Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Cat Grooming

Grooming cats can be tricky business. I haven't yet met a cat who will stand calmly for grooming. The best you can really hope for is not-too-passive indifference. Cats who do enjoy the attentions of clippering and brushing tend to walk around a lot and try to rub themselves on the equipment, which is at best, inconvenient, and at worst, dangerous. The most resistant cats can turn into screaming, hissing, clawing balls of stress and doom, spitting bodily fluids from every orifice. We can usually work with the former; the latter we refer to veterinarians. Most cats fall somewhere in between. Bathing is actually the easy part for most cat groomers because we can be relatively hands-off and get it over quickly without risk of injury to the cat.

Clippering always comes with the risk of injury, but cats are particularly vulnerable. They have thin and delicate loose skin, which makes it easy to nick them, especially around the armpits, belly, and throat areas, which, coincidentally, are the areas most prone to matting. Grooming cats is not for the faint of heart and we do not recommend that you try it at home. That said, we groom a lot of cats safely and successfully here at K9 Design and invite you to look at the flowchart below if you've been thinking about having your cat shaved (click on the image to enlarge).

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Matted Strip

It's an unfortunate reality of grooming that sometimes pets' coats are not cared for well enough to prevent the dreaded matted strip. Dreaded by groomers not because the "poor thing will be so ugly/cold/itchy afterwards," but because the animal has been suffering with that uncomfortable pelt for so many months, because it's tricky to safely remove, and because it can be very challenging to help clients understand 1. why their pet has to be shaved 2. how to avoid common after-shaving problems 3. how to keep their pet in good condition in the future. Often, the groomer is viewed as "the bad guy" when, in reality, we've performed a great and difficult service on behalf of an animal whose coat has been improperly cared for for far too long.

So why did the pet have to be shaved? Simply put, mats are bad news. And pelts are mats gone wild. Pelts are when mats make friends with their neighbors and conspire to take over the world. They're painful because hair from one side of the animal is tied, through that network of pelting, to hair on the other side of the animal and every day, those hairs pull on each other more and more. It happens gradually, so pets tend not to complain a whole lot when their skin starts getting tugged at from every angle and body parts that should be free to move start to get locked into place, and the only relief that comes naturally is when those hairs finally give up and break or tear themselves out at the root.

Mats are also bad news because they're great little hide-aways for dirt, moisture, and the bacteria and fungi and parasites that like to live in that kind of environment. Any break in the skin -- scratches, sores, or other normal skin damage -- will have a tough time healing underneath a pelt and it's uncover old, unhealing injuries, rashes and other skin troubles during a shavedown.

So pelts are definitely bad. Mats are not good either. But why do they have to be shaved, specifically? The simple answer is: shaving is the most humane way to remove mats. You can brush out a tangle with the right tools and conditioners. But a tangle of tangles that covers a square inch or more of an animals' body? No, those need shaving. Even if an animal is willing to tolerate the kind of tug-tug-tugging that dematting requires, it's simply unkind at best. And why so short? That's got a short answer, too. You can't push a clipper blade through a mat. It has to go underneath. If the matting is tight to the skin (and it usually is), the blade has to be short enough to slip underneath. There's a layer of hair, sometimes only millimeters long, right along the skin, that isn't part of the mat. That's where a groomer has to clip.

After we've accepted that the coat has to come off, and it has to be short, what are the common after-strip troubles? As I mentioned before, matted shave downs often reveal pre-existing skin conditions and those need to be dealt with. Luckily, most skin problems caused by matting clear up quickly on their own after the mats are gone. It's always a good idea, however, to consult with your veterinarian. Sometimes pets get itchy after a shave and can scratch themselves too much and do damage. Often, they were itchy all along, but the pelting prevented their scratching from doing any good and now that they can actually get to their skin, they get a little too eager and hurt themselves. Any close shave always carries some risk of clipper irritation (sometimes called "clipper burn" -- which does not mean that your pet was actually burned with a hot blade). Sensitive sanitary areas are particularly vulnerable to after-grooming itch and pets can lick and rub themselves to infection if they are allowed to fuss too much.

