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The Importance of Systems

systemsrMy husband and I were just at the hospital for a scheduled surgery. Luckily, it was a non-emergency situation – just to get his nose repaired so he could actually breathe out of BOTH nostrils. Still, it was surgery and as much as he wanted to have it done, the anticipation levels were running high. We were a bit nervous.

The medical team was great. Their thorough procedures helped squelch our anticipation jitters. Everything, from the pre-screening call days before… check in… pre-surgery… waiting room… recovery… home… and follow-up, was explained to us. At every step along the way there were systems in place to ensure that the surgery went off without a hitch, which put our minds at ease. There weren’t any hiccups in the communication process or the surgery itself.

Checks and balances were firmly in place. Everyone in the medical team clearly knew their job. They understood how important their roles were, no matter how large or small. If even one of them made a mistake, it could have a devastating effect on the outcome of the surgery. We’ve all heard the horror stories.

If you stop and think about it, a grooming salon client has the same kinds of anticipation levels. They are entrusting you with one of their most precious possessions – their pet. Most clients are not that familiar with the grooming process and have no idea what truly goes on behind closed doors.

Is you grooming salon set up like a well-oiled medical team? We may not be doctors but our “pet clients” are extremely important to their owners. There are many steps within the grooming service procedure that could turn into shining moments – or go horribly wrong:

  • They get the wrong haircut.
  • The pet isn’t done when promised.
  • They’re charged the wrong amount.
  • They get the wrong collar or lead – maybe even the wrong pet!
  • A pet is injured – or worse.

This list could go on and on. The larger the team that works together, the more processes you need in place for a smooth running operation.

Every grooming salon needs:

  • a customer service team (even if that team is YOU)
  • a bathing department
  • a drying department
  • a grooming/styling department
  • someone in charge of client records/data entry
  • client education
  • marketing
  • proper cleaning and sanitation

To be successful in the long-term, you need to spend time in the short-term setting up processes. Systems are your routines – the way you do things every time. Here is a short list of items that need to be in place for systems to work:

  • Every procedure needs to be broken down, step by step.
  • Each process needs to be written down and reviewed regularly.
  • Every person participating in the activity needs to know and understand how to correctly perform the procedure.
  • Every person then needs training and follow-up supervision until the task is perfected.

Accountability is the key to success. Positive and negative consequences need to be in place and consistently enforced.

If you don’t have any systems in place at the moment, don’t fret. Take one procedure at a time and break it down into smaller chunks. Figure out what needs to be done or happen for each piece. Then move to the next one – and the next one.

Remember the story book fable about the tortoise and the hare? You don’t need to be a jack rabbit straight out of the gate. Slow and steady will win this race. It all starts with the first step. It might take you a month to get your systems in place – it might take a year. If you are in a state of growth, creating systems for your business might be an ongoing process. The trick is not to be overwhelmed by looking at the big picture. Keep it small so you don’t give up – and keep going.

At the end of the day, you always need to focus on your overall goal: to offer outstanding, consistent customer service – just like my husband and I received with his recent operation.

… As for those horror stories? Don’t be one of them. The salons that have the right systems in place will be prepared. Their staff will offer better service and the guests (furry and human) will feel better knowing that they are in good hands. it’s never too late to start. Do it now! Take that first step.


Happy Trimming,




The Jennifer Hecker Story

Bouvier HugrIt was May, 1996. Star pupil Jennifer Hecker was three days away from graduating from grooming school and I was still very much a hands-on Director of The Paragon School of Pet Grooming.

I remember walking into the lobby during check-in. The front staff was just greeting a new client with a very large Bouvier des Flandres. I looked at the dog and immediately sensed something was off. The dog came in willingly enough, but its body language and eyes were telling me to be very, very careful with this dog.

Once the owner was gone, I told the front staff to attach the dog to a wall tether. I sensed we could have a real problem if we tried to place that dog in a kennel. Being out on the practical skills floor where we could closely observe this dog without the housing restriction was much safer. I suggested that the instructors place a muzzle on the dog before they attempted to do any grooming, just in case.

Because we didn’t see that many Bouvier’s at the Paragon Training Center, it was assigned to Jennifer, one of our most advanced students. At that time, Jennifer had shown Giant Schnauzers and had advanced one of them through the highest levels of French Ring Sport. She was not intimidated by the size or the potential attitude of this dog.

Not 15 minutes into the class, someone raced into my office and told me I’d better get out to the practical skills floor – fast. Someone had been hurt. Seconds later, I was on the practical skills floor. The first thing I noticed was how empty and quiet the room was.

The second was the blood trail.

It led diagonally across the space towards the bathing room. There was a crowd of people around a small prep sink. One person in particular was obviously in great distress – Jennifer.

