Learn to Succeed

While a good education is essential, pet groomers must be committed to continually expanding and refreshing their knowledge base to achieve success in their profession.

The lack of a good, basic education on the craft of pet grooming—including everything from technique to animal care and handling—can be a recipe for disaster. Groomers who attempt to practice the complex craft of pet grooming without this type of foundation pose a danger to both themselves and the four-legged loved ones they are working on. While this is a point that is not lost on most professionals in the grooming industry, what may be less universal is the understanding that a failure to continue developing their education can be hazardous to the long-term success of a groomer’s business.

Groomers can learn to groom a variety of ways: by attending a good school, through an apprenticeship in a successful salon or by essentially being self-taught, using resources like books and demonstrational videos to supplement old-fashioned trial and error. Each method has distinct advantages and challenges, and all can turn out great groomers, merely adequate ones or bad actors in the field. The difference, more often than not, lies with the individual pursuing an education.

While it is certainly fastest and easiest to learn grooming at a quality grooming school, even the best school can only give students the basic tools they need. At the end of the day, individual students will determine how much effort they put into their training and, therefore, how much they get out of it. The enthusiastic student who has excellent attendance, follows suggestions and asks questions has a far better chance of succeeding in the pet styling industry than one who is simply putting in the time to get a certificate of completion.

It is more difficult to learn to groom by apprenticing, and it is likely to take longer to reach the same level of expertise as a groomer who attended school. In addition, unless the mentor has a carefully built curriculum including breed knowledge, animal husbandry and first aid, the school education is likely to be more complete. Groomers-in-training are only learning from the situations they face during their apprenticeships in the salon, and these scenarios may not include various issues ranging from skin problems and parasites to life-threatening issues such as heatstroke or seizures.

The most difficult method of training is to be self-taught, yet many successful groomers learned in just that way. Perhaps beginning on their own pets, graduating to the neighbor’s animals, and eventually going on to shelters and then a shop, these groomers often supplement their first-hand experience by utilizing pictures, magazines, books and the Internet to learn.

What do all accomplished groomers have in common, no matter how they originally learned? They all share a willingness to be open minded and a commitment to learning throughout their careers. Groomers who buy in to the concept of continuing education further their careers as pet professionals by constantly improving their craft. The good news is that taking this approach need not be difficult or expensive. There are numerous opportunities for groomers to expand the depth and breadth of their knowledgebase when it comes to not only grooming techniques but a variety of animal care, health and handling issues. The grooming industry is fortunate to have many trade shows, seminars and competitions at which grooming professionals with all levels of experience and expertise can learn about new equipment, tools, techniques and more.

Joyce Riley, owner of the It’s a Dog’s Life salon in Sharon, Mass., has been grooming for 37 years. A self-taught groomer who learned from Sam Kohl’s All Breed Grooming Guide (now available in a current fourth edition) and careful observation, Riley attended her first grooming show in the 1970s and quickly realized that attending had multiple benefits.

“I always learn something new at every show,” says Riley. “I like seeing what new equipment is available and being able to touch it and try it in hand. Everyone should go [to grooming shows], to find out about new products and improve their skills. I bring my groomers, if at all possible. I pay their way, and it pays off. We all learn new techniques, and even if we know breed standards, it’s good to have it refreshed in our memory.”

On the other end of the experience spectrum from Riley, Rachel Conner has been a pet stylist for just about year now, grooming at the A Refreshing Paws salon in Merrimac, N.H. She earned her education by bathing and brushing, asking questions and watching experienced groomers at work. Conner—the daughter of popular grooming industry speaker Daryl Conner—attended her first show, Intergroom, in April. “I loved it,” she says. “It was so much fun being in a room full of like-minded people with the same passions and who understood what my workday was like.”

Just watching competitors at Intergroom provided Conner with new techniques to use in the salon, and the classes offered at the show afforded her the opportunity to learn even more. “I learned more about even things I use everyday,” she says, pointing to Marlene Romani’s class on ClipperVac techniques as an example.

Fresh Ideas
The owner of Intergroom, Christine DeFilippo, who also owns Twickenton Dog & Cat Grooming in Dedham, Mass., says she has never come away from any grooming industry show without learning something about styling, saving time or saving money. “The most valuable thing that people take home from shows is ideas,” she explains. “Whether you get them from sitting in a class, watching the competition or talking to another groomer over lunch, they make your brain work, and you become refreshed and re-energized—we all need that.”

DeFilippo believes in gaining knowledge wherever you can. For example, early in her career, she knew she didn’t like the way her salon was turning out Schnauzers, so she got involved with the local Schnauzer breed club and went to a demo meant for breed ring competitors. This led her to change how her shop groomed the breed. As DeFilippo learned early on, all professional groomers need to expand and update their knowledgebase as changes occur in how dogs are groomed. That is why breed demo classes are always among the most popular offerings at any industry event.