There are a number of ways to help a pet get through the itchiness. You should consult your veterinarian if it is severe or lasts longer than a day. They can prescribe antihistamines that will help make your pet more comfortable. In most cases, though, simply watching your pet and distracting him from fussing can help get him over the itchiness quickly. The more they scratch, the more it itches, so keeping your pet busy with fun games and treats that first day can do a world of good. Many vets will also recommend anti-histamine creams or anti-itch sprays that you can apply topically to itchy areas. For a simply home remedy, try 1 part vinegar and 1 part water in a spray bottle. Spritz lightly on itchy spots to help sooth itching and to prevent infection. Do not use on open sores or damaged skin -- it will sting! Also never use it near your pet's eyes. You can also use an Elizabethan collar (lampshade, as some call them) or put a t-shirt on your pet to block them from biting or scratching themselves until the itching calms down.

The weather also becomes a consideration when your pet has been recently shaved. Naked pets are more susceptible to cold and should wear a sweater when they go out in the cold and not kept out longer than necessary. In warm weather, pets are more at risk for heat stroke and extra attention should be given to keeping them cool. They should not spend more time than necessary outside in very hot weather, should always have plenty of water, and should be watched carefully for signs of heat stroke. You can spray them with water, wrap them in wet or cold towels, and give them stone or marble tiles to lay on to help keep their body temperature cool. Also, pets don't tan, so keep exposed skin out of the sun to avoid sunburn!

Another possible side-effect of a matted strip is the emotional factor. Pets are not sensitive to their appearance and won't ever act depressed because they think they look bad, but they will respond to the way their human family reacts to them. Cats in particular are notorious for hiding from their families after being laughed at by the kids. Pets read our emotions better than we do sometimes, so remember that if you hate the way your pet looks shaved, you may be projecting that emotion. Make sure your pet knows that you are happy to see him no matter what you think about his present haircut! Also, sometimes the newly exposed skin feels so odd to a pet that they will act strangely (scooting, hiding, acting fearful) after a shave. They don't really understand that they've gone from having 2 inches of matted coat to having 2 millimeters of peach fuzz -- they just know that they feel strange sensations on their body now with every passing breeze -- and some pets can be strongly affected by this. Try to ignore these reactions as much as possible but do be sure to lavish your pet with treats and praise when he forgets about the oddness and acts normally. That will help him adjust much more quickly. Consult your veterinarian if you have any ongoing concerns.

The best cure is prevention, so the best time to start learning about how to take care of your pet's coat properly is right now. If your pet is matted, have him shaved. Then start right away getting him used to being combed and brushed and groomed properly. Put your pet on a regular professional grooming schedule (talk to your groomer about what the best schedule is for your pet) and get in the habit of combing at home as well. For more info on preventing mats, click here. A professional groomer is your partner in your pet's care, so use that resource wisely and remember, we want what's best for your pet as much as you do. If you gotta shave, let's make it as painless as possible for everyone involved.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Operant Conditioning

Many clients ask me for training advice and help with specific behavioral issues. It's tough sometimes to give them a short answer! Changing behavior can be very challenging out in the world with all of its complications and conditions and distractions. And there are so many options! But when you boil it down to its most basic level -- at the level of operant conditioning, as described by B.F. Skinner -- there are five types of stimulus that can be used to change behavior. So here's the crash course:

Positive reinforcement: a desired behavior is encouraged through the use of a reward.
     ie. giving a dog a cookie for sitting on command

Negative reinforcement: a desired behavior is encouraged by removing something unpleasant.
     ie. letting up the tension in the leash when the dog sits

Positive punishment: an undesired behavior is discouraged through use of an aversive.
     ie. saying "No!" to a dog who has just jumped on someone

Negative punishment: an undesired behavior is discouraged by taking something good away.
     ie. taking away the dog's toy because he is starting to destroy it

Extinction: an undesired behavior stops because it produces no result
     ie. a dog is completely ignored while he is jumping - finding no reaction, he moves on to other behaviors


It sometimes seems that there are as many methods of dog training as there are dog trainers, but here are some key things to keep in mind while working with your own dog:

- You cannot change the past. You must always start from where you are today. And from here you can go in any direction you like. It doesn't matter where you've been or how fast you're moving -- just remember to enjoy the scenery.

- Your ultimate goal is to create a positive relationship with your dog, based on mutual respect. Be kind, patient, and curious. A sense of humor helps, too.

- Good trainers need excellent timing! Dogs don't hold onto the past, so if you wait too long, they won't understand what they're being rewarded or punished for. We're talking on the order of seconds here, not minutes and certainly not hours.

- A good reinforcer is specific to the animal you're working with. Take the opportunity of training to find out what your dog really likes to work for. Is it food? What kind? Is it a toy? A belly rub? They are all unique, so experiment!

