Spotlight Sessions for March 20, 2018

March 16th, 2018 by Joelle

Spotlight Sessions for March 13, 2018

March 12th, 2018 by Joelle

Proactively Dealing with Skin and Coat Issues

March 8th, 2018 by Joelle

Quote In A CircleThere are times in most professional groomers’ careers when customers mistakenly blame others for their pet issues. There are a wide range of possible scenarios that happen before or during the grooming process, including:

  • During bathing, a scab falls away from an older injury, making it look like a fresh wound.
  • Removing tight mats from the leather results in an ear hematoma.
  • A dog arrives for his appointment with fleas or ticks. However, the client refuses to believe their pet had them prior to stepping into your salon.
  • After trimming a pet with super sensitive skin, an area becomes inflamed once it gets home.

How do you proactively handle these situations and prevent having upset customers?

Three ways.

  1. Communication
  2. Honesty
  3. Proof

matted profileCommunication

The best start to effective communication is to get your hands on the pet before it goes into the grooming process – preferably with the owner standing right there. You’re going to be looking for anything unusual that could possibly pose a problem after the grooming is finished.

Let all your senses come into play.

  • What does the skin and coat look like?
  • What does the skin and coat feel like?
  • What does the skin and coat smell like?

Give the dog a visual once over. Identify any potential problems. Confirm what you may see by sinking your hands into the coat all the way down to the skin. Is there anything unusual? Lumps? Bumps? Mats? Filthy coat? Grit next to the skin?

To be proactive, it’s important to identify potential issues before the grooming process even begins. With severely matted pets this is critical. Talk to the owner. Point out the issue and offer a solution if you can. Discuss the potential risks and the benefits you feel are in the best interest of the pet.

Identifying potential issues in the skin and coat prior to starting the grooming process is a great way to start educating customers. Many clients have no idea how to best deal with their pet’s coat, the health risks associated with the lack of regular grooming, temperament issues, or the aging process. Most want to do what is best for their pet if information is presented in a sincere and respectful manner.

lengthsOwners rarely understand how we do our job or how our clippers work. Telling a client is one thing. Having a fake fur chart of how long each blade or guard comb leaves the pet can be extremely beneficial. It’s a physical tool to help educate pet parents. It clarifies blade lengths and defines the term “short” in a way clients can comprehend.

Some salons display solid pelts taken off severely matted pets. These matted chunks of coat – or pelts – serve as a great education tool. It’s not just for severely matted pets. They offer an excellent communication tool to talk about coat length, brushing techniques, and things hidden in the coat like bubblegum or fishhooks.

Unfortunately, we all have a few clients who are just impossible to educate. Careful, I can see your eyes rolling…

Let’s face it. During check-in we can’t always spot every potential problem in the dog’s skin or coat. If it is going to change the price or the look of the haircut, stop and call the owner to discuss it. If it’s extremely matted and is going to cost more to do the groom – you want to get verification to either proceed with the dematting process or opt for a much shorter haircut.

Personally, I prefer to emphasize the risks and slightly over estimate the cost when I’m first talking to the owner. Thus, whatever I might find – or charge – is a welcome relief to the pet parent upon pick-up. If you do accidentally injure the dog or must charge extra, it does not come as a shock to the owner. In most cases, injury can be avoided, and the groom is less expensive than anticipated.

Whatever the case, it’s better to have too much communication then not enough.


Whatever you have found in the dog’s skin or coat, be truthful with the client.

If it’s something minor, take the time to point it out and clearly show it to the owner. Tell them what you have done to help minimize the issue. Make suggestions on what they should do at home. Maybe it’s just keeping an eye on the spot or using some pet soothing appointment. If the issue has the potential to be a long-term problem, tell them how you plan to deal with it in upcoming grooming appointments, so you don’t aggravate the problem in the future.

We literally go over pets from the tips of their noses to the tips of their tails. It’s amazing what we discover as professionals. We are not vets and should never diagnose our discoveries, but we are trained observers. Whenever you find something out of the ordinary, tell the owner.

If I were to find anything I would consider a medical issue, it would be best to tell the owner what I would do if it was MY dog. Sometimes it would just be keeping an eye on something until the next vet visit. On other occasions where I feel it is critical the pet receives medical attention, I would tell the owner (if it was my dog), I would go straight to the veterinarian. I’ve even had a few situations where I called the vet for the owner and they went directly from the grooming appointment to the veterinarian.