What if a professional groomer simply cannot attend the seminars offered at these events, whether because of distance, time or financial constraints? What options do these groomers have? One opportunity that many overlook are the certification workshops offered by organizations like the National Dog Groomer’s Association of America (NDGAA), the International Society of Canine Cosmetologists (ISCC) and International Pet Groomers, Inc. (IPG). Too often, pet industry professionals think only of certifying with these organizations—a great way to offer customers solid, provable credentials—but they are also a means to updating and improving a groomer’s craft. NDGAA, for example, hosts 15 to 20 workshops that include breed profiles and demonstrations in locations ranging from Tysons Corner, Va., to Davis, Calif. Often more affordable and geographically closer than large shows, breed demos conducted by groomers with competitive experience at both grooming shows and in the breed ring can be another great source of up-to-date information from experts in the field. 

Sarah Hawks, certifier for NDGAA and owner of Sarah’s Studio in Landenberg, Pa., says that one of the advantages of NDGAA workshops is that they provide groomers with a clear understanding of canine conformation and why a dog should look the way it does. The task a dog was originally designed to do has a lot of bearing on how its body should be shaped, she says.

“I always hope to stimulate people’s thirst for knowledge” says Hawks. “We discuss points of structure and anatomy as well as breed specifics. For instance, in terrier demos, I’ll go through, point by point, the differences between a Welsh, Lakeland and Wire Fox Terrier.”

Hawks’ pursuit of continuing education came from a desire to keep her craft fresh and led her to become certified. Once she reached that goal, her next was to become a successful competitive groomer. Having accomplished this, Hawks now travels and teaches all over the world.

However, even with the numerous educational opportunities offered across the country, sometimes a groomer still does not have convenient access to these types of workshops. In that case, building and learning from a network of grooming professionals that are in the same boat can be invaluable.

Take Lyndsay Overmeer of Four on the Floor Animal Grooming in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada, for example. Overmeer learned to groom four years ago at Northern College’s Haileybury School of Mines in Timmins, Ontario, where she took a grooming course and a veterinary assistant program. Unfortunately, she has not been able to supplement that education by attending seminars, as it simply isn’t cost effective to travel to them from her remote location.

“In this location, only a few dogs are groomed to breed standard or even a modified version,” says Overmeer. “Most are utility trims with different features on the face or tail.”

So what do the local groomers do to keep up? They try new tools and equipment by buying them, trying them and sharing knowledge with each other. “Being on Facebook groups allows us to see how other people are styling grooms, and even YouTube.com is sometimes helpful,” says Overmeer.

YouTube.com can be useful, but groomers must be careful about who they are learning from, as anyone can claim to be a groomer and put videos up. It is a good idea to look for videos posted by respected grooming product manufacturers and distributors, as they are likely to convey sound information from knowledgeable stylists—after all, the company’s reputation depends on accuracy. Andis and Wahl, for example, both have a number of short instructional videos up on YouTube. Naturally, there will be a bit of an advertisement for various products, but that is a small price to pay to learn a new technique or  piece of equipment.

Technology can be a great help in providing groomers with an opportunity to continue their education around a busy schedule and in the comfort of their home or salon. Melissa Verplank, founder of the Paragon School of Pet Grooming, author of Notes from the Grooming Table and Theory of Five, and a popular industry judge and speaker, has made sure that quality continuing education is available to anyone with Internet access, no matter how remote. For about the cost of a single groom, Paragon’s website (learn2groomdogs.com) provides groomers with access to over 400 videos on every subject relevant to the pet grooming industry.

According to Verplank, “It’s not just about how to groom dogs, it’s about learning about dogs in general, and business in general. If you are an owner and wearing all those different hats we wear, you have to have knowledge in a lot of different areas, not just dogs.”

Verplank believes that grooming students will only be as good as their trainers, so all of the teaching done through learn2groomdogs.com is conducted by professionals with sterling credentials in their fields. Instruction on business, breed demos, mixed-breed ideas, training and control are all presented by respected industry professionals such as Michell Evans, Judy Hudson, Melissa Verplank, Kathy Rose, Teri DiMarino, Lisa Leady, Irina Pinkusevich, Colin Taylor and many more. In addition, topics like pet massage, nutrition and equipment are presented by experts in those fields—making Paragon’s Internet-based training essentially like going to a major educational trade show without ever leaving home.

Beyond the various educational organizations available to groomers, many of even the best known and busiest of the industry’s professionals will, for a fee, provide a hands-on education in their salon. If a groomer admires someone’s expertise, it is a good idea to ask if a one-on-one session is a possibility. If business is a salon owner’s weak point, attending relevant general business classes at a community college may be in order. Likewise, those who need to learn first aid should audit a veterinary technician class. The key is to be creative in the pursuit of knowledge.

Taking this approach will go a long way in catapulting groomers, and their businesses, to new heights. “The more confident you are, the more educated you are, the more you earn,” says Verplank. “There is no limit to the value of education.”


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