I had read about this particular topic before and I had heard horror stories about it, but I had never personally experienced it. After all, I am as talented as a pigeon with a pen when it comes to dying, bedazzling, or drawing on dogs. Reason why my customers have never been offered creative grooming options or have seen any type of creative grooming in my salons. I guess I never gave it that much thought because it’s not something I know how to do, so I went on to take some classes and seminars about it, went to a competition just to look and learn some new things, and well… it finally happened to me.
I was looking in awe at several amazing dogs, standing, sitting or laying down by themselves with no restraints on beautifully decorated tables, showing off their incredible creative designs. One of them was laying on the table, with one arm stretched out towards his groomer, while she touched up the dragon scales dyed on his legs. Another one of them was proudly standing on the table, looking at everyone with his perfectly shaped and dyed bear face. He looked like a bear! His ears even looked like a bear’s. Another one was sitting down, waiting for her owner to be done setting up the table, while she showed off a beautiful and colorful bumblebee dye job with amazing details in ode to honeycombs and spring flowers. I was so marveled by these dogs and their talented groomers, that I decided to live stream the competition on Facebook. Most people reacted with positive signs and comments, when suddenly a sad face stroke the screen. Soon after, the comment “Poor dogs…” made its way into my feed. I stared at it, perplexed. The memories of the groomer horror stories that I had read and listened to rushed back into my mind and I finally understood. I was finally part of the controversial conversation of creative grooming and pet abuse.
What is this conversation about? Creative Grooming… is it art or is it abuse? Let us look at some basic information before we move along.
DISCLAIMER: This is not a hit and go article that you will be able to read through in a minute. It involves analysis, research, interviews, chemical information, and statements from both people in the professional pet industry and people that have been involved in the topic of Creative Grooming one way or the other.
What is Creative Grooming?
Creative Grooming is a styling technique used by pet groomers to dye, color and style a pet. It’s the equivalent of a hair stylist that also does color on human hair. Not all groomers do it, some of them just stick to the traditional pet grooming. The ones that do, though, more often than not consider their styling technique an art, and they use several specialized tools such as: pet dye (permanent, semi-permanent, and temporary), hair color chalk, airbrushes for hair color, rhinestones and hair gems, feather and lash extensions, nail polish, and specialized high precision trimmers to “carve” designs on hair.
A lot of people think that Creative Grooming has only started in the last couple of years as the art of pet grooming grew in popularity, but that’s actually incorrect. There is record of pet groomers doing Creative Grooming in Poodle Parlors as early as the 1950’s. They would color them with vegetable dye, which was completely harmless and not permanent.
What is abuse?
According to the REACH organization, abuse means “a pattern of behavior used by one person to gain and maintain power and control over another.” They also mention that abuse is not just physical, but that there are 6 different types of abuse in total: Physical, sexual, verbal/emotional, mental/psychological, financial/economic, and cultural/identity. If you want to read on what each of the different types entails, visit: https://reachma.org/6-different-types-abuse/
Of course, this is more aimed at human vs human situations, but other sources of information about the general terminology of “abuse” are way more vague and cursory. Such as the Merriam-Webster definition of abuse: “a corrupt practice or custom”.
Now that we have the main definitions clear, lets move forward.
I decided to answer the comment of “Poor dogs…” on my live video feed and asked her why she said that. After reading her concerns and answering her with all the information I have access to as an actual professional and not just a pet owner, I decided to go and read the cases of other groomers/salons that went through this same issue and I paid a lot of attention to the negative comments and the responses of the authors of such comments. In short, the main concerns I was able to find are the following:
- Reasoning behind the decision of doing this to pets (Why do it?)
- Reasoning behind the thought that pets enjoy this activity (How do you know they like it if they can’t consent?)
- Amount of time the process takes (Forcing the dog to stay, stand or lay on a table for hours)
- Products used being harmful (Dyes, colors, bleach, fumes, chemicals, etc)
- Dominance of Human over Pet (Self-explanatory, selfishness in the raw)
- Physical Abuse (By forcing them to stand, lay, sit, or be somewhere against their will)
- Psychological/Emotional Abuse (By making them do something they don’t want or don’t understand)
There are other possible concerns that have been expressed by people on the internet and social media, most of them pet owners with no professional experience whatsoever, and some of them pet professionals with no knowledge on Creative Grooming. However, these were the main ones that everybody shared.
Lets tackle each concern individually.
Why do this to pets?
The most common negative words used by people on social media were “selfish” and “inhumane”. Some people expressed that there is no real reason to do this to a pet, that it is merely for the personal satisfaction and pleasure of the owner/groomer.
