There are immediate questions that needs answers:
As a professional pet groomer, we always need to remember – humanity before vanity.
Can you demat a badly tangled coat?
Once in a great while, a client will have a legitimate reason why their dog is in poor condition. Occasionally, I will demat a dog if I sense it’s a one-time occurrence. I know the tricks to get a dog detangled relatively quickly. I have the skill, products, and tools to do it safely and humanely. However, there are two main reasons why I won’t always do it.
Here’s a perfect example. Years ago, I had a Bichon owner who always brought her dog in matted. This Bichon had a dense, curly coat. She was a regular six-week client. The owner was always immaculately presented when she dropped her dog off – the clothing, the hair, the makeup, the shoes, the jewelry, and nails. You get the idea. Oh, and she drove a Cadillac.
This was a woman who was used to getting her way. Her dog was always on the edge of whether we could brush it out or not. She never brushed the dog at home between groomings. The dog was a great advanced student dog. He was quite tolerant of the brushing process making him a super lesson dog.
One week she missed her six-week scheduled appointment. When she showed up two weeks later, the dog was trashed – matted all the way to the skin.
Crest. Head. Legs.
We told her we were going to have to start over. We would need to shave her Bichon down to the skin. He would be naked. It was the only humane option.
She was horrified. She couldn’t be seen with a naked dog! There must be some way to save the coat.
There was. She could get the dog combed out HERSELF and bring it back. But we were going to have to be able to sink the comb in all the way to the skin and pull it easily through the coat.
We gave her a thorough lesson. We even sent her home with the proper tools. We told her to come back when she felt her Bichon was totally combed out. Then, and only then, would we would give him his longer, fuller Bichon haircut.
She went home determined that she would be able to get him detangled. A few days later she returned. When we did the comb test, do you think he passed?
Not a chance. She watched the comb clearly get hung up in the coat on the first pass.
We told her to take the dog home and continue working on him.
Long story short, she returned six more times before she finally gave up. We shaved the dog with a #7F blade. We were able to leave a little tiny bit of extra coat on his head and a tiny bit of fluff on his tail. Everything else was naked.
When her sweet Bichon finally grew out about 12 weeks later, we set her up on a two-week maintenance schedule. She never missed another appointment. She learned her lesson.
Here are the three options for clients who bring you a matted dog.
When faced with a matted dog, how do you have a conversation with the owner?
The conversation needs to be sincere. It needs to focus on what is in the best interest for the pet. You need to be sympathetic to the reasons why the dog got in this condition.
(Stop rolling your eyes… I can see you.)
When you speak with an owner, they need to understand there’s only so much we as groomers can do. The last thing we want to do is hurt, injure, or bring discomfort to their pet.
Dogs have the mentality of a two-year-old child. If their two-year-old child, grandchild, niece, or nephew came to them with their hair matted all over their head, would they ask the child to tolerate having it combed out? If the tangles were tight and right next to the scalp, making every stroke of a comb or brush painful, they would most likely trim the matted hair out. Have you ever tried to remove gum or candy stuck in a child’s hair? Imagine the same impossible tangle right next to the scalp, covering the entire head. Trimming off that hair would be the most humane thing to do, even if the end result is not the haircut you would typically prefer.
It’s similar with a dog, only with the dog, the hair isn’t just on their head. It’s all over their entire body. You might be able to salvage a very small section but it’s not fair to ask the dog to submit to a lengthy dematting process. Most dogs do not have the pain tolerance or patience to sit through it. It could take hours to thoroughly brush and comb a dog out. Plus, there is a high risk of injury to their skin. And to top it off, asking a dog to sit through an extensive dematting process could be traumatic. It could scar them for the rest of their grooming life.
Even if a dog does have the tolerance for it, the cost will be extensive. Tell them what your hourly rate is. Estimate how long the dematting process would be. On a small dog, it might be about two to three hours (and yes, I would estimate on the high side), plus the regular grooming time.
If my hourly rate was $60 an hour, the customer would be looking at an extra $90-$120 for the dematting, alone. Money talks, so most of the time you can stop there.
If you sense the client is willing to pay your dematting rates, move into your next talking point: what’s in the best interest of the pet.
While it’s good to know they would be willing to spend the extra money to have the dog combed out, it’s also important to see if the dog will even tolerate it. At this point put the dog on the counter or grooming table. Grab your combination comb, sink the wide toothed end down to the skin – and give a firm tug. Gauge the reaction of the dog. Most of the time they will flip around with extreme displeasure. It’s visually clear to the pet parent their fur baby is being hurt. That’s exactly the reaction you want.
Most pet parents cannot stand seeing their dog in pain. If they understand this condition is painful to the dog they can often be trained not to allow their pet to become matted again.
The reaction of the pet, how deep the pet parent’s pockets are, and whether you feel the owner can be rehabilitated into a well-trained client will determine where your conversation will go next.
Most of the time, you’ll want to go with the humane route – and that means a full shave off. I might – or might not – try to salvage a small amount of coat on the head and tail, if possible. Mentally prepare the owner for what the dog will look like after the grooming process. Remember to emphasize that this is the only option for their pet.
Once you settle on what you are going to do that day, talk about future haircuts and how to maintain the dog so it never gets in this condition again.
Talk to them about their lifestyle and how their pet plays a role.
Ask if they are willing to find the time to properly brush and comb their dog between professional groomings. If they are, give them a thorough demonstration on proper brushing and combing techniques for their pet’s coat type. We always keep the necessary tools on hand in our retail area. Make sure your clients leave with the proper equipment to maintain their pets at home. Having a handout outlining proper line brushing techniques is also extremely helpful.
If they don’t have the time or the desire to brush their pet at home between groomings, talk about booking more frequent appointments and setting them up on an economical maintenance schedule. The maintenance schedule could be weekly or biweekly.
