What makes a great groomer great?

Groomer with a dog

by Betsy Lane, MA

Many—perhaps even most—dog groomers don’t start out thinking grooming will be their career. Successful groomers enter the field from all sorts of backgrounds. Many come to this work out of a deep love and commitment to animal welfare. Others get curious about the career when they bring their own dogs to be groomed. The paths to grooming are so diverse, it begs the questions: What do these professionals have in common, personality-wise? What attributes make a great groomer? And, could this describe you?

Nicole Morris, PetSmart’s Salon Quality and Education manager for the Great Lakes Region, provided her insights. A former professional dog groomer herself, Nicole knows this work inside and out, and has seen countless new groomers succeed. Here’s what she thinks they have in common:

Groomers need to be compassionate.

“The #1 quality all great groomers share is compassion.” Groomers need to be able to work well with pet parents from all walks of life, and with all different types of dogs. Some (parents and pets!) will be nervous or anxious. Some will bring in a dog with a health issue they might not even have noticed. Whatever the case, the groomer “has to be able to walk them through it,” Nicole says. And they need to do it with compassion and professionalism.

Groomers need to be patient.

Many pet parents are nervous, especially the first time they visit a salon (or a new groomer). “Especially for the Millennial generation, many of whom don’t have kids, the dog is their kid. Dropping the dog off at the salon is like dropping your kid off on the first day of preschool. [The pet parents] want to know the entire process,” Nicole says–and the groomer needs to be able to explain the process quickly but thoroughly, helping the pet parents relax.

Groomers need to be extroverted (in some ways).

When new clients arrive for appointments, the groomer needs to jump right in, engage the clients, and ask questions about some unusual topics, like poop, fleas, hair mats, and so on. As a groomer, “you have to be a little bit of an investigator,” Nicole says. Groomers also need to be extroverted enough to be good team players; they “need to be willing to ask for help—or to jump in and offer it proactively to another groomer who might be struggling.”

Groomers need to be detail-oriented.

Finally, great groomers are extremely detail oriented. They see the details, and feel motivated—compelled, even—to ensure every detail is just right.

Does this sound like you? If so, why not consider a career (or a new career) in dog grooming? PetSmart’s Grooming Academy is just one option, and it’s a great place to start exploring!

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https://jobs.petsmart.com/salon
Learn more at https://jobs.petsmart.com/salon.

How to get the most out of FetchFind Monthly Pro for your team

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By Cara Armour, Founder of Active Paws Inc and marketing manager of ProPetHero

I listen to a lot of podcasts, and a popular question that they ask is, “if you could tell your 20 year old self something you know now, what would it be?” I realize that while there is a ton to tell my younger self, sadly what is most important to make my life better then didn’t exist.

Running a pet care business 15 years ago

When I first started Active Paws Inc back in 2003, I was using excel to print schedules and handwriting corrections on them. Smartphones didn’t exist, so I spent my dinner time responding to emails and phone calls. I certainly didn’t have amazing online training available, provided by experts in the industry. I had to either go out in the field and use my precious admin time to train my staff, or rely on a senior pet care provider to train the new hires.

Neither scenario was ideal. My company means the world to me, so I want my staff to know everything I have learned over the years; but, I only have a small window of time to deliver that information. I also do not have that time. I am busy with payroll, new hire paperwork, reconciling the bank account, bringing in new clients, handling client problems, answering employee questions, looking over schedules, doing accounts receivable — you get the picture!

Besides not having the time to do the training myself, my senior staff isn’t always overflowing with spare time, either. I have to pay them to train new hires or do a ride along, and I have to pay the new hires for their learning time out in the field. If my senior staff wasn’t trained correctly, or have developed habits that were not in line with the company standards, our precious new hires could learn bad habits and the quality of our care could snowball in the wrong direction.

