industry divided The whippet media
industry divided The whippet media

The divide of an industry

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It seems to be such a hostile topic – holistic grooming, fear-free grooming, force-free grooming.

But why? 

Whether we care to admit it or not, our industry is clearly divided. It’s utterly consumed with negativity, ignorance and a blatant resistance to grow and evolve with the times. 

That’s the UGLY truth. 

We can all say that we love animals (and our desire to work with them is a clear reflection that we do) but, it means nothing if we aren’t investing in continually learning new ways to serve them better, and not just ourselves. 

I have been subject to some trolling lately because, and I quote, I’m not a “real groomer”. Ridiculed for my belief in learning alternative ways of doing my job because it doesn’t tie in with the status-quo ways of grooming.  

I witnessed industry ‘leader’s’ mock and discredit holistic grooming because it was “wrong information”. It was “dangerous” and it was “stupid”. I continued to read comments from fellow groomers, laughing and targeting other groomers because one person believes it is silly. 

This arrogance and reluctance to learn something different was almost enough for me to give up my career completely! It almost broke me. 

But here I am trying one last time, to make peace and put this controversy to rest once and for all. 

From what I’ve observed the problem first begins with the descriptions, which are always taken literally to those who contest it.

I’ve seen “you can’t guarantee fear-free”, “there’s no such thing as force-free” and “it’s not safe to use zero restraints”. 

I’ve realised many of the groomers who are mocking the idea of holistic grooming, are offended by the idea we are insinuating they are “bad” groomers. And this is where it’s going wrong. 

We are all ignorant until we aren’t, right? 

We cannot know without learning first, right? 

But, not knowing can be often leave us wide open to danger. Holistic grooming, however, is all about learning what we don’t know we need to know. We invest time in researching it and finally using that knowledge to tweak our approach to subsequently do better. 

What does holistic mean? 

The reality is, many don’t know yet or use the term wrongly in hope it will give them a competitive advantage. This is usually assumed by using “naturally-sourced” products. This is where all of the “bad press” comes from. This and all the accusations that we are “extorting our clients” and “conning them out of money”. 

In fact, the true definition is, “approaching a situation from a totality perspective”. or “treating a patient while considering the entire situation”.  

Therefore, in the context of grooming dogs, it simply means approaching our role with a more extensive understanding. Understanding and caring for our animals without causing any physical, emotional or physiological harm. 

How do we do that though? 

It’s really quite simple – we change our perspective. 

We stop looking at grooming as solely styling and we begin to look at grooming as a responsibility. Mainly to provide a service the animal will enjoy, or at the very least, not be as fearful of. 

We educate ourselves on the functionality of the animals we are working with on a daily basis and how best to handle and care for them. 

Keep up to date with science, research and the evidence to back theories up and we embrace this new information and evolve with the times, because we have a duty of care to do so.

Our job, is to get the animal properly prepped so that we can successfully achieve a maintainable pet/show trim.

We have got into the habit of labelling dogs, stereotyping breeds and blaming guardians. All because we haven’t really been required to know any better. 

Training for me set my confidence back because I was told only an “experienced groomer” could accept “aggressive dogs”. I was told to refuse Chow Chows, to watch out for Westies and to “never trust a dog”. 

But how does a groomer become experienced with aggressive dogs in the first place? How can they if they are never shown safe handling techniques and told to send them away?  

When I opened my Spa, I was terrified but as my books filled with “groomer-hoppers”, I suddenly realised that turning aggressive dogs away wasn’t going to pay the bills. So I bought my very first book on dog behaviour, ‘On Talking Terms with Dogs – Calming Signals’ by Turid Rugaas. 

This changed my entire perspective and subsequently resulted in an addiction to learning more on Canine Behaviour and Safe Handling. 

In Holistic Grooming we learn to observe the entire situation to understand why a dog is displaying a behaviour. If we can get to the cause, we can help the dog change his emotional state resulting in a more resilient dog and easier groom for us. 

Of course, there’s those who will argue that we aren’t behaviourists, that we are there to groom a dog and that’s it. We don’t have time to spend working on a dog. Nor do we charge enough to cover the extra investment into learning what we need to, to be competent in it. 

But the reality is, we have a duty of care and we must feel confident in our handling of dogs – how can we say that we are, if we don’t understand them? 

There are two sides to the grooming industry coin: 

  1. Holistic Grooming (also known as Force-Free Grooming, Fear Free Grooming, Low Stress Grooming).It isn’t for everyone – it’s for those who are really passionate about the health and wellbeing side of grooming. This is focused more on the care sector of our industry, where we tend to specialise in “difficult dogs”. We will work closely with the pet guardian and other pet professionals so that the dog can be groomed safely. It can be done with limited emotional, psychological and/or physical distress. And, doesn’t mean we don’t use restraints/handling aids, it doesn’t mean there is zero fear, it doesn’t mean there’s zero force. It means that we consider the needs of each individual dog in order to reduce the emotional strain.
  2. Pet Styling (also included is, Competition Grooming or Show Grooming). This is how we are typically trained because the focus is on the style achieved. Again, it is not for everyone. Pet Styling is for those who are passionate about grooming as an artistic skill. This is a fashion-based industry, where the aspiring stylist will harness his/her skills to achieve perfect symmetry. The perfect creative or breed standard trims that are fit for competitions and shows. Some guardians love the fashion sector of grooming and, it does make up a large percentage of our clientele. However, the wellbeing and health of a dog should never be compromised to achieve a style. This is where an investment on learning is crucial in the progression of our industry. 

And while Holistic Grooming has an exhaustive list of things to learn, it’s important to remember that not all dogs need so much time. So as a result, we are not sending away every dog with one leg un-done. 

Holistic Grooming offers groomers an alternative way of approaching the grooming process. This is by using up-to-date scientific research and evidence. It’ll ensure we are doing all that we can to adhere to the Animal Welfare Act and its Five freedoms. 

Whether you aspire to be the best stylist or merely help as many “difficult” dogs overcome their fear, should be backed with continual professional development. In not only our tool technique, but our ability to communicate and care for the dog too. 

Our approach is actually very safe. But just like a neck aid used incorrectly, can be unsafe if not fully understood and practiced. 

I believe our industry needs to evolve with the times, to show we are all doing our very best to continue our education into the care of animals.

I believe we should be adaptable and willing to demonstrate that our approach supports up-to-date science and research. That we are stepping away from dominance-based theory and instilling more positive-based methods in the handling of the animals.

I don’t think it’s about US – who is a “good” or a “bad” groomer. I’m not interested in “discrediting” a colleague in the industry. Neither am I interested in following the status quo because one person with X amount of experience says it’s right. 

Is our industry really that bitchy, material and vain? 

It’s it not about self-development, about growing, about enhancing our work flow and strengthening our working ethics? 

Is it not about supporting one another in our success but also in our failures? About embracing our mistakes and inviting the lessons to be learnt from them?

Where’s the compassion?

The sooner we realise that we’re all fundamentally part of the same cheerleading team, the stronger our industry will become. 

I’m not sure how well-received this article will be, but I am thankful to the Whippet Team for allowing me the opportunity to write on behalf of Holistic Groomers all over the world. 

Are you part of the Holistic Groomers facebook group? If you want to learn more about Holistic Grooming CLICK HERE