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The Tool for Consistent Grooming

Melissa Verplank talks about how guard combs can change your entire grooming team. Learn about the strengths, styles, and secrets of guard combs past and present!

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Melissa Verplank: Hi guys, Melissa here. And today I want to talk about one of my all time favorite tools. And it is a tool that’s been around for a long, long time. They have made a lot of changes to it over the years and it’s really versatile for many different situations, but I really learned the value of it, back in my mobile grooming days when I had an entire fleet of vans and we had offered consistent grooming between a whole team of people and we didn’t have the ability to be side by side to be able to see, to be able to communicate and bring unity to my entire organization. But this one particular tool allowed that to happen without me having to be right there beside each and every one of my groomers out on the road. And that particular tool are the guard combs and like I said, they’ve made a lot of changes over the years.

Back in the day I worked with the plastic attach on combs, but still the principle is the same. They’ve just made a lot of adjustments and there’s a lot of different brands out there today. This happens to be the Wall brand that I’ve got. It’s an older set that belongs to my husband Mark, but what I learned with these is, you can mimic almost hand scissoring but it gives you a depth to go to because each one, if you look at these, basically they’re going to cut about the length that is here and so you can get consistent length over a dog depending on which guard comb you’re using. This one happens to be the blue one or this one is cutting a little bit longer. It’s a little hard to see in here but I think you can see the little bit of the difference.

This one happens to be peach or the yellow one would be a real, those the three that I just showed you would be kind of my go to ones every single day, but these are so great because today they come even in a wider variety of lengths than what I was accustomed to working with. This one is like a light blue and if you look at this side by side and again where you’re looking at your cutting distance is going to be basically right from here to here and they allow you to get consistent over the entire body of the dog.

The other thing that I love about this particular style of guard comb, and again many different manufacturers out there, but one of the things that I look at is number one, it’s metal, so it’s going to give you durability. I’m going to pop over to this yellow one just it’s a little easier to handle, so the metal gives you the durability, the teeth when it plastic, they have a tendency to get worn right here and it’ll catch hair where the metal guard combs don’t have that problem, they hook on with, this one happens to be a spring, but they also come magnetic where they just fit right over the blade and again, you can use them depending on which guard combs you’re working with.

You can work with the smaller clippers, the more detailed little ones or the larger, more powerful clippers. These will fit depending again which brand you’re working with. They come so that they fit over those blades. And again, I love him for the durability and if you stop and think about it, if you’re working with a big doodle, you’re going to want possibly a little bit more coat left over that dog to give that client, that kind of fluffy kind of look, if the dog’s in decent shape because you are not going to get this particular blade, any of these attachments through a very matted dog. They can handle a little light tangle but they can’t power through a matted dog.

But if you have a client that’s taking care of their dog, you can get a really long, fluffy trim utilizing this particular tool and it’s going to mimic the hand scissor look and hand scissoring, I love to hand scissor. That was one of my specialties and I still, there’s nothing that matches a beautifully done hand scissored dog. But when we’re dealing with production grooming, which is our everyday salon styles, sometimes hand scissoring just isn’t the most efficient way to go about getting a job done in a timely manner and that’s where these little guys are really going to come in and save the day for you and they take away the thought process. Scissoring, hand scissoring and to do it well takes an awful lot of skill and what I have found that with the guard combs you can mimic the look of hand scissoring and still get a really, really nice job.

Now sometimes you’ll get some tracking left over in the coat. Again, it depends on how that coat, the texture of the coat and especially how the dog was prepared. The better prepared it is in the bath and the drying process, the better the finished trim. But still even with an absolutely, spectacularly prepared dog, you might get some bumps and some ridges in the coat and then you just follow up with a pair of thinners or chunkers and those are kind of your, the groomers, erasers and they’re going to take out those marks. But when you’re working with a guard combs, you could set the length, you can communicate that length to other stylists so that you can duplicate the work in your salon so your clients are getting consistency every single time. And I learned this back in the day when I was hand scissoring a lot of dogs because I was working at becoming one of the top stylists in the country and the way that you do that to get to be really good is you practice.