Only having in-the-field training

There are many issues with only being able to train in the field as well. I don’t always have access (within the two week training period) to all of the “example” animals in our care that exhibit common behavioral issues or special walking tools, such as body language basics, safe greetings for shy dogs, using a gentle leader, introducing two new dogs headed out to a walk together, cats going outside of the box, etc.

So I was super excited to find out that someone was doing this, just for MY staff! For the 20 year old self that I would get the chance to talk to, I would tell her to hold on, an easier way to run your business was coming, courtesy of FetchFind Monthly Pro!

To be honest, I am [still] a little surprised that the training is only $59 a month, for unlimited users. My staff has access to things that would take months for them to be exposed to with that particular animal or in that particular scenario. Even though I provide checklists for my senior staff, I no longer have to worry if the new hire saw or was taught everything, let alone worry if they actually learned it. I now know that they’ve learned it, since the report in FetchFind’s admin dashboard shows me they did.

Why is education so important?

Prevention – the best way to prevent a bite is to train staff how to recognize the triggers and avoid them. If they don’t know what to look out for, they won’t know that a bite is coming.

Retention – while the pets in my care are an important priority, the liability of the people in my employment is actually my biggest concern. If they are not happy, well, and healthy, they cannot care for the animals our clients have contracted us to care for.

Employee happiness starts with confidence in the job. Confidence in the job comes from training and feedback.

If you have poorly trained staff who have to fumble through their tasks and learn by being corrected, they don’t feel great about the job they are doing. Don’t leave your staff figuring out or learning as they go. I started that way and it didn’t feel good. I felt great about my job after I had learned everything I know.

Health and wellbeing of the animals – someone that doesn’t know a cat going outside the box could be a medical problem might write it off and not mention it.

Confidence your clients have with your company – a new hire that wasn’t trained in customer service may not know how to act around your clients, and therefore could make your clients feel uneasy about the people you hire to care for their pets. I have seen staff who interview well get super nervous and act strange around our clients. This behavior would then prompt me to train them, but of course that’s after the fact. Now I can take care of that beforehand.

Cost effectiveness

I know from networking with a lot of pet care businesses that we know our time is valuable, but we rarely – if ever – put a monetary value on it. You really should! Figure out what it would cost to have someone trained to do your job and to the caliber your company demands, then add the value of your knowledge, and you’ll have a good number for an hourly wage. Now charge that to your company for training your staff. (I know you wouldn’t, because that would affect your bottom line, but you can see where this is going.) I can guarantee that doing all the training covered in the FetchFind Monthly Pro subscription would cost you much, more more than $59 a month.

Then you have the senior staff –  you might get away without paying them extra, but you have to pay the new hire to tag along and do a one person job with two people. I have tried making the visits enough for two people, but the backlash of the new hire seeing the tremendous workload sometimes turns them off. I’ve had people quit after a couple days out in the field because they were so overwhelmed by what they saw and needed to learn!

I now have all new potential hires take an hour’s worth of courses on FetchFind Monthly Pro before they are even hired. I consider this my second interview for them, and a way for me to see how they do in the training, since I can see their results. If they don’t score well on certain quizzes and  I choose hire them anyway, I know the areas in which to concentrate further training.

While content is added every Friday to FetchFind’s Monthly Pro subscription, the crucial information needed to get a new hire confident with caring for pets is already there, and can be taught in 5-10 hours (depending on the type of pet care business you have). If you care for cats and dogs, there obviously is more content to consume.

For the sake of simplicity, let’s estimate the minimum wage to be $10/hour. For 10 hours of paid training on courses that cover more than you could in 10 weeks, you’re looking at $100 + (lovely taxes). A few hours of my time is worth that amount, not to mention the cost for 2 weeks at 5 hours/day training in the field (that’s $500 + taxes).

So basically for an hour of training as part of the interview process and $100 in payroll, you have saved yourself $341 ($500 – $59 – $100). (I left out taxes for the sake of simplicity.) That’s $341 savings per new hire for more consistent, time efficient training.

