The Washington Post
Sniffing out a best-in-show pet grooming service
Although your pups might not need to be perfectly coifed for the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, a good pet groomer can help you keep their appearance (and smell) in winning order. Groomers can untangle or remove matted fur, style coats, banish odors and dirt with shampoo, and trim your feisty friend’s nails. A good one will save you time and hassle, whether you have a dog with an easy-to-maintain coat or a fuzzy breed that can use a pro to maintain its look. They can also take care of cats.
• A professional session typically includes:
• A bath and blow-dry. Brushing.
• Nail trimming.
• Ear cleaning. Cleaning around the eyes.
• A hair trim or cut.
• Cleaning of the anal sacs, which helps prevent them from becoming compacted.
How often your pet needs to be groomed depends on breed, size, coat type and your personal standards. Professional groomers say that all pooches can benefit from regular visits to help maintain their overall health. It’s a selfserving claim, but there’s some truth in it: Consistent grooming improves hygiene and means Fido will be inspected periodically by someone who sees a lot of dogs and can spot potential health problems. It also helps keep your pet’s coat in good condition, resulting in easier and lessexpensive appointments. ( With some breeds, if you wait too long, their coats can become too matted to save, and they’ll suffer the full shave of shame.)
Groomers work in dedicated pet salons, as well as pet stores, boarding kennels and some veterinary practices. There are also mobile operations that work in specially equipped trucks or vans and can come to your home.
Here are tips on how to find the right groomer, at the right price. Additionally, Washington Post readers can access Checkbook’s ratings of local groomers until Oct. 10 at Checkbook.org/ Washingtonpost/groomers.
Get referrals. Good sources of information include your vet, friends, neighbors and coworkers. Also look at the reviews Checkbook has collected from area consumers. Although a majority of the ratings submitted for grooming operations are positive, we also receive comments that warn of rough treatment, injured animals, sloppy work by untrained staff and rude service.
Compare prices. Even among highly recommended groomers, you’ll find a range of costs. We sought prices from area businesses to groom (including a haircut) a cocker spaniel and a golden retriever, and we were quoted $45 to $135 for the cocker spaniel, and $72 or less to $150 or more for the golden retriever. Don’t assume that low prices signify lousy work; several of the least-expensive groomers received high marks from their surveyed customers.
Experience counts. You wouldn’t want your hair to be cut by a newbie — and the same goes for your pets. An experienced groomer has had time to perfect the craft and become an expert at assessing dogs’ behaviors and responding appropriately to nervousness or agitation. Also ask whether the groomer is familiar with your breed. (Even professionals won’t have extensive experience with all of them.) The best groomers will be honest about their limitations and, if necessary, direct you to another groomer who knows a breed better.
Check training and credentials. Several organizations certify dog groomers, including the National Dog Groomers Association of America and the International Society of Canine Cosmetologists. Because the time and effort required for certification is substantial, it indicates that the groomers are serious about their profession and possess at least the basic skills for the job. On the other hand, many talented, experienced groomers haven’t taken the time or paid the fees to become certified.
Discuss your expectations. Do you want basic grooming services, with no concern that your dog’s trim meets exacting breed-specific standards? Or do you have higher expectations: hand stripping for a terrier, a scissored haircut or a sculpted trim? If you have a certain look in mind, share photos with the groomer.
Check whether you can watch the grooming. You’ll learn a lot about how groomers treat your dog and other pups if you watch them in action. If you can’t be in the same room, then grooming tables that are visible from the reception area are a plus.
Take a tour. Each dog should have its own space and access to clean water. If dogs are positioned under blow dryers and left to dry instead of being handdried, staff should be able to monitor the area, so dogs do not become overheated or burned. Cage drying is controversial; some in the industry argue that these dryers should not be used, because they can cause stress and other problems. Shortmuzzled pups, such as bulldogs and pugs, are prone to overheating, as are very young or senior animals of any breed. You should also size up the staff. Does everyone seem to be knowledgeable and caring? Are they willing and able to answer questions?
Consider health matters. Check whether groomers take steps to prevent the spread of disease. They should require pet owners to provide vaccination records. And ask about their plan for health emergencies. Will they rush your dog to a veterinarian, if necessary?
Contemplate the convenience of pickup/drop-off arrangements. Most groomers require appointments. You can usually drop off dogs in the morning and pick them up before the shop closes. Although this arrangement is convenient for most pet owners, it means your dog will have to spend the entire day at the facility. Some groomers require customers to pick up their pets at designated times. This isn’t as convenient as open dropoff or pickup times, but it does shorten your dog’s stay.
Minimize stress. If visits to the groomer upset your dog, consider using a mobile operation, which generally offers oneon-one service, minimizing exposure to other dogs and shortening the process.
Avoid groomers who sedate animals. Even if your pet is nervous, do not let the dog be sedated unless the medication will be administered by a veterinarian who will then also monitor your dog’s care throughout the stay.
Kevin Brasler is executive editor of Washington Consumers’ Checkbook magazine and the nonprofit organization Checkbook.org, which is supported by consumers and takes no money from the service providers it evaluates. You can access Checkbook’s ratings of Washington-area groomers free of charge until Oct. 10 at Checkbook.org /Washingtonpost/ groomers.