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Why Get Certified?

Certification helps professional groomers stay competitive and grow their businesses.



 
There are many reasons why certification is important in the world of professional pet grooming, but first and foremost is that it standardizes knowledge and language across the industry.

Just as other certified service providers project a higher level of competency in their fields, the same can be said about pet stylists. Certification helps to immediately identify the most skilled and dedicated stylists and salons, and indicates a level of training and experience that can assure pet owners that they are leaving their four-legged friends in the care of a trustworthy professional. 

There are currently three organizations in the United States that certify dog groomers for competency and skill: the National Dog Groomers Association of America, the International Society of Canine Cosmetologists and the International Professional Groomers, Inc. Groomers can be a member of one or all of these organizations, or they can become certified members. Certification means that you have endured demanding voluntary testing—both written and practical—to earn accreditation, with the highest level being Master Groomer certification. 

For certification in cat grooming, there is the Professional Cat Groomers of America and The National Cat Groomers Institute of America.  The cat associations are set up the same way as the dog-grooming associations, with members and certified members. And, just like in the dog-grooming world, the ultimate goal is to become a Certified Master Cat Groomer.


No Substitute for Experience
A whole lot has changed in education over the past 30 years.  It used to be that you would start your career right out of college. These days, however, having hands-on skills and industry qualifications are what gets most people in the door. Those are often most easily gained by attending schools that specialize in career, technical, vocational or trade school education. In fact, I was reading that many graduates from technical or career-focused programs earn significantly higher incomes than people who major in strictly academic fields. Training that is hands-on, technical and geared toward thriving areas of the economy tends to have the best return on investment. 

In today’s workplace, it’s all about your skills and your practical knowledge. Shop owners want to know what you can do, not just what you can think. As a result, having a solid education and good technical skills are among your most marketable possessions. The reality is that, for many groomers, the only way to acquire the skills and qualifications that get you noticed is to complete a good pet-grooming program.

A lot of salon owners and even chain stores say that they have trouble finding qualified workers with the right skills. It seems that too few students are pursuing the short but focused training options that lead to pet grooming.


Learning Opportunities
Before you can get certified, there is a lot of work you will need to do to obtain the right amount of education and hands-on skills.  When you are fresh out of grooming school, there is a slim chance you will be ready to certify. It normally takes a few years of hands-on training and work with a Master Stylist who can take you to the next level. Learning the certification material and breed standards both for dogs and cat certification is something you can accomplish by reading and memorizing, but there is no substitute for the hands-on part of your education. 

One place to look for that higher education is one of the many online programs that make it possible for you to pursue your dream of being a pet groomer, even with a busy schedule. This type of education is also great for people who have no access to a traditional location. When you take classes online, you can find the time to balance life with work and school. Online courses allow you to learn anywhere there’s an internet connection. 

Of course, if you use an internet-based learning program, you will still need to get hands on training.  Some online schools have locations where you can gain practical experience, or they partner with grooming salons where you can obtain your hands-on skills. This is something Judy Hudson and I plan to do through the Grooming Professors, adding another opportunity to share our many years of award-winning professional and grooming competition experience with our industry.

Are you more interested in a traditional grooming school? That is understandable, as some groomers-in-training find this option to be more engaging. There are a number of different options out there, such as Merryfield School of Pet grooming in Florida and Paragon School of Pet Grooming in Michigan, which I have personally visited. Whatever school you choose, I recommend going with one that has produced some top competitive stylists.

Depending where you live, finding a reputable school near you can be difficult.  Most people must travel to and stay over in a faraway location to accomplish a 100- to 600-hour training course. If grooming is your second career, it can be hard to uproot like this. 

Another possible avenue to take is apprenticing. An apprenticeship takes place within an established grooming business. A true apprenticeship will track your progress and provide a certificate for completing a mandatory number of hours and tasks. Once the required hours have been completed, skills shown and the certificate is received, apprenticing gives you a leg up, provided you received your education from a certified groomer. In California, there is actually a government joint apprenticeship committee that approves apprentice-training programs for barbering, cosmetology, skin care, nail care and other services.

PetSmart has an apprenticeship program called the Grooming Academy. It is a four-week program that enables you to get paid while you learn through formal instruction and hands-on experience. For many people, this is a good place to start because they usually have a PetSmart nearby and will draw some income while they train. Be aware, though, that there is a commitment required by PetSmart. The company wants you to stay with them after the training, which is understandable considering how much they’re investing in your career.