There are a few ways around the pesky payroll as well. Depending on the structure of your pet care company you can have staff take courses while pet sitting, if you provide in-home visits. I have asked my clients about doing this and they love it. No course is longer than 17 minutes, and for those that pay per job, this is a massive bonus! I get the wifi password from my client, the staff performs the visit in the time the client has requested, and for the downtime when your staff would be at the house not doing anything but being present for the pet, they can be learning as well. As I write this blog, I am pet sitting a Chesapeake Bay Retriever who has been a client for 8 years. I am sharing while she is snoring.

What about an incentive program?

You can ask staff to take the course not as a requirement, but rather as an incentive. Whoever scores the highest gets a $100 gas card or $50 to Starbucks. This is one of many ways to cost effectively get your staff learning.

Do you ever throw staff parties, events, or dinners? I take my crew out on a yearly excursion of their choosing. We have gone bowling, laser tagging, and even taken a trip to an amusement park. Have everyone meet beforehand for a half hour to an hour of training – it’s a great group exercise and bonding experience.

Finally, the cheapest and most cost effective way to train – just ask! Ask your staff to have a look at the FetchFind Monthly Pro courses provided. Let them know the benefits it will provide them in their daily tasks and the experience and credentials they can gain.

My younger self would be jealous

I’m sad that my 20 year old self wasted so much precious time and money doing things the hard way. Pet care software, CRMs, and now unified pet care staff business training exists, and it’s always online at our fingertips. My 20 year old self is jealous for sure, but at least now I can prevent turnover, have animals in safer hands, have happier staff, and – most importantly – have more time to work ON my business.

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Cara ArmourCara Armour os the co-founder of Active Paws Inc., a professional pet care business based in the greater Boston, MA. In 2009 Cara won Pet Sitter of the Year, the industry’s highest honor awarded by Pet Sitters International and collected many other accolades over the years. Since 2003, Cara has been trained in Pet First Aid and CPR, and in 2015 she started her own online pet first aid & CPR company. She later joined the team at ProPetHero. She is also a volunteer and foster home for The Boxer Rescue Inc. She has been a mentor to many in the pet industry as well as those in the small business world. Cara spends her free time traveling to agility, lure coursing, and conformation trials. 

 

Emergency prevention, planning, & protocols for dog walkers

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This article was originally published in the dog*tec blog. 

Taking care of other people’s best friends means living with the chilling prospect of emergencies. Dog walking emergencies can come in all shapes and sizes, from a vehicle break down to a sprained ankle to potentially traumatic accidents. Out on a trail, an otherwise reliable dog takes off chasing an unknown scent and is lost or hit by a car. Two dogs who normally play well together get into a nasty fight. A dog you are walking swallows a rock or other non-edible item whole. All are scenarios that make dog walkers sweat. But failing to consider and prepare for accidents makes them more likely and will only aggravate an already bad situation if it happens.

Your clients, the dogs, your staff, yourself—everyone is better served by a 3 P’s approach—taking deliberate care to prevent emergencies, planning for their eventuality (life does happen, after all), and having set protocols to follow for each type of emergency to stave off panic and keep things under control.

Emergency prevention

Preventing emergencies is much easier than dealing with them. And preventing emergencies is really a matter of following good dog walking practices:

Set the tone. A dog who is calm and focused on you is less likely to be involved in an emergency. Consistently asking your charges sit to greet you and leash up, sit and wait at doorways and curbs, walk nicely on a loose leash instead of pulling, etc. will make your days both easier and safer.

Walk dogs, don’t socialize them. You can’t bite what you’re not near enough to reach. Live beings—both humans and other dogs—are unpredictable. Use strong recalls and focus techniques (like “Let’s go!” or “Watch me!”) to keep dogs interacting with you instead of strangers or dogs you don’t know. When appropriate, pull over to the side for a focused sit-stay to allow others to pass. Politely decline requests to pet your dogs, even if you know them to be friendly. They may well be, but every dog has her limits and you never know when a well-meaning but blundering dog lover will find one of them.