There are a lot of different answers for this question: I asked over 60 groomers/owners involved in Creative Grooming. The most popular answer was that they (the owner or groomer/owner) love doing Creative Grooming on the pets because it’s a form of art, of love and expression, it shows the groomer’s/owner’s point of view the same way that doing their own hair or nails does. Another popular answer was that they love their dog so much that they want to give them something “extra” besides their regular groom, something that doesn’t just give them more attention from the groomer but that also shows off the pet’s unique personality. Something everybody agreed on is that the pet gets a lot of attention when out in public, receiving a lot of pets and their pictures taken, with this being something that the pets love to get as a reward.
How do you know they like it if they can’t “consent”?
A counter to the answers of the previous question is that pets “can’t say no” and “can’t say yes”, so basically if the pet can’t agree to get something done to them, it’s automatically done against their will, which means it’s selfish and cruel. The pet never said they enjoyed the attention they get post-creative groom session, they also never said that they enjoy expressing their personality through Creative Grooming.
As a rational human being, you may know what the answer to this concern is. Pets indeed can’t talk, but that doesn’t mean they can’t communicate. Animal professionals can easily tell when a pet is in distress, in pain, sad, happy, willing, unwilling, etc. Pets can’t talk nor give their verbal consent to anything, but they can communicate if they are comfortable with their situation or if they aren’t… Following that line of logic, then how do you know your Labrador likes the blue collar instead of the red, or if he likes wearing a collar at all? How do you know if your Chihuahua prefers the food you got that is specialized for small breeds? Is she just eating it because she’s hungry or because she really likes it? What makes you think that Snowball the cat wanted that kitty litter box? Did you ask her which one did she prefer or if she preferred to go outside? Unfortunately for the owners/groomers using that argument, the idea behind it is pretty flawed, because that would mean that we are all constantly committing selfish and cruel acts against our pets, who cannot verbally consent to anything.
In summary, not a single answer from owners/groomer owners showed lack of love. Selfishness, maybe, if you consider them trying to express their love and art through their very loved pet is selfish, then yes. No answers seemed to be inhumane, but the complete opposite. Also, the idea behind “consent” of the animal is deeply flawed by itself.
Forcing the pet to endure a lengthy process
Another common thing mentioned is that groomers “force the pets” to endure a lengthy and uncomfortable process of Creative Grooming, depending on the result of their session. This was most commonly mentioned on competition creative grooms, which are more complex and adorned than most grooming salon visits.
It is true that Creative Grooming CAN take a lot of time. Depending on the complexity of the design, the process can take more than several hours. Pets that are part of a Creative Grooming competition are worked on all day until the moment they get judged. Some designs don’t just include paint or dye, but also body jewels, lights, and other adornments. One of the contestants of a recent creative competition mentioned that she started her process at 6am in the morning (with previous preparation the days before) after an hour of washing and fluffying the dog’s coat. She was done at about 3pm in the afternoon, and the judging competition started at 4pm and until then, she was still adding and fixing things in her design. Other competitors have gone to competitions where they require a complete creative design completed in 2 hours. But, is this cruelty just because of the amount of time that the pet must go through the grooming process? Let’s compare:
A Standard Poodle (which is the most popular breed for Creative Grooming designs) that is going to compete at a normal national grooming competition takes an average of 6 hours to complete, plus the amount of time waiting for judging and awards. A Standard Poodle that is going to compete at a normal AKC group or breed conformation competition takes an average of 5 hours to complete with prep-work done the day before, plus the show, the judging, and the awards. A Standard Poodle that comes to the groomer with a difficult coat that is in poor conditions, and needs to be either gently stripped or de-tangled, takes an average of 5 hours to complete (this one varies a lot, since it depends on the condition of the pet’s coat while competition dogs have coats in excellent condition). A Standard Poodle that is too aggressive to be groomed at a professional salon and is taken to a Veterinary Clinic to be sedated and groomed, takes an average of 4 hours between drop off and pick up plus recovery time (which in some cases is immediate and in others can last several more hours). So when you compare the amount of time each of these situations take, an average of 7 hours (depending on the complexity of the design) for a Creative Grooming session doesn’t really look that lengthy.
Additionally, normal Creative Grooming sessions (not competition) at your local salon are very different. The dye, depending on the design and desired vibrancy, can sit on the pet anywhere from 20 minutes to 60 minutes before the pet is bathed and dried. To this amount of time, if you add the rest of the grooming steps for the pet’s haircut, in total you end up seeing anything from 0 to a 60 minute difference between a normal grooming appointment and a Creative Grooming appointment. The requirements for the pet on the table are also almost the same between both types. They both require the pet to be as still as possible, to stand for the entire process as much as possible and to be prepped before the bathing step.
