Hairwise, Frankie is pretty low maintenance. I tend to take him to a groomer only for nail clipping and anal sac expressing (I’ll discuss the former soon but have spent way too much time this past month writing an article about the latter, so am on a dog butt break).

Recently, however, I decided to get him gussied up for a trip to the Ritz-Carlton Dove Mountain, with less than pleasant results. I can’t swear that his corneal ulcer was caused by careless grooming, but the timing of getting a hair in his eye that he rubbed at and which in turn led to the ulcer seems rather suspicious.

I trust the owner of the dog boutique/groomer I took Frankie to. Mistakes happen, and — an expensive vet visit later — Frankie is fine. Sadly, some dogs don’t survive a visit to the groomer.

Anyone with a water source and a pair of clippers can put out a dog-grooming shingle in many states, no license required. And these seemingly benign professionals — after all, groomers aren’t practicing medicine, right? — can pose grave dangers to your dog.

Among the things that you should look out for:

Cage drying

Similar to clothes dryers without the rotation, cage dryers are enclosures into which your dog is placed and blasted with air in order to dry his hair. Some units (see below) offer separate cages for more than one dog. These devices are good for groomers, who can increase the volume of their business by working on other dogs while yours is drying, but not so good for the dogs, who can’t escape (and who can’t sweat; they can only pant to try to cool themselves off). If the temperature is turned up too high and your dog is left in too long, she can dehydrate and die.

As a result of several canine fatalities, a few states are trying to outlaw cage dryers.

Some reputable groomers contend that they use only the unheated fan option, even going so far as to remove the heat coil. Others say they never set the temperature above 80 degrees and never leave the room. Maybe so, but why tempt fate? At the least, these enclosures are likely to frighten the bejeezus out of your dog.

Unauthorized tranquilizing

If a groomer is sufficiently gentle –- and doesn’t use scary equipment — your dog shouldn’t need to be tranquilized. Some clients allow their dogs to be sedated, which is their prerogative (I guess), albeit one that should be used very sparingly. Some groomers, however, don’t ask –- and don’t tell. That constitutes practicing medicine without a license and without permission from the patient’s guardian. If your dog is allergic to them, tranquilizers can be as dangerous as cage dryers.

Overlong stays

Imagine waiting in a doctor’s office all day with other equally stressed out patients, many of whom are yelling at each other and at the receptionist. Loud, frightening noises are coming from places that you can’t see. You can’t stretch your legs or get up to go to the bathroom. And you can’t read magazines, make phone calls, play video poker (party bets), or otherwise distract yourself.

Why would you want to subject your dog to that?

A good groomer should stagger appointments so that your dog is worked on and available to be picked up as quickly as possible. Two hours, total, is ideal; up to half a day is reasonable. A full day – fuggedaboudit. Taking your dog to a groomer isn’t, as some owners seem to regard it, a way to get free dog sitting.

If you’re just getting your dog’s nails clipped and/or anal sacs expressed, it’s reasonable to ask if you can wait; it shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes, total. I almost never (aforementioned corneal ulcer-causing appointment excepted) leave Frankie at a groomer; it would make us both unhappy.

39 thoughts on “Dog grooming gone bad”

  1. This is kind of why I do everything at the vet. Even nail trims and anal gland expression can go awry and if it does, I want those best qualified to handle the emergency to be there. Luckily both of my dogs have short fur so bathtime doesn’t need a professional (and isn’t necessary very often).

    1. I agree — it’s safest at the vet and if I’m already there I’ll have my vet do the nail cutting and anal sac expressing. But those are such common procedures that groomers are expert at them and the cost at the places I’ve gone is $10 for both, as opposed to whatever you have to pay for walking into a vet’s office.

    2. Most of us professional groomers are fully trained in nail clipping and anal gland expression. Vets over charge for this procedure and don’t know how to correctly hold a dog while clipping its nails. Best to check around to find a qualified and certified pet groomer that has been trained correctly

  2. Wow … unintentional expose? Who woulda thought there could be so much nefariousness at a dog groomers. We’re lucky (I guess) that neither Ty nor Buster require a groomers touch.

    You’ve had a nice run of fun/interesting/informative posts – keep up the great writing!

    1. Glad to hear you don’t need to worry about Ty and Buster. And thanks for your nice words about my recent posts. As it happens, the grooming series is adapted from one of the chapters in Am I Boring My Dog.