- Never try to train your dog when you are upset, angry, frustrated, or otherwise unhappy. Training should always come from a loving, rational state of mind. Plan ahead -- don't react and overreact.

- Remember free will! When you get down to it, it's really impossible to force any creature's compliance. All you can do is make desirable behavior more rewarding and undesirable behavior less rewarding. So make sure you really appreciate every good behavior your dog gives you. He didn't have to!

   For some detailed (and really technical) info on operant conditioning, check out:

   For a much more in depth discussion of operant conditioning specific to animal training, head over to:

   And for info on the wonderful world of clicker training, visit:

There's a whole world of information out there, so have fun learning what you and your dog can accomplish together. (Hey, and when you've gotten the hang of it, you might want to try training your cat and your bird and your fish, too!)

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Setting Goals for the New Year

I've long believed that setting goals is a great way to lend clarity of purpose and a sense of power and control to the otherwise overwhelming vastness that is the future. It's like editing your potential. And it's something that I've always done quite naturally. In fact, as a young child, I was notorious for making proclamations about how things are, how they ought to be, and how they would be. And why not? I had considered all the angles I could think of, I had studied the world and everything in it, and I felt perfectly comfortable letting people know exactly what was what. The adults around me could rarely change my mind or even budge me once my feet were set. I was a powerhouse of focus and determination. I think "stubborn" was the word my parents like to use.

Of course, as I got older, I learned that even the force of a will like mine doesn't stand a chance against the forces of reality. The world moves and we are moved. It took many years to realize that there isn't enough strength to survive on strength alone. There isn't enough in the world. And anyway, the hammer is just not always the best approach. If you don't balance your strength with flexibility, patience, and judgement, you'll eventually wear out.

So I spent a lot of time working on mental flexibility. Putting things in perspective is a great way to bounce back from failure and learn as much as possible while moving on to the next adventure. Unfortunately, it's possible to become too flexible and lose sense of the future. For a while, as new circumstances and new people came into my life, new possibilities came into view and old ones disappeared. Flexibility means that that's OK because every opportunity is equal in importance and interest. But floating ahead without form, a future without real goals is just a soup of potential. In order to realize that potential and gain the benefits of both the struggle and the victory (hopefully!), the victory has to be defined. You have to be willing to inspect the soup and consciously pick out the parts that, from now on, are going to be most important.

So here are my business goals for 2010:

  1. To add grooming staff to enable the shop to service more clients and to free up more personal time for me to pursue other goals.

  2. To develop my online client tracking and appointment software for sale to grooming shops.

  3. To develop Groomerisms educational products for sale to grooming shops.

  4. To update this blog with a new article at least once per month.

  5. To attend at least one grooming education seminar.

And there it is. I look forward to an exciting new year!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Winter Grooming

The best kind of grooming is regular grooming. Whether your pet is a fluffed out poodle princess or a seasonally shedding sheltie, there is an appropriate grooming interval that a discussion with your groomer about the specific needs of both you and your pet can help reveal. If that interval is 4-6 weeks, as it typically is for most drop-coated or curly-coated breeds, or closer to 8-12 weeks, as is often the case for short-coated shedding breeds, it's generally a good idea to stick to that interval year-round. Often, however, winter gives pet owners pause when it comes to their regularly scheduled grooming.

"Well, it's cold now, so we're going to wait a bit," is a common comment heard at grooming shops across the un-temperate parts of the country. The reasoning usually is that a pet whose coat is allowed to grow out a bit longer will be more comfortable in the cold weather. Unfortunately, skipping or stretching grooming visits often results in exactly the opposite -- a less comfortable pet. Why is that?

First of all, drop-coated and curly-coated pets who are prone to matting get a double whammy. The extra length of coat combined with the snow-balls and moisture the coat is exposed to creates an ideal environment for tangles to form and tighten and grow. So now your longer coated dog's matted coat actually does the opposite. A matted coat dries more slowly, leaving your pooch wet and shivering after a romp through the snow. Additionally, the tangles in the coat prevent it from insulating efficiently -- an unmatted coat insulates by trapping a pocket of air close to the body while a matted coat just traps dirt and moisture. Of course, this can be prevented by being more vigilant in brushing and combing at home, but that's a lot of extra work without the extra benefit you would expect. Adding a bit more length of coat doesn't really add to the insulating power of the coat the way putting a cute doggie coat on your pet would. By the way, those coats will help accelerate the formation of tangles as well, yet another reason to keep up with a tidy, insulating haircut!

