When you’re working as a professional dog groomer, a large amount of your clients will be smaller fluff-balls. Bichons, terriers, toy poodles, etc. will be your “bread and butter” and the teddy bear cut will be your best friend.
But you’ll encounter your fair share of large and giant dogs along the way. And while the basics of grooming are the same regardless of the dog’s size, there are definitely some unique considerations that come with grooming large dogs. If you’ve ever had to groom an Irish Wolf Hound, you’ll be very familiar with these points.
As you’re well aware, your primary responsibility as a professional dog groomer is to keep all the animals in your care safe at all times. Large and giant dogs come with their own unique safety concerns that fall into two categories:
The Dog’s Safety
Larger dogs are more prone to joint problems, especially in the knees and hips. They’re also usually ready— and able to— jump onto and off of just about anything. Make sure you have the right equipment available to get them into and out of the bathtub safely, as well as onto and off of the grooming table. Also, make sure your tub, table, etc. is rated to take the dog’s full weight!
You’ll want to seriously consider an extra grooming loop to help keep the large dog securely on the table. If you’re grooming large and giant dogs regularly, an extra-large grooming table might be a good investment. While a Westie might get a few full steps in any direction before she falls off your table (and the grooming loop should prevent her from even reaching the edges of the table), a Saint Bernard will pretty much be the size of the whole table and could very easily fall off with one misstep.
Keep in mind, too, that some big dogs are also the biggest babies on the planet. If they panic during a grooming session, they can easily hurt themselves because you won’t be able to easily get them under control like you would a smaller dog. Just think about what you would do if a Mastiff suddenly started to thrash around on your grooming table! So it’s especially important with the big boys and girls to take your time and make sure they’re comfortable throughout the entire grooming process.
Pro Tip: Being in physical contact with the dog at all times (even so much as making sure you at least always have one hand on the dog) can work miracles with keeping a dog calm. It’ll also give you an early warning signal if the dog is starting to get uncomfortable – you’ll feel him tense up.
Your Own Safety
Grooming is a job that can be quite hard on your body. You need to be in good shape! The last thing you need is a back injury because you tried lifting a 150lb Bernese into a tub by yourself. There’s no shame in using ramps, automatic-lift grooming tables, or to ask a staff member or two for help in lifting the bigger pups.
This is also important when moving the dog through your shop. A large dog who pulls on a leash can lead to shoulder, upper back, and/or neck injuries. Not to mention, that dog can easily yank you straight into a wall, cabinet, door, or make you trip and fall. So when that Greater Swiss Mountain Dog comes into the shop with his owner trailing behind desperately holding on to the leash for dear life, it’s time to think about no-pull leashes and harnesses or other alternatives to keep yourself safe when maneuvering the dogs.
Pro Tip: A treat to the nose will usually help any dog walk nicely beside you. If dog treats don’t work, cheese probably will. Just remember to ask about allergies before you start using food lures and rewards.
Finally, bigger dogs are in no way “more aggressive” than smaller dogs. In fact, many studies show the opposite. But the big dogs who are aggressive can cause significantly more damage. A Pomeranian might break the skin with a bite, but you won’t lose a finger. A malamute can do some serious damage if he’s under enough stress.
So think long and hard about whether you’re able to properly look out for your own safety if you’re asked to groom a larger dog who’s known to be aggressive or has a history of turning aggressive during a groom. Remember that owners won’t always tell you their dog is aggressive (or they’ll downplay it) so trust your instincts.
2: Dog Grooming Equipment
Some grooming equipment is the same regardless of the type or size of dog you groom. Shears are shears, and you probably won’t need a set of “big dog” shears and “small dog” sheers. But there is some grooming equipment that’s size-dependent.
- As long as you have a good set of clippers that are powerful enough to handle a large dog’s coat, you should be fine. Though some groomers prefer to have multiple shears for different types and sizes of dog.
- It’s a good idea to have bigger slicker brushes, greyhound combs, undercoat rakes, matt breakers, etc. for the bigger dogs. Some of the smaller tools will probably work fine on bigger dogs, but the groom itself will take you a lot longer.
- Large-sized nail clippers are an absolute must. Most groomers have three different sizes of nail clippers on-hand. Remember to keep your nail clippers sharp!
- A larger grooming table and extra-sturdy grooming loop is a good idea.
- You’ll need a large crate/pen or some other secure area to hold the larger dogs in your shop. DO NOT put a giant dog in a crate that’s too small for him. If she can’t stand up fully and sit down in the crate, the crate is too small.
If you’ve ever had to bathe, brush and dry a Newfoundland… well, you’ll know. Larger (and especially ultra-hairy!) dogs can take much more of your time to groom just from the sheer amount of fur and fluff you have to deal with! If you charge a standard rate for a basic “bathe/ brush” package, odds are you’ll end up losing money on every large dog you’re asked to groom.
That’s why most dog groomers set their prices not only based on types of services, but also based on the size of dog and type of coat. It’s also not uncommon to charge an extra fee for “extra dirty” dogs and separate rates for de-matting. That way you can take your time with the ultra-matted Leonberger without losing your shirt.
Believe me, owners of large dogs are used to everything costing them more. They won’t hold it against you.
Pro tip: Don’t be greedy! Some services shouldn’t cost more for large breed dogs. Nail trims are a great example: you have 16-20 nails to cut regardless of the size, and it should take roughly the same amount of time. Setting fair and honest prices like these allow you to easily explain and defend your business choices against those customers who will always try to haggle!
Do you have any tips on how to handle large dogs? Let us know in the comments below!