Our general manager was holding her hand under cold water and asking her series of questions. One of the questions still haunts me today…

“Can you feel your fingers?”

I got a glimpse of Jennifer’s hand. Place a quarter on the meatiest part of the heel of your hand. Now imagine that area… gone.

handrThe Bouvier had done exactly what I had feared. The instructor and Jennifer had done what I had requested. They had muzzled the dog before team-lifting it onto the table. That’s when it struck. Unbelievably, it bit Jennifer through a muzzle. It was a nylon muzzle that was open at the end of the mouth so the dog could breathe freely. This type of muzzle can be effective as long as it fits snugly. In this case, they had selected a muzzle that was slightly too large. Even though the dog was muzzled, it could still open its mouth just enough to grab the heel of her hand to chew through her flesh…

…and it did.

We raced Jennifer to the medical treatment center. The local med-station felt that they could handle this wound despite the fact that she had lost sensation in her little finger – or maybe the pain was so great – she couldn’t be sure. They stitched her up, bandaged her, pumped her up with antibiotics, and sent her home.

The following day she was she was back at the doctor, but this time to see a hand specialist. They ripped out all the stitches from the night before and started over. Jennifer was looking at a long recovery period.

Jennifer had such a great attitude towards this whole thing – it was hard to believe. Even though she missed the last three days of class, she still graduated with very high grades. However, finding a grooming job was certainly out of the question for her – at least for a while. We ended up hiring Jennifer for our front office at Paragon while she healed.

As Jennifer’s medical bills mounted, we collected everything and turned them into our insurance company.  However, our carrier did not feel the situation warranted a payout on their behalf.


That’s when we learned that in the state of Michigan a pet owner is ultimately responsible for their dog – even if they are not with it. The insurance company went after the pet owner. They were able to collect from their homeowner’s policy. That was news to me and served as a lesson to all of us.

As the story unfolded, we got more information that was unnerving. My initial gut reaction was well-founded. This was the third reported bite case for this dog – and the third owner. Of course the owner never bothered to share that information with us upon check-in. The dog was destroyed after this third incident with Jennifer.

We learned 5 lessons through this unfortunate event.

  1. Trust your gut. Never do a dog that you feel is dangerous to you, your team, or itself.
  2. Use muzzles when necessary and make sure they fit properly (we changed to full basket-style muzzles).
  3. The pet owner is ultimately responsible for their pet regardless of whether they are with them or not.
  4. In the state of Michigan, if the dog creates an insurance situation, the pet owner’s homeowner’s policy will be responsible for paying any damages or claims.
  5. Love and passion for dogs can still shine through despite severe injuries inflicted by them and long recovery periods.

Jennifer has been grooming with us for over 18 years. I’m fortunate that she is still on my team. She has become one of our most talented and productive pet stylists. She grooms every day at our luxury kennel, Whiskers Resort & Pet Spa. Plus, Jennifer has been one of our talented Training Partners on Learn2GroomDogs.com since the beginning.

We just filmed her for Learn2GroomDogs.com. We had been looking for someone to do a traditional style grooming lesson on a Bouvier des Flandres for a very long time. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever expect Jennifer Hecker to step up to the grooming table for this lesson! I’m so glad she did. Her love and compassion for all dogs is clearly evident – even for the Bouvier des Flandres.


Happy trimming,




Neutralizing Stench

stinky Cache - CopyrI love being a professional pet groomer. It’s creative. It’s gratifying. There’s nothing better than having a dog leave your salon looking and smelling amazing.

Being a professional pet groomer means we are problem solvers. Our clients do not have the skills – nor the products – that can solve many coat problems. As pet professionals, we know which products and tools work.

My husband and I live on 160 acres. We have approximately 6 acres enclosed with Invisible Fence. All four of our 100+ pound dogs can roam unsupervised. This keeps our dogs safe – and out of trouble – while giving them the luxury of freedom. Most of the time it works.

Occasionally, it does not.

I was driving back from the farmers market when I got a call from my husband. He was headed out for an appointment and called the dogs into the house. All of the dogs came bounding up to the door like they typically do. However, two of the dogs seemed to be especially proud of themselves. As they got closer, my husband understood why. THEY STUNK TO HIGH HEAVEN!!!!! Especially one of them. Cache was absolutely covered in something very black – and very gooey. You could hardly get near them without wanting to vomit.

Because he was headed out the door, he simply called me and told me what to expect when I got home. I didn’t think much about it, our dogs are rolling in things all the time. He simply shut them back in their “dog room” towards the back of the house.

20 minutes later I stepped through the front door and was virtually attacked by the odor. This was as bad as a direct skunk hit – maybe worse. I made my way to the dog room and peered over the half-door. (By this time I was holding my breath.)

