6/22/12 Update: One one of my grooming forums, someone posted this information about mink oil alternatives. From Wikipedia:
“Mink oil is made from mink fat and originates from China. The fat that is made into this oil is stored just beneath the skin. Removed from pelts destined for the fur industry, the fat is rendered into mink oil.
Mink oil is a source of palmitoleic acid, which possesses physical properties similar to human sebum. Because of this, mink oil is used in several medical and cosmetic products. Mink oil is also used for treating/conditioning and preserving nearly all kinds of leather.
Botanical alternatives to mink oil as a source of palmitoleic acid include macadamia nut oil (Macadamia integrifolia) and sea buckthorn oil (Hippophae rhamnoides), both of which contain a larger percentage of palmitoleic acid (22 and 40% respectively) than does mink oil (17%).
‘Mink oil and its fatty acids are unique among animal-derived fats and oils. The total unsaturated fatty acids in mink oil account for more than 75% of the fatty acid content, but the oil, nevertheless, has a greater oxidative stability (resistance to rancidity)… than other animal or vegetable oils.'”
I have a bee under my bonnet about something: The use of mink in products.
Saturday is the second tradeshow I have gone to where there is a company called “Touch of Mink” that is fairly pushy about their product (at least to me). They ask to take your hand and do a demo on it.
I tried to ask the obvious, “Mink?” Really?” Truthfully, I thought the fur industry was long gone by now. But they are so confident that I thought maybe they were going to tell me that there is a new ‘dolphin cruelty free tuna’ method of obtaining mink oil that I will be thrilled with.
At the first show (a pet event), a young girl excitedly told me that the products are primarily used for burn victims, etc., etc. I still felt a little nervous, but didn’t want to be rude by asking for specifics and putting anyone on the spot. So, I went home and Googled. To my surprise, Utah (my 2nd home) is a major mink producer. What?! No!
My second surprise was that mink “by products” are used in dog food. Tell me this is incorrect. Apparently, the mink industry is alive and well. Who is buying and wearing mink coats anymore??? I wouldn’t dare. Sure, our mothers had them, but it just isn’t done anymore.
So, I read further and found that mink ‘ranchers’ are a die hard bunch. “How else are we going to make a living? We’ve been doing it for generations!” they were quoted as saying in news articles in response to an apparent series of raids that animal activists were doing in Utah. The activists were ‘liberating’ the mink from their cages. That’s another post for another day with the exception being that *I* have had to change careers out of necessity. It can be *did,* especially over the time period of ‘generations.’
My second tradeshow was last weekend. It was a craft and sewing show. Guess who? Touch of Mink. Again, I tried to avoid, but they called me over and, again, wanted my hand. I decided to stop and have a conversation with a more mature woman (ahem–someone my age). This was a more interesting talk because she was full of answers, even one that might be complete horse feathers. You let me know.
So, I dared to ask, “So, mink huh?” I think they are ready for people who are less questioning. Strategy 1: Re-direct. Show how amazing your skin will feel. Explain the full line of products. Do a demo.
Strategy 2: For the person who very gently presses the issue. “So, what about the mink? Is this still being done?” Launch into a hazy, Disney-fied vision using words like “by products, “these are *ranched* animals.” Does this make a difference? Because, in a way it almost makes it seem even “wronger.” I’m possibly not educated enough on the subject to have an intelligent conversation, but if there was an overpopulation of, say, rabbit or deer, then it could be argued that is a smart use of an animal that is going to be hunted/extinguished anyhow. But, to purposely breed to kill? Well, that question is one that definitely drives people into their corners on a daily basis, no doubt about that. Stay with me…
For the person who presses even further (that would be me, but I didn’t give a disapproving face, just gentle questions)
“Is it, you know, humane? These are questions my customers and friends will ask and I kind of need to know before I could promote. It does sound like it does amazing things.”
This got me into ‘testy’ territory.
“Are you a vegetarian?”
“Well, there you go.” (Said with a cranky, impatient look.)
??? What kind of answer is that? Honestly, I did not ask the questions in a way that was aggressive. She was still holding my hand in her cleansing water. I was just a curious consumer willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. (And, p.s., YOU ARE THE ONE THAT CALLED ME OVER LIKE A CARNIE AND INSISTED ON SHOVING MY HAND INTO YOUR PRODUCT.)
