As a dog owner in a densely populated area of Winnipeg, I have to make a conscious effort when it comes to doing things with my dog. It's not as simple as throwing open the door to let him go bounding out to play. So over the next few months, I'll be featuring spots around Winnipeg to go with your dog. And if your living situation doesn't allow for a dog and you just want to live vicariously looking at cute pup photos, that's cool too.
First up, an interview with Patrick Maxwell, the owner of White Lotus Pet Spa, one of my favourite groomers in the city. Any time I drop Slim off there, I know he'll come back expertly groomed.
FULL: What got you into the grooming business?
Patrick: I bought a dog. Before that, I had no experience with hair, I didn’t even really have a lot of experience with dogs. But I started grooming her through my own paranoia about someone shaving her down (she’s a breed that shouldn’t be shaved). There are a lot of possibilities that can happen when you shave a double-coated dog. The hair can grow back completely normal, but you also run the risk of the hair never coming back, or coming back all in her guard coat or all in her undercoat.
I became interested in grooming and decided to volunteer my time with someone who was grooming full time, and within a few months I had a paid position there. I talked to other groomers, went to educational expos and seminars and workshops. Five years later, here I am.
FULL: So you have two dogs, a standard poodle and a miniature American Eskimo. Are there particular parks or places in the city you like to take them?
PM: I stopped taking them to dog parks about a year ago, because some of the things I was seeing at parks and stories I was hearing from friends. When people bring unsocialized dogs to parks, it doesn’t take much for something really terrible to happen.
What I’d like to see is some kind of member only dog park where you can show that your dog can pass basic socialization or obedience classes to indicate that you’re not bringing a completely unsocialized dog into an environment that can be very stimulating.
FULL: That does sound much safer. Are there changes you'd like to see in the grooming industry as well?
PM: Our industry is still completely unregulated. With the sudden rise in pet ownership and the humanization of pets, there are people who are identifying that money can be made from this. They jump into it without the background, they don’t know about safety, animal husbandry, health, pathogens and proper hygiene, cleaning practices, including what cleaners to use. It’s really scary when you learn about the inconsistencies. I mean anyone could pick up a pair of scissors and call themselves a groomer tomorrow. That’s just the reality of the industry in Canada.
FULL: From what I've seen too, there are some real inconsistencies around people's knowledge of how to cut for different breeds. What I love about taking Slim here is that I know he's always going to look great.
PM: It's important to educate yourself and know what you're talking about if you want to be taken seriously as a professional. Grooming is very different from working with human hair. Some dogs have hair and other dogs have fur. So we’re dealing with two different types and textures. It’s a completely different approach. But then we’re also working with behaviouralism, personalities, sharp objects and moving targets. It requires a lot of safety and a lot of precaution, as well as a proactive approach to behaviour modification.
FULL: What made you choose Osborne Village for your business?
PM: I live in the area and also I have a lot of friends who live in the area with pets. Before I opened, it seemed bizarre to me that Osborne Village, the most densely populated place in western Canada with census information showing over five thousand pets in the area, had no grooming business, no daycare services and no retail.
FULL: How do you see your business evolving? Do you have plans for the future?
PM: Definitely. I plan on fleshing out educational tools over the next year. The first year of the business was learning how to work in this space and provide our services: learn our capacity and have enough knowledge to understand what kinds of projections would be realistic for us. The second year was all about marketing. I did a huge marketing push. We were in magazines, I had bus benches all over the city. We really built a lot of brand awareness over the second year. Up until that point there were people in the area who didn’t even know what we were. My mother’s friends thought this was a restaurant. But I think we did a really good job of building brand awareness in the second year.
FULL: What part of the grooming process is the most difficult? I know for me, cutting Slim's nails is always a bit of a struggle, is that common with many dogs?
PM: Most dogs don't like having their nails cut. My little dog, the first time we clipped her nails she weighed about three pounds. It took two fully grown men to hold her down and get them clipped, because she would just scream and fight like we were torturing her. But now she stands on the table and sticks her paw out for them to be clipped.
FULL: What can dog owners do to keep their dogs looking great between appointments?
Brushing’s the big thing. A lot of people just don’t know. But I find that most people appreciate being informed about brushing. It’s all in the delivery. I have a lot of ideas for a solution to that issue. We do offer discounts to clients who are on a monthly program, that way we can deliver all the maintenance for the most part.
FULL: How often should people be brushing?
PM: If you’re doing it properly it’s far less than people think. People look at my poodle and they say, “Oh, you must have to brush him every day.” I bathe him once a week, and he gets blow dried and brushed then. He has six inches of coat over his entire body. And because I condition his coat, it’s not dry, and there aren’t a bunch of split ends that are catching each other. It’s being proactively managed so that it does not mat, and then the maintenance is very minimal.
So once a week should be sufficient as long as it’s being done properly. Now most people do what we in the business call surface brushing, which means not brushing from the root of the hair by the skin to the ends, but rather just brushing the top layer of hair in a horizontal motion. That makes it look like it’s brushed, but if you lift the hair and look at the inch next to the skin, it’s all going to be matted. And for our clippers to work, they have to get between the skin and the hair, so if it’s matted, all of it has to be brushed out.
A lot of the time we hear things from people like “Well, my dog doesn’t let me brush them.” And that’s always an interesting conversation, because you just told us that the dog is the one controlling this interaction. The dog is the one making the decision. When you’re the one making the decision, your dog’s a lot better off. If you had a four year old child running around with knotted hair, she doesn’t want you to brush it. She would rather run around with her hair getting dirtier and more tangled. But the end result of that would probably be the child going to see a dermatologist or having her head shaved. And it’s the same with dogs, but a lot of people don’t see that parallel.
The other issue with matting is that it’s an actual health concerned. Tangled hair pulls on the skin. So if the hair on the chest is connected to the air in the armpit which is connected to the hair on the side of the dog and it’s all matted, then when that dog goes to walk, it’s ripping on the skin. It’s all going to be red, inflamed, sensitive and painful. And you see a lot of matted dogs that appear lethargic. They’re not happy, because they’re in a constant state of pain and discomfort.
FULL: How do you fix a mat?
PM: The industry standard is too see a mat and shave it out, because it’s easy and generates revenue faster. But that’s not a quality service. Here, that’s a last option. We want to be an educational resource and a supportive part of our community. So with us, there’s going to be a conversation, if our clients are open to learning from us, they can, but we’re not going to force that. And we take a really positive approach to it. We always try brushing mats out first. Sometimes that means bringing your dog to two appointments.
That’s one thing I really like about this industry. I know the clients, I know their dogs. It’s neat having that relationship.