Twitter users said pups shouldn't be extensively groomed only for human enjoyment. A leading animal-welfare group oversaw the show's filming and says these dogs were safe.

By Austin Cannon
Updated April 01, 2021
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A new reality show centered on some vivid dog grooming, Pooch Perfect on ABC, has prompted animal safety concerns from viewers who watched the dogs have their fur trimmed, primped, and dyed during Tuesday night's premiere. 

The criticism started rolling in via Twitter during the broadcast—in which some dogs had the majority of their fur dyed bright colors—with some users wondering if extensive grooming like what was being shown borders on animal abuse. 

"The concerns are certainly valid," says Daily Paws' Health and Behavior Editor Haylee Bergeland, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA, RBT. "Animal welfare is often left to the wayside when dog owners want to accessorize their dogs or make them stand out in appearance. Making dogs into fashion accessories creates myriad animal welfare concerns."

Meanwhile, the animal-welfare organization that oversaw the filming of the series, American Humane, tells Daily Paws the dogs in this setting were closely monitored and were "treated with the utmost care." 

New York-based groomer Alli Graf tells Daily Paws after watching the show that the dogs weren't harmed. She does, however, wish Pooch Perfect would've taken some time to explain how the groomers were safely tending to the dogs.

"The show's responsibility is to explain to the viewer that the dogs are being handled by professionals and masters in the industry," Graf tells Daily Paws. "I know and follow ... a bunch of the groomers who are competing in the show and have seen the immense love they put into the work that they do (which includes the good treatment of the dogs!)."

Pooch Perfect's Premiere

Over the course of the first season of Pooch Perfect, hosted by Pitch Perfect star Rebel Wilson, the competing grooming duos compete in different dog-grooming challenges. Each week, one set of contestants will be eliminated, and the final pair standing will win a $100,000 grand prize. 

Three judges—celebrity and avid dog rescuer Lisa Vanderpump, Callie Harris, DVM, and celebrity dog groomer Jorge Bendersky—opined on each grooming job, deciding who was "Best in Show" that week and who will be going home. (We won't say who was eliminated this week in case you want to watch yourself.)  

"This is about the feel-good factor, and I'm all about the feel-good factor," Vanderpump said in an ABC promotional spot. 

On Tuesday's premiere, the groomers faced two challenges. First, they were tasked with grooming an unfamiliar dog to look like their "heart dog"—the dogs they had owned who were their soulmates. The dogs had some of their hair dyed—one was left sporting an orange mohawk—while others were adorned with what appeared to be rhinestones and stickers.

The dye really came out for the second challenge: Unleash the Beast. That's when the groomers were tasked with doing their darndest to make their dogs look like a completely different animal. The groomers obliged, and soon the judges were looking at canine versions of a tiger, a fire ant, a skunk, a badger, and more. 

"We respect the dog above all else," said one contestant, who assured the camera that they were only using dog-safe products. 

Safety Concerns

There were plenty of dyes being used, and Bergeland, who has not seen the show, noted that the dyes, stickers, and rhinestones can present health risks. (Dyes can potentially cause allergic reactions, while smaller stickers or rhinestones can cause digestive problems or obstructions if they're ingested.) 

"They should only, if at all, be used for very short periods of time and the dogs should be under constant supervision," Bergeland says.

Graf agrees that stickers and rhinestones can present choking hazards and that dogs should be under constant supervision when wearing them. The dogs at these kinds of grooming competitions are always watched, she says, so she wasn't concerned about the dogs in the show.

Back on Twitter, some of the 3.9 million viewers worried that the dogs on TV weren't in safe hands, guessed they were unhappy, and criticized the show for catering to the entertainment of viewers rather than the well-being of the dogs. 

Bergeland believes grooming should be done primarily to benefit the dog, making sure they don't have any matting hair, that their nails are trimmed properly, and that their fur is appropriate for that season's temperature. Aesthetics, she says should not be the priority, and she's concerned when dogs are "treated like toys rather than the sentient beings they are."  

As for the hair dye, Graf says she used to have safety worries, too, but she's since met with some of the companies that make dog-safe hair dye and is convinced the products are safe. She added that specialized groomers on the show are dog lovers as well who she said would never do something to intentionally hurt their clients.

"Grooming, and specifically creative grooming are really just another form of artwork while working with dog-safe products," she says.

Vets Supervised Filming

American Humane, through its "No Animals Were Harmed" program, watched over the filming of the new series. At the end of the first episode's credits, the text read "American Humane monitored the animal action. No animals were harmed."  

American Humane spokesman Mark Stubis said in a statement to Daily Paws that the organization's personnel were on site for the entirety of the series. 

"Working with veterinarians, we were on set every day for the filming, assessing the health of the animals before and after shooting each episode," he says. "The grooming products used were specifically made for dogs and are non-toxic. Additionally, we worked closely with the dogs' owners and veterinarians to ensure the dogs were treated with the utmost care in respect to their welfare and safety." 

(It's also worth noting that one of the judges, Harris, has worked as a veterinarian for more than a decade.)

In its Animals in Entertainment position statement, American Humane says it opposes any entertainment that includes the abuse of animals. Instead, all animals should be safe from injury in a friendly environment and have access to enough space, exercise, rest, water, and food.  

Bergeland and Graf both listed physical warning signs that show a dog being groomed is uncomfortable—panting, trying to jump off the table, moving around a lot, tucking their tails, growling, biting, and licking, to name a few. Graf says she did not see warning signs from the dogs during the broadcast. To her, the dogs looked like calmed, seasoned grooming pros.

"They love it when you give them tasks to do and feel special when they receive praise for doing a job well done," she says. "This is exactly what grooming is. Their task is to behave well on the table for their hair styling and then they get tons of praise and attention at the end."