It was a sudden switch from exuberant salesperson to me being a problem. Now we were getting to the nitty gritty. Vegetarian vs. Non-Vegatarian is something we all have to weigh in on personally, but straight answers were what I was going for. Any company who sells mink products would HAVE to expect that a product like this (and perhaps, horse/cat/dog meat as well) is going to raise questions from any semi-intelligent person, or at least the average American? Those are meats that we, as a culture, don’t accept very well.
They especially need to anticipate questions from business people from whom they might want to retail and/or recommend the products. Is this how I’m supposed to respond to questions from my own clients? A company that is proud and confident about their product will have nailed this sensitive topic down.
Question that I wanted to ask but didn’t dare: “So, if the oil is super important for the medical profession, how is there any left over for non-essential products such as body lotions and especially pet shampoos? We have amazing plant-based products already that do a superb job. Is the mink industry struggling and/or greedy and just trying to create a demand? (Personal note: In all honesty, if I had a child with a severe burn or bite and the sacrifice of a mink would heal this better than any product known to man, I would justify its use. I would thank the animal profusely and apologize and be very grateful. I know, I did just stray into my own personal “Sophie”s Choice” terrain. Let me try to steer us back on track.)
Next question asked quietly and respectfully, “So, um, how *is* the oil obtained from the animal?”
“Let me tell you something. These animals are treated VERY well. Because if you have unhappy mink, they do not grow beautiful coats.”
(Gulp.) Uh oh. Looks like we were getting away from the main purpose of the animal being a medical wonder. Now she’s admitting to fur mining? Don’t think I like where this is going. I kind of next anticipated some kind of reverse argument that goes like this: “Well, if we’re ranching mink for medically necessary purposes anyhow, then why let the pelt go to waste? Use every part of the animal and make sure it is salable.” Even that could be a fairly strong persuasive argument if I wanted to be on “Team Mink.”
“So, the animal is *not* alive then.”
“No, the animal is alive! They remove the fat between the pelt and the body.”
“Oh, so the animal is alive while they extract the oil?”
“They don’t need to kill the mink to harvest their oil?” (In the farthest reaches of my brain, I was imagining something akin to squeezing of a dog’s anal glands. Gross, but…well, doable.)
“No. Again, they remove the fat from between the meat and the pelt.”
“Ok, I see. ‘Pelt’ just sounds like something that is not alive.” (I don’t refer to the stuff on my dog as a pelt, but as fur.)
“Yes, it’s alive.”
“Wonder how they get the oil from that? A needle into the coat?”
“Yes, that’s exactly what they do.” (My mind is now picturing something akin to liposuction on a mink.)
“Wow! That’s great and really interesting!!”
“Yes, don’t you love how your skin feels? Can you tell a difference between this hand and that hand? Mink oil is so much like our own skin oil that you can literally put a drop in your eye and it will not hurt.” (And back to all of the benefits of their products and which ones would I like to purchase today.)
“Do you have anything I can rea..?”
Before I can finish my sentence, she slaps a handout into my hand. “Yes, you can read all about it on our website. It’s all there.” And, she’s off. I presumed that I was time wasted. This is short sighted. Slap a free sample in my hand, get my contact information because if what you’re telling me is correct and harmless then I *will* order a superior product. This is how I came upon the products I rely on to this day. I will even make sure you get the commission. But, if I am treated like this *before* the sale, I am reasonably confident I will be treated with less regard after.
So, I just took the brochure and just now visited the website. Guess what is not there that you would think would be THE first question posed and answered in the FAQs?
Oh, it’s answered, and here is the official answer. The saleswoman tried to fill my head with sweet eclair cream. Mink oil is NOT obtained from live animals. According to their own website what she told me with a straight face was a blatant lie. It’s one thing to offer a product and just be honest and confident, but it is entirely another thing to fabricate something so outrageous to make a sale…a sale to a potential retailer who would then be lying (and embarrassing themselves and potentially angering customers who think I am lying to them) to their customers who rely on professionals to do their homework. “Disappointed” is the nicest word I can use to describe how I feel about this person and the company.
Another thing is that the company only mentions that this oil is used incidentally in the medical community; it doesn’t present it as being so necessary that we need to ranch mink over the whole thing. The main use for a mink, apparently, is still for vanity: Fur. And, what the heck? Sell the meat to dog food manufacturers.
Here’s the link and here’s their official information: Notice that it does not even mention the medical industry.
“Mink oil is a by product of the fur and pet food industry. Minks are farmed here in the United States just as any other ranched animals: chickens for meat and feathers, geese for down for pillows and blankets, cows for meat and leather products. The mink meat is used for dog and pet food, the fur industry uses the pelts and we buy the fat and oil which would otherwise be destroyed in our landfills. It is then sent to a Texas A & M University lab and filtered through a process to remove impurities and deodorize the oil.”