Practice good screening and group composition. Choosing the right dogs—and matching them carefully if you’re a group walker—can go a long way toward avoiding fights and other emergencies. Always decline dogs with behavioral challenges that are beyond your skill and knowledge set, and avoid more than one challenging dog (we call them project dogs) per group, at most.

Actively monitor and interrupt. When walking groups, interrupt play or other interactions before they tip into conflict. Frequent obedience breaks (such as practicing circle stay pull-overs), and calling dogs (recall off leash or “Let’s go!” on leash) to break up potentially heated interactions, keeps things light and fun. Think of it a bit like monitoring a group of children—it’s best to initiate a break in play before a squabble breaks out.

Keep up on vehicle maintenance. The only thing worse than your car breaking down is your car breaking down with dogs in it! Maintain roadside assistance, schedule routine maintenance, and head to the shop at the first sign of trouble. Treat your vehicle like the key business investment and tool it is.

Watch the temperature. NEVER leave dogs in your car other than to pick up other dogs. Keep your keys with you, and the windows cracked. If you live in a particularly warm area, outfit your windows with dog-proof screens that keep dogs in, hands out, and air flowing.

Use proper equipment. To avoid a startled dog breaking free from you, secure leashes to head harnesses, body harnesses, or martingale-style anti-slip collars. Never use flexi-leashes, as they are too easily pulled out of your hand by a bolting dog, and can also cause serious injury to you and the dogs you walk. Be sure all dogs wear a large tag with your cell number to expedite a quick reunion with a lost dog.

Emergency planning

Being prepared keeps emergencies contained when they do happen. Better a small emergency than one that blooms into a crisis.

Carry a 1st aid kit—and know how to use it. Keep a full kit in your vehicle and a small kit on your person as you walk. Visit DogSafe or PetTech websites for canine 1st aid kit information and to look for 1st aid classes if you are not already certified.

Always have client contact information on hand. You should never have to rummage frantically through your vehicle for your phone list or, perish the thought, go home to get it. Keep up-to-date, well-organized client contact details in your car or phone at all times, and require any staff to do so as well.

Program emergency vet phone numbers into your phone. Write down or program into a work phone emergency directions to the closest vets from your most-used trails or the neighborhoods you service and keep them in any car ever used to transport dogs. Make sure all staff members know where to find the directions and understand them. Even if you work solo and you know the directions well, have them pre-programmed into your phone or GPS. When a crisis hits, it’s all too easy to forget one’s own name, let alone how to get to the veterinary hospital.

Get permission to help in writing. Your client service contract should clearly spell out what’s expected of you in an emergency.

  1. Have clients give you permission to seek emergency treatment and agree to cover the cost.
  2. Have clients specify whether there’s a cap on the cost they will accept. (Don’t assume everyone shares your willingness to take out a second mortgage to pay for surgery.)
  3. Have clients specify whether they authorize you to take the dog to whichever vet or animal hospital is closest. In other words, they want you to exercise discretion in getting their dog the best, fastest care. Otherwise, they may refuse to pay because you didn’t use their vet.
  4. Have clients state their wishes with regards to resuscitative care. For example, some clients may not wish to have senior dogs resuscitated.

Recruit an emergency assistant. One way to prevent panic in an emergency is to have a person to call who can help you keep calm and assist with urgent tasks. Don’t just make a mental list of cool-headed friends, though. Your emergency assistant must know and agree to his or her new designation, and the two of you should set up a protocol for such calls. Maybe it’s her job to meet you at the vet clinic and provide general support. Maybe she is the one who takes the other dogs home. Maybe she finishes your walking stops for the day. Whatever it is, you always know that someone can come to your aid. You and a fellow dog pro can do this for each other, or you can ask a friend who works from home or has a flexible office schedule.

Take your emergency assistant out with you on your regular rounds so she can meet all the dogs. Then practice your emergency protocol with your assistant to make sure everything goes as planned when you really need it to.

