Ottawa’s Top Dog Groomer on how to keep your pets in tip-top shape

I always said that if I wasn’t in the field that I was currently in, my other dream job would be to work with animals. I mean, imagine a job where you're surrounded by dogs all day long. Does that even exist? Enter Ellen Parker – owner of Uptown Pet Grooming Inc. – an award-winning grooming salon located in Ottawa, Canada.

Ellen is one of the city’s top pet groomers who opened her salon in 2015 alongside her business partner Laurie Poon. Since they started, Uptown Pet Grooming has groomed over 10,000 dogs and it's still going strong (at the time of this interview, Ellen mentions they are already fully booked till Christmas).

We caught up with Ellen to discuss what it’s like to own a grooming salon, the challenges, the funniest moments and her tips on how to keep your dogs in tip-top shape.

Ellen Parker grooming her client Stanley
Ellen Parker grooming her client Stanley

What inspired you to open up your own grooming salon?

I started my career in pet grooming working for a big corporation. When I was there, I felt that the animals needed more time and care than what was allotted to us. It was about meeting a certain quota and to me, I didn’t only see it as grooming but overall animal care. We didn’t have the opportunity to do that there.

What we wanted was a relationship with the owners and their dogs and the time to be able to speak with them to discuss issues as well as teach them how to achieve what they wanted – whether it was more grooms for their dogs, skin care, brushing, combing or nail trimming.

What we Wanted was a relationship with the owners and their dogs

Our goal is to give each dog what is needed to achieve what their parents would like. I personally enjoy working with the more difficult animals because most groomers won’t and those are the ones need it the most.

Difficult animals?

Yes, the ones that may be aggressive, or old and frightened. A lot of places, such as the larger grooming companies, won’t accept those animals. And a lot of groomers that I have come in contact with won’t give the time or the effort.

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What is a day in the life of a groomer like?

Very fulfilling! Like any business, some days can be frustrating and tiring but on a whole the day is very happy and uplifting.

Most days start off with greeting our customers as they drop off their pets. They’ll usually have their bath first, then they’ll get a blow dry followed by a nail trim, and a haircut. Once they’re done, they go back on the floor to roam around and play with the other dogs.

we don't believe in putting the dogs in kennels while we groom the other dogs

One of the things that we feel very important about our place is that we don’t believe in putting them in kennels while we groom the other dogs. This is one of the reasons why we have limited the number of dogs we groom in one day, so we can give them the freedom to walk around the salon, and play.

So it’s kind of like a daycare?

Yes. And the dogs that are more difficult, we take our time with them. if it means they have to be there for the day then they’re there for the day. We also groom dogs that have to be medicated to relax them – most grooming companies don’t allow this so we really pride ourselves in taking all sorts of dogs at our salon.

Uptown Pet Grooming groomer Chelsey Blundon with client Bella
Uptown Pet Grooming groomer Chelsey Blundon with client Bella

You actually have the best job in the world, being around dogs all the time. But like with any business, there are always ups and downs. What has been the most challenging thing with owning a grooming salon?

Currently, the most challenging thing has been finding the right staff to work for us. Mostly finding someone who has the same belief system as we do. We want to find the right person who feels the same way we do. Someone who is willing to take their time with each dog and believe in our mandate that it’s all about quality versus the quantity of dogs we groom.

And the most rewarding?

So many. For me the most rewarding is to have a dog come in that no one has been able to groom before. And seeing that particular dog walk out of the salon with a full groom and the happiest that they can be.

for me the most rewarding is to have a dog come in that no one has been able to groom before

Or a dog who in the beginning would have had to have his nails cuts in the parking lot and now comes in and allows me to do it. This might take a couple of tries but it’s all worth it in the end.

Uptown Pet Grooming client Lulu
Uptown Pet Grooming client Lulu

If someone was looking to become a dog groomer. What is your advice on how they can get started?

I would say to start off at a place like Petsmart. This will give them a chance to see what it is all about. Get as much experience as possible and then find the independent groomer or grooming place that is willing to take you on and continue to teach you.

Get as much experience as possible and then find an independent groomer or grooming place that is willing to take you on and continue to teach you.

Basically, work on getting the experience and then find a place that will hire you because every salon does it differently.

To be a good groomer, you have to be willing to have an open mind, have patience, and be committed because it is a challenging job.

There really is no right or wrong but the best thing to do is to have your basic experience then have somebody continue to teach you. To be a good groomer, you have to be willing to have an open mind, have patience, and be committed because it is a challenging job.

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What is your favourite type of dog to groom? 

My favourite dog to groom would be, a very messy, double coated dog that hasn’t been groomed in a long time. My passion is not so much the haircut but the preparation for the haircut itself. This entails laying the foundation for the haircut which is bathing and drying the dog properly allowing you to do a proper groom.

You can have the best groomer in the world but if the dog is not properly prepared then you won’t be able to do a proper groom.

You can have the best groomer in the world but if the dog is not properly prepared then you won’t be able to do a proper groom. The secret to a perfect groom is getting the dog groom-ready.

Tell us one of the funniest stories that has happened at Uptown Pet Grooming

We have a few of them! We had two dogs that “sing howl” while being blow dried. One dog refused to go home! We actually had to carry him to the car. One time, Laurie, my business partner, left her bagel on the table and a dog grabbed it and ate it.

It doesn’t take much to laugh. Watching the dogs play is hysterical and that’s a nice thing about having a salon that is open concept.

Uptown Pet Grooming entryway
Uptown Pet Grooming entryway

What’s next for Uptown Pet Grooming? 

We have our busiest time coming up! Christmas is very busy and we are already booked up till then. In fact, all holidays keep us really busy as the parents love to make sure their dogs are looking their best on these special occasions.

Ellen Parker with client Stanley
Ellen Parker with client Stanley

HOW TO KEEP YOUR DOGS IN TIP-TOP SHAPE by ELLEN PARKER, OWNER OF UPTOWN PET GROOMING INC. 

Bring your dog to a groomer every 6-8 weeks. This is a good timeframe for us to groom the dogs that are starting to get knotted and matted as well as get their nails trimmed and their ears cleaned if need be.

Owners should be combing their long-haired dogs rather than brushing them. Combing allows you to get down to the skin level and get rid of knots. Remember every time these knots get wet, they get bigger and tighter so combing really is key. They don't need to be combed every day. Once a week is fine. And if you plan on giving your dog a bath, make sure you comb them before doing so.

Nails should be done at least every 6 weeks. If your dog goes for very long walks, then you can shorten that timeframe as walking tends to file their nails down.

Teeth should be brushed at least once every two to three days. Use an Enzymatic Toothpaste as it forms a foam that gets in the crevices of the teeth. If the dog doesn’t want to be brushed, get a hard bone and put toothpaste on it. Teeth cleaning should be taken very seriously as there are a lot of bacteria that gets stuck in their teeth. Remember, dogs do not tell you when they’re in pain. We have seen dogs whose teeth have been extracted come back as a whole different dog.

If your dogs don't like going to the groomers, try not to coddle them or show any signs of nervousness. It’s important that the customer who is bringing the dog make the experience very positive. Dogs pick up nervousness and if the owner is nervous then the dog will mimic that behaviour.

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