Lisa Perkovic is the first to admit that her dog is high maintenance.
“Her name is Sheba, like the Queen of Sheba. And as far as grooming goes, she lives up to her name,” says Perkovic.
Sheba, an eight-year-old cavoodle, goes to the groomer for a haircut every four to six weeks. Until 2019, Perkovic and Sheba lived in downtown Sydney, where getting a grooming appointment was fairly easy. Then they moved to Perth and everything changed. After much research, Perkovic finally found a groomer she wanted to schedule an appointment with – but couldn’t get an appointment.
“I couldn’t even get him to agree to put me on the waiting list,” she says. It wasn’t until her dogitter, a longtime customer of the groomer, said a good word that Sheba got her reservation.
“Once you’re in, you’re in… but I literally had to make appointments every month until July next year. And she says she has clients who have booked until Christmas next year.
“It’s wild…it’s really hard to get into the groomers.”
Perkovic’s story is not unique. Australia has seen a 20% increase in the number of dog owners during the pandemic, but the number of animal industry professionals has not increased at the same rate.
“A million more dogs have been added to Australian households because of Covid,” says vet Dr Alex Hynes, citing a report from Animal Medicines Australia. “All aspects of pet care, from vets to groomers, are struggling to keep up with demand.”
The problem is greatly compounded by the type of dogs Australians buy. Low-shedding dogs like Bichons, Poodles, and Poodle crosses have higher grooming needs than many other breeds.
Dogs with curly, low, or no-shedding coats — part of the appeal for prospective owners wishing to avoid a dog-hair-covered home — require grooming every six to eight weeks. Without regular sessions, their coats are likely to tangle, a painful and potentially dangerous scenario for a dog.
Across Australia, there has been a boom in oodle-type dogs and the resulting shortage of groomers is of concern to many in the industry.
“It’s been a problem since poodle crossbreeds have become more popular,” says Darryl Greensill, a Brisbane-based freelance groomer. “But this [really] became a problem during covid as so many people have dogs. It put a lot of pressure on us. »
Greensill says matted fur feels like “fur prison” or “wearing a cardigan all the time that you couldn’t get off”. If the mat is left on too long, it can create painful sores on a dog’s skin and may require sedation and a shave at the vet. Greensill also believes dogs are at risk of dying from heatstroke if trapped in matted fur during a hot Australian summer.
Greensill – who doesn’t want his business details included because, he says, “I find it hard enough dealing with the clients I currently have” – thinks prospective Poodle cross owners need to understand what they register.
“Breeders do not properly educate and select poodle owners. They just want to get $5,000 for a puppy and just go on their merry way,” he says. “So they don’t tell them enough about the actual combing and brushing requirements…they don’t tell them the frequency of grooming required, or the cost of grooming, which is usually between $80 and $120.”
Greensill, who focuses more on serving her furry customers than a barber-style experience, wants owners to understand that when it comes to a dog’s coat, aesthetics are not the most important consideration. He says a “fluffy” look can be “a painful cost to the dog”.
Janie and Martin Rose, owners of national dog wash and grooming franchise Blue Wheelers, agree that Australia faces a shortage of dog groomers. Between 2018 and 2022, their mobile dog wash service grew from four units to 23.
Echoing Greensill, they say the increase in dog ownership in general, and oodles in particular, are the two factors. “I think the nature of the dog changed the nature of the request,” says Janie.
They say the problem is particularly pronounced in wealthier suburbs.
It’s not just owners of poodle crossbreeds that have driven up demand. Even low-maintenance dogs are heading to groomers more, “because there are still so many people working from home,” says Janie.
“They see the dog more, they smell the dog more, they’re closer to the dog, and they realize that dog needs a wash.”
Vet Hynes says the shortage of groomers has led to more dogs coming to the emergency room for sedation so their entire coat can be removed.
“Unfortunately, it’s something we see on a fairly regular basis,” Hynes says. “The worst, unfortunately, are where people try and do [the grooming] home and they inadvertently cut the dog. So what I actually see in an emergency is that a lot of times people are either too embarrassed to take them to the groomer or they’re just like, “I’ll try to do it myself.” . And then they actually cut the dog’s skin.
She says DIY jobs should never be attempted on your dog because it’s “too easy” to accidentally cut them. “It can be very difficult to determine where the skin ends and the coat begins. I would stitch up a dog that was clipped by owners a few times a month, probably.
If you can’t get in with a groomer on time, Hynes says the best stopgap measure is regular combing, which prevents or limits the amount of mating. Combing a dog regularly can also alert owners when something is wrong.
To comb your dog, Greensill says, “Get a barber’s comb, part the fur down to the skin, and try combing through the fur. If you can’t do that, your dog is tangled. If your dog is matted, he is uncomfortable. Go with it.”
Greensill urges prospective pet owners to “consider maintenance requirements very seriously” when choosing a dog. “Ask yourself if you should buy a puppy – there are dogs in shelters; there are a lot of dogs that need a home. But after going through that, if they’re determined to buy a poodle cross, make an appointment for the dogs [in advance].”
He also hopes more people will enter the pet care industry, so that all dogs can get the services they need.
“It’s really something that’s problematic,” Hynes said. “We just don’t have enough groomers; we don’t have enough vets. And there are a lot of dogs there.
The Cost of Care for Low Shedding Dogs
$80-120: The typical cost of an appointment with a canine groomer
6-8 weeks: The recommended interval between grooming appointments
$3,000: Price veterinarian Dr Alex Hynes says owners should be prepared to spend on their dog in its first year, for first appointments and vaccinations
$2,000: Annual Hynes estimate for maintenance expenses each year thereafter
“Thousands of Dollars”: The cost of taking a dog with matted fur to a vet for emergency sedation and shaving