Dog Grooming FAQ: What to Look for in a Dog Groomer

WebMD veterinary expert answers commonly asked questions about finding the right dog groomer.

Medically Reviewed by Audrey Cook, BVM&S on July 06, 2009
6 min read

If the thought of wrestling Fido into the tub one more time makes your arms ache and your head hurt, it might be time to find a good dog groomer. But finding the right groomer can be as hard as finding the right hairdresser. Sure, we want our dogs to look fluffed and fabulous. But we also want to be sure they’re safe.

That’s why we asked Peggy Harris, certification coordinator for the National Dog Groomers Association of America and a 35-year pet salon owner, what pet owners should look for when choosing a pet groomer.

Q: Does any state license pet groomers?

A: No, but several states are writing bills that would require groomers to be licensed. Right now, though, people can just get a book, a pair of scissors, and a clipper and call themselves a pet groomer.

Q: What is the minimum amount of training a groomer should have before working on pets? Do most groomers also serve some type of internship?

A: Some people will start working on dogs with only a few hours of training. Other people, like people who go to a grooming school, can spend months in training. With no regulations, it’s really up to the person how much training he or she wants before starting to work on dogs.

Internships aren’t required. But most people who are really interested in getting into this business, who really want to make a career of it and not just have a job, usually do internships to get on-the-job training. And most conscientious groomers will start those people off as bathers. Many will bathe for a good year before they ever get their hands on clippers. They learn how to do all the fundamentals, the basic prep work, ear cleaning, nail clipping, proper bathing, and proper brushing. But there’s no set standard. That’s the problem.

Q: There are several professional grooming organizations out there, including yours. Do most groomers belong to at least one of them? Is that important?

A: Not all groomers belong to an organization. But I would look for one that does. That shows that they’re at least interested in getting the newsletters and keeping up with trends on styling, safety, health, and other issues.

The industry has evolved very quickly in the last 10 years. The people who don’t keep up are lost. They aren’t getting the benefit of all the advances that are discussed at shows and within professional organizations.

Q: What should I look for when I first enter a grooming shop?

A: Credentials. A master groomer, the certification program I supervise for the NDGA, means the groomer’s skills have been evaluated against a national standard. There are written and practical tests. A master groomer knows safety procedures, health and hygiene practices in the shop, how to handle pesticides, the anatomy of the dog, proper dog handling techniques, first aid. It’s so much more than just how to do a certain trim or cut.

Other things to look for include looking at the condition of the shop. Is it clean? Does it smell? Wear white shoes or socks when you go in. If fleas are there, they’ll jump around your ankles. There shouldn’t be fleas.

The shop should just generally look neat, clean, and professional. It should be a place where you’re comfortable leaving your pet.

Q: Most shops require that their clients be up to date on shots. Is that important?

A: Not all shops require this. It varies from shop to shop. I require rabies, which is required by law, and bordetella, which is like a cold for dogs. Dogs that are around a lot of other dogs should have a bordetella shot regularly.

But there’s a big controversy about vaccination protocols, even among the veterinary schools. Some schools are saying shots should be every three years now and not yearly. Some people do titers [blood tests to see if dogs have an immunity to a disease like parvo or distemper.] I don’t require yearly shots because I don’t give my own dogs yearly shots.

Q: How do groomers handle fearful or aggressive dogs?

A: You should talk to the groomer about a fearful or aggressive dog before you even take him in. Some groomers just won’t handle aggressive dogs, or there will only be one groomer in a shop that handles them.

And some fearful dogs are created by their owners. If you’re apprehensive about dropping your dog off, he’ll feel that and it will make him fearful. So try to make it a positive, upbeat experience when you come in with your dog.

Q: There have been reports of dogs dying in drying cages, where a hot dryer blows into a small cage. Are these dangerous to pets? Should I ask that my dog be hand-dried?

A: Drying cages are not dangerous, only untrained operators are dangerous. If used correctly, under close supervision, they’re fine. When you have problems is when people aren’t trained how to use the machines correctly. So they set them up for 85-90 degrees for 30 minutes and walk away. Well you can fry a dog in that amount of time at that temperature. When used, they should be set at 75-80 degrees, so it’s more like a warm, tropical breeze and not like a heat sauna.

And they should never be used with brachycephalic breeds [flat faced dogs, such as bulldogs and pugs]. That’s because most of them already have breathing problems. I wouldn’t use them with an elderly or a sick dog either. Normally the large drying cages are used for the bigger, heavy-coated breeds. But it all goes back to training. These people are just thrown into a grooming salon with no training and then dogs end up dying.

Q: Most groomers don’t want the owner to stay and watch. Why is that?

A: If momma is here the dog is going to act up. That puts the dog at risk of getting cut because they’re squirming around more, trying to get to their owner.

But it can be done. It just takes more time. It just depends on the groomer’s patience and what kind of shop it is.

Q: Most groomings include a bath and haircut, but what about other services? Is it OK for groomers to pluck ear hair or express anal glands, or is that better left to a veterinarian?

A: In certain states, it’s illegal for groomers to do anal glands. There are ways of doing external anal gland expressions. But you also have to know when they’re impacted and shouldn’t be pressed on. If a groomer doesn’t know how to tell when the anal glands are impacted, then the groomer shouldn’t be touching them at all.

Q: What do you think of spa treatments for dogs, like blueberry facials? Do they really do anything? Do dogs like them?

A: All of that stuff is to make money. I’ve never seen any of it do any good. Dogs don’t usually like stuff on their face. They try to lick or rub it off. It’s more to make people feel better than their dogs.

Q: How can I tell if my dog likes his groomer?

A: It depends on the dog. Some dogs are very tender skinned and are never going to like being brushed or groomed. So they’ll never seem happy with a groomer.

But some dogs don’t mind being groomed. If the dog drags you up the ramp and into the door, he’s happy. For many of these dogs, it’s a social time. Many of them are only pets that never see another dog, so they like coming here and seeing others of their own species.

But if you have any doubts about what’s happening to your dog, then find an open shop that will let you stay and watch. They can be harder to find, but they’re out there.