And here’s another relevant quote from their “About Us” page.
“All of us at Touch of Mink are encouraged and expected to promote integrity, honesty, respect and a professional relationship with everyone we come in contact with, especially our customers. We hope your use of our Touch of Mink products brings you healthy and younger looking skin for many years!”
I did ask her which dog food manufacturers use mink. She responded, “Almost all of them. They won’t list it as such, however, it will just be identified as “bone meal” because the public won’t tolerate seeing “mink” listed as an ingredient.”
Hmm…Whole Dog Journal, are you reading?
So, she IS aware of the controversy.
Unless someone can really convince me to see this another way or that she didn’t lie through the roof, I can’t support this. I’m pretty tolerant, but a major lie is unacceptable to me, unethical, disrespectful, unprofessional, and just really makes me mad. Your thoughts?
Update: I did email a link to this blog entry directly to the company and invited them to come here and leave a response. If they respond via email, I will post that as well. I also sent an invitation to Whole Dog Journal to read and review.
I invented a new exercise game with Ranger. I’m calling it “It’s All About You; It’s All About Me”
Mind you, I’m completely out of shape. Walking around the block has felt like an effort lately. So, this probably works best for someone like me or someone who is in medium shape versus someone like my brother who runs further than I drive every day.
I’m going to guess that our total mileage today was probably 1 mile (yay!)
When Ranger and I leave the house, it’s all about him. We walk/jog to a huge park/rec center that is probably less than 1/2 mile away. The rules are that he can stop and do whatever. It’s sort of a warm-up for me.
When we get to the park, we roam the soccer and baseball fields. He is still allowed to stop and smell. When he does, however, this is when I do a slow lunge or a squat (is that called isometrics or yoga? I don’t know. I just try to do quality over quantity.)
As soon as we get back to the road home, it then becomes all about me. So I try to jog, very slowly (pit pat pit pat) all the way home. Ranger doesn’t get to do his stops.
And, you know what? He seems to get it!
It could be as simple as a horse excited to get back to his barn, but he doesn’t mess around on his jog home. He will maybe make one pit stop, but that’s it. There are a lot of dogs that bark from inside their yards and he ignores all and just continues forward.
When I first started doing this, I would walk him on his harness so that if he pulled hard on our way home, I would just keep going. I mean, I would slow down a little, but I didn’t let him dawdle. I *would* pull him to keep going. Now, if I’m in a hurry and don’t take the time to put on his harness, I don’t worry about his pulling. He now has a pretty nice loose-leash walk and I’m not pulling on him on the way home. He just does a nice trot all the way home.
Because it’s a game, it has become fun and I find myself getting up and out earlier in the morning. That NEVER happened before.
Here’s to fitting into my old wardrobe!!
Yesterday, a friend told me that they saw an article that said that two of the fastest growing, economic resistant occupations are dog grooming and dog sitting.
I replied that I had another encounter yesterday morning that convinces me that animal behavior rehabilitation (and/or euthanasia) will likely follow this trend. Happily, I can also report a good ending to the day.
Hello Insensitive Groomer
After a romp on the beach, I took a friend’s dog and mine to a local, do-it-yourself dog wash. This wash had an experienced groomer in the back who was working on a small Labrador. Not so typically, she had grooming ribbons displayed on the wall behind her. I don’t have ribbons because I have never competed. Most groomers I know don’t have them either.
Since we were the only ones in the shop, I tried to initiate a bit of grooming chitchat as we worked. I wasn’t of much interest to her until I asked her about her awards. She explained that she owns a Kerry Blue terrier and she has competed with those.
As we worked, I noticed that the dog she was working on was was scared mindless. It was cowering, shaking, wimpering, and its eyes were bugging out of its head. She was shaving this small labrador (another topic for another day). There was no soothing talk for the dog. It was all business. After all, this is an ‘experienced’ groomer.
And then came the dog’s nails. How did I know she was working on the nails? Because the dog squealed and screamed. As a groomer, I know. It’s a hassle. Did the nails need to get done? I couldn’t tell. Some groomers are very thorough and will, as a matter of practice, not let anything go out the door without a nail trim, even if a dog doesn’t need one. Another customer entered the shop. Did she try to stop the screaming in front of a ‘regular’ type of customer who also brought in a lab?
No. She became more commanding. “Stop. Stop it right now!”
“She has awards!!,” I pantomimed to point out to the dog. “Relax and show the proper respect.”