    1. I missed the PWD with the bad hair day (life?) at Westminister. You don’t mean the puli, do you, which looks like a PWD with dreadlocks?

  3. I take Sadie to the vet for her anal sac expressing. So far Rusty hasn’t needed anything I cannot provide grooming wise. Both Sadie and Rusty have short hair and I have not had to clip their nails. The vet said they get enough exercise that their nails stay short. Another really good article, poor Frankie it seems if it can happen it does happen to him. Lucky for Frankie he has an owner who really loves him and takes good care of him.

    1. Looks like I’ve got a lot of readers with low maintenance dogs — which is in part, I suspect, because they pay regular attention to their dogs’ well-being. Thanks Kelley for your sympathy and kind words.

  4. Good post, Edie. A lot of folks don’t realize cage dryers present a very real danager. Over the years quite a few dogs have died inside dryers because the groomer was distracted with other four legged clients.

    Also owners should avoid those automatic dog washers (they look like giant front loading washing machines) found at car washes and some groomers. Manufacturers (of course) claim the contraptions are safe. Even if they’re right, it’s way too stressful on dogs to put them through a full wash and dry. A few years back, I was at a trade show watching a demonstration and even the dog used by company was pawing at the glass, trying to get out.

    1. Maryann, I saw those automatic dog washers a while back. Someone — maybe it was you? — blogged or tweeted about them. They’re so beyond the pale that I thought no sane person would ever consider putting a dog in one, but of course they could be hidden in a groomer’s backroom…

      Clare, I’m sorry to hear about that poor humiliated PWD. I’ve given Frankie a few bad haircuts, but nothing approaching what you describe.

      Pat, I’ve often wondered what it is about dogs and their feet. You’d think with all that barefoot walking dogs wouldn’t be overly sensitive but some pups just hate to have them touched. I can’t pretend I used to cut Frankie’s nails before he got diabetes, but now that I give him needles twice a day I have even more of an excuse not to approach him with other instruments that might stress him out. That said, he doesn’t seem to have a particular problem getting a quick nail clip at a groomer’s.

    2. I being a professional groomer, trainer, and a former Marine Corps Canine Handler just happened to stumble upon this thread and all I have to say is “Really?”.. You know what kills more dogs than cage dryers? (Just off the top of my head) cars, Nylabones, Rawhide Bones, contaminants in food and ingestion of other foreign objects (keys, combs, batteries, rocks, toys etc.) But we are not going to ban any of these items.. If a dog dies in a cage dryer, then the groomer is an idiot. It does not mean the dryer is unsafe.. Plenty die each year here in Florida from distracted owners that decided to leave them in the car and run into the store real quick.. not realizing that the temp in a car can rise 45 degrees in 15 minutes.. Get your facts straight and stop blaming the tools.. blame the people… ie.. dryer don’t kill dogs, dumb groomers kill dogs… very reminiscent of “guns don’t kill people, people kill people…”

      1. Education is essential in ALL these areas you cite. I couldn’t agree more. But some are more easily misused than others and they include cage dryers. We have a fundamental disagreement about dangerous tools. I happen to believe that guns DO kill people because they are so easily put into the hands mentally unstable people who shouldn’t have access to them.

  5. Sadly, no, it was a PWD whose body had been shaved from mid-ribcage to tush, and whose front half had been teased like a poodle’s. I hope that doesn’t happen to Bo! And at least we know that’s one bad thing that won’t happen to Frankie Doodle!

    1. This comment is way past late as far as blogs go but… The haircut you are describing is called a lion cut and it is one of two acceptable show cuts for PWDs, not a case of grooming gone wrong. Fishermen used to cut these dogs this way so their hind legs were free to swim, while the fur was left on their chests to keep their lungs and hearts a bit warmer.

      1. Yes, what Roz said. Obviously, that sort of haircut is impractical for the family dog, but it’s perfectly acceptable–and even expected–in the show ring.

