Hi ya folks, Terrie here from TLC Dog Grooming in Hamilton, Ontario.

Are you a dog owner feeling the frustration of trying to get your pooch into a salon before Christmas?  It’s a challenge isn’t it. I’m sorry this is or has been your experience. Which is why I wanted to take a few minutes and share the truth about what goes on and why.  Some of it might sting a little. However, it is my intention to open up awareness, shift perspectives and hopefully bring in some change for those of you struggling or feeling left out.

Booking Starts in September

People don’t think about Christmas in July or in September.  But your groomer DOES! He or She HAS to in order to survive it.  To keep themselves, their staff, your dog, and all the other dogs in their care, safe.  They are planning that Christmas schedule MONTHS in advance. Think of it this way. By the time the American Thanksgiving holiday begins, most grooming salons have their entire month of December fully booked out.  No joke.

Hence, those that do not have a dog grooming salon that they regularly visit.  Or those with a newly adopted dog or a new puppy. Those folks are competing for prime real estate.  Which typically starts around the 10th of December.

Scheduling a Christmas Dog Grooming Appointment Starts in September

If it is September and I am checking out a regular client that I know is a 3 month client.  I say to them……”December is 3 months away. You typically book at 3 months. Can I get you scheduled NOW!?  That way I know I have you looked after.”

In 25 years, there has never been a client that has refused to pre-book their Christmas appointment.  They are grateful that I have their back, and it gives them confidence in me that I actually know what the heck I am doing.

I see 95% of my entire clientele on a continual rotating basis of every 6-8 weeks all year round. This is how it has worked for years.  As soon as September hits, I start working on the Christmas bookings. Everyone that I see is given the opportunity to book a Christmas appointment.  Not all of them take that special spot, but most do. Some say they’ll call me later. If they forget and call me on December 5th, it’s too late. A frequent flyer in the salon or a new client……all the spots available have been spoken for.

To me, being “in service” means taking care of those that I have come to know love and trust over the years, humans and canines alike.  What business doesn’t plan? Or make goals? Set boundaries? Review policies and procedures? Bankrupt ones, I suppose, and I have no intention of being one of those businesses.  Hence the plan. 

To me, being “in service” means taking care of those that I have come to know love and trust over the years, humans and canines alike. 

Planning for Challenges

Back to the “know, love and trust” part,  because that part is the life’s blood that runs through my business.   Aside from the physical part of actually doing the work of grooming dogs.  The second piece of taking care, is knowing my clients, and knowing them well.

I know that Griffon is booked at 8:30 am on the 5th.  He’s 15 years old, he had trouble standing due to his arthritis.  He took a tumble down the stairs last spring and now his back is giving him grief.  He has a bit of a death wish because for some strange reason he likes to lick the clipper blades and scissors.  Scary as all get out that Griffon! To keep him safe and my nerves on a more even keel, I book him in as a “two people groom.”  AND I don’t book him in the thick of the crazy rush. He’s kind of a “pre launch” to all that is about to start.

The second piece of taking care, is knowing my clients, and knowing them well.

I estimate the average time that this will take, and I don’t bring myself another dog in until 10 am.  I have got to keep the room quiet and peaceful for Griffon. He needs that. So does Holly the Mini Poodle, and Alice the Springer, along with about 150 other dog that I groom.  These dogs have shown me what it is that they need from me, and I give it to them. I refuse to throw them a curve ball just because it’s Christmas, and I’m 10 times busier than usual.  I’m 10 times busier because I’m essentially grooming 80% of my entire clientele in a three week period. It’s exhausting, it CAN be stressful if I allow it to be. That’s why I plan it out the  best that I possibly can.

I have dog clients that are aggressive toward other dogs.  There are some that have seizures when they feel stressed so we stand on our heads to avoid any chance of that happening.  Lots of owners stay with their dog. You get the picture, there’s a truck load of STUFF to think about, manage, and support.  To just book dogs without any thought to it or attempt at planning has the potential for chaos. Which also means there is a slim chance of “squeezing someone in.”  

Opportunities for Openings

I do squeeze people in, here and there, where I know they’ll fit.  People can forget to call, they have things come up and have to reschedule.   It can be a challenge for dog owners to hold up all the spinning plates at Christmas.  We try and leave a bit of cushion sprinkled through the bookings to accommodate that clientele. 

Maintaining a Calm Environment 

No animal WILLINGLY accepts the feeling of being rushed.  Therefore, I won’t put pressure on myself or them by trying to do more than I know I can physically manage.  They feel that stress and the sense of urgency in me, and in the grooming room. I don’t want that for them or for me. I work with dogs and they do not tolerate the feeling of being pressured.  I stick with what I know well and keep a steady even pace. I start earlier, I finish later and repeat. It works well.

Changes at Home

The closer we get to Christmas day, I start to notice changes in people’s dogs.  There’s a tree in the house, there’s lights, there’s moving noisey things. The human’s schedules are all screwed up because they are out shopping, at parties or dinners.  There is more company than normal. The humans are stressed out and the dogs feel it. Kids and grandkids all excited. He thought that the present under the tree would be a great thing to eat.  Turns out it was coffee beans from Hawaii for Uncle Dave. He only ate about a quarter of a pound of the stuff, but he feels a little bit “off!” It can be a strange time of year for a dog. Steady, even pace, not a lot of changes, everything is as it always is or to the best of my abilities.  Dogs relax and feel at ease when familiar things remain as such. 

