However careful you are, at some point you will have an accident in the grooming salon. Lesley Garratt of the Canine Design Academy of Grooming offers her advice on what to do in an emergency situation…

Obviously we should all take as many precautions as possible to avoid a mishap, by doing risk assessments and following safe working practices at all times, but as we are working on live animals with sharp implements, it is unlikely that you will go through your grooming career without experiencing some problems along the way.
There are many precautions you can take to try to avoid accidents happening in the first place. Firstly it is important to have a good working practise. This means no wet floors and no trailing wires. You should sweep hair regularly, return equipment to its designated area when not in use and dry hands before touching electrical switches. Equally important is a good salon design, for example use non-slip surfaces, sockets that are not too close to the bathing area and not too close to the floor (to avoid dogs soiling them and electrocuting themselves) and have a safe dog holding area. Make sure you handle equipment safely and correctly, don’t be heavy handed (for example with slicker brushes to avoid brush burn) and check/change blades regularly to avoid clipper burn. It is essential to monitor dogs at all times, especially if using equipment such as cabinet or cage dryers. Never leave dogs unattended on the table – the most common claim insurance companies have to pay out for is dogs hanging in the grooming salon – don’t become one of these statistics!  Never think ‘it will be okay’ as one day it won’t. Always have one hand on the dog while grooming.The salon and equipment

Protect yourself and your dogs

Be careful when using scissors to remove matts. Don’t hold scissor blades across the skin – jam points of scissors into matt, being careful not to puncture the skin, slice through matt several times then tease out – it is generally a better and safer method to use the point of a fine clipper blade to carefully remove the matt. Observe dog’s body language for any pain, distress or aggression and alter your methods accordingly and don’t continue grooming if you are becoming impatient or agitated – put dog away, have a five minute break, then start again. It is important never to groom when you are feeling stressed or agitated.

Always monitor dogs for heat stress, particularly in hot weather and never let dogs mix with each other in the grooming salon – their safety should always be paramount when in your care. It is not your job to let them socialise – leave this to their owners. You should be careful when doing matted shave downs – there is a much higher chance of the dog being cut. Use a finer blade in danger areas, so as not to feed skin into the clipper blade. Wet clipping is a good method to enable you to leave a longer finish, but always use a cordless clipper when using this method. Be aware of how you are handling the dog’s limbs – the last thing you want is for the dog to go home limping. Always be calm, patient and assertive – this will instil confidence in the dog and they will behave much better for you. You should be aware of danger areas when clipping a dog too (see box on the left/right).

Different dogs

You should always do a thorough health check on the dog before commencing grooming in order to check for any lumps, bumps, warts or abnormalities and use good grooming techniques. You should be extra vigilant when grooming elderly dogs – they can become sensitive to certain things. I’ve found many old dogs become sensitive to the blaster and will bark uncontrollably, almost as if they are having a fit. If this happens, stop immediately and reassure the dog until he stops barking. Make a note on the record card not to use the blaster on this dog again. Make sure you ask owner about any health problems before commencing the groom and check for any changes in health every time the dog visits. Grooming a puppy can be fraught with problems too – they are squirmy and wriggly and often will fight when having scissors around their eyes. Do not take any chances. If you feel what you are doing is dangerous and may injure the dog, stop what you are doing and call it a day. Communicate with your client and teach them how to handle the dog (e.g. getting them used to having the piece of hair under their chin held) to help you in the future. You might like to offer free puppy sessions to help get the puppy used to the grooming environment. Short, regular grooming sessions are the key. Overweight dogs may need to be given extra support e.g. with a hammock. Lift dogs correctly bearing in mind that different dogs need different treatment. You’ll need to give extra support for chondrodysplastic (long backed) dogs; never scruff the brachycephalic (short nosed) breeds as there is a danger of eye prolapse; do not scoop large breeds as this can encourage hip dysplacia.

Final precautions are to make sure you have grooming insurance in place and know when to say no. Some dogs are simply too dangerous to groom, due to their behaviour or health issues. Do not try to do the impossible – if you feel unsafe grooming a dog, then you probably are.  Know your limitations and if necessary suggest the owner takes the dog to a vet to be groomed under sedation.

Accidents do happen

Even if you follow all the above points meticulously, an accident can still happen, so how do you deal with it if it does? The box on the left/right shows the basic rules to follow. Remain calm and do not panic – this will not help you or the dog and will just make matters worse.  Recently, one of my own dogs somehow got a chair leg stuck in his collar – he panicked and twisted causing the collar to tighten around his neck. Did I follow my own advice? Unfortunately not! I have to admit I panicked, but luckily my husband was there – he remained calm and managed to release the collar quickly enough so that my dog was fine with no lasting injuries. I honestly believe if my husband hadn’t been there my dog would have died, but all it took to avoid a catastrophe was for somebody to remain calm and act quickly.


How should you deal with the owner if an accident has happened? Be calm and professional. Take responsibility if it was your fault and the accident could have been avoided. If the accident happened because the dog was severely matted, you should have ensured that the client signed a ‘matted dog release form’ prior to the groom, absolving you of responsibility should an accident happen, as the risk is much higher and the client must take responsibility for the neglect of their dog’s coat. This is not to say you shouldn’t try to avoid an accident happening, but the client must also be made to understand that they have to accept some responsibility and risk. If you genuinely believe an accident was your fault, by all means offer a discounted groom the next time, or even free if this makes you feel better. If it is only a minor injury, be calm and polite and do apologise, but do not over-do it.  Advise the client to keep the injury clean and keep an eye on it.  Assure them that should they need to seek vet attention, you or your insurance company will deal with any costs. Dog grooming as a profession is fraught with danger, and if we thought about it too much we would probably never want to pick up our clippers or scissors.  Be sensible and follow all the safety procedures listed above and you should have a long, enjoyable career with few accidents. They obviously will happen from time to time, but hopefully this article will help you to deal with them effectively with the least stress to all concerned. Remember, most owners will be understanding when an accident happens. They will know that you are very upset about it and the last thing you wanted to do was injure their dog.  Build a good, trusting relationship with your clients and you will be half way there.