Finding the Perfect Dog Groomer for Your Dog

A person is finding a dog groomer to comb a dog with a comb.

Most dogs can benefit from a professional grooming, but that doesn’t mean our furries love the experience. Some have so much anxiety about being groomed that they turn into tiny terrors and make it hard for a professional to do a good job.

“A dog that’s easy to groom not only makes my job as a groomer much easier, but is far less stressful for your dog, and that typically means a less expensive groom for you,” says Katlin Primrose, certified advanced professional groomer and owner of Primpaws Pet Grooming in Calgary, Alberta.

To make the experience a lot better for everyone involved, dog parents should start working with their furries before bringing them in to a profession groomer, says Primrose. It’s even possible that your dog will learn to enjoy a little pampering. Seriously.

Related: Everything You Need to Know When It Comes to Choosing a Dog Groomer

To help, here are some tips to prepare your pup for a day at the spa.

Before You Go to a Professional Groomer

While you may be grooming your dog at home in between professional groomers, what happens in home grooming is very different from what your dog will experience in a grooming salon.

“Grooming salons can be a scary place for a young dog; it’s often noisy, busy and your pup is being handled quite differently than they are used to,” says Primrose. To help your dog get used to the routine, she suggests practicing at home.

“Massage their paws between your fingers and gently rub near the corners of their eyes,” she suggests. One of the biggest issues at groomers is dogs reacting to the sound of the clippers. “Use a vibrating cell phone or toothbrush up and down their body to mimic hair clippers. Give plenty of praise and treats during the entire session.”

The other issue that dogs react to is the background noise in a typical grooming salon. Primrose suggests putting on music or TV in the background. “This teaches them to enjoy the sights, sounds and feelings they may experience during a groom,” she says.

If you can, give your dog baths at home; you can even use a hair dryer (at a cool temperature), which will get her used to the sound. There are also hair dryers especially for grooming your dog at home.

Brushing and combing your dog on a regular schedule will not only make a professional grooming easier, but it will acclimate your dog to the grooming tools — as long as you know how to do use them without hurting your dog. If the hair is tangled, try holding the hair at the base so you don’t pull on the skin. However, if your dog is very matted, don’t try to fix this at home — extremely matted dogs often need to be shaved down to the skin, so it’s crucial that you never let your dog get to this point.

Related: Need to Give Your Dog a Bath or Good Brush? Here’s How to Not Make It a Complete Disaster.

Find the Right Grooming Salon

Before you make an appointment with a groomer, visit the salon.

Look around and ask these questions:

  • Is the facility clean and well kept?
  • Does the facility have a good reputation?
  • Is there good ventilation?
  • Does it smell clean? You can expect it to smell like dogs, but it shouldn’t smell strongly of poop, pee or anything nasty.
  • How do they keep the place sanitary?
  • Are the staff welcoming and willing to answer your questions?
  • Are the dogs that are being groomed handled carefully and gently?
  • How do they handle shy, scared and aggressive dogs?
  • If the dogs are kept in cages when they’re not being groomed, do they have access to fresh water?
  • Where is the dog being groomed? If behind closed doors, that could be a red flag.
  • Do they use drying cages? These can be dangerous, as having hot air blown on a dog can cause pain and suffering.  If they use drying cages, it is important to ask how they use them and at what temperature the blower is set at.

Other things to consider are the general environment and the attitude of the dogs walking out of the shop after grooming. Watch the dogs that are leaving after their appointments? Do they seem confident and ready to go? Or do they seem fearful?

It’s a good idea to talk to other dog owners who use that salon about their experience. For example, has their dog ever been cut or nicked? If so, how did the salon deal with it? Did they tell you upfront, or did you have to find out when your dog started licking the wound?

“Be diligent in your inspection to ensure your dog will receive proper care,” counsels Primrose.

Finding the Right Groomer

“Finding the right groomer can sometimes be a long process: You may have to play matchmaker to find the right one,” says Primrose.

Dog West Highland White Terrier Grooming

If you see a dog that’s the same breed or similar appearance on the street with a beautiful haircut, see if you can talk to the owner about the dog’s groomer. Certain cuts are harder to do than others, such as the breed-specific haircuts established by the American Kennel Club. If that’s the look you want, finding a groomer with experience in that specific cut is essential.

Before making an appointment, talk to the groomer. Ask about their credentials: Have they been to a grooming school? Did they apprentice with a master groomer? And how long have they been working as a dog groomer?

Ask if the groomer has received certification. While most states don’t require dog groomers to be licensed and/or certified, certification means that the groomer has completed a professional dog grooming certification course. This course teaches subjects like dog anatomy, breeds and temperament, how to groom different types of dog coats, dog behavior, equipment, specific cuts and other useful information.

Regardless of credentials, find out whether the groomer consistently produces good cuts with expert handling by asking if she or he can provide references. Arrange a time to speak to the groomer when they are free (meaning not in the middle of blow drying a dog) and ask specific questions about their experience with grooming your dog’s breed or type. 

Look for a groomer who is patient and caring. Dogs aren’t always cooperative with the grooming process; you need a professional who knows how to handle a distraught or anxious dog without hurting the dog or causing more stress.

Once you find a groomer that does excellent work and treats your dog like her own, become a loyal customer. “What will help immensely is having a regular groomer that knows your dog,” says Primrose. “The groomer will be able to address your dog’s specific needs, and your dog will quickly become friends with the groomer.”

Always trust your instincts about a particular groomer. If you don’t feel confident leaving your dog in his or her hands, find another groomer.

Before the Grooming Appointment

In between grooming appointments, brush your dog’s coat regularly — even if you have a short-haired breed. Brushing will remove dirt and debris and help cut down on tangles in long haired dogs. Taking care of your dog’s coat at home will also allow you to check their body for lumps, rashes or parasites like ticks.

On the day of the appointment, walk your dog thoroughly first. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had my client’s dogs do their ‘business’ in my tub, kennel or on my table,” says Primrose. “More often than not, your dog will need an additional bath, which could cause the charge of your groom to go up.”

When you drop your dog off for grooming, try to be calm and upbeat. Your dog will pick up any anxiety or stress on your part, and become more anxious. And if your dog is agitated, don’t worry. Most dogs don’t love being at the grooming salon. After you hand off your dog, it’s time to go. Often, when an owner sticks around, it’s harder for a dog to settle down.

Dog West Highland White Terrier Grooming

Ask the salon to call you if there are any problems and when your dog is almost ready so you don’t show up early. You don’t want your dog to be jumping around when the groomer is trying to finish up.

When the groomer brings your dog out, listen to what he or she says. They have become familiar with every inch of your dog’s body. If they voice a concern, it’s a good idea to listen. Finally, a great groomer who truly cares for your dog is priceless; tip well!

Related: Here’s What to Do If You Have a Smelly Dog

By Jillian Blume

Jillian Blume is a New York City–based writer whose feature articles have appeared in magazines, newspapers, and websites including the New York Observer, Marie Claire, Self, City Realty, the ASPCA,, Best Friends Animal Society, The Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals, The Pet Gazette, and many others.

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