The Lab telepathed back to me one of my favorite quotes, “Properly trained, man can become dogs best friend.”
After the ordeal, I casually meandered into the territory…”You know? I’m starting to teach workshops on toenail training for dogs to be alright with having their nails trimmed.”
“I have another class I’m starting that teaches dogs how to be alright and steady while on the table.” (Echo…echo.)
Maybe I needed to put it in a way that shows her a benefit for groomers?
“Trying to do something to help make a groomer’s job easier, you know.”
And finally, the response which deserves the caveat that I don’t remember her exact words, but were pretty close to, “Good for you.”
And that was that. And that is pretty typical for the average groomer.
Most groomers (my younger self included) do not make the connection between what they do and the rest of the animal. They do not see their job as part of the whole for a dog. (To their credit, their owners may not either.) Nor do they really have time to care. They have a living to make and a dog that causes them trouble just makes making their income even harder. We/they like dogs that are easy to groom.
I could make an educated guess that the groomer would not remember the name of the dog today. It is impersonal. The dog’s reactions were an inconvenience…for her.
I would lay odds, however, that if I had her dog on my table and I slapped it in front of her, she would be more involved. But, I would explain, “She’s not cooperating with my dematting and she hates her ears to be cleaned!” “Knock it off!” [shove] “Hold still.” Hopefully she would attempt to stop me. Every dog deserves to have an advocate, don’t you think?
And now for the good part.
I received another call. I have been playing phone tag with this person for 2 days. The person hasn’t provided any information in her messages about why she’s calling. Finally, after getting home I reached her. She thanked me for my persistence in returning her calls.
“I have a dog that bites while being groomed. I was referred to you by (a local person who belongs to every positive dog association that I do and who I routinely see at dog events–she specializes in various wholistic treatments for dogs).”
Flashback: See my previous blog entry “Daring to be Unpopular.”
My thoughts: I’m not ready for this conversation yet.
She continued, “(She) said that I should contact you because you are gentle with dogs and that you might be the one to help my dog to overcome his issues.”
?? Really ??
“We have worked with clicker training. I don’t know if you still groom anymore, but if we could work together with my dog, I am willing to put in the effort.”
?? Really? Really Really? For REALS?!
Was this a staged call just to make me feel heartened?
“Are you alright knowing that we may not accomplish a haircut right away?”
“Did my friends put you up to this?” (Just kidding.)
“Welcome to my salon!” and yes, ‘Good for me.’ And good for this little 10 lb. dog.
How it Turned Out
I pre scripted the points I wanted to make with the client. I took a big breath and I dialed. When I am nervous, I practically stutter. This really did take all the courage I had.
I explained about “the bad guy” (owner of place where I would be working) not wanting to assume this type of liability. Yep, I displaced the blame initially. And then I tested:
- Does this person have the level of income to afford what we offer? A quick conversation of what they do for a living revealed that this would not be a problem to pay for private training with a skilled trainer who specializes in reactivity and aggression.
- Are they willing to do what it takes? I recommended that they pay a vet to anesthetize the dog and groom it very short while under and then we start training immediately to avoid this emergency grooming scenario in the future.
The person kept repeating that they will probably need to call around because the dog needs to get groomed now. This was a revealing conversation that I have avoided in the past. My vet suggestion was being ignored. Whomever handles the dog next is being put at risk. Previously, I had believed that I was chosen as the groomer because I was somehow special. I was. I was willing to risk a bite. More self respecting groomers would not.
As we spoke, I gained confidence. He doesn’t really care about what is good for the dog. If he did, he would do it the right way. I explained that training will take time and that we have to go at the dog’s pace.
He responded that he had done the nice thing by fostering and then adopting this dog when no one else would. Where does the kind part come in? If I am willing to adopt a dog that has this level of behavioral problems, I feel I must assume responsibility for helping the dog all the way …not just feeding it.
- I recommended that the dog be thoroughly evaluated by a good veterinarian who can evaluate things like the thyroid and/or possibly prescribe an anti-depressant to help a dog whose history is unknown but who may be suffering from post traumatic stress disorder and is not possibly entirely in control of its responses. This is a truth for some dogs.
- I then finished by offering the final test. I have previously recommended a very good trainer who is in the position to (and was very interested in helping this particular dog/person) offer her services for free when I explained to her the severity of the dog’s reactions. I reminded him of this person. It’s FREE. Does it get better than that? The response was, “Well, I’m going to need to call around and find someone who can groom him today.” Oh.