        If you haven’t read it already, I highly recommend taking a look at The Encyclopedia of the Dog Breeds by D. Caroline Coile. It provides excellent photos of every AKC registered breed (in show cuts, no less), in addition to a brief history behind every breed. As pet owners, we tend to look upon our dogs as only companions and beloved members of our family, but the truth is, nearly every breed of dog–with the exception of those in the toy group–were bred for a specific purpose other than companionship. In the case of the Portuguese water dog, it was bred to work on fishing boats. It herded fish into nets and retrieved lost nets and equipment. In ancient times, mastiffs were used as war dogs and gladiators. Saint Bernards were bred for draft and search and rescue. Cocker spaniels were bred for bird flushing and retrieving. Even the poodle–the breed that most exemplifies frou-frouness–was originally bred for water-hunting. Its coat was shorn close to facilitate swimming, but left longer on the chest for warmth in cold water. So you see, there really IS a reason why groomers do what they do!

        1. Thanks for this — and for your other comment with your nice words about my blog. You do your profession proud with your knowledge of breed history. And your blog is very enjoyable!

  6. Well, I’ve got medium maintenance dogs these days – English Cocker spaniels who are no longer in full breed-ring coat. But I do still show M., so she carried the illusion of hair. I’ve always groomed my own dogs, although occasionally I ask the groomers at the kennel where I board them to give them a bath. And both have had to be groomed by others when I was recovering from cancer surgeries, since I wasn’t strong enough to stand and their hair isn’t going to stop growing just because I’m not feeling well!

    I was taught my grooming skills by the breeders of my dogs, by show handlers who groom dogs as part of their living and by four years of daily practice at a boarding kennel (the kennel also did grooming.) I’d been grooming my own English Springer spaniels for the show ring for three years before I started taking money for my skills at the boarding kennel. No, I’m not a certified master groomer – I’ve never had the opportunity to take that training. However, I am a certified animal technician – and trust me, they (and other vet techs) do NOT get any special training in dog grooming.

    Nail clipping is a skill any owner should be able to do – I used to routinely teach it to the students in my dog obedience classes. Some dogs are royal PITAs about nail clipping – and for that reason, it might be wise to go to a professional. But for what it’s worth, as a pro, I’ve used my share of grooming nooses, muzzles and cross-tie restraints just to get nails done. And right now, my 15+ y.o. engie gives me FITS about doing his feet (nails, coat trimming, etc.) I have to get him really tired and then I can work on him with less of a fight (because fighting while holding nail trimmers, clippers and scissors isn’t good for any of us.). M., on the other hand, is a sweetheart about her feet.

    I’ve had personal dogs who were wonderful about toenails, and those who were banshees…and they were all groomed regularly from puppyhood. I’ve also encountered many client dogs who needed toenails done – like, months ago – but weren’t properly trained to accept the procedure. Then it becomes a struggle for everyone. Sometimes the dog just doesn’t want it done – and frankly, in some situations where the feet need to be attended to because the nails are way too long for safety, sedating the dog for handling might be the safest option for all involved.

    That doesn’t mean a groomer should ever sedate a dog without talking to the owner first. It does mean that sometimes, it needs to be done.

    Dogs are not little children in fur coats – they are creatures who we are charged to take care of. Since life with humans challenges a dog differently than he’d be challenged if he lived in the wild, we do need to take them to groomers (or do it ourselves) to ensure that feet are well-tended, nails are kept short enough that they don’t snag and catch while the dog walks, ears and eyes are kept clean and coats and skin are well-maintained. One of the saddest situations in the entire world (IMO) is the dog whose owner never conditions him to be handled for routine grooming – because sooner or later that dog is going to need that handling, and they’re not going to be used to the process.

    1. Geez — it *was* Maryann who posted the article I remembered. I did not recall that the device was sanctioned by Cesar Millan. Why am I not shocked (though I am appalled)?

  7. Just read the article about Dog-O-Matic machines and see where an unnamed source claims Cesar Millan bought one for his personal use. Don’t see a quote at all from Cesar, and don’t know how a claim (that’s in the manufacturer’s economic interest) that a celebrity bought one equals “sanctioning” anything.

    I don’t own a Dog-O-Matic, have never used one, would not choose to use one, and have no affiliation with Cesar Millan, FYI.

    1. The author of the article, whom I contacted, stands by her information that Cesar Millan bought one. She can’t swear that he used it; nor can I. And we had the “buying” doesn’t equal “sanctioning” semantics discussion on Twitter, so I think I’ll pass on that here except to add that if I buy a gun, I might not be sanctioning — or endorsing, if you prefer — that particular gun but I would be saying that I have no problem with gun ownership. Anyone who buys an automatic dogwashing machine is similarly suggesting such products in general are okay, even if that particular product doesn’t work very well.

