Dog groomer Stuart Simons of Groom Dog City in London found  himself at the centre of a media storm earlier this year after actress Emma Watson was seen walking a dog he had dyed pink. Critics said dyeing a dog’s coat was taking grooming a step too far. Here, Stuart examines both sides of the debate…

It all started when I was contacted by the editor of a well-known bridal magazine, looking for a dog to be dyed pastel pink for a photo shoot. I have been quite interested in following creative grooming attempts on the internet over the past few years and, after looking into which products were available from my wholesalers, I decided to offer my own bichon frise, Molly, as long as I could apply the dye myself and take her to the shoot. It went very well and Molly looked beautiful. So beautiful, in fact, that when Harry Potter star, Emma Watson, and a friend came through the door with a beautiful Maltese a few weeks later they decided they would like the same treatment for the dog in an attempt to raise funds for breast cancer charities. The following day pictures of Emma with her friend’s Maltese were plastered over the front pages of the tabloids and we were inundated with phone calls from the press and TV companies from all over the world. The Daily Mail ran it as one of their main online stories and the feedback was not great – a lot of people felt it was cruel. As a result I  felt it was necessary to defend myself so went on Daybreak to explain why I felt it was justifiable.

Questioning safety 

For the most part we live in a dogloving society and this has never been more apparent to me than by reading the feedback about the dog dyes. I felt that I really needed to educate myself  in the process of dyeing and to find out if I had done anything to put my beloved Molly in danger. As groomers we are not in the business to abuse or hurt dogs – quite  the opposite. We want to make them look their best and feel comfortable  contacted the National Association of Professional Creative Groomers  (NAPCG) to find out the ins and outs of the dog dyeing industry. What I found out was alarming.  For the bridal magazine shoot I used Top Performance hair dye that  is made specifically for cats and dogs. This is a conditioner-based dye that is  applied to the dog as a shampoo, left for ten minutes and then rinsed off.  It is available from the  wholesalers of dog grooming products and is classed as safe as it uses absolutely no accelerants, bleaches or peroxide. Phew, Molly was perfectly safe. The colour comes from all different sources but  is mainly drawn from vegetables and other natural products. It is classed as semi-permanent and should wash out in about eight washes.

The science part 

The dye doesn’t strip hair like a bleach would. It simply stains the hair. It is not drawn into the body through the skin and it has absolutely no smell. A human has, on average, a thickness of 25 cells to their skin while a dog has only eight. This means that it is less able to cope  with the effects of the bleaches. Being a child of the 1980s I have bleached my hair before and I can very well remember the stinging it caused to my scalp. Imagine your dog feeling that all over – not nice. The bottom line is that what is okay for humans is most definitely not okay for your pampered pet. There is also the question of toxicity. Now I can smell bleach – it has a really pungent, unmistakable smell. Dogs have a sense of smell that is a huge amount more acute than that of humans. On speaking to Amy Brown, president and founder of the NAPCG, I learnt that dogs that have been dyed with human dye have actually had respiratory failure during a dyeing session and passed away. I was appalled. She also sent me some pictures of the outcomes on some dogs that have had bleaching agents applied to their bodies and I was so upset. It really spurred me on, not only to educate myself in this matter, but also to educate other groomers on the danger of these human bleaches.

Safety first

You need to ask yourself – who are  you doing this for? If there is even a  slight question mark to the safety of  a product on a dog, why gamble with their welfare? Dogs look to us to keep them safe, feed them and make them  happy. The difference in the outcome  to bleaching agents is pretty obvious. With the ‘safe’ semi-permanent dyes, it  is impossible to guarantee the colour as  you have to take the dog’s hair pigment into consideration. Sometimes the colours aren’t as vibrant or clear. It is  impossible to dye black dogs as they  have the darkest natural pigment and, as I said before, they don’t bleach the colour out of the coat. But the effects  are still amazing and I would rather the  dogs in my care were safe instead of brightly coloured.  Black and dark-coloured dogs aren’t  left completely out of this process.  We can offer temporary tattoos by using blo-pens or colour air brushes. You can also use chalk to get a nice  temporary tattoo – on a black Labrador for example. Ghosts at Halloween are  always very popular. Creative grooming has been going on for years, sometimes to the detriment  of the health of our beloved pets. In this day and age, with the products  available to us now, there is absolutely no need to use dangerous accelerants and bleach on any dog. Always do a skin test on a dog when applying any kind of dye and, most importantly, choose your dogs very carefully. Remember that dyed dogs get much more human attention and so it wouldn’t be suitable to use on a shy, nervous or anxious dog.  I wouldn’t use dyes on an elderly dog or a puppy, and would  efinitely avoid using it on any dogs with an underlying skin condition. Most important of all, if you are looking to have your own dog dyed – take it to an NAPCG registered groomer.  So have fun, enjoy grooming creatively – but please remember to stay safe!