I had never seen a dog so successfully cover herself in a foul material. Heck, Cache even had it on her tail! I booted all the dogs out immediately and set to work steam-cleaning the back room before I tackled the dogs themselves.

I knew I had my work cut out for me. Not only are our dogs all over hundred pounds – they’re extremely heavily coated. At our home, we do not have standard professional grooming tubs or tables, but we DID have the products and tools to wash, clean, and neutralize the foul substance that was all over two of them.

Once I got the back room cleaned up, it was bath time for the pooches. Needless to say, they were not thrilled with me as I gingerly clipped leads to their collars. They were quite proud of their accomplishment. Down to the horse wash rack we went. It wasn’t the most sophisticated dog bathing station – but it worked.

A long time ago, I learned that the Coat Handler product line is my ‘go-to’ product of choice for all my bathing needs. One of the best odor neutralizing products on the market is Odor Handler. There are literally thousands of uses for this product. I personally use it so much (and not just on dogs) that I keep and 9 1/2 pound container of it in the laundry room! Down in the barn, we keep gallons of Coat Handler’s 15 to 1 Shampoo, Coat Handler Conditioner, plus a high velocity dryer for our horses.

My products and tools of choice for this project: Coat Handler 15 to 1 shampoo mixed in a squirt bottle with a generous scoop of Odor Handler and hot water, a long-handled scrub brush, a firm horse brush, a rubber curry, and a garden hose. (Luckily it was 80 degrees outside so no one minded a cool bath!)

I did my best to hose off the bulk of the offensive material clinging to their coats. Luckily it was water-soluble so with the water pressure from the garden hose, I was able to remove most of it. But the odor still remained.

I generously applied my hot soapy solution of shampoo and Odor Handler to the soiled areas. I worked it in with a rubber curry (there was no WAY I was going to touch that nasty stuff with my bare hands!) Then I went back with a horse brush to really work it into each strand of the hair. I finished with a smaller handled brush to deal with the hard to reach places. I let the solution sit for approximately 10 minutes before thoroughly rinsing the dogs until their coats were squeaky clean.

It was time to use my gallon jug of Coat Handler Conditioner. I poured generous amounts into my hands and applied it to their coats, straight. I did not rinse out the conditioner.

I let them have a few generous shakes before I proceeded with towel drying. Then, I pulled out my trusty K-9 II high velocity dryer. I needed them to be dry so I could see if I had been successful with neutralizing the foul stench before I let them back into the house.

By that night, all of our dogs joined us in the living room, lounging at our feet. Everyone had a slight scent of baby powder which was much more appealing to my husband and me.

The reason I was so successful in neutralizing the odor was because I had the knowledge and the tools at my fingertips. As a pet grooming professional, it’s up to us to know the products and techniques that work the best. I’ve tested many products over the years, and the Coat Handler line of products (especially Odor Handler), beats everything else, hands down.

Just ask our noses – and Cache, of course!


Happy trimming!




The Aha! Moment

blog imageIt’s no secret that I love learning new skills, ideas, and applications — it’s the main reason why I love the pet grooming industry so much. You can never learn it all. There is always something new, different, or enlightening to learn.

In 2010, I founded the Learn2GroomDogs.com (and cats) streaming video library. I have directed and produced over 400 educational grooming video shoots. Each one is both a lesson and a demonstration. Every video inspires and teaches me something new. I’m constantly having my own ‘Aha! Moments’ – even after 30 years in this business!

I’m proud to be able to bring the quality of training directly to you that will challenge, educate, and energize the student in you. All you need is access to the internet and you can have your own ‘Aha! Moments’ wherever you are. Our Training Partners have earned their right to be labeled “the best professional pet stylists in the country.” They are simply amazing.

I take detailed notes on every shoot. Heck, with some Training Partners, I can barely make my fingers fly across the keyboard fast enough! Those comprehensive notes eventually become the video descriptions. As I review the lesson during editing, I sift through the pages of my notes and highlight the key points that I feel would be worthwhile takeaways for you. Believe me, there are loads of them!

I truly believe you will only be as good as your teachers. Being a member of Learn2GroomDogs.com is like going to a massive pet grooming summit. There are over 400 lectures and demonstrations from over 40 training partners that are hand-picked as the best in the industry. We provide the information you want and need from people who know dogs – including a camera man who is also an accomplished pet stylist and a long time grooming instructor, so he knows what you need to see through the lens!

When you are fresh to the field – you are like a dry sponge. ‘Aha! Moments’ come fast and easily. As a seasoned pro, they become harder to come by — you must seek them out with dedication and apply them to your work.

But there are still plenty of golden nuggets to unearth.

Take notes as you watch the videos. Pause, rewind, and watch again. And again. You have unlimited access to every video lesson we offer with your membership, so wring every drop of learning gold you can from each one. If you can pick up even one of those per month of membership, it’s worth the price of admission and more.

