Confessions Of A Dog Groomer: Meet Devonport's Pampered Pooch Expert
Janetta Mackay meets a woman for whom animal antics are all in a day’s work
Snipping a neat noughts-and-crosses design into the family dog’s coat using her mother’s misappropriated sewing scissors was an early indicator that Barbara Tubby had a sure touch with animals.
That creative flair which Devonport’s dog groomer of choice showed as a 12-year-old, still outs occasionally. Witness a certain miniature schnauzer with a mohawk walking around the seaside suburb.
But Barbara — a precise but playful personality — draws the line at dyed quiffs and painted nails. “I don’t think I’ll go there,” she says of unduly anthropomorphising pets. Enhancing their personalities and breed appearance is a different story.
The punk schnauzer’s signature cut is an exaggerated expression of traditional grooming that emphasises elongated eyebrows. Its owner-approved extra head growth has been clipped in stand-up style, tapering down to the back of its neck.
Most owners merely want their family pets groomed to suit their lifestyles. “They’re not off to Crufts [the UK’s leading dog show],” she notes. Simple cuts are preferred, often with short hair on the legs so sand and dirt aren’t so readily tramped inside. “The aim is to have a happy, healthy and clean dog.” One that might bound between beach and boat or cafe and couch.
Barbara doesn’t name favourite breeds among her four-legged clients, saying: “Everyone who has a dog loves it.” But she does note the locals are partial to their “doodles”. The cavoodle (a poodle crossed with a cavalier King Charles spaniel) is particularly popular, as are schnauzers and westies.
Border terriers are being seen more often but corgis have all but waddled from view, with the likes of red setters and afghans rarer still. Labradors and retrievers appeal to families, but it’s the medium size and cuteness of the doodles (ahead of real little fluffballs) that prevail, partly thanks to their soft, no-shed, wool-like coats.
A word of caution, however, for while shedding dogs may require vacuum cleaners at the ready, the short-haired ones need less grooming than some woolly specimens. In six months, if left untended, a doodle coat can turn it into a matted lamb, with a fleece that requires serious shearing. Home care and 6- to 8-weekly grooms are in order, whereas other dogs could go 8 t0 10 weeks. Mini-grooms in between for face trimming (and nail and ear checks) are common.
It was Archie, a woolly wheaten terrier, who set adult Barbara on course to cope with any kind of coat. She was half a world away from her childhood pattern-making experiments in Essex, England, having married and settled in Auckland, where she was working as a school librarian while her four children grew up.
One day she borrowed a neighbour’s clippers, popped the family pet up on the trampoline and skimmed it sleek like a greyhound. A grooming course and a more appropriate-looking Archie later and she was asked where he had his hair done. “Before I knew it I was doing all my friends’ dogs.”
Short Bark and Sides was born, with the business run from home on a quiet back street, walking distance from Cheltenham and Narrow Neck beaches. It’s no conveyor belt set-up, instead dogs get to amble about in her purpose-built potting shed, painted to match the family home. The garden surrounds are extra lush, thanks to all the recycled dog bath water.
Barbara is a great believer in encouraging trust in a dog, built on familiarisation and reward training with home-made liver treats. If it takes two hours to get a nervous newbie groomed so be it. “Your No. 1 client is the dog,” she says.
Anxious owners are sometimes updated via a favourite app, My Talking Pet, which is a fun way of marrying human voice with an animal’s picture. Barbara also has discreet fun picking up on resemblances between pets and their owners.
During regular trips back to see family in the UK, Barbara has continued to upskill. She jokes of being a “grooming bitch” to a noted trainer she considers a mentor. In May she attended an international conference and picked up some new tricks. For someone who says she is now semi-retired, the 56-year-old shows little sign of slowing down.
In theory, she’s cut her work schedule to three days a week, but she is regularly called on for out-of-hours advice, including who might own any wandering dogs in the area. A last-minute nail trim was requested recently for a french boxer about to be crated and sent to, yes, France.
Barbara’s latest activity is a return to horse riding, which brought to mind when she used a horse float to pick up a giant Newfoundland dog an elderly client could no longer transport. A few months back she took on a young rescue collie called Arlo.
Like her it’s lively and streamlined, so that old adage seems to hold true. It will be her last dog for awhile, given the clear message on the homefront: “One dog and one husband — or two dogs.”
GROOMING TIPS TO TRY AT HOME
● Try to get your puppy used to being handled early, so having its eyes, ears, mouth, feet and tail inspected doesn’t unduly frighten it.
● Gently massaging and brushing your pet is good bonding, helps relax it and in the case of brushing spreads hair oils to keep the coat looking glossy. Aim to brush every other day, if you can’t commit to doing it daily.
● Woolly dogs may require the use of a wide-toothed metal comb, rather than a brush. This should only be done when their coats aren’t badly matted. Keep an eye on their foot pads for hair curling under and causing problems.
● To accustomise a pet to the sound of grooming, try The Clipper app. Home blow dryers are usually noisy, so may not be well tolerated. Use with a diffuser attachment to disperse the blast, or simply towel down instead.
● Don’t over-soap and wash your dog because this can strip the oils from their coats and dry their skin. Human shampoo or dish detergent should not be used as a dog’s skin has a different pH to ours.
● Freshen your dog between washing by brushing and, if you wish, spritzing with dog conditioning spray, not your perfume.
● A monthly bath is a good rule of thumb.