Saving Face

Groomers must tend to a million little details on each pet they groom, but to a pet owner’s adoring eyes, the face is all-important.

First impressions are so important when it comes to creating a spa experience. Choosing the right fragrances, lighting, sounds, colors, décor, product and service offerings are all essential elements in this regard. But I want to discuss a different aspect of the spa experience that, in my mind, is as important as creating the right environment. It is the first thing a pet owner sees when their dog walks out from the back room—the face of their beloved pet.

Of course, it is important to get the trim and finish of the entire dog right, but I learned early on that there are a few things pet owners really focus on. The first and most important thing they see is the dog’s face, with ears included. How clean does it look? Did you get the mouth, eyes and ears perfectly clean, with every hair dried and fluffed? How good does it smell? Does the shape and size fit and balance with the rest of the trim? Were you able to capture the character or expression of the pet? Is it what the owner was looking for? Are their eyes free from hair? And last, but still important, does it conform to the breed standard if the owner desires a breed-standard trim?

Then comes the backside. Is the butt clean and fresh? Did you trim it to maintain a clean, easy-to-care-for finish? Next are the feet—owners are always checking feet for dirt on most housedogs, and a tag of hair will stick out like a sore thumb. Now, do not  misunderstand; the whole trim is important. However, the elements above are easy for a pet owner’s uneducated eye to see and measure.

So, let’s get back to the face—the eyes, ears and overall shape of the head. Before a bath, all dogs with coat on their face should get brushed and combed out to remove any tangles and debris. Then, in the tub, I always spend a little more time when washing. I will use hypo-allergenic or another type of tearless shampoo from the pump to clean the muzzle, under the eyes and the inside of the ears, after flushing the ears first. When I am rinsing, I run my fingers over the different areas of the face, and every inch better squeak. If it doesn’t, then I wash those spots again until they do.

After the bath, I will often hand fluff a face to make sure every hair is straightened. This way, the hair is stretched and in the best condition for finishing, and it will hold a trim longer.

Trimming faces can be a challenging because pet owners often wish for looks that either don’t fit their dog’s overall trim, or something so high maintenance that you know the dog will return matted at their next appointment. So, how can we give a better haircut to match our upscale spa? By communicating with the pet owner.

If a dog comes in and has only a few teeth in its mouth and the owner asks for a long beard, you might say, “I can do that if you would like, but you may want to consider something shorter. With the little guy aging and missing teeth, a long beard will be very hard to keep clean.”

If they stick with their original request, by the next appointment, there may be so much food in it that it will be painful to remove. So a groomer can try suggesting, “How about we keep the beard, but we will balance it with the rest of the trim and take it down as much as we can to make it easy?” If the client agrees to this line of thinking, I would leave the top part of the muzzle longer and the bottom jaw much shorter, so the two parts blend when combed downward. This holds true for every furry-faced breed. In most cases, it complements their standard, because when you remove length from under the jaw, you will create the look of more neck.

If you have watched any of the full faces or terrier faces videos on the myoster.com website, you will also notice I talk a lot about the breed standard as I work. Most pure breed dogs have a predetermined expectation, based on structure and function. An example would be a Schnauzer head; a lot of the Miniature Schnauzers I see have a shorter muzzle then length of skull, which should be almost equal parts.

Some things I will do to make it look more correct would be to shorten the eyebrow and leave a little extra beard coat. But if an owner asks for long brows, I will explain why I do what I do, and then I will trim the way they want it. Most of them end up coming back and having me do the dog the way I wanted to in the first place.

Another important aspect of the head is the cheek area. Many breed standards call for flat cheeks, but many of the dogs within that breed are not even close to flat. So, on a Schnauzer that has fat cheeks, I will leave the clipper line of the beard back a little to allow coat to blend and fill in the slight hollowing or indent that occurs between the outside corner of the eye and the cheek bone, creating the desired rectangle shape and eliminating the hollowing just behind the eye.

When working on other shaped or structured heads, I break it down the same way. For a Brussels Griffon that should have a domed forehead and a rounded skull, I make sure I do not need hair to fill in any blanks before I start trimming. A dog that has good conformation needs very little hair left to be beautiful. So, a Griffon that has a domed forehead and round skull will not need as much coat left to balance or fill in the blanks. On the other hand, a Griffon lacking a domed forehead will need coat left between the eyes and up the forehead to compensate. Taking the time to add detail can change the entire look. If you are not sure about a breed head structure, just pull out your copy of The Complete Dog Book by the American Kennel Club and read the breed standard. There are a lot of helpful hints in each of the various breed descriptions.

When looking at the entire dog, make sure there is not one part that draws your eye. If you find there is an area on the dog that does break up the continuity of the completed trim, take more hair off and blend until nothing stands out. For example, if you cut a dog down, you do not want to leave too much coat on the head and ears; that will make the dog look like it could tip forward. Think overall balance and blend, making sure there are few to no visible lines between the head and a shorter body.

Finally, I have to mention the eyelashes and the upper lip hair. If the owners do not express a preference in this regard, I always clip the upper lip and trim the eyelashes off—it is just so much cleaner looking. The owners really don’t know how much fussing we go through to get their babies groomed, but your attention to detail will not go unnoticed.

Christina Pawlosky is a Certified Master Groomer, professional handler, breeder, and successful pet store and grooming shop owner (The Pet Connection) since 1985. She is currently is the National Training Manager for Oster Professional Products and produces grooming DVDs through her website GroomerWorks.com.

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