Properly grooming your assistance dog isn’t just a matter of cosmetics. It helps her look and feel her best; it promotes bonding; it can lead to detection of injuries or lumps, bumps, and other physical changes that may alert you to a health concern; and keeping her clean and tidy is a responsibility that comes with the right to take her into any public place.
Everyone has different levels of ability and comfort when it comes to the basic tasks involved in grooming a dog. Some tasks are easier (and less potentially dangerous to the dog) than others, but even a simple brushing varies depending on the length and type of coat, whether there are tangles or mats, and other factors. Then there are disability-related limitations. Plus, there’s cooperation—or lack thereof—on the dog’s part. Those of us with service dogs are lucky to have such highly trained, well-behaved, easygoing animals, but it doesn’t always mean they’re big fans of all grooming procedures.
The point is, you’re probably going to need the services of a professional pet groomer on occasion, if not more often. We place the well-being of our assistance dogs—part of our family and precious, life-changing blessings—in a groomer’s hands. So it’s important we choose the best ones available to us.
Start with Some Recommendations
If you have local friends, family, or neighbors with dogs, ask them which professional pet groomers they use. Otherwise, your veterinarian, pet store workers, or area shelters will have recommendations. If you can get a few thumbs-ups for the same service provider, that’s definitely reassuring.
If you’re considering pet groomers that haven’t been recommended to you, ask the groomer to provide a few references from current clients.
Do Your Research
While pet grooming salons usually have to maintain some licenses, there’s no official training or licensing requirements for the groomers themselves—which basically means anyone can buy a brush and nail clippers and start a pet grooming business. Google the business name, check online user reviews, and look for complaints through the Better Business Bureau.
Some groomers are certified through a school or training program, which is a positive, provided the certifying institution is a legitimate one; that said, lack of such certification, which is not standardized or available everywhere, is not necessarily a red flag.
Membership in the leading industry trade group, the National Dog Groomer’s Association of America, is also a plus. The organization does offer some training and certifications. Many states have their own trade organizations as well.
Evaluate the Establishment
Visit any professional grooming facility you’re considering for your service dog. Look around and talk to the staff to answer these questions:
- Does it appear clean and sanitary?
- Is it well lit?
- Does it smell bad?
- Have they been in business long?
- What training do the groomers have?
- Are the animals happy? Or at least not obviously stressed?
- Are animals in appropriately sized, clean cages?
- Does the staff seem knowledgeable?
- Are the animals handled lovingly?
- How do they handle uncooperative dogs (you don’t want to hear hints of aggression or punishment in the answer)?
- Are cats and dogs kept apart?
- Do they use sedation (this is widespread but generally not recommended unless done with oversight from a prescribing veterinarian)?
- Are the animals carefully watched during blow drying?
- Does the groomer keep pets’ health records and special information?
- Does the groomer proactively ask tailored questions about your assistance dog?
- Do they have experience with your dog’s breed?
Go with Your Gut
Usually, our instincts are pretty good. If the people and place seem caring and enthusiastic about working with animals, it’s more likely you’ve found a trustworthy professional pet groomer. If, on the other hand, the people or the place give you a bad vibe, there’s probably a reason for it, even if you can’t put your finger on it; keep looking.
Ideally, you and your assistance dog will have a happy long-term relationship with your professional pet groomer. Service gets easier over time as your dog becomes more accustomed to grooming procedures, the people performing them, and the location where it all happens. A trusted groomer is an invaluable resource for all sorts of issues and information over the years.