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The Strength of Pet Grooming Foundation Skills

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Photo Caption: Can you envision a Scottish Terrier trying to do the job of an Alaskan Malamute?

I’m up to my eyeballs in research for the 10th year anniversary of Notes From the Grooming Table. When I wrote Notes in 2004, there were 150 breeds recognized but the American Kennel Club – with a few coming in multiple varieties.

In just ten years they have added 47 breeds with one of those new breeds coming in 2 varieties!! OMG. My artiest, Lisa VanSweden and I have our work cut out for us!
But guess what? As I look at all these new breeds. I was pleasantly surprised. Not one of these dogs intimidates me from a grooming standpoint. Why? Because I possess a strong foundation of grooming expertise. I can read AND interpret the written breed standards. I understand structure. I know basic anatomy. I have the technical skill knowledge to deal with any coat type.

Armed with that knowledge – there isn’t a breed of dog I can’t groom with confidence. I know I’m going to be able to come close to making the breed look like the breed it’s supposed to – at least if the owners bring me something responsible to work with. (matted fur is matted fur no matter what breed it comes on – as long as I’m not dealing with a Bergamasco!)

So the bigger question for competent pet groomers and stylists, how strong are your foundation skills?

Can you quickly scan through a breed standard and translate it into a visual picture? Can you isolate key points of the standard you can influence to enhance the looks of the dog through grooming?

Can you decipher this? What breed is this? “…the height at the withers equal to the distance from prosternum to buttocks. The bone is medium and the body is dry, lithe and muscular, with an off-standing, curly coat.”

Or what about this one? “…The head must be in proportion to the body and give the appearance of power and strength. It is approximately equal to the length of neck and not less than 40% of the height of the dog at the withers.”
Is it Greek to you? It sure was Greek to me for a long time!
Learning to the official breed standards and interpret into grooming language is just like learning a foreign language. It can be challenging at first. But once you learn a little – you understand how valuable it is to learn more. Once you learn some of the core elements of breed standard language, it becomes easier and easier to understand the terminology.

Hand-in-hand with interpreting breed standards is structure and movement. You won’t be able to visualize the standard unless you can visually ‘see’ the term. What does an ‘almond eye’ look like? What does a ‘well-laid back shoulder’ look like? If a standard requires the breed to be ‘deep in chest’ or ‘well-developed brisket,’ what does that mean? Or more importantly – what would that look like?
What I love about pure breed dogs is at one time they were breed for a purpose. Before modernization, most of the breeds (excluding the Toy Group) they were breed to do a job. Help man survive. I love that. They had a purpose. Their temperaments and physical structure was developed by man through selective breeding to excel at a specific job.

You would never dream of hooking a team of Scottish Terriers to a sled and expect them to haul a load 50 miles across an arctic landscape. Nope. Not happening. At the same token, you would never see an Alaskan Malamute dive into a tight little burrow, going after some tenacious little vermin and extracting it. Nope – not happening.

Once you learning how to interpret a breed standard, your curiosity might get peaked. Most of the top pet stylists are intrigued by why dogs are built the way they are. They are passionate about learning the finer details of each purebred dog. Why a breed is built and bred the way it is.

Everything has a purpose. Purebred dogs were the tools of yester-year. The better they were built for the task at hand, the more efficiently they could do their jobs. Just like a well-built tool today, the better it is built, the faster and easier it will get the job done.

I was just listening to one of our Learn2GroomDogs.com Training Partners. She said if you haven’t been out learning about the new tools in the past 10 years, you are really missing out. She was so right. As we update Notes From the Grooming Table – tools are getting updated along with all the new breeds. The foundation skills haven’t changed, but some of the tools have.

Clippers have become smaller and more powerful. Many of the best clippers for certain jobs are now cordless.

Limited sized old fashion guard-combs have become a thing of the past. Now there are a wide variety of sizes and shapes. Some are super durable metal. Others have magnet attachment features. All make grooming much easier.

Have you worked with assortment of rakes on the market now? They can make short work of maintaining a harsh coated pet dog or removing soft undercoat.
Dryers have gotten more powerful.
Shampoos, conditioners and hair enhancement products abound. These products allow us to get the pets cleaner, condition the coat better and can get a less than perfect coat to do amazing things by enhancing texture and body.
Once you have a solid understanding of the foundation skills involved with professional pet grooming – you can build on those skills. No job will overwhelm you. You will never be fluster by a new breed you have never seen before when it lands on YOUR grooming table.

Building strong foundation grooming skills is a lot like the Chinese Proverb, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

Knowledge builds confidence. Artful execution of well learned foundation skills creates a rewarding job. Combine the two and you’ll have a wildly successful career.

At least this concept did for me. It has for every one of our awarding winning top stylists Training Partners at Learn2GroomDogs.com. Who knew when I was 18 year old and shoveling kennel runs at a boarding kennel – someday I would write one to the most respected grooming books in the industry? Not me.

However, armed with a solid foundation core grooming skills, update Notes may take time – but it’s far from intimidating. Actually – it’s fun to learn about all these new breeds. I just wish I spent more time today with my hands in fur to get the gratification of taking a dirty messy dog and turning it into something beautiful!

Luckily for those you standing at your grooming table, you get to have that extremely rewarding job satisfaction!

I get the gratification of making it easy for you to get the pertinent information on all the currently recognized breeds in the American Kennel Club by updating Notes From The Grooming Table.
Books & Sites I Recommend for Learning Foundations Grooming Skills
• Notes From the Grooming Table by Melissa Verplank
• The AKC Complete Dog Book
• The American Kennel Club web site at : www.AKC.org
• Canine Terminology by Harold R. Spira
• K-9 Structure &Terminology by Edward M. Gilbert & Thelma R. Brown
• www.Learn2GroomDogs.com with over 350 grooming demonstrations presented by top professional pet groomers from around the world.

Happy Trimming!


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