We are all working in the best interest of the pet. Honesty can go a long way, coupled with sincerity and compassion for both the pet and the owner.


If you overlooked something at check-in, but discover it after the owner has left, document it. Having proof about the condition when the owner returns helps prove it was a pre-existing issue. It helps establish your case that you did not cause the problem prior to the grooming.

There are many ways to document or provide proof of the pre-existing problem.

Almost everyone has a cell phone with a digital camera. Use it! A photo or a quick video does wonders to prove a point. It’s important to get that initial shot when you first discover a problem. It might be a scab or flea dirt and fleas crawling through the coat. It might be a toenail that has curled into the foot pad.

Here are a few of the items I have collected over the years. Most of the smaller items have been put into plastic baggies.

  • fleas (preferably dead)
  • ticks (preferably dead)
  • maggots
  • hotspots
  • scabs and pus
  • bubblegum
  • rubber bands
  • fishhooks
  • burrs
  • matts
  • pelts
  • pine sap
  • grossly overgrown toenails
  • excessive blown or dead coat

I’m sure you have an extensive list, as well.

If you don’t want to get blamed for something, be proactive. Honestly discuss what you have found with the pet owner. You are the professional observer and trained professional. As a professional groomer, our job is not only to make the dogs look and feel better, it’s also to educate their caretakers.

Always remember, put humanity before vanity and do what is in the best interest of the pet.

Happy trimming!



Have you ever been blamed for an injury you didn’t cause? How did you handle it? Let’s talk about it on our Facebook page with your Melissa Verplank family.

Spotlight Sessions for February 27, 2018

February 27th, 2018 by Joelle

UntitledNew Ways to Use Everyday Items for Grooming

Amy Triezenberg



MelissaVerplank-2Ideas to Keep Your Team Motivated and on a Positive Track

Melissa Verplank




LindaWays to Work with a Nervous Dog Prior to the Groom to Win Their Trust

Llinda Claflin-Phelps

How to Use Anatomy to Groom the English Setter

February 22nd, 2018 by Joelle

Quote In A CircleExcellent grooming starts always starts with a firm understating of canine anatomy. It is the FOUNDATION of all grooming.

Basic pattern lines are set based on the muscle and bone structure. Depending on how physically active a dog is, the muscle structure may be very prominent. It could be lurking under a layer of fat. It may also be poorly developed due to age or lack of physical activity. Nonetheless, those muscles are there. They will help you set symmetrical and correct pattern lines.

The bones are there, too. Whether the dog is anatomically correct when compared to the breed standard is something else altogether. Understanding what a physically sound dog is will help you immensely. When you know the difference between good and bad structure, you’ll be able to hide many faults.

When we combine all the layers of the dog – the bones, muscles, the skin, and the fur – we will be able to mold and shape the coat to highlight the dog’s best features and downplay the others. If the bone structure is a little less than perfect, you can use the hair to camouflage those defects.

Before you begin grooming any dog, get your hands on them! Close your eyes. Feel the structure under the coat. Sink your fingers deep in the fur. Pay close attention to the muscle groups highlighted in color in these diagrams.

1The Essence of the Breed

Before you start grooming any dog, you need to familiarize yourself with the breed and understand its essence.

The English Setter is a Sporting dog of great style. It should be physically fit and structurally sound to work long hours flushing game in the field. The general outline of the English Setter will be rectangular. The shoulder lay back and the angles of both the front and rear assemblies should allow for adequate reach and drive.

The coat is silky, flat, and should lay close to the body. English Setters have longer feathering on the ears, chest, abdomen, underside of thighs, back of all legs, and on the tail. The longer coat should not be so long as to hide the true lines of the dogs, movement, or the function of field hunting.

2 Landmarks for Grooming & Styling

When it comes to grooming, let’s work around the dog using its anatomy as a reference.

When done “correctly,” Setters are hand stripped for a very natural look. However, in pet grooming circles, it is common to see the pattern clipper-cut or styled using a combination of clipping and stripping to save time. Regardless of the method you chose, the anatomy reference points – or landmarks – will remain the same.