There is a great saying that goes, ‘The more you learn, the more you earn.” I have always believed that the more educated you are in your craft, the more self-confidence you will have. That turns work into a joy no matter what you do. You have the power and the choice: keep learning and keep your passion for your career alive…

…or let it get stale and face burn out.

With Learn2GroomDogs.com (and cats too) we make it easy to learn at the touch of a keystroke. Wherever you have access to high speed internet, you can watch, listen and learn. In your home. At your shop. Traveling to a grooming event. By yourself or with your team. We have grooming video lessons for everyone. We can help you achieve more wherever you are in your grooming journey.

The key is to invest in you, whether that is time, money, or both. You have to make an effort – a commitment to put in the work to get better and seize any opportunity to do so. Once you open your mind to education, you will be amazed at how many ‘Aha! Moments’ you will have.

Enjoy the ride. The educational voyage is a blast.

Happy Trimming




The Need for Speed

12506739_lTime is the most common concern for professionals in this industry. New groomers worry that they’ll never be able to do more than 4 dogs a day. Salon owners need employees who can hit the ground running.  They need people who can groom 6-8 dogs per day.  Or you’ve been at the table for a while but still struggle to get beyond 5 dogs per day.

Seasoned pros are knocking out 8… 10… 12… 14 or more pets every day.

So what are you doing wrong? What are the common areas that seem to be the sticky spots? What areas in your day are robbing you of precious minutes?

Top 10 Areas Where Pet Pros Can Improve

1.  Always start with the end result etched firmly in your mind

The better you know where you are headed – the easier it will be to get there. Know what a high-quality trim looks like – even if it’s a shave off or a close body trim. Know what balance and style is. Know what a beautifully brushed out dog looks and feels like. If you’re working on a purebred, know what a beautiful specimen should look like.

2.  Don’t start with elbow grease – always let products and tools do the work first

In the past 30 years, there have been great developments in products and tools that make our jobs easier. Go to trade shows and test them for yourself. Ask others on social media outlets what they like to use. Find out what products and tools the top pros use at their grooming tables. They likely have a very solid reason why they use what they do. They did not get to be top stylists by using inferior products and tools!

3.  If water can penetrate the coat, wash the pet first

Don’t waste time pre-clipping a dog that comes then every six weeks or less. Get it straight to the tub. You’re wasting time clipping off that small amount of coat. The same thing goes with a dog that is matted or is shedding. If the water can penetrate the coat, get them right into the tub. A clean coat is going to be more pleasant to work on. Plus, a large majority of mats and tangles are held together by dirt. Remove the dirt and the job just got easier.

4.  A powerful high velocity dryer is the professional stylist’s greatest asset in time management

In my opinion, the development of the high velocity dryer is one of the greatest advancements the grooming industry has ever seen! Put simply, (if used correctly) this tool produces the fastest results with the highest quality on any given coat type.

  • it dries the coat with lightning speed
  • it can straighten the coat for a beautiful fluff dry
  • when used prior to the bath it will loosening dirt next to the skin
  • it effectively removes most mats or tangles
  • it is extremely efficient with the removal of shedding fur

5.  Towel Dry – Towel Dry – Towel Dry

It never ceases to amaze me how many people miss this step. Incomplete towel drying costs precious minutes in the drying process. Multiply that by six or eight dogs and you’ve lost 30 to 60 minutes out of your day. Here’s my goal: towel dry thoroughly enough so that spray does not come off the dog once I start working with a high velocity dryer.

6.  Three clipper passes or less!

If your dog is bathed and blown out properly, the goal is to make three clipper passes – or less – to get it absolutely smooth. The first pass knocks out the longest coat (at this point I’m not going for smoothness). The second pass smooth’s it out. The third pass eliminates high spots that I’ve missed. Three times around the dog with the clippers – period. If you can get done quicker than that – bonus!

7.  Create a routine for everything you do

This is a bit like the waitress listing off the salad dressing choices at a restaurant. She has a routine that she follows. If you stop her mid-list, she often has to start all over again. She never misses a choice because she sticks to her routine. You should have a routine for every dog that comes into your salon. Stick to your routine so you never miss a step.

8.  Cheat like crazy with attach on combs

If there was ever a cheat tool in your toolbox, this is it! For many pet stylists, attach on guard combs have replaced a lot of the hand scissoring work. They come in a wide array of sizes. They let you establish a depth of coat just by following the dog’s body. For most people, this is much simpler than to master exquisite hand scissoring. It allows you to mold and sculpt the fur quickly and efficiently. With knowledge of proper canine structure and creative use of your guard combs, you can create a highly stylized trim in no time.

