At a Good Clip
Mastering the use of comb attachments and proven clipper shortcuts can be key to more efficient grooming with great-looking results.
I am all about finding ways to make pet grooming easier, but I never like to compromise quality. I guess it is my mom and dad’s influence kicking in; they always said if you don’t have time to do it right the first time, you definitely don’t have time to do it over. So when I’m grooming, I always look for ways to achieve my goal faster and more consistently, yet with less effort and no compromise to my finished groom. Over the years, I’ve adopted several techniques using clippers that both save time and deliver excellent results.
There is so much conflicting information in our industry about shortcuts using clippers. When I started grooming over 30 years ago, we were told using comb attachments was cheating and that we needed to scissor everything that is not shaved down. The great thing for me was scissoring came naturally, but many of my classmates got frustrated—and ultimately quit—because it did not come so easy. I think if the comb attachment were accepted back then, more of them would have stuck with the grooming profession.
It only makes sense to me to use the clipper as much as possible, so I am always looking for ways to work with clippers when styling—even on my show poodle. When I started working for Oster Professional Products, however, it became even more of a focus.
I always tell new groomers that mastering the use of clippers, blades and universal combs is very beneficial. Scissoring will come with time, but having great clipper work—along with knowledge of canine anatomy and the breed standard—is the foundation to becoming a great groomer. For new groomers, using clippers to create the profile takes the focus away from the act of learning how to scissor first and gives them an opportunity to develop their eye. It is not that they will not have to learn how to use the scissor, but it affords them time to get comfortable handling the equipment and the pets they are working on. Working with clippers, blades and comb attachments also enables novices to complete a groom much sooner in the learning process.
So, if you are a new or experienced groomer looking for ways to create a more consistent groom, increase your speed and feel safe doing it, I am going to explain a number of time-saving techniques using Oster blades, clippers and metal guide comb attachments that will also help you create a better groom.
For starters, renowned dog breeder and trainer Anne Rogers Clark always said the foundation of a great dog starts with the feet. I agree; I always say the foundation of a good groom starts at a dog’s feet. So, starting with the feet, one of my favorite clipper tricks that I learned from Liz Paul is on Poodle bevels. First, clip the Poodle feet clean to the bottom part of the wrist bone or metacarpophalangeal joint. The foot of a Poodle should be rather small and oval shaped, with toes well arched. Depending on your dog’s structure, this line may vary slightly. Suggested blades used to clean the Poodle’s foot include #10, #15, #30 or #40, depending on the dog skin type and your comfort level.
From there, you comb the entire Poodle’s coat from the legs down. Wrap your fingers around the leg with your thumb and pointing finger down. Then take a #40 blade and clip just below your clipper work. Keep your blade almost straight into the coat. This will create an almost perfect bevel every time. Just remember to clip at the clipper line and not your hand. If you clip to your hand, your bevels will be too tight.
I have a similar trick for breeds with full feet. Comb the entire coat down—between toes included—then comb once over the top of the foot to prevent the wedges between the toes. Next, slide your hand down so that you cup the foot and coat in your hand; spritz with a finishing spray, and use a slicker brush to force the coat up around the pads. Next, take your clipper with the #40 blade on it and clip in to your hand level with the edge of the pad. To finish, all you need to do is scissor around the edge of the foot while the dog is standing on the table, softening the first line you cut in at the pad of the foot.
When considering clipper shortcuts for the body, we need to first talk about the dog’s preparation. When you use comb attachments, you need to make sure the dog’s coat is clean, rinsed and perfectly brushed out to get the ideal results. You also need to consider the amount of undercoat the dog you are grooming is carrying. If there is an excess of dead coat left behind, it does not allow the attachment to feed through as well.
Dead hair is normally what snags between the blade and comb attachment. Before using my attachments, I first use a Greyhound comb to comb through a coat. If it catches and does not go through easily, I will mist the coat with a finishing spray and use an undercoat rake over the area. Once the Greyhound comb goes through the coat smoothly, I find the comb attachment will go through easily as well, leaving a great finish. Using a #15 or a #30 blade can also be a key factor for keeping the comb attachment clean.
Even when starting with a well-prepped dog, there is still a lot to think about when clipping the body. First, what does the breed standard state? For example, when working on a dog with a well-sprung rib, you will want to trim the dog to show a well sprung rib in proportion to the rest of the dog.
Groomers also have to recognize the track line of the coat’s growth pattern. This is important to prevent track line. With that said, a great example is my Toy Poodle, which has a tube for a body with little rib spring. It is hard to make him look well sprung, but I leave more coat on him using a 5/8–in. comb attachment on his entire body. I then use a shorter comb attachment, clipping in a level top line and removing coat from the underline and chest. This will create a great-looking profile, leaving more coat in the rib area. Yet the process will still be quick, because it was done with comb attachments.
A tip I use daily for many breeds with coats that lay flat to their back is to turn the blade or comb attachment around and use them in reverse. Start by taking a blade or comb attachment a size or two a longer than the desired blade or comb attachment length you had planned on using and go in reverse. This prevents you from having to comb the coat up multiple times, because when you clip a drop or flat-laying coat type with the lay of the coat, you mash it down. To achieve the finished product faster, try going in reverse first with the longer blade or attachment, and then choose the original blade length choice and go with the grain.
Remember to mist the coat with a finishing spray or water, and comb up before your second pass. For example, I use a #4f reverse, which is equal to a #7F with the lay of coat. The #3f in reverse equals to a #5F blade with the lay of the coat, or a 5/8-in. comb attachment reverse is similar to a #4F blade with the lay of the coat. I do a number of #4F blade Teddy Bear trims with comb attachments on the legs, and I only need to go over the dog twice when starting against the grain with the 5/8-in. comb attachment and once with the grain using the #4F blade. It leaves a clean, even finish.
Your clipper work is even important when doing a Poodle topknot. By making sure your clipper work is straight and even on both sides, you can goof-proof the process of doing a Poodle topknot. Then, comb all of the coat to one side with your blade angle out. Use your clipper lines to guide you. Cut a straight line from the outside corner of the eye to the front top edge of the ear, then over the ear itself. When you hit the back of the ear, you can turn your scissor angle inward and blend in the neck. Repeat on the second side.
Next, the key is to split the topknot in half, look it over and make sure both parts are even. Then comb it forward, and round it out. Scissor the front to suit the dog’s head. A short-nose Poodle cannot support an exaggerated front part. Flip the coat up and tweak.
Now, for Poodles that are overgrown and do not require a lot of topknot hair to create their ideal profile, I have another trick. I have experimented with the longer lengths of the Oster metal guide combs on my A6 clipper. I make sure the top knot is perfectly brushed out, then I take the two-in. attachment—or on smaller dogs the 1 ½-in. attachment—from the eyes all the way down the neck a few times. Make sure the head is parallel to the ground when doing it. Then, follow the above tips, and you will make an overgrown, intimidating topknot manageable.
Clippers are our lifeline, and with practice, they can make our jobs much easier.
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 the National Training Manager for Oster Professional Products and produces grooming DVDs through her website GroomerWorks.com.