Setting the Throat

Feel for the muscles at the sides of the neck to set the throat pattern line. A visual clue to this area is at the “frill” or cowlick line running down the sides of the neck. The throat area is directly below the jaw, inside the muscles running down the outside of the neck. The shape is generally a soft “U” shape. The lowest part of the “U” stops a few fingers above the prosternum bone.


The jacket coat on the bulk of the body is shorter and lays flat on dog. Follow the natural lay of the coat when working this area. 


Use the turn of the muscle at the shoulder to set the jacket pattern on the body.


The turn of the shoulder will also tell you the location of the elbow. This is the general location of where to start the pattern on the body, sweeping back and upwards towards the flank of the dog.

Spring of Rib

The turn of the ribs will help set the pattern line separating the dog’s body jacket which consists of much shorter coat, blending invisibly into the longer feathering found on the lower portion of the dog’s body.


The undercarriage line creates a focal point for balance of the overall dog. The highest point of the graceful sweep will be directly under the last few ribs.


Moving into the flank area, the thigh muscle should be exposed to help accentuate a physically fit and muscular dog.


For balance, the tail should reach to the hock and be a triangular flag. There is a slight gap of fur on the underside of the tail at the base. This slight space separates the longer rear furnishings with the feathering on the tail.


The top line maybe level or slightly sloping from the withers to the tail.


The long graceful neck is well muscled and slightly arched.


The lines of the skull are parallel with a well definite stop.


Set well back and low, even with or below the level of the eye. All these areas are natural landmarks used as reference points on any breed. When you combine anatomy with the official breed standard for any purebred dog, you have knowledge. You can use this understanding to accentuate the proper structure of the English Setter.

Always remember, all transition lines should be invisible. Ideally, the English Setter should look totally natural when finished – as if the coat simply grew that way.

Combining the use of these anatomical landmarks and skillful technical skills, a talented pet stylist can easily create a symmetrical, stylish, and well-balanced trim on any dog – purebred or mixed breed.

Happy trimming!



What breeds are a struggle for you? Let’s talk about it on our Facebook page with your Melissa Verplank family.

Spotlight Sessions for February 20, 2018

February 16th, 2018 by Joelle

I Want a “Puppy Cut”

February 15th, 2018 by Joelle

“Give my dog a puppy cut.”

Ask 10 customers or groomers to describe this style and I bet you get 10 different answers. One one hand, it’s a great conversation starter! On the other, it’s a quick way to discover how easy it is to misunderstand one another.

The puppy cut is popular because it works well on a wide variety of pets.  Almost any breed that grows longer coat can be done in this easy-to-care for style. Yet, the puppy cut is also the most misunderstood haircut in grooming salons around the country. Why? There are no clear directions of what this trim actually is or how it should be done. It’s left up to individual personal interpretation by owners, groomers, or talented pet stylists.

The puppy cut started as a trim style for young Poodles in the dog show world. Once the puppy is a year old, it  is put into the elaborate adult haircut for the conformation ring. Today, the term “puppy cut” is used very loosely. It can apply to a wide variety of different breeds. It’s highly adaptable to any size of dog or coat type.

Many owners love this style of trim – and with good reason. It’s cute, easy to care for, and easy for customers to remember by name. In this trim, the dog does not drag in dirt and debris from outdoors. Their ears don’t drag in the food or water dish. The need for brushing between grooming appointments is minimized. On smaller pets, bathing between grooming appointments is a breeze. What’s not to love?

So what is it?

Essentially, the puppy cut is one length all over. The most common length is between 1-2 inches over the body, legs, tail, head, and ears. Typically, it’s done with a clipper fitted with a long guard comb over the blade. There should not be any clipper marks, uneven coat, or sharp edges left in the fur. Next to a powerful clipper, high quality blenders are your best friends when doing this trim. Everything is soft and plush, like a fluffy puppy.

This is where things get tricky. In some circles the puppy cut can also be known as a teddy bear trim, summer cut, or kennel cut. I’ve even seen some salons turn their version of the trim into their “signature haircut.” Generally, the only things that change between theses trims are the names and the length of coat.

It doesn’t stop there! Others associate the puppy cut with smooth-coated breeds like the Boxer, Pug, or Beagle. Basically, the idea is of a youthful, “puppyish” look.  Hence the name.

