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How to Deal with the Difficult Owner of a Difficult Pet at Your Grooming Salon

Education proves key to keeping everyone safe and satisfied.

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IN THE NEARLY 40 years I have owned and managed my grooming salon, I have come across every type of difficult dog. Dealing with the owner can sometimes be just as challenging. I have found, though, that educating the client helps tremendously, as they likely do not realize what must be done to safely handle and groom a difficult pet.

During the client interview, after learning the breed of dog, the desired groom and if the pet needs special care, I let the owner know the base price but explain that the fee may be higher if behavior becomes an issue. They must understand that we would need to take precautions, including taking more time and allowing the dog more space.

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Clients want the best for their pet, and once educated are often less inclined to push back about a higher cost for grooming their difficult dog.

If the owner needs further education on what it takes to safely handle their pet, I allow them to watch. This also helps them understand why a groom may not be what they expect. For example, an older, senile dog who can no longer stand still and tries to bite when I trim their face won’t be done as well as when they were younger and more cooperative. I can certainly use tools such as a muzzle, harness or neck brace to keep the pet and myself safe, but they can also be a hindrance. And sometimes restraining a pet stresses them out further.

Allowing the client to watch in person or via video helps them realize the difficulties involved.

Finally, if educating the owner does not result in managed expectations or if the dog cannot be safely groomed, I know to say “no.” Groomers often feel they need to groom every pet, but we must understand that it is not always possible.

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Aggressive dogs can put a groomer out of work indefinitely. I had a client with an Old English Sheepdog who was unpredictably vicious. The owner did not understand why my team was hesitant and felt we should continue.

It is difficult to tell a client, especially a long-time one, that you cannot groom a beloved pet, but sometimes it is necessary. Explaining in an honest and calm manner may help. If an owner is unreasonable and confrontational, send a letter stating you can no longer schedule appointments and work with their dog due to a given list of reasons. Refer them to a veterinarian who can sedate then groom, the best option for all involved.

Diane Betelak, NCMG, has owned Heads and Tails Professional Dog Grooming, Inc. in Liverpool, NY, since 1982. She groomed competitively in the U.S. and abroad and has numerous "Best in Shows" and "Best All-Around Groomer" wins and placings in prestigious competitions. In 1996, Diane qualified for the GroomTeam USA traveling team and went to Milan, Italy, where she won "Best in Show" with her Standard Poodle, helping the team clinch the gold medal. In addition, she has judged all major grooming shows throughout the United States and Canada, and is a certifier for N.D.G.A.A. In 1997, she was the recipient of the Cardinal Crystal Award for American Groomer of the Year, and in 2011 was named its Grooming Competition Judge of the Year. Although now retired from competitive grooming, Diane remains active as a grooming educator for Andis Company where she teaches the finer points of grooming across North America. Diane has also been showing championship Standard Poodles in confirmation and obedience since 1987, winning multiple titles. She is now actively competing in agility with her current poodles, Sid and Rickie Boa.

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