The Dog That Hasn’t Been Groomed Since…

I also don’t want to work with a dog who has not been inside of a grooming salon since last Christmas.  Or a dog that hasn’t been groomed since the spring. I have nowhere in my schedule to properly and safely book a dog that is overgrown, is unsure of the process, or doesn’t know me.  Lots of people don’t even consider these things. I do, because I have experienced it too many times in the past. I use the wisdom gleaned from those years to know what is, and what is not a good, and safe way forward.  Building confidence and maintaining trust is a big deal in the world of all things canine.

If I am going to start into a relationship with a new dog, and I am more than happy to do that.  We will start it off right. A time when it’s quieter in the salon. Which is not during the Christmas rush.  I’m also not going to deal with excessive matting and grooming neglect during the busy season. I refuse those jobs at the gate in June. At Christmas?  Unthinkable. 

You’d be surprised at how many people call and say…

“I can’t remember the last time we had him groomed, can you take him today?”

That’s no fun folks and it’s unfair. It’s unfair to the dog because nothing is familiar to them. The people, the noises, the other dogs, the smells, the routine, the bath, the dryer.  

It’s also unfair to the groomers, the bathers and the other dogs in the salon.  Nobody wants to deal with a dog that is screaming, wetting themselves, messing themselves, biting, and thrashing all about the place.  Nobody wants to hear it, see it or be anywhere near it.  

Dogs that don’t have a relationship with a salon, dogs that don’t have the opportunity to get out of the house, dogs that lack confidence, for whatever reason.  The list can be long on the core issues that create a dog to be fearful in a grooming salon. But let’s all just go ahead and agree that the busiest time of the year is not at all the time to address it. 

Yet you’d be quite shocked at the number of people that have a dog like this.  They come out of the woodwork at Christmas. They know they have a problem child.  They’ve been told by 10 other salons over the last decade, that they have a problem child.  They’ve been invited to not return by 8 out of those 10 other salons. They’ve not done a darn thing about any of it, and they’re hoping that out of the goodness of my heart, I’ll try and help them. 

I’m not going to. It’s not that I don’t want to help or that I don’t have the skills, qualifications or abilities.  That’s not it. My first priority is to maintain the confidence, joy and trust that I have established and nurtured with my regular consistent clientele.  Some of those relationships go all the way back into the 90’s. They have their spots, like I said, they’ve been hand picked, each and every one of them.

Scheduling New Clients…

 A new client will also receive the royal treatment but it’s not going to begin until January.  Maybe you’re dog is not at all a problem child, and that is GREAT. Here’s the thing…..over 90% of those calling me, at Christmas DO have a challenging dog.  Some don’t share the truth about those challenges, some try and sugar coat things, some flat out lie, some blame other salons, and in a lot of situations……the owner has no idea that their beloved “Charlie” is a demon child.  I have to be firm on my position. Have healthy boundaries in place for myself and my regular faithful and loyal clients. I’m essentially protecting my relationships, and new clients can have one with me as well…..just not at Christmas.

People that don’t take their pooch in for frequent groomings don’t understand how a grooming salon is run and how things work.  So in their minds it’s not at all unreasonable to assume that they can just pick up the phone on the 15th of December and find a salon that can accommodate their Shepherd Collie mix, or their Doodle, or their Schnauzer.  The big day isn’t for another 10 days yet! They’ll have a spot for me, no problem.

Regular Clients are Booking in Advance

We have people that will book next Christmas when they come in for THIS year’s appointment.  That’s right, people book a year in advance, and there are plenty of those kind of people. So you see, the regular clients that we see all year long take most of the Christmas bookings before non regulars, even think about having their dog groomed.

How We Schedule Dog Grooming Appointments Before Christmas

The 23rd of December is my last day of work before Christmas.  We work backwards for the entire month. We start booking on the 23rd and we go backwards from there.  See where I’m going with this? We start booking the 23rd of December in September or October. If a client happens to call on the 10th of December, hoping for the 15th or the 20th?  Those calls are coming in four months too late. But non regular clients haven’t got the slightest idea that this is how we work things and unfortunately they are left disappointed. 

So What Does a Dog Owner Do About This?  

Choose your salon, do your research and make a selection that you feel comfortable with.  Make an appointment with that salon at a time that isn’t Christmas, obviously. I don’t believe that anyone’s dog should only be groomed once a year.  I’ll share more on that in another blog post.

What needs to happen is establishing a relationship with that salon and the people that work there.  Even if you only go a couple of times a year, it’s better than only once. Your dog will love being freshened up, pampered and fussed over.  Why limit them to just once a year, that ‘s so 1950’s! 

If you maintain your dog at home on your own all year but you want a pro to do the work at Christmas.  That’s another common one. Let your dog and the staff have a chance to get to know each other. It helps your dog when he knows what they expect from him.  The way you do things is not going to be the same as how they do it. Help them both out by making a couple of visits through the year. It also helps the salon to get a better understanding and feel for your dog’s body, their coat and ultimately how long of a job it is going to be for them.  When they have had their hands on him or her, they’ll have a better idea of where your dog fits into their time slots. They won’t put him where he doesn’t fit (or they shouldn’t) which avoids disappointments. 

If you do have a regular groomer and a Christmas appointment is important to you, prebook that appointment months in advance.  

Lady Bug Playing in the Snow at TLC Dog Grooming

Big Love,


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