With all these interpretations, it’s easy to envision things differently. While that’s not a bad thing, not being clear on what the final look will be can definitely affect the result and your relationship with the customer. If an owner is requesting this trim for the first time, be prepared to discuss the trim in detail. DO NOT ASSUME YOU ARE BOTH ON THE SAME PAGE! Communication is the key to a happy customer.

Getting a clear understanding starts with a conversation. Spend a few minutes with the client and the pet before the customer leaves your salon.

Getting the conversation right starts with the 3 L’s:

Look – Use those precious moments as your clients walks in to observe the pet. What do you see? These first impressions can be used to guide your conversation.

Lead – This is the time to ask for clarity.  Ask leading questions about each area of the pet (body, head, ears, legs/feet, and tail):

  • How do you want your pet to look? Smooth and sleek or fluffy and plush?
  • What is the pet’s lifestyle? Is he the life of the party or a designated lap dog?
  • How long should be coat be? Remember, “short” means something different to everyone. Be specific to be sure.
  • How should the head look? The head and face are a big part of the dog’s personality. Getting this part right is very important to your customer.

Listen – Listen for details and clues. The customer may not know grooming terminology – that’s one reason they rely on you. Interpret their observations and preferences so you can create a clear mental picture of style options.

Now that you’re clear about what the customer wants, it’s time to put your talent and experience to work. A skilled pet professional will know how to make minor changes to the trim that will enhance the pet’s appeal. If the coat is too tangled to do the longer trim, you’ll be able to suggest alternatives that work best for his current condition. You can then discuss ways the customer can work on the coat at home to make it possible to have a longer, fluffier look as the pet grows out.

Educating clients on proper pet hygiene is a valuable service most salons offer for free to their clients. In order to keep the dog looking its best, you can offer suggestions for maintaining this haircut between grooming appointments. At home brushing and bathing can make a big difference in how they look and smell, too. You can also make suggestions on how often the trim should be done based on the pet’s lifestyle and coat texture. Always remember, your clients are the lifeblood of your business. Taking a little extra time up front for a warm and welcoming pet consultation will go a long way toward building a solid relationship with them.

Try these tips and see if it helps you get closer to your client’s idea of a puppy cut… the first time!

Happy trimming!



What’s YOUR idea of a puppy cut? Share some pictures on our Facebook page with your Melissa Verplank family.

Spotlight Sessions for February 13, 2018

February 12th, 2018 by Joelle

Joe Zuccarello Joins the Melissa Verplank Team

February 9th, 2018 by Joelle

Joe MVHave you ever experienced growing pains with your business? Sometimes it seems like your company is doing great, but you still need more help. The more you work – the more you get behind. You need more talent. Better ideas. New ways to grow the business.

I’ve been there many times. In fact, I’ve disagreed with my brother-in-law, Ron on how to best grow a business. He’s always recommended hiring top talent. I’ve almost always opted to grow my own. Most of the time I’ve been able to cultivate talent to grow my companies from within our team. But this time I’m following Ron’s advice – I’m hiring top talent.

I am so excited to have Joe Zuccarello join our team.

Joe is no stranger to the pet industry, myself, or my team. I have had the privilege of working with Joe on several occasions. For a year, he worked with my team as a consultant in 2009. In 2016, Joe returned to work as a private consultant with my team.

Joe has spent time at The Paragon School of Pet Grooming. He’s been to Whiskers Resort and Pet Spa. He’s spoken to groups of pet professionals at the school. He’s been a Training Partner on We’ve seen each other at trade shows and had the opportunity to share the lecture stage at industry events. We’ve always had the utmost respect for each other’s knowledge and talents.

I can remember my first meeting with Joe. In that first conversation, I learned he had come from St. Louis, Missouri prior to joining Tropiclean. He had been employed at Kennelwood Village in the early 90’s when Kennelwood had suffered a massive fire.

That’s when we began started learning about each other’s work history. He’d come up through the ranks of the kennel initially as a bather. He left 19 years later after he had become the General Manager, the Director of Licensing and Consulting, the Vice President of Operations, and ultimately the Director of Franchising.

Quote In A CircleHe went on to join Tropiclean as the National Key Account Sales Manager and then the Director of Innovation and Promotion. He was with Tropiclean for nine years.

