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Training Grooming Assistants

Melissa Verplank discusses how assistants can make or break your grooming day. Tune in for some solid advice on how to train staff, break down tasks, and build a stronger team!

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Melissa Verplank: Hey guys, Melissa here and today I want to talk to those of you that work with assistance and in the grooming salon assistance can absolutely make or break you. When they work up to the quality that you expect there is nothing better than seeing a well oiled team work together to be able to turn out quality dog after quality dog after quality dog. And the root of everything that we do in the grooming salon is in that bathing and drying area. We call it the wet area. And if somebody is trained properly, they can make your grooming day go so much smoother and there is nothing better than having a dog placed on your table and getting started to do the finish groom when it is absolutely prepared beautifully. And so unfortunately most assistants, they don’t come to you trained, you have to do the training and there’s a lot of different ways to do that.

Obviously I’m in the educational field, so I’ve got a lot of different materials with notes from the grooming table, theory of five, learntogroomdogs.com in the core skills or the just getting started videos at the Paragon school. We also have a home study program which a lot of salon owners are working with right now to help them get assistance trained rapidly and utilizing quality techniques to get that end result. But whatever you program or however you go ahead and teach, I want you to think about teaching in incremental steps. You’ve got to start at the very bottom and then work up and work up and work up. And you need to paint a picture for the new learner of what does it look like when it’s done correctly? And then show them samples of what you would accept or what are you looking for when it’s done correctly so that they have a very clear picture in their mind of something to aim for.

So make sure you give them lots of examples and the examples aren’t just a challenging dog. What does a lab look like when it’s done correctly? What does a golden retriever look like when it’s done correctly? What does a bichon or a lhasa or a shih tzu or any of the mixed breeds, the doodles, what does it look when it’s done correctly? And focus more on coat type more than breeds because we’re only going to see a couple different coat types and you can train and break that down a lot easier for the individual so that they can get it done correctly. And then once they are in the learning process, whether they’ve read a book or watched a video or you’ve demonstrated something, I can’t stress how important it is to have them do it immediately. The studies show over and over again it is amazing how rapidly somebody loses the detail of what they’ve just been taught if they don’t apply it immediately.

So it’s really important to have them do some type of training, educating, learning how to do it and then have them demonstrate it immediately. And then once you get them to the point that they’re working and they’re starting to provide dogs and going through the bathing and drying process, when they’re bringing dogs out to you, make sure that you give immediate feedback because you can’t fix what you don’t know. And some of the most effective learning comes from making mistakes. So if you don’t point out what was done well and what could be an opportunity area to be done better, they’re not going to know to fix something.

And here’s an idea that seems to work really well for a lot of folks and I love using number systems. It just really helps simplify what we’re trying to achieve. And sometimes it can take a little bit of the sting out of, if somebody isn’t working quite up to snuff by giving a number system to it. And maybe you’re going from one to 10 and one to three would be, you know what, the work just isn’t acceptable. It’s got to be done again. Or maybe you go up to a four to six, it still needs some work. Maybe a seven an eight would be it’s acceptable, still room for improvement but it’s acceptable and then a nine or a 10 would be absolutely knocking it out of the park.

This is exactly what you want to see every single time. And you know, even on one particular dog, they might have absolutely nailed it, knocked it out of the park in one area but there’s another area on the dog that still really needs work or shoot, maybe it needs to be done again. You’ve got to give that feedback and if it needs to be done again, don’t you do it, have them go back and do it correctly. Because if you’re not holding them accountable, they’re just going to start giving you subpar work and that’s not what you’re looking for.

So, is training tough? Yeah, it can be challenging because you’re having to normally teach on the fly. Normally you’ve got a full load already. You’re trying to do all the finish work on the dogs and at the same token you’re trying to train an assistant. And that can be frustrating, but I’m going to tell you when you do it, when you take the time and do it right and you’ve got a willing learner who strives to do it correctly, there is nothing better. And honestly it shouldn’t take that long to get a bather up to the point that they can really be an asset to you maybe doing 80 or 90% of the dogs that they’re working on for you and doing them well and helping you move through your roster a lot more effectively. And really focus on those 80% of typical dogs that you see every single day.

And then as they build skill and confidence, you can start adding little more challenging. Maybe it’s a little different coat type. Maybe the personality of the dog is a little more challenging or maybe you are leaning on them to get some of the mats and the tangles and the dead coat out more and more and more for you so that you can focus more on the finish work. But just start again, just break it into small steps. Allow that learner to feel success, to get the praise that they need that they’ve done a good job, and I’m going to tell you, most of them will really strive to continue to make those dogs look better and better and better for you ultimately making the entire salon run much more smoothly.

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