Second, a dog who spends the majority of his time indoors is really not going to appreciate any extra insulation while he's inside, enjoying an otherwise comfortable life with central heating. If he suffers in the cold, doggie clothes will keep him cozy while he's in the cold, without his having to wear his "winter gear" while he's indoors as well!

And while they don't suffer from the cold nearly as much as our designer dogs do, a dog with undercoat often needs a bit of help keeping his coat's insulating power in top form. Undercoated dogs often run into trouble when hairs that were released but didn't shed out properly mat up or otherwise block that nice double-pane window effect and interfere with natural insulation as well. Brushing at home can certainly help keep the coat in top condition, and you should feel free to put off grooming for however long you can stand the eau d' ungroomed dog!

If the points above don't convince you to keep to your schedule, bear in mind that the haircut is usually the most apparent, but arguably, not the most important part of professional grooming. You can certainly request a longer haircut in the winter time so that you can enjoy all the benefits of a professional bath and comb-out, nail trimming and ear cleaning, without taking as much (or any) coat off. Your groomer can make sure your pet's rear end, pads of the feet, eyes and other problematic, debris-catching areas stay clean and tidy while preserving the length of the rest. There's no reason to miss out on the joys of a clean, styled pet just because the snow flies, now is there?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

My Ideal Client

Recently, I was listening to an audiobook called Book Yourself Solid: the fastest, easiest, and most reliable system for Getting More Clients Than You Can Handle Even if you Hate Marketing and Selling by Michael Port and Tim Sanders. Although it seems at first glance to be a handbook for pulling in huge numbers of people, the book actually emphasizes quality over quantity. By cultivating relationships with clients who are very compatible with your services and your philosophies, you are more likely to do your very best work. When you are exactly what your clients have been looking for and your clients are exactly who you want to serve, everybody wins.

As an exercise, the book recommends making out a list of qualities you would expect to find in your ideal clients. As you might expect from someone with perfectionist tendencies, my list is probably too long and certainly too detailed, but here it is!

My ideal client:
  • continually seeks education about pet care and solicits, listens to, and values my expertise as a pet professional

  • understands or accepts the limitations of grooming with regard to coat condition and pet behavior and respects my professional judgment

  • keeps their pet on a regular grooming schedule and in a length that is compatible with the upkeep they are willing to do at home, the lifestyle of the pet, and the pet's tolerance for maintenance

  • has their pet spayed or neutered for the health of their pet and to help prevent overpopulation and bad behavior

  • keep appointments and arrives roughly on time, especially during busy times of year

  • is flexible with pick-up time and allows me to call when their pet is finished

  • makes sure that their pets' biological needs are taken care of before drop-off

  • really appreciates the value of a precise, quality haircut

  • controls their pet with a leash or carrier, cleans up after their pet outside, and generally ensures that their pet doesn't offend, scare, or injure anyone in or around the shop

  • understands that accidents can happen when sharp objects and moving pets come together and does what they can to teach their pets good grooming manners, keeps them in good shape to minimize their risk of irritation and injury, and closely watches any minor scrapes that do occur to make sure that the pet doesn't fuss with them and make them more serious

  • is open and detailed with medical history, aggression problems, and other information that are pertinent to grooming and can help make the grooming process as smooth as possible

  • understands and appreciates the standards of sterilization and sanitation I make at the shop to help prevent the spread of infection, parasites, and disease but also realizes that there are risks associated with taking your pet out in public and takes responsibility for keeping their pet healthy

  • when the condition or behavior of their pet forces a change in grooming plan, my ideal client trusts me to do what is best for their pet and says things like, "Do what you think is best"

  • is generous and honest in their feedback and refers others who can benefit from my services
  • Saturday, July 25, 2009

    Solon Home Days

    Yesterday, my shop assistant and I spent our evening over at Solon Home Days with the Kelley's Kritters booth and some adoptable kittens. I brought over the two remaining "dumpster kittens," who are staying at my house. Although they were initially a bit anxious about the crowds, they relaxed after a while and enjoyed a lot of affection from passing children. Kelley found a home for one kitten, a gorgeous orange tabby, and a lot of people stopped by to visit, volunteer, buy raffle tickets, and make donations. Hopefully the trend will continue for tonight and Sunday night. If you're in Solon, visit Home Days at Solon Community Park on SOM Center Road. And if you're at Home Days, be sure to visit Kelley!