During his time at Tropiclean, Joe took on a select few private consulting clients. Luckily, I was one of them. Over the years, we learned many unique phases we have affectionately labeled “Joe-isms.”

What are “Joe-isms?”

They are concise words and phrases that just pop out of his mouth. When they spring from his lips, they always have far reaching meanings. Even though they are simple, their meaning is instantly clear.

Here are a few examples.

  • “There is always a thing behind the thing.”
  • “Force = Failure”
  • “Direct & Expect”
  • “E2” is our in-house term for Evaluate & Elevate

The first time Joe toured Whiskers, he was taken back by the vision and design of Whiskers. But he had one suggestion to improve. The idea cost nothing and instantly turned the pet resort from a 45-room facility into a 90-room facility. The idea was simple: shut the doors between the Suites and the Patios and offer the clients a choice of accommodations based on price. Brilliant.

This single idea, combined with a phenomenal team who always focus on customer experiences, catapulted our growth.  In 2014, we grew from 10,000 square feet to 30,000. Whiskers currently employs over 60 staff members to take care of our canine and feline guests. We handle upwards of 200 pets a day in overnight lodging and daycare. Whiskers runs at 90% occupancy rate or above with 180 rooms, all year long. The grooming department handles between 175-275 dogs every week, and our day care attendance is staggering.

The Educational TeamWhy did Joe join our team?

Joe and I think alike. Our thoughts, goals, and dreams align. We see both a serious need and huge opportunities in the pet service education arena. Every team member brings skills to the table. The Melissa Verplank Brand has many company badges. But they all align with this belief – the more people we can help in pet care services, the better we will elevate trust, service, and well-being for pets and their owners everywhere. We help professional pet enthusiasts grow their careers to a higher level in all aspects of the industry.

The new identity of the Melissa Verplank Brand is based on professional business development. We have many companies under that umbrella. We’re ready to dig in and get started, having a massive impact on the landscape of the pet services profession.

We are thrilled to get started on this new journey together. The MV team is excited. We all see the opportunities to help thousands if not millions of people and the pets they love.  Like our catch phrase for the past 26 years at The Paragon School of Pet Grooming has been, “We turn dreams into reality.”

Happy trimming!



How to Set a Tuck-Up

February 1st, 2018 by Joelle

I love it when I get questions from our members. Not long ago, Mishelle H. asked if I could do a blog about tuck-ups. She said, “I’m never satisfied with mine.  Skirted breeds or not, just can’t seem to master them.”

It would seem to be a simple question, but there’s no one answer. There are variables depending on many things, including:

  • the type of dog you are working on
  • the type of haircut
  • the type of coat
  • the technique you choose to use to establish the tuck-up area

BichonWhat is the tuck-up area on a dog?

It’s the natural waistline.

The waistline is made up of the loin in the flank. It falls right behind the rib cage and before the rump. Depending on the dog’s build, some waistlines are well-established. Others are barely visible due to bone structure or being overweight.

Ideally, you want to see a bit of a waistline on most dogs. However, that waistline does not wrap all the way around the dog. It’s a pocket just below the loin in the flank area where the back leg joins the body. Depending on the dog’s conformation, this is a key balance point.

A knowledgeable pet stylist can enhance any dog’s physique by proper placement. Improper placement detracts from the overall balance of the haircut. Setting the tuck-up correctly brings harmony to the entire trim. If the pet has enough coat, a talented stylist can give the illusion of a well-defined waistline even if the physique is less than perfect. Incorrectly setting the tuck-up makes a dog look unbalanced and structurally unsound.

How do you find the tuck-up?

Here are three different ways to find the proper placement for the tuck-up on a dog. There is no hard-set rule as to what is right – or wrong. Choose one or incorporate all methods into your everyday grooming.

  • The Last Rib Method

The highest point of the undercarriage making up the tuck-up falls just below the last rib. Put your hands on the dog. Feel for the ribs. Directly below the last two ribs is typically the highest point on the undercarriage line. This would be the point of tuck-up. Depending on which type of haircut you are working on and the physique of the dog, you might need to carve the area out slightly below the loin in behind the ribs to show off “well sprung ribs.” However, when you look at the dog from top, you will should not see an indentation near the loins on the topline.


