If any poodle-grooming shop had a name to fit the popular perception, it would be Snooty’s in La Jolla. Snooty’s does not exclusively groom poodles, and the owner, Tiffany Johnson, isn’t who you’d expect to meet in a poodle groomer. “I’ve only seen a few white poodles in the five years I’ve been here, “Johnson says, “and no one has asked me to dye their hair. I don’t think anyone who comes in my shop would even consider something like that. That’s a whole different realm of dog ownership! Honestly, here in La Jolla, we do a lot of just puppy cuts — we keep their hair cut short for the summer. It’s a pretty typical standard haircut where the hair is cut short all around.
“There’s nothing different about poodle owners,” Johnson continues. “They love their dogs just like other dog owners love their dogs. Poodles are a bit different, though. They’re easier to groom, because they’re used to being groomed quite a bit, so they’re much more relaxed. Other than that, every individual dog is different.”
Johnson finds most poodles to be anything but fancy dogs for ego gratification. “Most of them are short-haired, athletic, beach-going dogs. I get a few owners that are ridiculous about their dogs, but not many — maybe two out of ten. It’s usually about the way their hair is cut or the way we treat the dog. People are a bit more likely to let poodles sleep in their beds because they don’t shed the way other dogs do. But for the most part, I’ve got mostly normal poodle owners down here.”
Karen Healy owns the Exotic Pooch, a Pacific Beach grooming shop. Healy has owned her shop for 22 years. She estimates that one-third of her customers bring in poodles. “I once calculated how many dogs I’ve serviced in my lifetime, and the number was something like 125,000.”
Healy got into the grooming business by accident. Her mother expressed interest in purchasing a dog-grooming shop as an investment. Between jobs at the time, Healy owned two Irish Setters and enjoyed training them. When her mother told her about the shop, Healy said she knew nothing about grooming dogs. Her mother told her about a dog-grooming class that was to begin the following week. She enrolled. “I never thought this was what I would do for the rest of my life. It really suited me because the hours are flexible. I got a job right away.”
Healy’s mother never purchased the shop for her daughter, as Karen’s dog grooming teacher advised her not to make such a commitment until she had worked in the industry for a few years. After five years at a pet shop and working as a mobile groomer, Healy bought the Exotic Pooch.
Unlike Johnson, Healy believes poodle owners are different from other dog owners. “It’s a wider spectrum of people. They’re not like the Labrador or the terrier or the Afghan owners — they’re all predictable types. If someone calls me up and says that they have a pit bull, I kind of know what type of person I can expect to come walking in. Labrador people and the sporting breeds tend to be more athletic people. I think poodle owners come in a broader walk of life.”
According to Healy, poodle owners also differ by the type of poodle they choose. “Usually people who have the little tiny dogs are people who cuddle and like little babies. Someone who owns a standard poodle might be more rugged or not quite so fussy.
“I do know that the poodle takes on the personality of its owner. If the owner is whiny, the dog will be that way. Some people will hand me their poodle real positively, like, ‘Okay! You’re here for grooming!’ and they’re not worried about their dogs, and the dogs are more relaxed and confident. I once saw a bumper sticker that read, ‘Poodles aren’t dogs, they’re poodles.’ They really are different than other dogs. They think more like humans. They’re very, very smart. Now, my German shepherd is very smart too, but she’s very doglike. She’s very protective. You have to understand the dog mentality to see that poodles are a separate breed entirely. They’re hardly like dogs. They’re nice and clean. They don’t shed because they have hair instead of fur.”
Unlike Johnson’s experience, Healy has encountered the more demanding poodle owners who make a great fuss over their dogs. “There’s a big group of people like that, but they don’t come to my shop. Sometimes they try to tell me to groom their dog in a certain way, where I know it wouldn’t look good. One person asked me to cut a Mohawk on his poodle’s head. One lady actually tried to make me put a poodle trim on her Yorkshire terrier. I refused, telling her it was a Yorkshire terrier. She just kept saying, ‘No! It’s a poodle! It’s a poodle!’ She showed me this fancy show clip that just wouldn’t work for her dog.
“There’s a trade show in Anaheim where they have a creative-styling contest for standard poodles, ”Healy explains. “A white standard poodle is like a blank canvas, and they’ll shave in and scissor out designs or dye it. They use washable coloring. I’ve only been asked to dye poodles a couple of times. Once someone wanted her dog green for St. Patrick’s Day, and I did it. We used to get a lot of people who asked for toenail painting, but lately the styles have changed away from that.
“If you know anything about the history of the poodle, you know they were sporting dogs or hunting dogs that went through the brush. That’s how that fancy clip originated; it was a way to keep them from snagging on the brush, but rings of fur were left around their joints and chest to keep them warm. They’re real rugged. I used to have a standard poodle mixed with an Airedale, and he was the smartest, best dog ever and really rugged.”