9.  Never, ever work on a pet that you feel is dangerous to itself or to you

With so many cooperative pets to work on, there is no reason for you to tackle a highly aggressive dog. Your hands are your livelihood. You need to protect them at all costs. No one needs the aggravation, frustration, or anxiety of having to deal with a dangerous dog. I’d rather have a client who is upset with me for refusing to do their dog than have a groom result in injury. Or to be bitten. It’s just not worth it.

10.  Love What You Do

Being a professional pet groomer or stylist has huge rewards. For many, it’s one of the most gratifying and creative jobs they have ever held. However, it has is down sides, too. It’s a far cry from playing with puppies all day. If you’ve crossed that line and grooming pets is no longer enjoyable, do yourself and your clients a favor – step away from the grooming table. Love your career or leave it.

In order to be a valuable member of a pet grooming team, you need to have to have a burning desire – the need for speed. The more pets you can get through safely, without sacrificing compassion and quality, the more valuable you are to your salon.


Do Your Clients Sleep with Their Pets?

blog-imageThere is no doubt about it, Americans love their pets! In 2013, American pet lovers spent $ 55.72 billion on their animals. That’s BILLION with a capital B! They spent $4.73 billion just on grooming and boarding services. The pet industry is definitely on a major growth trend. The growth started in 1994 and shows no sign of slowing down. That’s a fabulous trend for professional pet groomers and service care providers!

In this day and age, many owners treat their pets like children. They share their homes. They buy special clothes and gifts for their dogs and cats. Our best clients have a very close and personal bond with their pets. They share their lives, and even their beds with them.

So let me ask you something. Do you know how many of your clients sleep with their pet? There’s a great sales tactic buried in this – innocent – but loaded question.

Fellow groomers, we all know a clean pet is much more enjoyable than one that isn’t routinely groomed. The standard time frame between haircuts for most pets is about 4 to 6 weeks. Regular grooming appointments keep the coat manageable and the dog relatively well groomed.

Check this out.  Joelle, one of our managers came up with this brilliant idea.

With a little strategic questioning, you can boost that frequency level tremendously. Gone are the harsh products that might do a good job cleaning but they leave the skin and coat dry and damaged. Today there is a wide variety of fabulous products to wash, condition, and style our furry friends.

When you’re doing a client consultation, you need to learn about the pet and the family. One of the key questions you need answered is to learn about the lifestyle of the pet. If you’re dealing with an outdoor farm dog, this tactic will not work. However, if this is a pampered pooch that shares the owners home, life and even their bed – this approach works great.

Here is the money question. Do they allow their pet to sleep with them or their children?

If the answer is yes, you have a perfect scenario to suggest weekly or biweekly bathing. It’s easy. Simply suggest the dog be washed as frequently as they change their sheets. For most people that’s weekly or biweekly.

This could be a two-way win. The client might opt to do it themselves. That’s okay. You can counsel them on the best products to use – and of course you have them on your shelves to sell. Or maybe the client doesn’t want to be bothered. You can offer a steeply discounted rate for in between haircut maintenance baths.

Of course, there are some special perks that go along with this weekly or biweekly bathing schedule when they bring the pet to you. You could do just the bath and blowout for your client. But what if you knock it up a few notches? Bathe the pet in a special shampoo and conditioning rinse. Toss in a complementary nail filing. Offer minor trimming around the eye, feet, and rear for FREE. And don’t forget to add fresh bows or bandanna.

Let’s look a little math on how this works out;

$50 full groom every 6 weeks = 9 groomings annually = $450
$20 maintenance bath every 2 weeks = 26 baths annually = $520
$15 maintenance bath every week = 52 baths annually = $780

Now keep in mind, the client would maintain their regular six-week $50 haircut. That price is higher than the maintenance bath. So instead of getting $520 annually you’d actually be getting $790. Or if you’re looking at the weekly maintenance it would work out to $1,095.

I love this scenario because it’s a win for the salon. It’s a win for the client. And it’s a win for the pet. If you have clients who sleep with their pets, you have the perfect opportunity to help the client keep their pet clean and fresh while enhancing your bottom line.



How to Make a Dog Look Like a Puppy Again

Women have known this for years – a great haircut can take years off their age. Did you know it works for dogs too?


Grooming by L2GD Training Partner, Suesan Watson

This styling technique works for almost any drop coated breed with ears that lay close to the cheeks such as: Shih Tzus, Lhasas, and Malteses. Typically, you use the ear style on dogs that get full body haircuts. This technique works or any purebred or mixed breed whose coat has a tendency to be straight. The common denominator for this trimming application is that the coat grows directly towards the ground as it grows. The size of the dog does not matter.

