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An Eye for Grooming with Melissa Verplank

CMG Melissa Verplank is back with tips on how to develop your “eye” for dog grooming! Tune in to learn about crucial dog anatomy, key resources, and where to begin when honing your skills.

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Melissa V.: Hi, guys, Melissa here. Last week I was seeing a thread coming up that was talking about people were wondering how they could develop an eye for the dog. They were really frustrated, especially if they were beginners. They just didn’t know where to turn or how to develop their own eye. I wanted to address that a little bit.

Now, like a lot of the topics that I talk about, you can go really, really deep with this topic. There’s so much to learn and so much to share. I just want to hit the top layer, especially to give those of you who are questioning, where do you even begin, where do you start to develop that eye for the dog? Like anything else, there’s going to be beginners, intermediate, advanced, and highly advanced people in this particular skill level.

If you’re just starting, that’s where we all started at one time, at the very, very beginning. I learned how to grow not because I wanted to, not because I came from a family of groomers or show people. I got my job because the groomer was let go, and the next day I was a groomer with absolutely no knowledge whatsoever.

So I had to learn, and it can be done. I learned it way before the age of the internet and a lot of the learning tools that are available to us now. I had to do it in a really different way than what you guys have to do. But I’m going to tell you, sometimes going back old school works really, really well.

I just want to share some of the things that I did and some of the things that you can do to change it up today to maybe accelerate your pace a little bit. Always remember, every single one of us started at the very beginning. If you’re looking to develop your eye for the dog, you’re going to have to start at the beginning just like all of us. There is no shortcuts.

Where is that beginning? Well, you know what? It all starts with anatomy. When you first start out, you are not going to understand the finer details of advanced anatomy. You’ve got to start at the very beginning.

And so, one of the things that I did to help people who are just starting in their careers is in notes from the grooming table, which yep, my book, but in notes from the grooming table, right in the very, very front. We’re not even 25 pages into the book yet, and I’m already to talk about anatomy.

This is not high level anatomy. This is the basics that you need to get started. You’ve got to be able to understand the muscle structure. You’ve got to understand topographical anatomy. Topographical anatomy is the parts of the dog, so that when we’re communicating to one another and you’re learning, when I say the croup, you know where the croup is. If I say the stop, you know where the stop is. Those are really many, many important parts working around the dog. You’ve got to understand the terminology so we can communicate to one another.

Also the bones, and that the knowing the names of the bones aren’t as important as knowing how they fit together with the rest of the dog. That’s what you really, really have to know. Once you understand the muscles, the bones, and the topographical anatomy, now we can start to work, and how to put it together when we start actually grooming a dog.

When we’re grooming the dogs, we’re going to use reference points on the dog. We’re going to be working with the bones and the muscles to set all the different patterns to work in harmony with a dog, but everything is going to be based off of structure. It doesn’t matter whether you’re dealing with a mixed breed or whether you’re dealing with a purebred dog. All of them are going to have certain components that make up the structure of the dog, whether it’s a square dog or a rectangular dog in outline. Those are going to be really important parts when you’re working with the grooming portion of that dog, and how to get it to balance.

Always people go, “How do you make things balance out?” Well, again, it’s just looking at how shapes fit within the box and whether they’re in balance with one another.

If this dog had a skirt way down to here, and so all of a sudden this part of the dog is really thick and he’s got these little stubby legs, that dog isn’t going to be in balance. And so, understanding these parts is important. Again, it’s not advanced. It’s just really basic, the basic ground rules of solid anatomy and structure.

And then, again, you’re going to be using those parts of the dog, the muscles, the bones, the reference points, the outline, and how those parts all fit together, and that you’re going to be using them as landmarks when you’re setting the patterns on the dog.

If you don’t have notes from the grooming table, this is a really great place to start your study of anatomy. And again, this is just the very, very beginning of your learning stages.

The next book that I would really recommend … This a biggie, don’t let it scare you. There’s a lot of pictures in it. This is covers all the breed standards for the American breeds, but whatever country you’re in, you are going to have a similar book with all the purebreds recognized by your country. It’s going to have all of the standards that are created by the parent club.

When we’re looking at this book in the American Kennel Club, they really do a great job detailing the dog. They’ve got great color images. When I studied one of these breeds and I was helping somebody with a legato understand how to study for this breed and and figure out how to groom it, I always read and work with a highlighter. I’m going to highlight key components of this dog.

If there’s any part that I don’t understand, if there’s a word I don’t understand, I’m going to run. And I’m going to look it up in the back of the book. They’ve got a glossary, and there’s other places that you can also look things up. If you don’t understand what a rustic coat is, you’re not going to know what kind of a coat this particular breed should have. It has a rustic coat. If you don’t know what a broad skull is, you need to look those things up so that you can visually put it in your head so that you can start putting this breed together so that you can understand the why’s behind how to groom this particular breed.

And then, the next book that I would really suggest, let me flip this over, is Canine Terminology. Canine Terminology is like a visual reference guide of body parts. It’s going to help you understand if you read a part in one of the standards that you don’t really firmly understand what it should look like, you can go to this book and it’s going to describe it, and more than likely it’s also going to give you a visual reference of it.

Shoot, I still go to this book for reference. There’s parts of dogs and things that I hear that maybe I didn’t hear before. I’m going to dig into this book just so that I have a firm understanding of what something looks like. If you don’t understand what a well-let-down hock looks like, jump into canine terminology. Look it up. Go to the hock section, and it’s going to tell you what a well-let-down hock is. That’s great. This is just a great tool, great reference guide to have on your bookshelf as you’re trying to understand and and picture what these parts of the dog look like.

And then, if you are moving forward in your career and your you want to go beyond just everyday pet grooming and working in harmony with a dog and trying to make it look its best, if you are looking to go into certification testing, or maybe you are thinking about going into the competition ring, the pet grooming competition ring, or into the dog show world, this is going to be a really great reference guide for you.

For me, when I went to this book, I had already … I was pretty confident with this information here, but I still didn’t really understand the why. I understood what it looked like, but I didn’t understand the why behind why things were designed the way they were. There are certain elements to a breed that are put together to make it be efficient at what it was designed to do. This book gave me the why. It takes the canine structure and terminology, and it really does a great job to describe why the layback to shoulder should be in a certain angle, why the rear assembly should have the angles that it has.

It’s all based on movement. It’s designed for what that dog’s original job was supposed to do. And so, this was absolutely a light bulb book for me as I was coming up the ranks. It made a huge difference in my everyday grooming just because now I understood the more advanced parts and the reasons why I needed to do what I wanted to do with the dog’s coat.

Whether the dog had the right structure or it didn’t, I now knew what I was going for when I was trying to trim that dog and bring out the strongest features of it.

If you are trying to develop your eye for a dog, the first place that you need to start is with canine anatomy. Study it, and be passionate. But more importantly, be curious. Remember, every single one of us, no matter how talented and how far we have advanced our careers today, we all started exactly in the same place that all of you did, which was at the very beginning. And so, we had to learn. We needed to be curious. We needed to seek out the information. These are some great reference books that you can use to start building your career and take it to whatever level you want to take it to.

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