Up Close: Sharon Mayer

Puppy love …
To say Sharon Mayer is a dog person is truly an understatement. The owner of Canine Grooming Cottage in Scranton loves dogs, and all animals, with all her heart. And it shows on her face when she talks about her furry clients and her pets, all of which bring great joy to her life. Perhaps it’s because she was raised in a family that always included dogs. (We hear that mom, Rita Mayer and her pug, Oliver, are famous for their walks in their Throop neighborhood). Or perhaps it’s that she was just born with an uncanny ability to appreciate and understand canines. Whatever it is, it works. After a successful career in retail for many years, including being a manager at PetSmart, Mayer decided to become a professional groomer and went on to become an entrepreneur. When she’s not working, you might find her walking Maddie at Nay Aug Park or traveling with her boyfriend, Richard Heppler. Meet Sharon Mayer, and her faithful canine assistant, Maddie …


You had a successful retail career when you decided to start your own business seven years ago. How did you know you were ready to become an entrepreneur?
I was 36 years old and I wanted to get into grooming, so I changed careers and went to the Pennsylvania Academy of Pet Grooming in Indiana, Pa.  After I graduated, I got a job at Petco and I learned a lot there, too. You just can’t learn everything you need to know about grooming every single kind of dog in 15 weeks. It’s a lot to learn.

For people who haven’t visited the Cottage, what will they find?
We have any kind of outfit for your dog, and if we don’t have it in stock, we can order it for you. We have collars, leashes, gourmet cookies and treats (for dogs), a lot of toys and gifts for humans, too.

How can dog owners prepare our pets for a grooming session?
Well, the sooner, the better. If you get a puppy, get all their shots and the soonest appointment you can get is the best. Dogs learn most of what they carry with them for the rest of their lives in the first six months of their lives. So when you get a puppy, take him in the car everywhere, and do a group training class. Dogs are really easy to train; it’s people who are difficult to train (laughs). And as far as baths, get them used to the hair dryer, and help them get used to the sound of a vacuum cleaner. When dogs hear a vacuum for the first time, a lot of them will shake and be afraid of the noise. Let them know it’s OK. “Who’s such a good girl? We’re just vacuuming in the house.”
Maddie looks up and wags her tail in agreement.
And get them used to brushing, especially breeds that need to be groomed every 8 weeks, like cocker spaniels, poodles and bichons. Do everything you can as early as possible because that way, they’ll be totally socialized when they grow up.

What if you adopt an older dog and you weren’t able to train him/her as a puppy?
One thing I did learn in grooming school is that you can teach an old dog new tricks. The only difference is, it will take a little bit longer. A puppy is a clean slate, but just use positive reinforcement. I don’t believe in negative reinforcement training like shock collars – I use treats, praise and toys as rewards. Some dogs have issues — maybe they were abused at one point — just bring them in and get them used to the place, tell them everything is OK. Bring them in for a nail trim, and then work up to getting a bath. It’s a process.

What questions should you ask when you’re looking for a groomer?
The first thing you should ask if they use heated cage dryers. I don’t use them. I saw a story in the New York Daily news about a puppy that died in a grooming salon under a heated cage dryer. A dog can overheat and die quickly. A lot of times when people call, the only thing they ask about is cost. That’s not the most important question. The most important is, “Do you use heated cage dryers?”
Also ask if they do hand scissoring, especially if you have a poodle, bichon or maltese. There are groomers out there who just buzz dogs and don’t scissor anything. It doesn’t look good.
And, ask if they’re familiar with grooming all breeds. Suppose you have an Airedale, which isn’t a common dog and you take it to a groomer who hasn’t done one before or hasn’t been to so school to learn all the breeds and dog anatomy. You don’t need a license to open a grooming salon in Pennsylvania and it’s not regulated like the beauty industry is.

You really have to understand each animal individually, don’t you?
We know how to talk to dogs and how to read dog behavior. So we know when a dog is fear aggressive and how we need to talk to them.

And every dog is different.
Yes, some dogs love being groomed because they love the one-on-one and the attention. Some other dogs don’t really like it and they just want to get it over with so they can go home. A lot of dogs, the only time they leave their house is to go to the vet or the groomer, and when I think from a dog’s perspective, dogs don’t like change. If grooming isn’t a routine thing with your dogs and you only do it once or twice a year, they’re truly not going to enjoy it. You should take them to the dog park, and shop at PetSmart with them. The more you socialize your dog, the happier your dog is going to be. I believe in putting everything into your dog because the more you put into your dog, the more you get out of the relationship.

Did you always have pets?
I grew up with dogs. I went to Lakeland High School in the country and we always had dogs. My father was really into German shepherds and we had a doxie, named Max. He was proof that size does not matter in the dog world. Max ruled our german shepherd, Major. (Laughs). My grandparents loved dogs, too, and they always had them. And I got a bird when I was in my late 20s. His name was Tootie and he was wonderful. I used to take him in the car with me and put him on the steering wheel, and people would look at me funny. He was very socialized. When I was 30 I got my Zoe — she was my baby. She had every health problem under the sun. It’s really important if you’re thinking of getting a pure bred dog to research the breeder. Make sure it’s a reputable breeder and you also want to get a history of the line to see if there’s any history of health problems. One in four pure bred dogs has a genetic disease. Zoe had hip dysplasia when she was just 6 months old and she ended up breaking her elbow on the ice when she was a puppy and had two surgeries at Cornell. She was diabetic at age 7, went blind within a year, and she just loved life. People can learn so much from dogs.

What have they taught you?
Any kind of situation that arises that’s a stressful situation or a hurdle you have to get over, you just go at it with full force. Face your fears and don’t be afraid of anything.
— julie imel

Mayer, groomer Stephanie Miller and the staff at Canine Grooming Cottage groom dogs and cats and offer nail trims to a variety of pets. The Cottage is located at 425 Green Ridge St., Scranton. For more information, call 961-1330.

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