Heck, now that I think about it – it will work on many, many breed types. The most common coat types we see this ear style on are the drop coated breeds – but that they are not the only candidates. Any breed of dog that has fully feathered ears that drop close to the sides of their jowls will work. Straight coats. Wavy coats. Curly coats. It does not matter. It’s even super cute on some pricked eared dogs, too!

Grooming by L2GD Training Partner, Suesan Watson

Grooming by L2GD Training Partner, Suesan Watson

The best part? The effect is instant. The years melt away. The pet walks into the salon looking its age and walks out appearing so much younger. It looks like a pup again!

What’s the secret? Short ears. Layered short ears.

As a bonus, this ear style has other benefits too:

  • It’s easy for the owner to care for
  • The ears will not drag through the food or water dish
  • They will not become matted or tangled

Here’s how you get the look.

  1. Attach a long guard comb over your clipper blade. Choose the length that will best suits the size of dog you are working on. Smaller dogs will be look puppyish with shorter guard combs. Large Doodle dogs will look better with a longer guard comb.
  2. Hold the ear leather flat across your hand to brace the ear. Gently guide the clipper over the outside of the ear. Imagine the ear leather like a leaf. A leaf has veins running through it. Run your clipper in the same direction as the veins in the leaf.
  3. Keep working over the top of the ear leather until the coat is consistently the same length. It does not have to be perfect – just close.
  4. With scissors or blenders, edge the ear for a neat appearance. Hold your fingers against the ear leather to ensure you do not cut the skin.
  5. Double check for evenness on the outside of the ear by gently back-combing the fur. If there are uneven spots, blend them in with thinning shears for a very natural look.

If you want to give a pet a youthful look – try this ear style. You can instantly make a dog look like a puppy again.

Happy Trimming!


P.S. If you’d like to catch a free demonstration of this ear style, click here.  Suesan Watson is an award winning pet stylist and a Learn2GroomDogs.com Training Partner. This is an excerpt from her video lesson called: Using Style to Bring Out the Charm in a Lhasa/Poo.


How To Get Through a Challenge

Blog PicEvery one of us, at some point in our lives, questions whether we made the right decision. You hastily agree to something. Weeks, or even months later, you really begin questioning your decision.

I just had that happen to myself not long ago.

Many of the upper echelon of the grooming world have officially ‘retired’ from competition level grooming. But we were always being asked to step back into the ring.  Those making the request were always met with, “No way!!” from every one of us.

It takes a lot of practice to stay in peak technical form. Most of us do not actively compete anymore. A few still groom a little at their salons for pet clients. Others, like me, have not physically groomed a dog in years. For most of us, we have become much better coaches to the grooming world than actually grooming the dogs!

Months ago, my good friend Teri DiMarino came up with a brilliant plan to get us ‘old-timers’ back in the competition ring. The question was, “If we held a rescue rodeo, limiting the number of entries to select retirees, would you accept the challenge if you were invited?”

Most people who know me know my all-time favorite grooming classes are rescue rodeos. This is real-life grooming. This is the type of thing we see in our salons every day. It’s a well-known fact that if a dog is as clean and attractive, it stands a much better chance of being adopted into a new home.

When it comes to grooming dogs, we are all softies. This is the most rewarding competitive level grooming class I have ever seen. So when I was asked if I would compete if I were invited, my immediate response was, “Absolutely!!”

A few months later, reality started to sink in. I started to second-guess my decision. Yes, I groom every day in my mind with my work. However, I have definitely come to a point in my life when I’m a much better coach than an actual groomer. Sure, in the 80s and early 90s I was on top of my game. I groomed every day. Unfortunately, physical limitations forced me away from the grooming table and a job I loved.

 I was able to redirect my career by helping others learn how to groom, advance their skill set and achieve their goals. I went from being an occupational athlete to being a desk jockey. To step back in the ring was going to take more than just wishful thinking. You have no idea how physically demanding the job is until you don’t do it anymore.

Fast forward to Intergroom 2014. The Celebrity Rescue Rodeo was upon us. Ten of us were invited. It’d been so long since I’d last groomed a dog, other than a small collection of shears, I had no equipment left.

Luckily, I was able to beg and borrow all the tools I needed. I did a little bit of practice grooming prior to the class. But as we entered the ring – all those old butterflies came fluttering back. I really begin questioning – what the heck was I doing in the ring?

I think all ten of us were feeling about the same way. But you know what? Once they said, “Groomers start!” all of us went right back into our competitive Zen-like zones. We put our heads down, focused, and got to work. We blocked most everything else out except the job at hand and making a strong connection with our rescue dog.

There may have only been one trophy. That’s OK. Everyone one of us thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I think all of us walked out of that ring proudly. We still had what it takes to make a pet appealing.

