What is it?
The word “Holistic” has become quite a buzzword and I don’t blame anyone for rolling their eyes when they hear it. Nevertheless, Holistic Grooming isn’t just some hippy-dippy catch phrase, but a philosophy and practice that appreciates that the animals we groom are sentient beings with their own complex thoughts and needs.
In any grooming school you’ll be taught there are certain ways to do things. For the most part, these techniques are important and work for most animals. Like most real life scenarios though, not everything is as simple as the theory or encompasses the complexities and nuances involved.
Holistic grooming is looking at the whole picture of the individual animal and understanding that what works for other animals may not work for them. With this in mind, a Holistic Groomer will adapt to the specific needs of the animal being groomed, rather than trying to make them fit into “normal” grooming techniques or what other animals do.
Holistic Grooming is also about understanding that mind and body are inextricably linked and that you can’t have one performing its best without the other.
The ideal outcome for a fantastic holistic groom isn’t just a beautiful haircut, but a happy animal. Not only because a happy animal is ethical, but also because it is much harder to achieve a brilliant haircut if the animal isn’t happy.
It’s a collaboration between Pet Parent + Groomer
Being that Holistic grooming is about emotional and mental health of the animal as well as physical, Holistic Grooming starts before the pet is on the table and ends after the the pet has left the premises. It is a collaboration between the pet parent and the groomer.
Well for example, maybe the dog is very energetic, the parent will collaborate by taking the dog for some exercise to get the nervous energy out before the groom.
If the animal hates having it’s nails done, the parent might routinely massage the feet at home for desensitisation.
Maybe the pet is nervous with all the smells and noises in the salon, the pet parent might go for walks stopping into the shop to get used it it before grooming day.
For these reasons, holistic groomers are very strong on communication with pet parents. We want to know all about your dog, but we also want to communicate all our findings when grooming. Working together is always the best option.
Stella (Behaviour/ Fear case)
Stella had an extreme water and hose phobia. So much so that she posed a risk for those around her and displayed fear based aggression. As she was adopted and her past was unknown, we aren’t sure of her backstory or why this was the case.
In order to help Stella get over her fear I first had to get to know her. The typical practice of just popping her in the bath wasn't going to work. So I scheduled extra time before her appointment and had an animal free salon so we could connect.
What I soon realised was that Stella was very responsive to high-pitched voice praise (not treats, as lots of animals refuse treats when stressed.) I spent time with Stella playing and bonding, and then when she would deliver a command I would give her the high pitched praise she enjoyed.
Then I proceeded to put the shower on gently in the back ground. Each time Stella came towards it, it was a excited, positive, high-pitched reaction from me. Eventually Stella got in the bath herself while the tap was off (but she was sceptical.)
For my own safety, she was tethered to the bath just in case she lunged at me. I put the warm water on, spraying towards the bottom of the bath, using praise and using the knowledge I had gained from Stella before. She growled but didn't lunge.
I thanked Stella for her growl (something I have learnt from the Healing Vet, Dr Edward Bassingthwaite.) Growling is a dog communicating their boundaries and we need to make sure we are listening to them. Sometimes people say bites or accidents “happen out of no where” but the truth is we look past signs of distress. Stella was communicating clearly.
After this growl I also had to claim myself. It’s scientifically proven that dogs pick up on fear through body posture, and also through smelling our bodies which produce chemicals, more adrenaline and stress-related hormones through our sweat. Learning to lower your heart rate and relax, is crucial. I needed to stop Stella from picking up external stress.
I gave Stella lots of attention and when she was in a relaxed again, I gently turned on the tap. She felt the warm water on her toes and didn’t react. By the end of this one session I was able to put water on Stella but not get through the whole groom. I asked her Mum to make weekly/fortnightly bookings so we could work on exposure.
It took Stella 3 sessions before she got through the whole groom. Now she gets excited to come in and jumps into the bath!
Lottie (Physical Disability)
Lottie is a one year old Labradoodle who has some hip deformities and has been through extensive surgeries on her back end.
Labradoodle grooming can be quite extensive and takes a lot of time to be able to groom the coat, but Lottie really cant stand for long periods comfortably or stay particularly still when on her feet.
There is equipment to help dogs with leg issues - e.g. slings and groomer’s helpers (which is a strap that goes under the hind legs to hold the dog up from sitting down.) These can take a bit of weight off the legs but should only be used for a short amount of time. They also inhibit the animal from full expression of their body language, and frankly, aren’t super comfortable.
So it was clear these wouldn’t be suitable for Lottie. What Lottie needed was to be able to lay down and stay still (as not to be cut.) A big ask from a young dog!
So before starting Lottie’s groom I had to train her to lay on her side and stay there. First the table started on the ground, because of the biggest issue is often the height. Slowly it went up and Lottie was praised for staying still.
Another holistic measure was that a hand was always kept on Lottie at all times. This helps her feel secure and that she isn't going to fall, which is a technique also used on blind animals. A hand on Lottie also monitored her breathing and heart rate just to gauge if she had any signs of stress.
Lottie was able to get through the whole groom in one session and was also able to leave the salon pain free. It is crucial animals leave feeling good so that they feel positive to return.