish with scissors to get a neat, finished look.

Q: How often should the nails be trimmed?
A: If you hear the nails clicking on the floor, it’s time. Some dogs never need their nails cut because they’re ground down from walking on the cement sidewalks. Some dogs’ nails are long but also have a long quick, and in that case, we recommend shaving the nails once a week to get the quick back.

Q: Does trimming regularly affect the length of the quick?
A: Yes, it can. Some dogs have longer quicks than others. Even shaving the nails a little bit can make the quick go back.

Q: What type of tool is best to use when trimming a dog’s nails?
A: Here we use the clippers that look like little pliers. I’ve heard negative feedback about dremels for consumer use. The dremel we have here is high-powered and for professional use, but you have to know how to use it because you can hurt a dog with a dremel if you don’t.

I use a Pet Nail Clipper made by Millers Forge which has a safety lock and safety bar feature that keeps the nail at a safe cutting length.

Q: Is it really necessary to brush a dog’s teeth?
A: You absolutely should be brushing your dog’s teeth at least once a week. We do it here using a doggy toothbrush and doggy toothpaste. If you start when your dog’s a puppy, it will be easier as they get older, but it’s something you have to be very firm about. There are some tricks. Even if you can only get on the outside by lifting their lip, and get the toothbrush in there that way, it’s better than nothing. To let them win that war is not good. I’ve seen something scary stuff in dog’s mouths. Certain dental chews may help, but when getting a dog consider that as part of their routine from puppyhood until they grow old.

Q: What is the biggest communication disconnect that can come up between a dog owner and a groomer?
A: It’s what the vision is of the haircut, and that’s a priority here. When a client comes in, the groomer stops what they’re doing to come out and they have a meeting about the dog every single time they come because if you say you want a puppy cut or just a little bit taken off that might mean one thing to you and something different to another person. Part of our job and responsibility is to find out, for instance, what a trim means to you – whether’s that’s 1/2 “ or 1/4”.

Q: What is the biggest challenge when grooming dogs? Are most dogs calm during the process and what do you do for the dogs that aren’t?
A: Aggressive behavior. Usually what we’ll do depending on the severity of the aggressiveness is if a dog is very aggressive and might be dangerous, we’ll tell the owner that unfortunately they need to go to a vet, but generally we have different types of muzzles that allow the dog to breathe easily, and we put one on and do what we can to keep him calm.

Q: What can a dog owner do to prepare their dog for the groomer?
A: When your dog is a puppy play with your dog’s ears and feet so they can get used to being handled.

Q: What options are there for adding extra flair to a dog’s look?
A: We put scarves around the neck so generally for a holiday the bandanas match the holiday. We can do stencil dyeing, or dye the tip of the tail or the ears.

Getting your canine cutie accustomed to regular grooming is good for your dog’s health and a great way to strengthen your bond.

For more information go to Unleashed Pet Spa online at and at:
Unleashed Spa
218 Avenue B between 13th-14th Streets
(212) 533-9300

Millers Forge Pet Nail Clippers available online at Amazon and at Petco

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