When it comes to getting our dogs groomed, it can be nerve-wracking for not only our furry friends, but us as owners. Hill Country Grooming is an intimate dog grooming business that prioritizes communication between client, groomer, and most importantly, our dogs.
Getting our dogs groomed is a game of trial and error. It can be hard to find a trustworthy establishment that you know your dog will be comfortable in while getting clean. Every dog is different, and being in an unknown environment surrounded by other animals, loud grooming equipment, and strangers can be stressful.
Even the most well-behaved dogs can act out towards groomers simply because they have anxiety about being away from their homes and owners. Araceli Soza is the owner of Hill Country Grooming in Texas, where they prioritize communication between dog and groomer to make our pets feel as comfortable as possible before, during, and after their groom.
Initially, Soza was working alongside her father, who used to own the business, and sister at Hill Country Grooming. During this time she learned how to groom dogs, and developed a passion for working with animals. In 2020, Soza assumed control over the business and continued to provide a positive and safe environment where people can feel comfortable bringing their pets. Personally, Soza also has three dogs and a turtle.
“I started out as a bather working for Hill Country Grooming, which was my dad’s at the time. Initially I was just helping out while my dad was getting his footing with the entire grooming world but as time went on I began taking on more responsibilities like bookkeeping, answering phones, etc.
When Covid hit, my dad was prioritizing his handyman work with the intention of closing down the grooming business, but first he asked me if I would want to take it over since at that point I had gained so much experience in all aspects of the business, and the rest is history.”
“Since taking over Hill Country Grooming, Soza helped the business receive a First Place accolade for Dog Grooming services, as well as being recognized as a runner up as the Best of Wimberley in 2020 and Best of Hays in 2018.”
“We’re a smaller business, the most employees I ever have with me at a time is two, and every once in a while we’ll have grooming students come in to practice as well with our staff. Having such a small staff is actually really beneficial when it comes to building relationships with our clients.
Whenever I have a newer client come in they often ask if it’s just the three of us always working here and it is. This makes it so much easier for us to get to know each dog and owner that comes in, and allows us to shift our process depending on the specific pup we’ll be taking care of.”
Soza then went on to explain the specific services they provide to their customers: “At Hill Country Grooming we offer the essentials when it comes to bathing and grooming our furry customers. We even do some boarding for more regular customers who’s dogs the staff has become acquainted with, but that’s definitely an aspect of the business we’re looking to expand.
Usually when a customer comes in, we already know all the services their dog will be needing because we take care of that through a phone consultation beforehand. This way we’re able to prepare all of our stations and tools needed for the specific bath and cut. We bathe, blowdry, shave, treat the hair, trim their nails, clean their ears, and even brush their teeth sometimes! Once the dogs are all clean they rest in their kennel and we immediately notify the owner so that they can come pick up their furry friend as soon as they’re done.”
Soza then took me through how she helps her furry clients when they’re feeling particularly nervous about the entire grooming experience. She explained how even the most friendliest dog can act out simply because they’re scared and don’t recognize the environment they’re in. It’s overstimulating, to an extent, which would make any dog, or person for that matter, act out.
“Dog behavior is unpredictable, but more times than not they’re just nervous to be in a strange environment without their owners and surrounded by other animals and loud noises from the grooming equipment. Some owners think they just drop their dog off and we get to play with them all day before grooming but that’s not the case. We work hard to make the dogs as comfortable as possible so we can groom them as quickly and precisely as possible.
To be clear, we don’t ever get to play with the dogs, it’s not a part of the job. We work on a schedule and a lot of these dogs are nervous so we want to make the process as quick as possible for them so they can get back to their comfortable home life with a beautiful new hair cut.”
“Communication is key to this job. Not only with our human clients, but the dogs as well. It’s important to know everything there is to know about a dog before grooming them, as it’s a very vulnerable experience for the dogs, so it’s up to us to make them, and their owners, as comfortable as possible throughout the whole process.”
“When we do have a dog that’s really nervous, to the point where they may want to act out against me or the other staff, we stop whatever we’re doing, sit with them and have full on conversations with them so they know that we can be trusted and want to help make them more comfortable.
Dogs are very communicative in general, so when you take the time to calmly talk to them and move a little slower throughout the entire grooming process so that they can see everything you’re doing as you’re doing it, it helps make them feel more comfortable in the process.
Dogs also read our energy, so if we seem nervous going into a grooming session, they’ll feed off of that. It’s my goal to make every animal that comes through our door feel welcomed and feel a warm and friendly energy from our entire staff so that they can trust us.”
Soza then explained how her extensive experience in retail perfectly prepared her for taking over Hill Country Grooming, especially when it comes to properly communicating with the dogs:
“My work background is in retail, so that helped me a lot when it came to gaining customer loyalty and trust when I transitioned into this position with Hill Country Grooming. Retail teaches you how to talk to a wide variety of people while fulfilling their specific needs. It teaches you how to think on your feet and communicate professionally with your customers while making them feel like you are completely on their side and ready to help in any way you can.
Those communication skills translate to working with dogs too. Since they can’t verbalize how they’re feeling, it’s up to us as the professionals to read their body language and adjust what we’re doing based on their response.
Hill Country Grooming, however, is much less stressful than working in a traditional retail environment. I love seeing people, talking to them, and hearing about their stories in relation to their pets. The connection we have with our pets, especially dogs, is so strong, so when you connect with a client about such a personal relationship, it makes the entire process a lot more positive.”
“I love seeing the look on a client’s face when they pick up their dog, see how happy the dog is to be clean and groomed, and then watch them as they go back out into the world to live and grow together. It’s a great field to be in.”
Soza then concluded our interview by taking me through some exciting potential plans for the future of Hill Country Grooming:
“In the future, I’d love to be able to move to a larger space so that we can expand our boarding services to take care of more pets who have owners with busy lives that want to trust their pet is in a safe and comfortable environment. We’ve also been discussing boarding cats as well.
Additionally, we’ve been discussing implementing art into our grooming more. One of the most recent trends with pet grooming is to use pet-safe dye to dye your pets fur crazy colors, and even draw certain designs into their fur. This trend has become especially popular among dogs, as studies have also shown that dogs with distinguishing features in their appearance, such as multi-colored tails or flower designs, are less likely to be stolen as well.”
To learn more about the amazing work Arceli Soza and her staff have done at Hill Country Grooming, check out their webpage here!
Eric Mastrota is a Contributing Editor at The National Digest based in New York. A graduate of SUNY New Paltz, he reports on world news, culture, and lifestyle. You can reach him at email@example.com.