IN THE old days they were known as ‘poodle parlours’, but nowadays dog grooming takes place in ‘canine beauty salons’ with highly-experienced groomers.

One such canine beauty parlour is Wagtails on Morecambe’s Yorkshire Street – heaven for dog lovers like me. I don’t have a dog of my own, but I would love to have a four-legged friend.

I am straining at the leash to find out what it’s like to be a canine beautician.

A few days earlier on the phone, Ray Headington of Wagtails told me: “I can’t wait to see this, flower!”

He set a few alarm bells ringing, but it didn’t put me off.

“Don’t wear your good clothes,” he warned.

Oh dear.

Dressed in my scruffs, I turn up at Wagtails on a Thursday morning and am greeted at the door by ‘Tinkerbelle’, a massive, friendly Rottweiler and Hattie, an enthusiastic Airedale terrier.

Both dogs belong to Ray and his wife Tricia, who run Wagtails together. Their dogs are extremely popular with the customers and Tinkerbelle even collects 10 pound notes from the customers.

Obligingly, Tinkerbelle gives us a demonstration of her cash collecting skills before I get ready to work. Behind the counter is a door leading to the beauty parlour. The sound of hairdryers is blasting from the doorway. Ray shows me through and Tricia says ‘hello’.

I had imagined a couple of dogs and perhaps one beautician. However, the parlour is full of all kinds of dogs and five women are busy grooming them.

Tricia, who has worked as a canine beautician for an amazing 48 years and has been in Morecambe for 18 of those years, takes a breather from finishing a very stylish haircut for a shi tzu called Benji, to welcome me to Wagtails.

Benji lives in Heysham and visits the salon every week for a special bath and shampoo. His nails get a trim and his fine hair gets a tidy-up. Tricia explains that the groomers also check for “lumps and bumps” on the dogs and recommend a visit to the vet, if need be. Benji looks very relaxed as Tricia combs his hair – she even lets me do it.

“The dogs get to know you and they let you do it,” she explains. “Most come in wagging their tails and can’t wait.”
As Tricia cuts Benji’s fringe, she coos: “Stay still darling.”

My ‘client’ is Max, a grand old English sheepdog who looks like Donny Tourette from the band, The Towers of London. Max is in need of a haircut, nail trimming, a good shampoo, a blow dry and much more.

He looks at me with his big, soulful eyes so I give him a good pat before Tricia starts telling me about the salon.

The salon opens at 9am and the women work flat out for the rest of the day as it’s often very busy. Wagtails recently moved from Heysham Road to Yorkshire Street, a move Tricia describes as “brilliant”.

“There’s a nice community on Yorkshire Street. We’ve got lots of business.”

Dog owners travel from far and wide to have their pets beautified at Wagtails. One dog even travels all the way from Benidorm.

Ray says: “They come to us because we have a good reputation.

“Most of our business is by word of mouth. Some people who have moved away from the area still come to us. They make a day of it. One comes from Ireland and another comes from Halifax.”

All of the dogs’ records are kept on computer – a staggering 1,669 pooches.

Benji is easy to manage, but Tricia and her staff have much bigger clients on their books including a Great Dane and a 13.5 stone New Foundland dog.

As we chat, Dougal the Westie and Caspar, a miniature poodle, are getting the works.

Imogen Newlands is one of the groomers working on the dogs. She has been in the business for nearly seven years and loves it.

“Every day is different,” she explains.

Tricia takes people on apprenticeships and believes they learn much more this way than by going to college.

“A lot do go to college, but all they learn is the basics,” she says.

“It takes three years to learn the whole lot.

“It’s like being a car mechanic – you have to be ‘hands-on’ to do it.

“It’s a profession for life. It’s something you can either do, or you can’t.

“You must not be nervous of the dogs. Even dogs that are normally well-behaved will have a go if you’re nervous. You need to learn to have the right body language.”

Tricia got into the business when she was 16 years-old and worked in boarding kennels in Stratford-upon-Avon. She later moved to boarding kennels in Southport owned by Bob Martin.

When she left there she managed ‘The Smart Dog’ in Southport.

“It was a grooming parlour – they used to call them poodle parlours,” she says. “We didn’t get the wide spectrum of dogs that we get nowadays.

“It was mainly poodles, spaniels and terriers.”
Max is waiting for his bath so we stop chatting and, ominously, Tricia hands me a large, waterproof apron to wear. “You’ll need this,” she smiles.

Groomer Sam Long and I prepare to lift Max.

He’s a big, heavy dog (about six stone I’d say) so it takes two of us.

He doesn’t seem to mind as we carry him over to the bath.
The bath itself is raised up to waist level for ease of dog washing.

Max has clearly done this many times before and he waits patiently as Sam and I use jugs to pour water over him.

It’s great fun giving Max his shampoo. We even use Dove soap to clean the white fur on his face and paws.

He doesn’t howl or growl, but he does look a little bit like a child who doesn’t want to get soap in his eyes.

Then we shower off the shampoo and soap and squeeze his fur to get the water out.

The next step is to dry him with cloths and towels before lifting him out of the bath and onto a drying table covered in towels.

Blast
Sam hands me a large dog hairdryer and we both blast Max’s fur with the warm air.

Tricia explains that we must keep the dryers moving constantly so as not to burn Max’s skin.

This is the bit Max least likes and he grumbles a lot.
The bathing, showering, lifting and drying are all very physical and I can imagine that after a whole day of working like this, anyone would be worn out. Still, it’s satisfying work and the dogs are great characters.

Sam continues working on Max and Tricia introduces me to ‘Aggro’, a tiny long-haired dog that looks as if it should really be called ‘Sweetie’ or ‘Cutie’.

Jasmine, a fabulous black standard poodle, is also waiting, so I shake paws with her and give her a pat.

Tricia says the groomers will treat between 15 to 18 dogs in a day and that it’s “one of the hardest jobs you can do”.

She explains: “A lot of people don’t realise how hard it is.

They just think it’s going to be all cuddles and kisses.”
She shows me her hand which is badly scarred: “This finger was split right down the middle by a chihuahua. It’s like going to the dentist – some dogs probably think they’re going to the vets.”

Tricia has occasionally worked on show dogs, but not recently.

I’ve had a highly enjoyable day at Wagtails, but would I like to do it as a job?

Well, I doubt I’d be able to hack the physical side of the job. However, I would like the creative side of being a groomer.

One thing is for sure – Tricia and her groomers do a superb job and If I had a pet dog, I’d be happy to leave it in their capable hands.

It would certainly be a lot more fun than working in a ladies’ or gents’ salon.

On the grooming table Sam has almost finished Max’s treatment.

He looks gorgeous now that he has had his ‘cut and blow dry.

“The dogs are usually a lot happier once they’ve had their coats shampooed and their hair cut,” adds Tricia.

“I would far rather have dogs than people.”