  8. Well, here’s your reader with the high maintenance dog…the double coated Shih Tzu. I wrote an article on grooming and submitted to one of those article submission sites when I first started blogging. It was interesting to find out all the hazards of the grooming salon. It’s disturbing to think that so many people leave their dogs all day and don’t give it a thought, isn’t it. Have you been to those places where scissors and other grooming tools are left on the grooming table while a dog is on it? Yikes! Nice drill down on the grooming series, Edie, thanks!

    1. Ah yes, the famous Tashi (who deserves all the maintenance you offer)! Good point about the dangers of scissors and tools left on the table.

      Next in the series: How to find a good groomer. And the finale: the fabulous FURminator giveaway!

  9. How scary, I’ve never heard of cage dryers. They should be banned. I would hope that dog owners would check out the grooming facility and make sure that their dog is not placed in one of these deadly devices.
    And as for sedatives, why on earth would anyone subject their dog to that? It’s unnecessary. I would get groomer recommendations from friends, and only use a groomer who doesn’t use sedatives.

  10. Edie, this is a brilliant post, thank you so much for it! I am a professional dog trainer going on 8 years and I have to confess my ignorance about dog grooming – I had no idea that cage dryers were dangerous, nor that there aren’t necessarily educational/mechanical skill standards for groomers! The issue of unauthorized sedation is even scarier!

    Because my own dogs require little in the way of grooming, I have had virtually no experience assessing groomers myself, and so I’ve always told clients/students who’ve asked for grooming referrals to go ask other dog owners for their recommendations. It seems to me now that dog owners may not be the best source of information either, as I doubt most pet owners are aware of the things you pointed to – they’re just going to judge groomers’ ability on the basis of what their dog looks like at the end of the process. At least I’ll be able to share some good tips on finding someone qualified now!

    Reposting this to my own blog, STAT!

  11. Edie, while it’s very true that there are groomers out there who are careless and disorganized and only worried about the bottom line, I promise you there are good, careful, loving groomers out there, too. You just have to look for them. And believe me, I know it can be a tedious search.

    I’m currently enrolled in dog grooming school at an academy in Massachusetts. The training I received at the school was top-notch, and we’ve spent just as much time learning how to properly handle nervous/elderly/feisty clients as we have learning proper patterns and techniques. Above all, the safety and well-being of each client is what’s most important, and at the school we value quality over quantity every time. I think that’s where most groomers get into trouble. They may have all of the best of intentions, but when they get overbooked and overwhelmed, they get careless, and that puts everyone at risk–themselves included.

    One of my dearest friends and greatest role models is a groomer. I’ve known her since I was born, and I practically grew up at her shop. I worked as a bather for her during college, and it was a tremendous experience. I was a journalist for ten years before I burned out and enrolled in grooming school. I graduate in less than two weeks, and then I’ll head back to Ohio for a month to apprentice at my friend’s shop to help sharpen my skills and increase my speed. Then I’ll come back to Boston and try to find a job at a reputable shop. (Sadly, I’ve already checked out a lot of places, and they’re exactly how you described: dirty, disorganized, and unsafe. And I will NOT compromise my standards or my values when it comes to the safety of my clients.) Eventually, I hope to open my own shop. God knows there’s a market for it.

    If you do end up finding a reputable groomer, it can actually be quite beneficial for you and Frankie. Dogs typically only visit the vet once or twice a year, but groomers have their hands on dogs from nose to tail about every four to eight weeks. We notice changes in dogs–from the start of an ear infection or hotspot to lumps that weren’t there during the previous visit. So in addition to maintaining good hygiene for your dog, a groomer can play a valuable intermediary role to alert you of concerns and recommend a visit to the vet.

    If you’re interested in learning more about the grooming industry (or just reading about a former-writer-turned-groomer), you should check out my blog.


    P.S. I’ve never heard of those automatic dog washers, but I have heard horror stories regarding the cage dryers. I’ve found that attaching miniature fans to the cages are just as effective, and a lot safer.