Using products that are harmful
Another concern is that the products used to do Creative Grooming may be harmful to the pet. And this is a very serious and tangible concern.
Cats are especially susceptible to any potential chemicals and they’re also very sensitive to certain drugs, essential oils and even plant botanicals because the altered glucuronidation pathway in their livers doesn’t allow them to properly metabolize them. So, as a cat parent, it is a genuine concern that is worth the research. Also, some dogs could get intoxicated from a dye job if the incorrect product is used. Dogs’ skin anatomy is different from humans, making them more susceptible to chemical stripping of their coat and skin, especially when irritants such as ammonia are present in a large amount (and this is a common ingredient in most human dye products).
So let’s check the ingredients of the most popular products used by professional creative groomers:
Arctic Fox – “Arctic Fox colors are 100% vegan, contain no animal by-products or any of the harsh chemicals often found in permanent dyes such as peroxide, ammonia, ethyl alcohol and PPD.” For a list full of ingredients, check out: https://arcticfoxhaircolor.com/pages/ez-faq
Opawz – “All the ingredients we use in our products are vegan, and contain no animal-related materials. All OPAWZ materials are FDA approved for using on cosmetic and food products, as some of our ingredients are food grade as well.” For a full list of ingredients, check out: https://www.opawz.com/pages/product-faq
Crazy Liberty – “Made from vegetable and fruit components that not only color but also improve the health of the hair considering the uniqueness of the animals’ skin and fur. We use plant and fruit juices AHA (α-hydroxy acid) as a dye extract to give an intense color. The dyes also include an extract of lilies that nourishes and restores the structure of damaged hair, protects it from ultraviolet rays and soothes the animal’s skin. The bright coat color is achieved with the help of ultra silicon emulsion, with a particle size of less than 40 nanometers. Due to this, the dye penetrates deep into the animal’s coat reducing the loss of its humidity, protecting against thermal damage and giving the glamorous shine.” For more info, check out: http://www.crazyliberty.com/pets-hair-dye-en/
So, the good news about this particular concern is that a pet owner can do their research and ask their local groomer what products they use for their Creative Grooming. That way, they can enjoy the benefits of a unique look for their pet without the fear of their pet being harmed. Don’t leave it to the groomer to convince you that it’s safe: do your own research, gather the facts, and look for a groomer that provides the safe products your pet deserves!
Dominance of human over pet through physical and psychological abuse
I left this one for the end because through the other concerns, we’ve already touched the subjects of both physical and psychological abuse. Sheer dominance of human over animal involves the attitude of a human being doing things to an animal simply because they can and the animal can’t do anything about. It implies an inherent malice under which a human being does something to an animal that he or she knows the animal can’t defend itself against, for the pure pleasure of exerting that power and dominance over it. As a professional groomer, I can put some input that could be useful: I’ve seen all types of Creative Grooming pictures and videos, from short hair to long hair, from straight to curly, and the coats of every single pet I’ve seen are in pristine conditions. Not good, not pretty good, EXCELLENT conditions. I can tell you for a fact that these pets are groomed, maintained, brushed and combed often. If you are the owner of a Poodle, Bichon, Schnauzer, Shih Tzu, or any other common pet breed you will know how hard it is to keep that coat healthy and untangled. If there is any dominance in this situation that I can see, is of that of the pet’s needs over the time of the owner/groomer. It takes an enormous amount of dedication and time to keep the pets’ coats looking like that.
Physical abuse concerns involve a pet being at the groomer’s or on a table for too long. It would also involve forcing the dog to be still, to not move, to stand up for a prolonged period of time, etc. It is true that Creative Grooming session can last anywhere between 20 minutes and 8 hours in a day depending on a lot of variables (such as if the creative job being done is simple or complex, if the pet we’re talking about is in a competition or just a normal request at the local groomer’s, etc). Also, for certain parts of the body or certain parts of the process, the pets are required and prompted to stand up, be it by
request or by using a belly band or belly support underneath. But, it is not true to say that the pets that go through this process are forced physically to do something for the entire time they’re there. Pets that undergo a Creative Grooming session can sit down if they want to, stand up if they want to, even lay down if they want to, especially in longer sessions for a Creative Grooming competition. There are multiple sources showing competition poodles laying down on their side, just relaxing, while their groomers work on one side of the body (I witnessed this myself. I was amazed by the fact that these dogs were just sitting or laying on the table willingly without any type of constraint!). There are also multiple sources showing local groomers in the process of a creative groom in which the dog is sitting down or even walking around in the tub waiting for the timer to hit the time to bathe. Most groomers expressed that they use positive reinforcement to keep the pets still and alert to them: such as being given treats and having their favorite toy on the table (one even mentioned having peanut butter and a spoon!).