Concentration was the key. No matter how rough, tough, or challenging your grooming day might be – stay focused. You can get through it – you might even find the challenge rewarding — just as all ten of us ‘old timers’ did.  All of us were worried we couldn’t pull this off, but as we left the ring of the Celebrity Rescue Rodeo competition at Intergroom 2014, all of us felt like winners – and so did the dogs!

Happy Trimming!


P.S. Special Note:  About 30 minutes before they called ‘scissors down’, they said we could call in a ‘lifeline’ to help finish our dogs. I called for Suesan Watson. This is her signature head style. I told her I was going to do ‘her’ head style on this adorable little dog before the contest even started. I had seen her do it repeatedly in our Learn2GroomDogs.com video lessons and love it. Thanks Sue!

Ten-Year Anniversary of Notes From the Grooming Table – Time for an Update!

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Where does the time go? It seems like just yesterday Lisa and I were buried within the creation of Notes From The Grooming Table. Notes was designed to be a reference guide for the professional pet groomer.  With every breed, I identified the “correct” grooming method for the AKC confirmation show ring. However, in the book, I gave basic pet grooming directions and how to maintain the integrity of the breed using pet grooming techniques with clipper’s and scissors.

In total, Notes From the Grooming Table took over three years to write. At the time there were 150 breeds recognized by the American Kennel Club. Those were the dogs that we included with Notes. When we first started working on Notes, we had no idea the global appeal this book would have on our industry. We sell almost as many books abroad as we do here in the United States.

Since Notes was first published in 2004, the AKC has accepted almost 50 new breeds in just 10 years. A number of those breeds come in multiple sizes and a variety of coat textures. 10 years ago, the Miscellaneous Group was so small, we didn’t even opt to include in the book. Today there 15 breeds in the miscellaneous category of the AKC! We have opted to add them to the updated version of Notes From the Grooming Table.

Ten years ago, the Internet wasn’t even close to what it is today. The amount of research Lisa (my illustrator for Notes) and I had to do with individual breeds was mind-boggling.  Finding reference material about each dog required book after book — magazine after magazine — and many dog shows. Today, research is much easier via the Internet. But as you know, not everything on the Internet is totally accurate. It still requires an awful lot of reviewing, sorting and double checking before I feel the information is accurate.

 I don’t want to think about how many drawings and sketches Lisa created to make Notes come alive. When she felt she was close on the drawing, she would bring it to me for review. I know she hated this, but it worked. I’d pick up my scissors, tape, a red pen and my trusty AKC book.  I’d read the standard, measure the dog out and then start cutting the dog into what look like puzzle pieces. Lisa watch from the sidelines horrified. I cut it apart, re-measure it, change body shapes and tape it back together. I’d hand her back her draft drawing and tell her, “Do it this way.” And she always did very willingly – although I’m sure there were times she was cursing me under her breath!

When I first wrote Notes from the Grooming Table, certain tools didn’t exist. They weren’t even an idea yet. Or if they did exist, there have been huge advancements with the piece of equipment. The tools that are high on my radar list are the extensive variety of attach-on guard combs. Wow. Those have come a long way! Battery operated detailed trimmers are another piece of equipment no groomer should be without. Another tool that has gained wide acceptance are the large blending shears. When Notes hit the press, I’d never even seen this item!

Back in 2004, we never anticipated we would have a global market. We never address the different styling techniques and trends depending on what continent you’re grooming salon is located. And not only are the styling trends different, in some countries we are starting to see docked or undocked tails along with cropped or uncropped ears. These variances are sometimes personal preference or laws from the individual countries. Whether the dog has a tail or not is going to dictate how that tail is going to be handled in the grooming salon. Same thing goes for ears on many breeds.

Ten years ago, the art of hand stripping was just starting to take root in the professional pet grooming salons. Today, we see more and more pet stylists applying hand stripping techniques to pet dogs than we’ve ever seen before.

What’s up with all the hairless breeds? We’re going need to put an entire section and how to care for dogs that don’t have any coat to protect their skin. They certainly have different needs than the coated varieties!

How many of you realize what kind of deadline we were under to get Notes published for the first time in 2004? We had done a large PR bit announcing the release at a major tradeshow. Of course, our timing wasn’t going quite as planned with the final printing. There were issues. Lots of issues.

In order to get this book on the press in time to make our debut trade show, we only had 24 hours to proof the entire book. I opted to keep the first run of Notes From the Grooming Table a small run. Good move on my part. It was riddled with typos. If you are one of the early purchasers of Notes, check it out. It’s pretty funny because some of the typos are absolutely blatant. (Like the color of the Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier.)

