Last spring, a major retail pet chain settled out of court with a dog owner who claimed her Shih Tzu left the store’s grooming department with more than a new haircut: The pup also had a dislocated hip.

Although there are no official statistics on dog grooming injuries, Internet message boards are full of stories about them. Apparently it’s not just dogs that get the shakes about going to the groomer. Pet parents are getting nervous, too.

It doesn’t help that the pet grooming industry isn’t regulated, although there have been attempts in several states to make licensing a requirement. Most recently, a New Jersey assembly debated a bill proposing the Pet Groomers Licensing Act. Also known as Bijou’s Law — after a Shih Tzu that died during a grooming session at a big box pet store — it would require groomers in the state to be at least 18 years old and be tested by the State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners, among other stipulations.

Even without official oversight of pet groomers, you can find a safe one for your beloved furball by doing some homework, says Lindsay Vest, a show dog breeder and longtime professional groomer in Glasgow, Kentucky. To find a qualified dog groomer, start with these tips.

Dig for dirt about a potential groomerdog being brushed

Ask friends, neighbors, your veterinarian and even strangers at the dog park if they’re happy with their pet’s groomer. Many top-notch groomers get their canine clients through word of mouth. “I don’t advertise,” says Vest. “All of my clients come to me because I’m recommended by others.”

Although groomers aren’t licensed, they can be certified through the National Dog Groomers Association of America. “If someone is a certified master groomer, they’ve been tested on knowledge, safety and working with different breeds,” says Vest.

A groomer who isn’t credentialed should at least have apprenticed with another groomer and have some experience under his clippers. Vest suggests asking a potential groomer how familiar he is with your dog’s breed. Certain types of dogs need special consideration while being groomed.

Find out if the groomer knows basic animal first-aid as well. “I know a groomer who had a fat old cocker spaniel in the tub that suddenly keeled over and stopped breathing,” says Vest. “Fortunately one of the other groomers knew CPR and she was able to revive the dog, which had had a heart attack.” Groomers should know the basic Heimlich maneuver for animals in case of choking.

You might also check with your local Better Business Bureau to make sure there have been no complaints against a groomer you’re considering. 
(Photo: mariait/Shutterstock)

Related: Caring For Your Older Dog

Sniff around the salon

Before you make an appointment with a new groomer, the American Society For the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals recommends stopping by and taking a tour. Some things to note:

  • Is the place clean?
  • Is the atmosphere pleasant — not too loud, hot, cold or busy? “Many grooming salons are chaotic, with dogs barking and dryers going,” explains Vest. “Groomers are paid on commission so the more dogs they do in a day, the more they get paid.” If noise and activity turns you pup into a furball of nerves, look for a groomer that takes fewer dogs at a time.
  • Are the people who work there friendly? Do they seem knowledgeable?
  • How does the staff interact with the animals? Are they gentle? Do they seem to sincerely enjoy the pets they’re working with?
  • Where are animals kept before and after they’re groomed?
  • Will the owner let you watch dogs being groomed? (You should be able to do this.)

Related: Are You Neglecting Your Dog’s Teeth?

Clear the air about drying cagesyorkie getting haircut

Find out if the groomer uses drying cages, which are also known as drying kennels. Animals can be burned, suffer heat stress or even die if left too long in cages with heated dryers. “A drying cage should have a timer and there should be someone in the room at all times when a dog is in one,” says Vest.

Some dogs should never be left in a drying cage. These include flat-faced breeds like pugs and boxers. They have trouble breathing when air is blown directly at them. 
(Photo: Scorpp/Shutterstock)

Groomers of another breed

If you have trouble finding a groomer you feel comfortable leaving your dog with, there are alternatives. Here are a few:

  • In-home grooming. The groomer comes to your house or works out of her own home. This can be an especially good option for dogs that are nervous around noise or other dogs.
  • Mobile grooming. The groomer travels to your home and works out of a specially equipped van.
  • Holistic grooming “spas.” Here the emphasis is on using products with few chemicals and keeping dogs relaxed. There’s no worry that your pet will spend six to eight hours in a cage with no bathroom breaks.

“A holistic groomer usually spends more time with the dog. Some of them play meditation music and use aromatherapy oils,” says Vest. “My dream is to have that kind of facility one day — and not just for the dogs. It would be nice to work there!”

Related: 10 Ways to Be Kind to Your Pet This Winter

Denise Foley is a veteran health writer and a former contributing executive editor at Prevention magazine.