As everyone knows – because we have been told so often – a large number of families acquired dogs during the containment phase of the pandemic.
And very often, they were the cute type who looked at you through a mop of curly hair but didn’t lose any of it.
The growing popularity of crossbreeds with names ending in “doodle” has coincided with an increase in the business of dog groomers.
Because these dogs don’t shed, they’re great for anyone with allergies – former US President Barack Obama bought one for his daughters – but this trait also has less welcome consequences for the dogs themselves.
“A lot of breeders don’t tell people how much grooming these dogs need, so owners are sometimes quite shocked that it has to be done on a regular basis,” says Megan Coulthurst, owner of Bark & Brush Grooming Salon in Balthane.
She continues: “A lot of breeds that don’t shed, I keep them on a six week schedule so they don’t get tangled – cockerpoos, poodles. Because they don’t shed, if not cared for regularly, they get very matted and it’s very painful for them.
“If you want to keep them for a long time, you have to brush them every day, so it’s a lot of maintenance for the owner.”
A customer who purchased a non-shedding puppy in the UK received a leaflet from the breeder telling her that the dog should not be groomed until it was one year old:
“The dog was in so much pain when I removed the matted hair: it was just red all over,” Megan explains.
Megan adds that she doesn’t groom dogs for shows or for their appearance as much as for their comfort: “I like to put the dog at ease and looking good is a secondary thing.” Grooming is above all a question of well-being.
She’s not short of business. She says, “I only take scheduled appointments, I don’t take appointments. My books have been closed to new clients for a long time but I have clients moving to England in the middle of this year so I have places to come and what I’m looking for right now are people who can fill quite flexible last minute cancellation windows.
‘Because of Covid there’s been a lot of last minute cancellations and then obviously you lose a lot of income so terrier breeds that don’t need to come as often, that can come and fill a slot last minute, would be useful.’
Megan, who achieved a City and Guilds Level 3 qualification in 2017, tells me that you don’t have to be qualified to become a dog groomer and that there are some very good unqualified groomers on the island . But she adds that her training has taught her that “there’s so much that you don’t realize, so it’s really important to be qualified”.
She first opened her business in a store in Port Erin, taking advantage of the Department for Enterprise Small Business Scheme which helped her finance some of the costliest equipment purchases such as the grooming table, hair dryers and the dog bath with a built-in heater.
“It all adds up, so this program has been really helpful,” she says.
The program also assigned her a mentor for the first 18 months and he proved invaluable during what turned out to be a difficult start for her business, as Megan explains: “My mother passed away a few months after starting my business: she was really bad so I had to take some time to take care of her.
‘So what are you doing? You just started a business, you have customers coming in and you need to turn them away. My sales consultant was a big help saying, “Listen, your customers will understand” and he was right, all of my customers have been brilliant.
“It’s things like that, that you don’t really think about, that the mentor really helped with.”
Megan is also grateful for the support she has received during the pandemic.
She says: ‘We had to close during lockdown so I thought I’d spend the time doing something constructive so I started a dog behavior class.
‘Then during the last lockdown they said we were allowed to open for what they call ‘welfare grooms’ – dogs who were badly matted and in pain.
“But without the financial support from the government, I wouldn’t be open yet, I don’t think, because obviously nothing was coming in.”
When a new client comes to see her for the first time, Megan has a proven routine to help her overcome her nervousness.
She says, “If they have a bad experience the first time, it can affect them for the rest of their lives.
“So I’m going to do desensitization sessions first: there’s no grooming in that.”
“They’ll come in, I’ll put them on the table, I’ll give them a treat and I’ll put the dryer, right next to them, and then I’ll give them another treat. It’s a matter of positive reinforcement and getting used to the environment before I groom.
‘And then, the second date, I might just take a bath. If they’re okay with the bath, we’ll go see the groom on the next date.
And, she adds, once they realize it won’t hurt them, some breeds — especially Labradors — really like the process. Labs are one of the few large breeds of dogs that Megan has because, she says, they will quite willingly jump into the specially designed bath.
Ironically, she says, her husband is one of those people allergic to dog hair: “He’s been a lot better since I’ve been working here because I get a lot of dog hair on my clothes, so I think he’s just kind. to acclimatize to it.
“He loves Border terriers but we could never have one because of the moult, so we have a cockerpoo.”