Another option is to attend a trade school that offers a pet care curriculum that includes grooming. The schools available and requirements will vary by state. For example, Ohio has several technical schools with a two-year grooming program, but you must be enrolled in an affiliated high school to attend. That is where I received my start in the industry. My teacher was well-rounded and always looking to grow her knowledge. She was a registered vet tech who had groomed for several years. She is also a certified animal behaviorist and obedience trainer, and she showed dogs. I was a very fortunate student.


Elements of Successful Training
No matter what direction you take, you want to make sure you receive a well-rounded education. I would recommend a program that covers: 

• Salon and pet safety and sanitation.

• Product and tool knowledge and usage.  

• Pet health issues that affect the salon as well as you and your other four-legged clients.

• Animal behavior.

• Day-to-day salon business and customer care.

• Sanitary preparation, including nail trimming, ear cleaning, clipping of pads, tummies, rectums and under eyes and lips if applicable.

• Learning to properly brush and comb out the pets to remove dead coat and tangles. 

•  Learning to shampoo and condition a pet properly and thoroughly—preferably accompanied by a little science of skin and coat.

• Drying the pet, including how to force dry, fluff dry and limit cage drying.

• Using clippers—from basic clipper work to setting correct patterns. 

• Breeds such as Terriers (both short- and long-legged), Poodles and Bichons, Spaniels, double-coated bath and trim dogs, and some basic mix breed trimming.

• Finish work, including comb attachments, shears and blenders.

There are several great textbooks available for groomers in training. Some of my favorites include the new Notes from the Grooming Table, The Foundation of Dog Grooming, Dog Grooming Simplified and the All Breed Grooming Book. Keep in mind that all of these books should always be paired with the AKC Complete Book of Dogs. I also like to use Muller and Kirk’s Small Animal Dermatology as a resource for skin and coat care, but I really only focus on the chapter about normal skin function. 

During your education, you will be faced with a variety of grooming situations, which you may have to explain and break down how you might handle them. When solving situations during your time in school, you will learn how to approach them in different ways—always be open to alternate solutions. Take it all in and go back and read the breed standard and your grooming guide of choice to see if it makes sense. This will help you to develop your critical-thinking skills. By learning this way, you will be able to handle real life situations in your workplace much more easily later on. 

Another important part of groomer training is learning which size blades to use on different areas of the pet. For example, some blade selections—such as a #10 blade—are for sanitary areas but too short of a cut for bodywork. A #7 skip-tooth blade is one of the most dangerous blades because it has no hump and lays flat against the skin of the pet. The wide-spaced teeth can feed the skin between them and can cut the pet easily.  

Another essential element of the learning process is how to deal with the business side of pet styling, including managing money, property management, insurance, taxes, marketing, sales and, most importantly, good people skills.  

In many of the education platforms available, you will have the opportunity to work with other people, including your teachers and other students. Learning how to collaborate with other students, especially during group projects, may help you learn how to work in a group, which may benefit your career. Collaboration is often an essential aspect in a dog grooming environment. For example, a groomer might need an extra hand when working with difficult or special needs dogs and cats, and in a salon, groomers have to learn to fairly share different responsibilities, such as cleaning and customer care essentials.


Continuing Education
A solid education will help you become a safe and productive pet stylist with the ability to solve problems and communicate with clients to build important relationships. Learning the right way to groom is more than a stepping stone to a career; it’s about developing a better you.  

When you first get out of school, you will not be able to groom large volumes of pets, but if you strive for consistence and constantly work on your techniques while continuing your education, you will get faster and your work will improve. 

Continuing your education is also very important. Keeping up with the latest techniques and technologies not only helps salons stay competitive, it is also one of the best ways to stay motivated. Education and training are key to a meaningful work experience. 

Trade shows, standalone seminars, hands-on seminars, certification workshops, competing in grooming contests, networking with breeders and certified groomers are all great resources for continuing education. Many of us love to share our knowledge. Also, don’t forget to stay in touch with your instructors. They are in the business too and can help you find additional mentors who can help with your grooming career. 


Christina Pawlosky is a Certified Master Groomer, professional handler, breeder, grooming show judge and successful pet store and grooming shop owner (The Pet Connection) since 1985. For 20 years, she served as national training manager for Oster Professional Products, where she developed new initiative educational material to educate at schools and conventions all over the world. Pawlosky is currently working with Judy Hudson to produce the Grooming Professors—a service through which the two industry veterans share their many years of grooming, competing, dog show conditioning and handling with groomers across the country via Facebook and through an interactive website where visitors can access webcasts and videos about everything grooming-related.
 
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