This owner did ask me to email the information to him. Maybe it all needs to marinate in his mind. We, as people, have our time schedules of change too, I suppose.
In conclusion, this experience was very revealing, not only about this particular client, but as to what is really important to me and why. Sometimes you just know when you know and it’s the day your path changes. Today was noteworthy.
So, the job hunt begins until what I have to offer is in demand enough to support us. The good news is that my own dog will have my full attention. And he needs it because…here is another confession: He is not always a good dog. He is socially challenged with other dogs. We need to work on that…or, as I have done and continue to do, I have to manage his environment very carefully. Were he unreliable around people, we might be having another discussion about whether his days are numbered. As it is, I am willing to assume the risk and do the work that is necessary to help him get along in this world.
As a final note, I have to thank the person who set my limits for being kind and strong. I called to tell her how I handled the conversation and the outcome. She rewarded ME. I am not used to being rewarded for turning away a client. I am really not. It is scary. Normally, I would be accused of giving a salon a bad name. For once, I was commended for not taking a job. I’m still absorbing the message. Thank you to you-know-who-you-are.
Part II is coming after a long walk with my own dog. I want to take a turn in the discussion for a moment while the material is still fresh in my mind.
How is is that in my late 40s that this topic is still a familiar problem for me…especially as it relates to dog grooming? I think I have some answers, and I hope to wind this post up with solutions as well as tell you “the rest of the story” (ala the late, great Paul Harvey).
Some of the ways that I get into these difficult grooming situations again and again probably arise from several factors that other animal workers can relate to; some may only be particular to me:
“I heard that you are a good (groomer, trainer, dogsitter…).”
“You were referred to me by (someone I like or admire and don’t want to let down)…”
Compassion and Marketing
“I just rescued this dog from (somewhere) and they recommended that I bring him/her to you.” (Word of mouth advertising…isn’t that what everyone seeks?)
- Financial — dependent on income from grooming, walking, sitting, training, etc.
- Employer–expected to get the job done
- Precedence–This is a biggie that can really make me sweat with anxiety. I have done the job before.
- Time–it takes time to explain policy and philosophies. Easier to just take a dog in and get the job done.
- Shock–“How much do you charge for training?!”
- Unrealistic Expectations–“My dog is really good.” (The dog isn’t–the person is in denial or ignorant.) I have to be the one to tell them the truth…I am the bad guy. I long for the days when I was rewarded for lying (“Here you go! She’s such a sweetie, petey pie! See you next month!” “How was she? Well, she’s not super crazy about getting her toenails done, you know, but she’s such a cutie petutey. Who loves you?” after a crazy battle where you wish you never had to see the dog again. The cute bow makes it look as though the whole thing never happened.)
Neighbor, co-worker, acquaintance, etc., “I just got a dog! I want you to work with him.”
I am sure there are many more, but those are just off the top of my head.
Here are very typical scenarios:
A groomer works for an employer (small or large). The employer wants revenue; the employee needs a job. The customer is someone they do not want to offend. This is a setup for not-very-good things to happen.
What happens when you get a dog in that does not want to hold still? They are not biting, but they are making your job as a groomer beyond physically exhausting? Tell the boss you can’t do the dog? Tell the owner you can’t do the dog? Or simply grin and bear it? The latter is usually the route groomers are very often forced to take. They don’t want to become “the problem.”
Often, as in my case, I was young and didn’t have other skills to fall back on. I needed the money. It is desirable for employment purposes to be the one who can be relied upon to “get the job done.”
By the end of a day, it is too tiring to even have a conversation with an owner because a groomer may be in the middle of trying to get five other dogs finished. A lengthy conversation about behavior is just not practical. Calling an owner mid grooming to inform them that their dog cannot be groomed is just as painful of a conversation. Owners get mad, wouldn’t you?
Grooming salon owners aren’t always groomers. They often have no idea just how difficult and demanding the job is until they get their hands into the project themselves. I’ve seen more than one would-be owner/groomer decide to learn how to groom and find that they will charge double the rate they were expecting the employee to normally be paid because it was “extra hard and time consuming” if not “dangerous.”
The employer would like all of the business in the area; they have rent to pay and profit (and sometimes shareholders) to make. The concept is inherently flawed for one reason: Dogs are on their own time schedules. They do not appreciate the bigger picture as to why they should cooperate.
So, where does that leave the profession?
Currently, there is legislation to require that groomers become licensed.
In my opinion (of which I haven’t had until today), this addresses part of the problem. It possibly addresses the most basic issue of how to handle a dog safely. That is, it addresses how to handle a “good” dog safely.
