August 30, 2017

An Interview with Kendra Otto of the UpScale Tail

Author: Gail Brasie

The UpScale Tail. Focusing On “Scaredy Dogs” And Beyond.

The UpScale Tail, LTD, is an award-winning grooming salon in Naperville Illinois. They take the time to build a bond with their clients, especially when working with “scaredy” or fearful dogs. That bond of trust takes the fear out of grooming and makes it a pleasant experience for both dogs and their parents. Kendra Otto, the owner of The UpScale Tail, graciously agreed to talk to the Scoop about her experiences.

When asked about how she got into the grooming business, Kendra replies that “I had wanted to work with animals for as long as I can remember. I also had a passion for art and in my late teens I was working at a local veterinary clinic where they offered grooming too. The owner had told me about a grooming school not too far away and I decided to go! I was excited that I could use both my love for animals and art and combine them together into a career.”

When the Scoop asked her how she decided she wanted to run her own business, Kendra relays that when she was younger she and her family used to frequent a pet store that had its own monkey, and that this inspired her to open her own pet store. She says, “even before that, and before I knew better, I wanted to have my own pet store and had drawn up my own designs for it. Eventually I forgot about it and after I started grooming, it resurfaced and the desire turned into a grooming salon.” What’s especially interesting is the way these things come full-circle, which is clear when Kendra adds that “funny thing is, years ago I worked at a salon in my same location years ago. Back then, I had drawn up a design on how I would have the grooming salon look if I owned it, and now I happen to own it.”

Being a business owner provides a number of challenges and some excellent rewards. Kendra says that the most challenging part of being a business owner is “getting new pet parents on the same page as us for practice, routine and understanding when they have not been previously told how their pet reacts to grooming.” If a dog is fearful or nervous about grooming, it may take them a lot of gentle practice to get used to it, and, as with any kind of dog training, consistency is key. But Kendra also finds numerous rewards in being in the grooming business. She says that among these are “seeing my employees’ excitement, the pet parents’ excitement, and the happiness of our furry clients when there is a breakthrough on behaviors, trust issues, etc. that we have been working so hard with them to overcome.”

When asked why she decided to focus on “scaredy” dogs, Kendra replies that focusing on fearful pups is not The UpScale Tail’s only focus, and adds that she thinks more salons should put in the effort to include working with fearful or nervous dogs. She adds that “that’s what grooming should be about, a good experience, not a rushed dollar sign. After all, that is why we work with animals, to help them feel better, right?”

The UpScale Tail employs different strategies for dealing with anxious dogs. As Kendra says, “it depends on the dog. They are all like individual puzzles and go back together differently.” Her salon uses things like aromatherapy and meet-and-greets, for example, to calm fearful dogs and help get them used to being groomed. Kendra goes on to explain that “patience and figuring out why they react the way they do is key. There are seven grooming salons in the area that send us dogs that they either are restricted from working with or don’t want to take the time.”

We asked Kendra to go into more detail about working with fearful or anxious dogs. From her years of experience, what advice does she have for pet parents? Kendra answers that “routine and practice are key. Just like teaching a child how to swim. Keeping a child out of the pool for several months and then putting them back in the pool all of a sudden can be scary for them. The more practice they have, the more relaxed they will be about the experience. The same goes with grooming. I also recommend listening to your pet stylist’s advice; they’re telling you things to better your pet’s experience.”

In addition to her years as a groomer, Kendra has had various experiences in the dog world, including participating in and judging grooming competitions. She has been featured on radio, blogs and Ustreams, and teaches seminars. She has also participated in Rescue Rodeos, which are grooming competitions with rescue animals; competitors are assigned a rescue dog to bathe and groom in a four-hour period of time and are then judged. Kendra says that depending on the rescue guidelines some of the dogs are adopted at the event, others go back to their rescues to get adopted and others are fostered, even by the stylists themselves.

On a personal note, Kendra relates a story about an apricot poodle she was assigned at a Rescue Rodeo. She named her Hope and says “she had those kind of eyes that looked right into your soul and was so sweet.” Initially, Kendra wanted to take Hope back to Chicago with her. Hope’s fur was so badly matted that Kendra needed to shave her down for the competition, and it was after this that she discovered Hope was pregnant and due any day. Because of this, Kendra decided not to risk having Hope go into labor on the way back home. Kendra says that “I think the majority of us end up wanting to take home the rescue rodeo dogs to find them a better home…”

Kendra is an experienced groomer who encourages patience and routine in working with fearful dogs. She wants to give dogs the chance to learn that grooming can be a pleasant experience, and she is deeply dedicated to working with dogs and educating people. 

The UpScale Tail is located at:

1419 Plainfield-Naperville Rd.

Naperville, IL 60564

And you can check out her website at:


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