If the dog is just too far gone, if the client is a repeat offender, or you just don’t have time to deal with a matted dog – skip to the chase. I would simply tell them, no – I will not comb their dog out. There are no other options other than to shave the coat off.
Talk to them about rebooking their next appointment in 6-8 weeks. By about 12-14 weeks they should be grown in enough to be able to get the trim of their choice if they want to maintain a fuller look. They might also opt for a simpler trim style that is short – one length all over. Their choice will be based on how they want to care for their fur baby.
Regardless of whether you are doing a brush out on a matted dog or simply shaving the matted coat off, I encourage having owner sign a matted pet release form. This form opens the door to talk about the dangers involved with matted coats. It’s a simple fact: if the dog is extremely matted, there is going to be a higher risk of injury to the pet. If you talk about it prior to the grooming and the dog does get injured in any way, most of the responsibility has been lifted from your shoulders. However, that doesn’t give you the excuse to be careless. The last thing any of us want to do is injure a pet. However, when they are severely matted, the risk of them being hurt is always present.
There are limits on what you can – and should – do for the animal. Be honest. Be sincere. Keeping the pet foremost in your mind when coming up with a solution will always play in your favor. Even if the client is upset, stick to your guns. It’s the client’s fault the dog is matted, not yours.
Mentally prepare your client the worst-case scenario: a totally naked dog. Over-estimate the amount of time it’s going to take. Over-estimate the amount of money it’s going to cost. Over-estimate the risks involved with dealing with a severely matted pet. If you do that, anything beyond naked or less expensive or even a mild nick is going to be seen in a positive light by the client.
Call them what you like. That woven mess of dirt and hair can often determine what kind of a trim can be done on a pet. They are the best friend – and the worst enemy – of the professional pet groomer.
The key to dealing with these trouble areas is knowing how to identify them and deal with them effectively.
4 Types of Mats
1.) Lack of Maintenance: The owner brushes between grooming but it is not as effective or as often as it should be. Dirt, static, and moisture are usually the culprits. More frequent bathing and brushing to remove dense undercoat is needed in these cases. The mats produced from poor maintenance are generally smaller and can be removed with the proper knowledge, tools, and products.
2.) Neglect: These tangles are tough. Typically, these mats result of longer-term neglect and are very tight and difficult to remove. Many times, the dog’s coat is in extremely overall poor shape and is very dirty. They can be a hiding place for pests like fleas and ticks and may lead to skin damage or injury.
3.) Friction: Friction mats are caused when two areas rub together. It could be from a collar, dog sweater, or from a body part (like behind the ears or under the front legs) – but is not limited to those areas. Depending on the activity level of the dog, friction mats could be found up and down the legs, on long ears, or the tail. These are the areas that come in contact with other areas like tall grasses or even the ground.
4.) Compression: This type of tangle is generally found on the rear of the dog. It is caused from sitting or lying down. Dogs that shed heavily will have dead coat packed into the guard coat, and if not removed, will clump and mat as moisture and compression do their work. Just like people, dogs tend to be left or right-sided. The compression type density will be worse on one side more than the other.
Here is the best way to deal any type of tangle…
Find them before the client leaves!
That means at check-in. This is not just a time to be catching up with your client. Use this time to diagnose problem areas with their pet’s coat. Get your hands on the dog – not just your eyes! The eyes can be deceiving. The owner doesn’t even have to be aware of what you’re doing.
I disguise my hands-on inspection as a meet-and-greet to the pet. It warms up both the pet and the client. But more importantly, it gives me valuable information. Information that I can use to communicate effectively with a customer about the type of trim we can do, the cost, and the amount of time it will take.
Sink your hands deep into the coat. Keep moving. Feel under the ears, in the armpits – get to those friction and compressed areas so there are no surprises once you get the dog in the tub. Do you know what you’re feeling for? You’re trying to find patches of density/inconsistent density in the fur. You should be able to come into contact with the skin. Often, your client will insist that the dog is completely brushed out when in truth – they’ve just been brushing out the tops of matted areas. This is where your comb comes in handy for a demonstration. Sink the comb through the coat. If you feel resistance, that’s your matted area.
Remember, the groom starts as soon as the client walks in the door, not when the dog is on your table. You should start assessing the dog visually as soon as the pet walks in and continue your examination until you are satisfied that you have found everything you need to discuss with your client before s/he leaves. Having to make repeated phone calls because you didn’t take the time to properly check over a pet will annoy your client – and will waste much of your own precious time.
But don’t stop there. You should always have a comb within reach. Clients may not always understand what a mat is, but it’s hard to deny a comb stuck firmly in the middle of tangled fur. It’s also a great way to open the discussion about the necessities of combing, as well as brushing, to maintain proper coat condition.
If there are problems or issues, I want to deal with them immediately before the client leaves. In the service-based business, education is the key. Most of the time, this means educating the client as to what is proper maintenance for their pet. Guide their hands to the problem areas. Have them feel for themselves what to watch for, so that when they’re brushing their pet at home they are better able to identify mats and how to deal with them. Many first time pet owners have really no idea what they’ve gotten themselves into when it comes to proper pet maintenance. They may love the idea of having a Golden Doodle, but have no idea that they should be groomed more than twice a year.
This is the perfect time to do that. With new clients, I would talk to them about trim options based on the condition of their pet. If their pet is in extremely difficult condition, I would talk to them about the risk factors the pet is going to experience due to its condition. Explain the potential risks that could occur during dematting. And always have the owner sign a pet release form (see examples from the Paragon School of Pet Grooming below). It also offers you an opportunity to offer beneficial special products or services to the pet or its owner.
By using your training, experience, and professional intuition, you can educate your client and make a real difference in the lives of the pets entrusted to your care.