If a person sends their poodle to a groomer to have a haircut and the dog really is a good dog who will just stand there for handling, it is reasonable to expect that the dog will not get cut, burned, or a really bum haircut.
However, what is not taught in grooming school (or much in apprenticing) is what to do when a dog frustrates a groomer. This is where most ‘intentional’ injuries probably occur.
The dog is fidgety and dancey on the table.
It may be cute and seemingly harmless until you are spending 1/2 – an hour of unpaid time to have the patience to trim the face of a dog who is whirling its head around every time you approach it with scissors. The face is important. It is the first thing a customer will notice when they see their dog. If the face isn’t right, the customer will likely accuse you of being a terrible stylist.
If you show them in person what the problem is and the owner steps inside your salon to help hold their dog still, usually they will hold the dog absolutely still and be covering the dog with their arms so that you cannot even access the part you need to scissor. You are now forced to try to scissor the dog with shears right next to the owner’s face.
Predictably, the dog will jerk wildly and surprise the owner who will nearly move right into your scissors. It is very dangerous. Again, they will conclude that you are a terrible groomer. They will not conclude that they need to pay you more.
At this point, a discussion about training just seems impractical to an owner. After all…they are just here for a haircut. Their dog is an otherwise “good dog,” right? And there begins the slippery slope for a groomer of just sucking it up, smiling, taking payment, and starting to mutter at dogs “Hold still. Stop. Stop. STOP IT!!!” and jerking on the dog.
Okay, so you probably get the picture. And, outsiders might be likely to say, “Well, you’re the one who chose your profession!”
My answer: Unfortunately (and, sometimes fortunately)…yes. You are right.
My other answer is: And you chose to have a dog. It’s time for your education and involvement as well. I cannot/will not lie to you anymore. I will assume the financial losses (or gains) from this decision. I might lose you as a client. I won’t, however, let the dog down.
I seek a win/win for all.
What I want: Every dog to behave well on the table. I want each dog to be “teachers pet;” to set them up for a lifetime of good handling by anyone who handles them. Isn’t that really the kindest thing we can do as pet owners? I want my dog to be the first one to be adopted if something were to happen to me.
What I am willing to do:
- Notify current and/or potential clients about the way that I work. I will groom good dogs…only.
- If there dog is not a good dog and they are open to suggestions, I will direct them to the best resources. I hope to be considered to be one of those good sources.
- I will find other means of income and let grooming become a hobby; no more struggling with dogs because I need to meet my financial needs.
- I welcome any tests or certifications. I will be proud to pass them.
- I will overcome my shyness and dare to teach.
I have a confession. Well, I have many, but I’ll just focus on one for this entry. Here it is in all of its nakedness. (Deep breath)
I would rather do something unethical than to not be liked.
Wait, no…I don’t think that’s it. Let me try again and really nail it down.
I hate conflict. And sometimes I would rather let myself get walked on than tell someone something that I know they are not going to like to hear.
That’s pretty close, I think. Here is another truism about me:
I am HORRIBLE at delivering bad news.
And so this morning’s topic is about a very, very difficult conversation I just had at 8 a.m. I said what had to be said and it turned out to be one of the best experiences ever. And, no, I did not cave to the person, and no, they probably won’t come back. No, we did not get into an argument. I just stood firm.
So, I had a grooming appointment today with a dog that is a violent biter. I have worked with the client in the past and have been willing to try to help his dog that has a long coat that must be groomed.
The dog is a rescue with an unknown history. His biting is unpredictable and even getting a muzzle on the dog has proven to be dangerous and unreliable. Out of compassion, I had originally agreed to try to help the dog. But, the pattern was soon set. The owner has not invested the time nor the effort to seek out training for the dog.
And before I berate the owner, let me say that I understand. Our pets are a very personal topic to most of us. We are attached and we have our reasons why we do or do not do something.
I chose training and I see that it works. It has taken a lot of time, effort, reading, workshops, etc. to understand more complicated topics associated with training. This dog happens to fall into the “advanced” category, just as handling a wild animal would.
The word “dog” by itself connotes “easy” because we are familiar with the domesticated animal. However, when a dog has serious behavioral issues, it is difficult for most of us to accept that our named and loved pet now needs to be re-categorized as “liability” and “not for the novice.” After all, this dog is still good ‘ole “Spot” to us.
It has taken me several years to be clear about this.
I transitioned from grooming to training a number of years back. I then began to specialize in both grooming and training. So many behavioral issues arise when a dog is being groomed. You see the best and worst because the dog is being subjected to some often, stressful things that will put the dog to the test.