And so I was hand scissoring everything that I could, every single day in my mobile vans. All the poodles, the Bichons, the mixed breeds, anything that I could scissor, I did. But what would happen when I would go away or another one of my stylists had to follow my work, they were terrified. They didn’t know how much coat to leave because I had written hand scissor all. What is that? And so they would get really tentative about what to do. And bottom line, they would basically do a bath and brush and maybe tip the coat. They just didn’t know how much length to take off because I was training myself to groom, to breed profile and to groom to structure. And I understood that. But the rest of my team, they didn’t understand it the way that I did and so it was really, really hard for them to follow my work and to do the same type of job.

And when all of a sudden I got taken out with an injury to my right hand and I couldn’t groom for a while, my team had to mimic what I was doing with my clients cause they had to take my clients over for a while. And I finally realized that the guard combs gave them the guideline that they needed to be able to do a better job mimicking the work that I was doing and down the road I just really found out how much consistency these particular little tools brought to my entire team. It was just, it was like night and day. Once we really started working with these and then we started to, as we wrote down what we did on the pet record, we would say, maybe a bichon with a number one guard comb. Well, today we might say a bichon modified show trim with a yellow guard comb.

Or maybe we do it with a peach guard comb. That’s how we would write it down. And once you are able to set the body length with one of these particular tools and be able to set the length based on which one you’re using, it made everything else come in so much easier and they could get the balance on the legs and they could cut in the angles on the dog simply by using these guard combs, where if they were hand scissoring it, they’d never be able to get that same look, nor could they get the quality. Because again, hand scissoring, it takes a long time to master that skill. And let’s face it, you’re dealing possibly with an eight inch blade out in front of you. You’ve got a lot of really sharp metal that you’re opening and closing and we’re working on live animals. Accidents happen.

So the guard combs really help with the safety aspect of what we do every single day as well as bringing in the quality and the third thing that I really love is, you just don’t have to think about it. You don’t have to wonder what’s underneath that coat. The guard comb is setting the length for you. And so you can just go ahead and focus on other parts of the groom to bring that quality in alignment. Where are you setting the pattern? What angles are you trying to accentuate? How are you trying to make that dog look the best that it can look without having to worry about the depth of coat that you’re leaving. Because the guard comb is really, it’s doing it for you. And if you get your hands on that dog beforehand or maybe when you are bathing and drying the dog, you’re taking a look and you’re catching a feel of those dogs, you know there’s a dip in the top line.

Okay. So as you’re gliding over that with one of these guard combs, maybe you don’t press hard on that area. Maybe you float over it a little bit. So now you can start doing corrective grooming as well, all in the ways that you work with these guard combs. So they’re a very time effective, time saving tool that can really enhance your quality. And the more that you learn about bone structure and body structure, and corrective grooming, you can really work with this tool as well to accentuate it. And again, like I said, you’ve got such a variety of the depth of coat that you can leave whether you’re dealing with a super short, I mean, this is almost the same length as what your normal clipper blades are going to leave versus going all the way up to the really long ones.

And again, the bigger the dog, sometimes the longer the coat that needs to be left. Now I will say with any of the guard combs, most of the time you need to have a dog that’s in relatively good shape in order to do these longer haircuts. And that wouldn’t matter whether you’re hand scissoring or using a guard comb, you still need to have those dogs coming in on a four to maximum six week rotation so that you can keep that coat well-maintained and relatively mat free.

So if you haven’t worked with these a lot or you haven’t mastered the technique, take the time to master the technique with these guard combs because they’re absolutely amazing to work with. And again, your thinning shears are your erasers. So if you’re getting bumps in the coat, you’re getting tracking that you’re not happy with, just after the final sweep over that dog hit it lightly with a pair of chunkers or with a pair of thinners to take those marks out and your dogs are going to look great. Every single time they walk out of the salon and ultimately your customers are going to know exactly what they’re going to get every single time. And that’s one of the things that really brings customers back to you. And that’s your consistency.

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