  12. User Rating: 1 out of 5 stars
    by Teddy Bear 05/16/2011
    I went to Franko’s today for the first time. I dropped off my pomeranian named Princess. She has long hair length and fur as a traditional pomeranian. I expressed I was a first time customer and I wanted to have my dog’s nails cut, ears cleaned, bathe and groomed. When I was asked how I wanted to have my dog’s hair cut I said I like to keep her hair long as it is now but cut it 1 inch shorter. I came back 3 hours later and I was shocked. My pomeranian hair was all chopped off and had about 1 inch of hair all around her left on her body. I almost cried in the shop and just took her out to my car. I learned through looking at internet photos they call this cut a “teddy bear” cut. I never asked for this and totally disappointed. They did do a nice job on her nails, ears and she smelled wonderful. She even has a pink bow. For a “teddy bear” cut she looks adorable…’s just not was I asked for. I am hoping her hair will grow back the way it was prior to this. When you go to Franko’s … sure they repeat back what you want for clarification !!!!! I did not go back in because honestly…..what can they do ???? Refund just would not be good enough after this !!…..and they can’t put her fur back !!!

  13. hi i am a new dog owner , i have a beautiful white westy he is 5&a half months old . yesterday i took him to be groomed , it took 2 & a half hours ,when i picked him up from the groomers i noticed he was very shaken ,i put it down to missing me as it was the first time we had been seperated ,but when i got him home he was very out of sorts ie did not want to eat drink or play all he did was sleep ,which was very unusual for him the following day he was still out of sorts and cried when he pee peed ,when he did pass urine it was very dark in color although the groomer assured me that she did not use trankquilizers i am convinced he was drugged .but as a first time dog owner i would appriciate some feedback please .doodlepip27

    1. From what you’ve describe, it certainly sounds like your puppy was tranquilized. I’m sorry to hear it. There’s nothing you can do at this point — you’ve got no proof in any case — but definitely steer clear and warn others away. I don’t know if you had a recommendation for this groomer, but next time ask your vet or someone else you trust to suggest someone.

  14. Hi,
    I am a master dog groomer, I have a diploma in dog grooming. I have a cage dryer, one that attaches to the cage. The dog will be supervised at all times whilst in the cage dryer. We only use it when a dog is too stressed /scared of the high velocity hand dryer. If the dog is panting or has any other signs of heat stroke, we never use the cage dryer we will just towel dry the dog as much as possible and call the owner to collect the dog.

    When I started grooming I did work experience in a vets and it upset me very much. The nurses slapped and shouted at the dogs. Dogs that were bording were caged in small cages all day with only two breaks a day morning and evening. Dogs were sedated at a the nurses whim withoug getting owners permission, They left a husky in a cage dryer unsupervised, It was a nightmare and I was only there four hours. I walked out and never went back. I reported them to the local SPCA.

    What I am trying to say is be careful who you trust with your pet. One tip I give owners is you should never be afraid to ask to see where your dog will be groomed and caged,. My grooming room is visible from the street and anyone is welcome to come in and see our grooming area and chat to me about any aspect of their dogs groom.
    The vets is not always the best, you should ask to see there grooming area. Also is should have a standard of cleanliness.
    I wish grooming was regulated.

    1. Thanks for your thoughtful comment. You’re absolutely right. Many times boarding at a vet is a nightmare, too. It sounds like you are a very professional, very careful groomer.

      I wish grooming was regulated, too.

  15. I am a well-trained pet stylist and I would just like to point out that I think you need to do a bit more research before you go about scaring people. The only reason I say this is because if people are afraid to get their dogs groomed they could potentially develop health issues such as, sores that get infected from mats, broken or overgrown nails, infected anal glands, and ear infections. I prefer not to use the word cage, I call them kennel dryers. My salon uses kennel dryers if and only if a dog is too stressed by the velocity dryer. The kennel dryers use room temperature air to circulate inside the space ,which is different sizes for different dogs, and it is no more pressure than a light breeze outside. Less even than a hair dryer. The maximum setting is for fifteen minutes so it is impossible to leave it on without checking on the dog. Some breeds are what we call Brachycephalic and cannot under any circumstances be placed in a kennel dryer. These are breeds such as Pugs, Japanese Chins and Pekingeses. I believe that outlawing kennel dryers is extreme and would much rather have laws mandating how they can be used. I also firmly believe there should be cameras in grooming salons that the pet parent can watch upon request. This will hold groomers accountable and reduce the risk of animal fatality in grooming salons. In regard to your comment that dogs do not sweat, they actually do, however only from their paws. I believe you mean well but I and many other groomers would appreciate that you have a detailed understanding of dog breeds, salons and kennel dryers.
    Thank you for listening, Sincerely, Marie

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