With as much experience and knowledge as I have in both realms, I STILL have a tendency to get into the zone as a groomer. I become task oriented and obsessed with achieving a great-looking haircut. This goal is often at odds with a dog that is behaviorally challenged. By ignoring the behavioral needs of the dog, I am not doing the dog a favor by insisting that I get its haircut just so.
I’ve had to make a decision. Which is more important? The haircut or the experience for the dog.
When I’m away from the grooming table, I would answer “the dog’s experience” of course. When I’m in the middle of a haircut, it’s very difficult to “let it go” and send the dog home half shaved if need be. I hope and think there will be groomers who follow me in the future who will not struggle with this as much as I do; that they will be able to put the scissors down and have the difficult conversations with dog owners with more confidence and finesse than I am able. That is what I hope to teach and inspire in any of my students. For whatever reasons, I am a wimp inside and very much a people pleaser. I admire people who don’t struggle the way I do. Personally, I get a stomachache when interpersonal conflicts are concerned. It’s probably why I do gravitate toward working with animals. It is cliche.
Where was I? Yes, today’s appointment that I cancelled.
Thanks to a late-night call from someone I work with (I’ll not name him/her in case they don’t care to be identified), I was told that the dog/owner and my working with them the way I have in the past presents a legal liability and that they would prefer that I cancel the appointment. We talked about alternative options for the owner–all of which are expensive and time consuming.
In my mind, I was hearing “BUT HE GAVE ME A $45 CHRISTMAS CHECK THAT HE HAND DELIVERED!!”
Sure I always cringe and dread our upcoming appointments. Sure, I wonder if this will be the day that one of us finally gets bitten (hard). But, how do I fire a ‘nice’ client? How do I? How do I?! I’m supposed to offer attractive alternatives. I DO NOT WANT TO HAVE THIS CONVERSATION! Especially on the morning of his appointment. I AM GOING TO LET SOMEONE DOWN. I AM GOING TO RUIN THEIR DAY. THEY WILL NOT LIKE ME.
I usually struggle with to how to explain the concept of “Intermittent Reinforcement” in a way that is simple to understand. Ranger said he could do it. What the…? <shrug> I have no idea, but I’m too tired to question it. With that, I give you Ranger…the dog.
Hi, Ranger here. In yo face! Hee Hee
<“Ranger, you’d better be writing.”>
Intermittent Reinforcement should be called “Playing Wolf.” RrRrraR! I like it for obvious reasons, but also I don’t know what those other big words mean. This is how I use it with Mommmeeee.
<“Use my real name, please.”>
Mommy Sara, but at night she does something that I don’t really like, so I decided to train her to do what I like her to do instead.
I like to sleep right next to her under the covers and in the middle of the bed. But when she sleeps she moves around a lot: Sometimes she moves so much that she kicks me and I fall out of bed. And then she doesn’t wake up or move over so that I can get back in. So, this is how I trained her.
If Sara knows that I need to go outside to use the potty, she will get out of bed to open the door. This has always been a big deal to her. She might even still be asleep when she gets up, but she always gets up. It’s perfect for me because when I come back inside, I can zoom in and get back my spot in the bed.
I let her know I need to go outside by scratching on our front door. And, even though I’m not a puppy who doesn’t know better than to potty inside the house anymore, she still always says “Good Boy, Ranger” and then lets me get right back into bed where I like to be.
But, when I get pushed out of bed, Mommy doesn’t wake up or move out of the way so that I can get back in. So, I tried pretending that I have to go potty. I walked to the door and scratched. She got out of bed and opened it. It worked!!! Instead of going outside, I zoomed back to the bed and got back into my spot. tricked her and it worked! She laughed too ( “Very clever, Ranger”). I like making her laugh.
So, I started tricking her a lot. One time I tricked her 4 times in a night. HeeHee! Then Mommy seemed kind of mad. Instead of laughing, she said “Hey, what are you doing? I’m asleep. Stop playing games.” I didn’t want to play games either. I was super tired too, but I wanted her to move over so that I don’t end up on the cold floor!
I thought she would understand, but then Mommy started doing something new that I didn’t like. I would scratch at the door like I always do and then…she stopped getting out of bed at all! She said, “Go to bed.” and “Stop it!” I couldn’t believe it. It made me sad.