    Kelley's raffle items are numerous and include gift certificates to local businesses (including K9 Design!) and gift baskets full of goodies. Check out the end of this post for a complete list of raffle items. Drawings will be on Sunday evening around 8:00 and you do not need to be present to win! Raffle tickets are $2 each, 3 for $5, or 7 for $10.

    You can see a list of cats and kittens for adoption at the Petfinder site for Kelley's Kritters at

    Kelley is always in need of donations and volunteers so be sure to take advantage of a great opportunity to help out homeless cats in Solon and surrounding areas by contacting her:

    If you're looking to add a new feline family member, you can visit the website to fill out a pre-adoption questionnaire and get the ball rolling. Cats of all ages, colors, and personality types are available for adoption. Adoptable cats are tested for FIV/FLV, vaccinated, wormed, and spayed or neutered. Kelley also provides a nice starter kit. Adoption fees vary but typically range from $50 - $75.

    Raffle items:

    1. Indians Autographed baseball - Asdrubal Cabrera #13, 4 tickets to a 2009 game (weeknight subject to availability).  Value – unavailable.
    2. Jack Daniels Winter Extravaganza gift basket;  Total Value $400 value.
    3. (2) 18 holes of golf with cart at Grantwood Golf (weekday only), $50 to Rusty Bucket, digital convertor.  Value $200.
    4. Horseback Riding Lessons (7) at Promise Land Farms, Mantua. $150 value.
    5. Indians tickets (August 13th versus Texas Rangers, 12:05PM. Section 175, Row P, Seats 5 &6), 2 Indians shirts (one men’s’ and women’s’) + 2 coupons for medium Sub Combo at Dibellas (medium sub, 20 oz beverage, chips or cookie). Value $120.
    6. Panera Bread – “Bagel Pack For A Year.” 13 bagels and 2 tubs of cream cheese, every month for 1 year! $175 value.
    7. John Roberts – manicure & pedicure (with Felisha, Chagrin Falls location, $80), Arbonne NutriMinC Anti-Aging Body Care System (Body Serum and Hydrating Body Lotion), ($85); Total value $165.
    8. Andrew Jordan Photography - Pet Photography Session & 8x10 print, $150 value.
    9. Solon Sampler  ($10 Mitchells Ice Cream, $10 Wildlife Gardens,  $25 Longhorn gift certificate, Gionino's  Free Pizza, (2) coupons for medium sub combo meal at Dibella’s, $20 tanline certificate, $40 Jimmy Dadonna’s, Free in-home estimate from Country Curtains).  Total Value $150.
    10. $100 Flemings gift certificate, Arbonne Intelligence Hand Cream and Herbal Foot Cream ($30); Total Value $130.
    11. Dino Palmeri – manicure & pedicure (with Amy, Solon location), ($85) and Arbonne Ginger Citrus bath salts and sea salt scrub ($30), Tanline gift certificate ($20); Total Value $135.
    12. Blade & Hue Salon – manicure & pedicure, ($70), Nieman Marcus beach bag with Arbonne Reactivate sea salt scrub, herbal foot cream and cleansing gel ($60). Total value $130.
    13. Learning Resources, Pretend & Play Animal Hospital (3+ year, $40), Mobile Machinery Shop Toy ($5), $15 PlayMatters gift certificates, cat stickers ($5), 6’ x 6’ custom fleece blanket from “Barbies Binkies,” ($50), Total Value $115.
    14. Wine Gift Basket;  2006 PETs, Petite Sirah – Vinum Cellars, California.  2008 Gato Negro Cabernet Sauvignon, Valle, Chili.  Chardonnay, Harthill Farm, California.  Wine for Dummies 2 painted wine glasses cat theme, wine charms, 4 wine corks, hand towel & miscellaneous crackers & chocolate). $100 value.
    15. Swarovski crystal necklace, bracelet & earrings, $75 value.
    16. $60 off 1 hour booking of Whirly Ball, or Buy 1 game of LaserSport, get a game free!  (2) coupons for medium sub combo meal at Dibella’s.  $75 value
    17. $20 K9 Design & Grooming for any combination of grooming services and/or pet products; Doggie basket, $50 value.
    18. $20 K9 Design & Grooming for any combination of grooming services and/or pet products; Cat basket, $50 value.
    19. $25 Spa-K9 Dog Grooming & Daycare Gift Certificate & dog gift basket, $50 value.