San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Canine Makeover: Dog Salon Takes All Comers

The other day I took a look at my totally messed-up, full-of-snarls, bouncy, bitey, fake Afghan – a dog, not a blanket – and decided it was time to get her professionally groomed.

Canela had become too much of a handful for me to comb and clip, so I made an appointment at Laurie Sklar’s Doggi Divino Pet Grooming Salon in the western San José suburb of Escazú, which has got to be dog heaven. The “beauty parlor for dogs” is in a small house in a country setting and is about as complete as you can get.

Bouncy, bitey dogs like Canela are not a problem here. Before getting down to work, Sklar sprays the towel the dog stands on with calming lavender and heats up relaxing aromatherapy oil. For nervous dogs, gentle, soothing music plays in the background. For very nervous dogs, with owner permission, Sklar gives them a few drops of Bach Flower Essences’ “Rescue Remedy,” which helps calm and is guaranteed to do the dog no harm.

Sklar begins working on the dog with some basic combing and removal of large mats and snarls. The grooming table is hydraulically raised or lowered so that Sklar can work on the dog “face to face,” at the correct height for the job – no need for big dogs to be lifted or to jump up or down. A grooming loop has two attachments so that one length can be hooked on a pole above and the other to a side pole during grooming.

What seems to be a million kinds of clippers and combs are arranged nearby, in easy reach for Sklar to change the instrument depending on the dog’s coat or the part of the body being groomed. Once all the gnarly mats – Sklar says these hurt a dog, pulling on the skin like a too-tight ponytail on a person – are clipped away, it’s bath time.

The salon has two stainless-steel bathing tubs, furnished with eyehooks at various levels, one for big dogs and the other for small and medium-sized dogs. A giant wall poster shows steps to take in case of an accident or emergency, which so far hasn’t occurred, Sklar says.

With lukewarm water and special shampoos and conditioners ordered from abroad, Sklar bathes the animal and then applies “Blueberry Facial,” a new tearless spa shampoo.

Canela loved it and kept licking at it and trying to eat it.

After the bath comes the conditioner. For Canela, Sklar used a conditioner instead of a cream rinse. “Conditioners are antistatic, help get out knots and make the hair easier to comb,” she says.

Once squeaky clean – “After the bath, rinse well, and when you are done, rinse again,” Sklar advises, as any residue left on the skin can cause itchiness – it was time to get back on the table, where a high-velocity blower helped dry the dog, blowing away excess water and loose hair.

For dogs with a curly or coarse coat, such as poodles, bichons, schnauzers and Scotties, Sklar uses a Clipper Vac that sucks up the loose hair as it is being clipped, along with dirt and possible fleas. It’s a clean way to keep hair out of the environment. In addition, for dogs that need a lot of clipping, such as a shave-down or a close-cut haircut, it keeps the blades cool so they won’t cause clipper burn.

I was delighted with what a thorough job Sklar did. She knew when Canela was getting too anxious and let her go for a run, head for the bowl of fresh water, accept a snack and then step back on the table for more grooming.

After three hours of steady work, when all the snarls were gone, ears cleaned, feet shaped, hair between the pads of the feet clipped, when her coat was even and beautiful, 100 percent combed through, Canela was ready to go home, and we could choose a bandanna or bow for her as a final touch. A spritz of a variety of doggie colognes is also available.

Sklar and her husband, Norman, have been in Costa Rica for 19 years. Norman gets called upon to help get the big boys into the tub if they put on the brakes, and soothe a dog that hates getting nails clipped and filed.

A graduate of Parsons design school in New York City, Sklar’s first business in Costa Rica for 10 years was Made in the Shade, a headgear and tourist-related business. Needing a change, she decided to go into the dog-grooming business and returned to the United States to train at the Connecticut K-9 Education Center in Newington, Connecticut.

This school requires more than 400 hours of hands-on training before graduation. She continues to learn up-to-date techniques about the trade and has attended numerous pet fairs and grooming expositions in the United States.

With untold hours of hands-on experience, Sklar has been operating Doggi Divino since November 2005, and offers “furminating,” a de-shedding technique great for labs, goldens and huskies, in addition to special handling of puppies and older pets.

Appointments are required. It’s a one-onone engagement: Your dog has the salon to itself, eliminating the stress of being held in a cage waiting its turn. Drop-off and pickup times are prearranged to meet your needs.

Rates vary, starting at ¢8,000 (about $16), according to the amount of work to be done. It usually takes two to three hours, depending on the needs of the dog and drying time. For appointments and directions to the salon, call 2289-2162 or e-mail


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