Then one time I really DID have to go to the bathroom. But, when I scratched, she didn’t get up. That’s our signal, and it didn’t work. But, I REALLY HAD TO GO! I didn’t know what else to do, so I scratched nicely again. But, she just kept sleeping–she didn’t even yell anymore. I almost went potty in my pants, so I decided to show her how badly I needed to go. I scratched really loud and hard on the door and I didn’t stop. And you know what? Mommy got up to see what was going on.
“What’s going on?!”, she hollered.
She walked over to the door and opened it. I ran outside as fast as I could and Mommy(oops, Sara) said, “Oh, you really did have to go out! I thought you were just crying wolf again.” When I came in, she said, “Goodness. I’m sorry. I love you so much. Thank you for letting me know that you needed to go out. Ok, get into bed. Nighty Night.” She hugged me.
So, crying wolf by pretending that I needed to go outside backfired on me. She ignored me. But, when I sometimes go out, she is happy. So, I decided that sometimes I’d better go outside and at least try to go potty so that she continues to make an effort to go to the door and then even hug me. Sometimes when I fake and run back to the bed she sounds sort of mad, but I need to get back in too! So, the secret is that I keep her guessing. And it works every, single time!
She calls it “)*#!!! Intermittant Reinforcement.” I call it “Teaching.”
Post Script by Sara: Thank you, Ranger. It really does make the concept of Intermittent Reinforcement crystal clear for me now. And you are now giving me new ideas about how to motivate you to do a few things I’ve been meaning to work on with you as well. But first, I’m ordering a new, bigger bed.
Ok, I’ll admit that I’m not enamored with every single dog that comes through the grooming door. I secretly probably blame the owners, but I’ve spent a lifetime mastering the fine art of being polite and respectful.
Dogs? If I were to treat a dog the way other dogs treat dogs they don’t like? I would be out of business. They don’t even attempt to conceal prejudices and judgmental attitudes.
There’s a poodle in the shop today that, I’ll admit, I’m not super crazy about. He is flea infested (owner’s fault), 12 years old and still unneutered (owner’s fault), is walking around peeing on everything, is neurotic (so is the owner), and has few social skills (again…similar to the owner).
His owner is someone (to put it politely) I would like to find a way to fire as my customer. I just haven’t found a way I feel comfortable with–and, of course, I’ll need to lie since anything else would feel just…impolite!
Right now I am boarding a dog whose personality I wouldn’t mind borrowing from time to time.
When this poodle walked in and pee’d, “Teddy” came out, took one look, and started growling. It’s like he said, “What’s the matter with you? We don’t like you.”
My own dog was a little more forgiving. Teddy then followed our ‘guest’ outside. The dog pee’d more. (The owner told me as he dropped this dog off that he probably also needed to ‘poop.’ I handed the leash back and asked if he would like to take him for a walk then. He responded, “No, I’m late for an appointment.” When I callled to tell him later that his dog was ready to pick up, he informed me that he won’t be able to pick him up for another two hours because he is at a doctor appointment. I am not providing daycare voluntarily. Yes, I really do want to fire this client.)
Teddy comes from the old school of behavior adjustment and admittedly has infinitely more influence than I. He gave poodle dude an instant attitude adjustment.
Poodle guy was boldly investigating everything in my clean studio–and acting like the joint was his. Teddy addressed it immediately. “GRRRRRRRRRRRR!!!!!!!!” (Translation: “Make one more stupid move and it will be your last.”) I was embarrassed, “Teddy, can you find a nicer way to say that?”
Teddy: He doesn’t understand “nice.” It’s completely lost on him.
Couldn’t disagree with that.
Poodle Dude: I was uh…just going to go over here.
Teddy: You don’t listen very well, do you?
Poodle Dude: Uh, how about if I go over here instead and don’t really look at you?
Teddy: Your left testicle is in direct line of my laser vision. I am a herding mix, you know.
Poodle Dude: Just one step?
Teddy: Try me.
Poodle Dude: So, no step?
Teddy: I see that you’re still breathing. You must be getting too much air.
Poodle Dude: Umm.
Teddy: Did you move? So help me…
Poodle Dude: Nnnnnnnnnnnn…help? <lifting front legs toward me>
What can I say? Poodle Dude is now wisely asleep in my lap.
Normally I might be concerned that one dog is bullying another. In this case, I have to agree with Teddy. Were it not for him, this dog would have made a really awful mess of our just cleaned shop/home. Teddy handled the peeing, the snooping, and the whining with some very well-timed and clear guidelines about how to act (or not act). He’s convincing to the poodle that his criteria doesn’t change: The rules are DO.NOT.MOVE. And that’s all the poodle needs to know.