A Lifetime of Learning

By Carol Visser on Feb 1 2010
In an industry that is constantly changing, continuing education helps groomers stay ahead of the competition.

As a pet stylist, my career has evolved differently and far beyond what I ever dreamed. I attended Pedigree Career Institute, a Lynn, Mass.-based school that is no longer in existence. It was a 600-hour, four-month course, and it had an extensive curriculum and great teachers. I remember being absolutely terrified that as a real-world professional groomer I wouldn’t measure up. Well, I did–and I didn’t.

Pedigree had given me all the basics that I needed, but I still had a lot to learn. And nearly 30 years later, I still have a lot to learn, because one can never learn it all. Even if you could, by the time you learn everything, there would be still newer tools and techniques to learn. Education is, or should be, a never-ending process. This is true for every new groomer, whether they learned by the apprentice system, came up through the ranks from bather to prep to finish groomer, or attended a great school. All that schooling can do is give you skills that you will need to build upon. 

An Ongoing Process
Learn wherever you can. Do you admire the way a co-worker effortlessly creates an adorable, expressive face on a shih tzu with a few quick snips of their shears? Observe and learn. How do they hold their shears? What is their body position? Where exactly are they looking when they make those cuts? What shears are being used? At what angle?

Go to as many breed shows as possible. Sit outside the ring and look at the patterns, which change subtly but often. Use those valuable observation skills–can you see where a dog that is not quite perfect in one area has been enhanced? Perhaps a long-backed dog has had more hair left at the tailset and the back of the neck, to visually shorten that back. Is there a sporting dog with bone that is a little finer than desirable? Note how much more hair has been left than on a dog with substantial bone. In addition, visit the grooming areas and watch what people are doing to prep for the ring.

Continuing education isn’t restricted to learning a better topknot or the latest terrier pattern. The more you know about each aspect of the canine and feline world, the better you become at all the others. Each skill learned works synergistically with the others to create an all around top-notch pet professional.

For example, I once ended up owning an unruly dog, so my sister recommended a training class. I was quickly hooked. Through learning obedience training, I expanded my relationship with dogs and learned that it could be more interactive than I’d ever thought. When I began training, methods were very black and white, but my learning has evolved over time to a more balanced approach; and as I learned the newer methods, I learned that the dog could contribute more to the relationship than I’d ever thought. What’s more, learning to work with an animal improved my handling skills in the grooming shop.

Eventually, I returned to Pedigree, my grooming alma mater, to teach. During that time, I learned more about areas I hadn’t concentrated on before–the business of grooming, first aid and customer service. All of these skills stood me in good stead in my next grooming salon.

Educational Opportunities
In addition to the methods mentioned above, there are easier, more organized ways to learn–lots of them. The Internet has websites on grooming specific breeds and forums for groomers to exchange ideas. But don’t narrow your focus to just grooming. Go to a seminar on dog behavior and training. Your local dog-training club will probably have information on upcoming events. Buy a book and teach your own dog some tricks. Get Karen Pryor’s book Don’t Shoot the Dog and learn how to use the training principles in it on your four-legged clients. There’s even an e-book available on training dogs to enjoy or at least tolerate grooming procedures called Click for Grooming. Also, check out Bonnie Peregoy’s website (www.healthydogstore.com), where you can read her seminar on Grooming Dog Behavior, which includes illustrative videos.

Trade shows and seminars are another great educational resource, and their available all across the country. You can find many of these upcoming events at the newly redesigned Grooming Business website (www.groomingbusiness.com). I hear people saying all the time that they can’t afford to travel or take the time off from work. But just think, one of these seminars might teach you how to increase your income so that you can afford such travel. In the meantime, put a tip jar out front that says “All gratuities are used for continuing education of staff, to better serve you and your pet,” and use that to fund educational trips.

Nearly every grooming salon will have some type of seminar or trade show close enough to attend in a daytrip, so keep expenses down by carpooling and make it more fun by going with a friend. Still not possible? Then buy the DVD of the seminars that strike your fancy–they are often available within weeks or even days of the event.

Some grooming schools also offer continuing education, so check with them. Paragon School of Pet Grooming has a three-week program to increase proficiency and skill for stylists, whether for personal satisfaction or to prep for the competition ring.

Tim Prior, director of practical applications at Nash Academy in Lexington, Ky., and popular seminar speaker, recommends never becoming complacent. “No matter how good you are, don’t be satisfied with that–always reach for the sky,” he says. Nash Academy offers month-long online courses for experienced groomers in terrier profiles and much more, available on the front page of its website (www.nashacademy.com).

Probably the most important thing groomers can do to ensure that they continue to learn, grow, stretch their limits and improve their skills is keep an open mind. The way you learned to do something may be the absolute best way, or it may not. If you are not willing to consider new ways of doing things, you will stay stagnant. In an industry that is changing as quickly as ours, it pays to stay on top of everything–new products, patterns, techniques, tools and equipment.

Carol Visser is a Nationally Certified Master Groomer and Certified Pet Dog Trainer.