Luckily, many of you were gracious enough to simply point out our typos. For the first few years, we continued to keep our print runs small. Every time we went back to press, we would fix a couple more typos. One of the typos I can’t believe has totally slid under the radar for all ten years has been the spelling of the breed Schipperke. It’s still wrong today. Whoops. Go ahead – grab your book and check it out – I’ll wait. Needless to say, that will be fixed in our revision of Notes From the Grooming Table!

For our tenth year anniversary, we are working on revising Notes From the Grooming Table. Lisa and I are excited to be able work on this project again. For the first time in years, I am literally going through Notes From the Grooming Table page by page. I have a highlighter, a colored pen and lots of sticky notes. It’s hard to believe there so many new breeds to address. We’re enjoying updating the styling trends that have changed slightly on established breeds. It’s fun being able to share with you so many new tools that make grooming dogs so much easier.

This is turning into a major undertaking. However, with this revision of Notes From the Grooming Table, we want to take our time. There will always be opinions on what is right or wrong with all aspects of the style and trends of professional dog grooming. We want to make sure we give you lots of options to create a dog that is well groomed – even if you have never physically groomed that breed before. Armed with Notes From the Grooming Table, you will have the most current and up-to-date pet styling book available anywhere in the world. Look for the revised edition of Notes coming out late in 2014.

Happy Trimming!


Leave Your Emotional Baggage at the Door

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In a grooming salon, your four footed clients need your full attention. 110% of it. Every day.

Let’s face it, we love dogs. The last thing we would want to do as a pet professional is hurt a dog (or cat), but there are countless dangers lurking around every corner of a grooming salon for a pet if we are not on top of our game.  We work with a wide variety of sharp instruments. Tools that can cut, tear and cause abrasions to the skin if used incorrectly. There are many products that can burn or irritate the skin if not used properly or removed thoroughly. If a pet fell from a grooming table or bathtub, it could cause injury or even death to a pet in our care. Improper and unsupervised drying procedures can kill a dog. Incorrect or rough handling can seriously hurt a pet.

Becoming a pet grooming professional can be an enormously rewarding career but it takes training and practice. Lots of practice. Correct practice. Sure, our role is to clean and make the pet look nice but it’s more than that. It’s about keeping the pet safe. Winning its’ trust. Making the grooming experience as pleasant as possible for the animal. 

It’s important to remember that our four footed clients are animals. They are going to think and react like an animal. No amount of humanizing a pet will ever change the fact they are hard wired to be a dog (or cat).  When a pet comes through our doors, all their senses are heightened. They are on high alert. They live in the moment – and that moment can change in an instant depending on whom and what is happening to them.

In a dog’s world their current environment is either stable or unstable. They have the same senses we do, but do not rely on them in the same order as humans do. A dog interprets the world predominantly by smell, whereas a human interprets it by sight.  Dogs also have a highly developed universal sense where they can feel the energy (emotions) of the other beings around them.

Pheromones are chemicals that provide animals with information about another animal’s emotions, mental state or behavior. Both people and dogs release pheromones and dogs are able to smell the pheromones of other dogs days after they’ve been secreted. Dogs can also detect pheromones in people.

Like pheromones, dogs can pick up the scent of select hormones. Cortisol is a hormone associated with stress in both humans and dogs. Pets can presumably detect stress in people because they secrete the same hormones as stressed dogs. People also release hormones associated with a variety of other factors including sexual arousal, anger, fear and illness or disease. Dogs may be able to interpret the meaning of at least some of these hormones.

Both the wild canine species and dogs exhibit complex body language. Small, almost undetectable tail, eye and facial movements give dogs valuable clues about emotions and intentions. Because dogs can’t speak, they are accomplished readers of human body language. A pet may detect that a person is afraid or angry long before people notice. This is not because of a magical sixth sense but rather a result of acute powers of observation.

Dogs are acutely aware of energy. Energy is a combination of many factors but it combines body language and smell. People understand energy too, but dogs sense it at a higher level due to their enhanced levels of observation and smell.

If you work with pets, it’s crucial that your emotional baggage get checked at the door. I can guarantee your co-workers don’t want to hear about your personal woes. And I promise the pets are going to reactive negatively to your penned up emotions. If those emotions are anything other than calm-assertive energy, the dog is going to know it.

It takes dogs only an instant to figure out what kind of energy you are projecting.  If you are working professionally with pets, it’s critical you gain full control of your presence. You want to project calmness. You want to instill confidence.   There cannot be a question of who is in charge of the situation.

If your personal emotional baggage crossed into the grooming salon – you are in for a rough day. Experts agree that how we feel has a major impact on how our dogs are going to behave.

Yes, being a professional pet groomer can be highly rewarding. But it also is a big responsibility. With every snip, clip, brush and comb, dangers lurk for your four footed clients. They need your full attention 110% of it every day – and every moment – to win their trust and cooperation while keeping them safe. That’s your job.

Happy Trimming!


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