Wag Swag makes dogs look great

Grooming service is now in heart of downtown

-Messenger photo by Chad Thompson
Justina Sheehan, owner and groomer of Wag Swag Dog Grooming, prepares to groom Chaz, a Yorkshire terrier, at her business along Central Avenue, recently.

If you happen to be in downtown Fort Dodge, you just might witness some mighty fine looking canines being escorted by their proud owners. Wag Swag, a dog-grooming business owned and operated by Justina Sheehan, now occupies a spacious new location at 817 Central Ave.

Sheehan’s entrepreneurial venture is one of a growing number of owner-operated small businesses that are helping revitalize the historic commercial center of Fort Dodge. These enterprises are each unique, heartfelt expressions of the specialized interests or talents of their proprietors. Collectively, they are helping make downtown an increasingly popular destination for people in search of an intriguing array of products and services.

Sheehan grew up in Sacramento, California, and got her start in dog grooming there about five years ago.

“That was the first job I ever had,” she said. “Then I moved here and was having difficulty finding a dog grooming job that I liked and was keeping me busy enough. So, I decided to do it on my own. I’ve been in Iowa about two years. I started grooming out of my home in February 2017.”

The response to Wag Swag was so great that Sheehan was soon ready to find a commercial location. How she hit upon 817 Central Ave., was a bit of serendipity

“It’s a funny story,” she said. “Me and my fiancÈ were in the Candies & More next door. I had been looking for a business location for a while. We came outside after buying a bunch of candy and saw the for-rent sign right next door. I called them right away. Within a week, I was signing paperwork.”

On Nov. 1, 2017, she welcomed her first four-footed patron (and a human companion) to the new home for her thriving business.

According to Sheehan, what sets Wag Swag, which is a dogs-only salon, apart from some places where grooming is available is her approach to the process.

“Compared to most grooming salons that I’ve been around, I take a lot more time with each groom,” she said. “I really take my time with each dog. I don’t stress the dog out. I don’t believe in rushing through grooms. Your dog is getting quality time. The most I’ll do is five or six dogs a day and I’ll be there all day doing those dogs. I don’t overbook.”

The grooming is exceptionally compprehenisive. Nothing is overlooked, Sheehan said.

“I deep clean when I bathe them,” She said. “I bathe them twice. I do their anal glands. I hand blow dry. I shave them down with a hand-scissor finish. Clean their ears out. Brush their teeth. Do their nails. It’s all very detailed work.”

Sheehan said how often a dog should be groomed varies.

“It depends on the breed and the condition of the dog,” she said. “I recommend usually every six to eight weeks.”

Customizing the process

Dogs vary in how they respond to grooming. Sheehan said she adjusts her approach to each animal’s personality.

“Over time, you learn how to communicate with them,” she said. “It’s your mannerisms, your tone. Dogs pick up on your vibes. If the dog is not cooperating, you may have to stop. Give them a minute, a break. You have to be extremely patient. Or if that doesn’t work, you can bribe them with a treat.”

If the dog proves a bit aggressive, Sheehan is able to cope with that.

“I get bit at,” she said. “That’s not uncommon.”

In those situations she sometimes has to muzzle the dog so the grooming can take place. Sheehan said it is important not to be intimidated by a temperamental dog because grooming isn’t just a matter of making an animal look nice. She stressed that good hygiene is important to a dog’s well-being.

While dogs not accustomed to being groomed can require extra patience and a bit of perseverance, Sheehan said it usually isn’t long before the dogs she works with look forward to return visits to Wag Swag.

“There are dogs who run through the door with their tail wagging,” she said. “That’s so cute. My favorite part of the job.”

If a pet owner wants a distinctive look for a dog, Sheehan is delighted to accept the challenge. She said she enjoys working with the dog owner to achieve just the appearance that person has in mind for their pet.

“I color dogs,” Sheehan said, noting that some owners want unusual color choices such as purple used as part of a highly individualized creation. “Some dogs get a little more traditional coloring. Sometimes, I’ll do their ears pink and if it’s a poodle they’ll get their big top knot with little bows. I give bows and bandanas usually with each groom.”

A selection of bows and bandanas are also on sale at Wag Swag. Also available are nutritional counseling and specialized dog foods and nutritional supplements.

Sheehan said she gets great enjoyment out of her chosen profession.

“Of course, you have to be an animal lover to do this kind of work,” she said. “I think the dogs are what I enjoy the most. When I give a creative haircut, I love that. When people come in and have a really cool idea that is unique and not something you see or do every day, that’s always fun. I love coloring dogs. I wish I could do it every day because it always turns out so cool.”

Sheehan said when a dog looks great, that can help the animal have especially good day.

“People always turn their heads to look at the dog,” she said. “And the dog loves the attention they get when people say ‘Gosh, how cute.'”

Sheehan said having increased positive interaction with humans makes a dog feel good.

Grooming at Wag Swag is by appointment only.

Looking ahead, giving back

At this point Wag Swag is a one-person undertaking. Sheehan, however, has big plans for the years ahead.

“I eventually want to get a few regular employees,” she said. “I want to grow my business. Maybe eventually, I’d like to open another Wag Swag. Maybe back home in California.”

When not running her new business, Sheehan volunteers her services to help dogs in need of some special care.

“I’ve volunteered at Almost Home animal shelter and groomed dogs there for free that come in and are in really bad shape,” she said. “I’ve done that quite a few times to help with dogs that really need a good shave down, that are severely matted to where they can hardly move their limbs. It takes twice as long to groom a dog in that condition.”

And when she’s at home, dogs are also part of Sheehan’s life.

“I have two pit bulls,” she said. “I love pit bulls.”