You rely on your favorite salon for hair trims, and the neighborhood pedi-parlor for twice-a-month manicures. Groomers offer similar maintenance for your pooch — untangling matted fur, banishing stinky odors with shampoo, and trimming those nails.

Here are tips from nonprofit Delaware Valley Consumers' Checkbook on how to find the right groomer, at the right price. Inquirer readers can access Checkbook's ratings of area pet groomers for free through Oct. 5 by visiting Checkbook.org/Inquirer/Groomers.

How often your dog needs to be groomed depends on breed, size, type of coat, and your own standards. Professional groomers argue that all pooches benefit from regular visits because they help maintain overall health. This is, of course, a self-serving claim, but there's some truth in it: Consistent grooming improves hygiene, and also means Fido will be periodically inspected by someone who sees a lot of dogs and can spot potential health problems.

Be aware that, for some breeds, there is such a thing as too much grooming. Too-frequent baths can remove natural oils in a dog's coat or skin, causing it to become dry and raw. Before setting a regular schedule, get a recommendation from your vet on how often your pet should be groomed.

Compare prices. Even among groomers highly recommended by their customers, you'll find a wide range of pricing. Checkbook's undercover shoppers surveyed a sample of area grooming outfits for their prices to groom (including haircut) two dog breeds. They were quoted a range from $45 to $85 for a cocker spaniel and $45 to $90 for a golden retriever.

Experience counts. With dog groomers, having many years of experience not only means they have had time to perfect the craft, but also that they'll be better at assessing dogs' behaviors and responding appropriately to nervousness and agitation. Also, ask whether the groomer is familiar with your breed. The best groomers will be up front about their limitations and, if necessary, direct you to another groomer who knows the breed better.

Check training and credentials. Several organizations offer certification, including the National Dog Groomers Association of America (www.nationaldoggroomers.com) and the International Society of Canine Cosmetologists (www.petstylist.com). Certification means a groomer attended classes, then passed written and practical exams. Because the time and effort required for certification is substantial, it indicates a groomer is serious about the profession and possesses at least the basic skills for the job. On the other hand, many talented, experienced groomers have not become certified.

Think about your expectations. Do you want basic grooming services, with no concern that your dog's trim meets exacting breed-specific standards? Or do you have much higher expectations: a scissored haircut; a sculpted trim; hand-stripping for a terrier? Tell prospective groomers what you want, and ask up front whether they can meet your needs.

Check whether you can be present. You'll learn a lot about how the staff treats your dog and other dogs if you watch groomers in action.

Take a tour. The facility should be neat, tidy, and well-lit. If dogs are positioned under blow dryers instead of being hand-dried, staff should be able to easily monitor the area so the dogs do not become overheated or burned. Does the staff seem knowledgeable and caring? Do they handle and treat the dogs gently and with affection?

Check whether they take steps to prevent the spread of disease. Grooming establishments should require all customers to present vaccination records before admitting dogs to their facilities.

Consider the convenience of pickup/drop-off arrangements. Most groomers let customers drop off their dogs in the morning on their way to work and pick them up on their way home. While this arrangement is convenient for most pet owners, it means your dog will have to spend the entire day at the facility — and some dogs do not handle this as gracefully as others. If your dog becomes upset, consider using a mobile grooming operation, which minimizes the time spent out of the home.

Avoid groomers who sedate animals. Even if your pet is extremely nervous about visiting the groomer, do not let the dog be sedated unless it will be administered by a veterinarian who will also monitor the dog's care throughout the stay.

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Delaware Valley Consumers' Checkbook magazine (Checkbook.org) is a nonprofit organization with a mission to help consumers get the best service and lowest prices. We are supported by consumers and take no money from the service providers we evaluate.