Emergency protocols

Knowing what to do in an emergency will help keep you calm. And being calm will allow you to more effectively handle whatever situation comes your way.

At the Dog Walking Academy we provide step-by-step protocols for handling all manner of emergencies, including vehicle breakdowns, you being injured or becoming ill during a walk, a dog in your car biting another dog or person, and losing a dog. We encourage our grads to carry these protocols with them, giving them a clear path forward should panic or shock set in. If you don’t have specific emergency protocols, take some time to develop them—or come join us for the Dog Walking Academy.

Secure dogs and call your emergency assistant. Regardless of the situation, one important step in any protocol when walking groups is to secure all dogs to keep the situation from escalating. The last thing you need while dealing with an injured dog or sprained ankle is for another one to take himself off on an adventure. Get everyone safely leashed if they aren’t already, then call your emergency assistant. In most protocols, your emergency assistant is the first call you’ll make. Knowing someone is in your corner and on the way to help can do a lot to bring calm, no matter the emergency.

Communicate with the client. Call the client when you have calmed down, not before. Also hold off until you know the precise nature of the damage. Sprained leg or amputation? Eye patch for a few days or blindness? Best to find out before you make the dreaded call. When you do, speak in a calm, confident tone. A distressed owner needs to know a professional is in charge of the crisis. Clearly state whether everything is handled and this is just a courtesy call to let the client know, or whether some action on her part is required.

With any kind of mishap, even if everything turned out fine, the best policy is to tell the client. Some clients might not care that their dog was missing for 20 minutes on a deer-chasing adventure, or that he got into a scuffle in which no one was hurt, but that risk is preferable to a client who hears it from someone else and is outraged at your failure to tell her about the dramatic event, regardless of the outcome. And if running off or scuffles become a trend, your client may be angry to learn something’s been brewing and wonder why you didn’t let her know sooner.

Take responsibility as appropriate—you are an adult and a professional. But don’t verbally rub sand in your hair, don’t heap blame on yourself, and don’t ever tell the client they ought to sue you. Accidents happen. Dogs are not appliances.

Depending on the situation, here is a possible strategy for the conversation: describe in a straightforward manner exactly what happened, share all the steps you took to handle the situation, give a report of the current status of the dog, and share anything you plan to do (if relevant) in the way of policy or process changes to avoid something similar happening in the future. Stress your concern for the dog’s and the client’s well-being, and ask if there’s anything else you can do to be of support at this particular moment.

Emergency follow-up

If the worst happens and a dog is seriously injured or killed while under your care, let your other clients know in writing. Bad news travels fast and if you are not the one to tell them, they may think you’re trying to hide the episode. You have to protect your business and your brand, and honesty is the best policy.

The letter should include any policy changes you are making to prevent the same thing happening again. Be thoughtful about protecting anonymity; don’t hang clients out to dry. If a dog is expelled, for example, don’t name that dog. If a dog is killed, find out whether the owner wants the dog named or not. Some do, some don’t. But don’t name the dog who killed, just say he was expelled.

Openness is the best policy about smaller incidents, too. A scuffle in a walking group that results in a dog needing a couple of stitches, for example, should also be communicated. Doing so breeds confidence, prevents rumors from festering and growing, and demystifies normal canine behavior. Emphasize what is being done about the problem: “We had another tiff over tennis balls today, so we have decided not to bring them to the beach with us anymore.” Hopefully, you are communicating with your clients every week anyway (highlights from Fido’s week, etc.), so bad news isn’t the only news they get.

(Of course, if scuffles happen more than once in a blue moon, something is wrong. Screening procedures and staff training are the first places to look for a possible issue.)

Don’t fret

If you generally run a strong business, if you take good care of dogs and of people, if you handle a crisis with responsibility and grace, it’s rare to lose clients over injury incidents. Be open and honest, be calm, and face the situation down—it can happen to anyone.

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