  • The Rule of Thirds

Measure a dog into divided thirds. The measurements would be from the point of shoulder to the point of rump. The highest point on the undercarriage line forming your tuck-up will be at the 2/3 point. The rear assembly of the dog will make up the final 1/3. It could be a Poodle, a Setter, or a Terrier. It works on almost any breed carrying coat. When the tuck-up point is set at the 2/3 – 1/3 point, it will balance a dog, giving it a pleasing appearance.

  • Use the Stifle to Find the Tuck-up Point

Many professional pet stylists simply use the back leg to measure where the tuck-up should be set. They gently ask the dog to pick up its back leg, pushing it towards its body. The knee or stifle joint will hit right about where the tuck-up point should be set. If it does not touch directly, simply visualize a straight line from the stifle to the body near the last rib. This is your tuck-up area for that dog.

KathyYou’ve found the tuck-up – now what?

How do you scissor it in?

It depends.

Are you dealing with a flowing undercarriage like many Sporting dogs or something that’s tightly tailored as with many of the Terriers? Maybe you’re dealing with breeds that are fully sculpted (such as the Bichon or the Poodle) or even many drop-coated breeds and pet trims.

With long flowing undercarriages, you simply find the highest point and start from there. Most of your active dogs are going to call for a deeper chest. The highest point of the tuck-up will be the shortest part of the drape. It will angle down towards the pastern joints and sweep up into the chest. From the tuck-up into the rear leg, the longer coat will drape accentuating the bend of the knee or stifle joint and sweep either into the foot or the hock joint, depending on the breed.

Many of the long-legged Terrier-type breeds, have just enough coat on their undercarriage to accentuate the depth of chest. The tuck-up point will accentuate a well-balanced dog of substantial build. This type of styling does not leave along drape of coat on the underside of the dog. There’s only enough coat to accentuate the depth of chest. The depth of chest is normally at the level of the elbow. There will be a slight incline from the point of tuck-up towards the elbow, showing off a deep-set chest. From the tuck-up towards the rear leg, the fringe of coat will connect the stifle joint to the body and the rib cage. If you were to back comb the blending line along the lower sides of the dog, it should transition smoothly from the shorter coat on the body. Depending on the dog’s conformation, some dogs will have slightly longer furnishings while other dogs will have almost none. However, almost all of them will have a slight amount of coat in the flank area connecting the tuck-up into the rear leg blending with the stifle.

On stylized longer trims where the dog has a fuller body and even more stylized legs, you will need to scissor in the tuck-up by hand. You can use straight shears, curved shears, chunkers, or thinners.

Lindsey Dicken has a technique that works well with any type of scissor. She calls at the “windshield washer technique.” Once you have established the tuck-up area, you need to carve in a waistline. This waistline will be a little pocket in the flank area only. It does not go into the loin or the back. The purpose of this point is to establish a balanced haircut with a well-bodied dog in physically good shape. The little curved space accentuates the spring of rib and gives the dog the little waistline. It also defines the rear assembly.

Bichon 2 LLindsey’s technique is simple. You place the pivot point of the shear right at the tuck-up area. The screw of the shear will not move. It stays anchored. The tips of the shears sweep back and forth like a windshield wiper. It will create the slight divot of the waistline while blending the stifle smoothly into well-sprung ribs.

For those of you who are members, I have created four Spotlight Sessions featuring the techniques outlined in this blog. I’ve selected different breeds with four different Training Partners as they set in the tuck-ups.

If you’re not a member of, take advantage of coupon code tuckupblog and get 50% off our normal low price of $42 for a one-month subscription now until February 28, 2018. Each month you have unlimited access to over 600 educational grooming videos. Our training partners are some of the top pet stylists in the world – yet every one of them works on every day dogs, just like you, in their salons.

  1. Setting the Tuck-Up While Shaping the Rib Cage Area on a Kerry Blue Terrier with Cheryl Purcell
  2. Setting the Underline Area on a Show Styled Bichon with Lindsey Dicken
  3. The 1/3 – 2/3 Balance Rule: Setting the Tuck-up and Undercarriage on an English Setter with Irina “Pina” Pinkusevich
  4. Establishing the Tuck-Up & Setting the Undercarriage on a Pet Schnauzer with Kathy Rose

Happy trimming!



Did this help? What tricks do you use? Jump on our Facebook page and share your thoughts with your Melissa Verplank family.

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