Psychological abuse concerns involve a pet being in a situation that they don’t understand and feeling scared or stressed about it. It is true that a Creative Grooming session, especially for pets that are getting one for the first time, would be confused as to what and why a groomer is doing what he or she is doing, especially if it’s outside of the routine grooming appointment they usually get. It is also true that some pets may feel tired or anxious when getting something new done to them on the table. What is not true is that first and foremost, this can be categorized as psychological or emotional abuse. It can’t be. If it was, by following this logic, then a lot of things would and should be called psychological and emotional abuse, such as a new grooming tool used by the groomer, a new brushing routine implemented by the owner at home to keep up with hair tangling, a new walk route when the owner decides to try a different coffee shop, or really anything that makes the pet feel doubtful, insecure or scared, including the first grooming session with a groomer or changing groomers at any point. New thing and situations happen all the time! Second, Creative Grooming tools are not the same as grooming tools and tend to be way more silent in comparison, if not completely silent. The only motorized tool used in Creative Grooming is an airbrush, which no matter the brand, are 80% to 90% more silent than most hair clippers. The rest of the tools are usual hair dying tools such as brushes, pens, and chalk.
Conclusion & my own opinion
After all the information we’ve been presented with (I include myself since I had no clue what the answer to this article’s question would be and though I had seen Creative Grooming, I knew nothing about it despite me being a professional dog groomer), we can conclude that there are a lot of concerns about the nature, reason, and process of Creative Grooming. Some of those concerns are more rationally valid than others, and some of them have real and tangible dangers behind them (such as the effect of chemicals on pets’ skin, coat and health). Yet, all of these concerns can be easily addressed and any danger can be easily prevented by the owner itself by doing a little bit of research with a quick internet visit. An owner is also fully entitled to ask the chosen groomer to bring a bottle of the dye product used for their Creative Grooming, where they can read all the ingredients and make sure that it is a product safe for pets (especially cats). When it comes to the concerns that involve the owner or the groomer of the pet being malicious, selfish, or having no respect towards the involved animals, there is nothing further from the truth. From Texas to South Dakota, from Washington State to New Jersey, the groomers involved in this research and others that have expressed their opinion about this controversial topic in public and private forums, have expressed nothing but love and care about their customers no matter the explanation they give for the reasoning behind their motivation to do Creative Grooming. Of all the reasons given, none of them expressed disrespect, hate, or indifference towards the animals they work with on a daily basis (and trust me, if and when a groomer is being unreasonable, mean, abusive or disrespectful to the integrity of a pet, be it on a public or private forum, a hundred others jump to the pet’s defense). In my personal opinion, there is no other community of animal professionals more caring, loving, and mindful of pets than professional groomers. Pets are not just paying the bills, they are also the targets of unlimited love and passion. I can assure you, people that are not passionate about this profession don’t last very long and for sure, they can’t make a living out of it.
So, the answer to the question of this article is: Creative Grooming is ART, not abuse.
In my personal opinion, this is not a controversial topic at all. Why? Because we, the pet professionals, see a lot of animals on a daily basis and we’ve seen horrible things. We’ve seen real abuse, neglect, indifference and hatred. We’ve seen pets so tangled, that the dreadlocks on the hair suffocate the skin, creating huge body hematomas. We’ve seen pets with nails so long, that they curl down until they actually penetrate the paw pads, making the animal live with pain every second of every minute of every day. My personal worse: A dog came into one of my salons, so severely matted (tangled) on its face and head, that his ear fell off when we removed the hair from the top of the head. The hair had gotten tangled and matted around his ear, to the point of strangling it until the tissue died. It was completely scabbed over at that point, meaning that the dog lived in indescribable pain for a long time until his own body repaired it. A lot of groomers shared their horror pictures with me for everybody to see what real abuse looks like. A lot of groomers shared their stories, pictures and cases with the hope that people with no knowledge of this topic will educate themselves and will stop focusing their efforts of changing the way pets are treated from loving and caring professionals to the real abusers. THANK YOU TO ALL THE GROOMERS AND OWNERS WHO TRUSTED ME.
By: Andrea Sleeper (AKA the Pink Poodle Lady)