I still remember how frustrated I got when I first started grooming.
I was the assistant, doing mostly bathing and drying for the groomer. One day, she was overbooked and was falling deeply behind schedule. She had a basic “all trim” on a larger dog that she hadn’t even started yet. Out of desperation she asked if I would remove some of the coat before the bath.
I thought to myself, “Sure, why not? How hard could it really be?” I picked up the A2 clipper as the groomer handed me the appropriate head. I twisted it on and set to work.
What a mess. The dog wasn’t hurt but my work was awful. The dog was full of uneven coat and lots of tracking.
The groomer had always made it look so easy. Coat seemed to melt off like a hot knife through butter. Her clipper work was always smooth and even. No track marks. No sticky-outies.
This was not nearly as easy as I thought!
However, I stuck with it.
The groomer coached me as I struggled with the second side. It turned out somewhat better but was far from perfect. Today, I would not consider my work that day as acceptable – not even as pre-work before the bath. It was that bad! Luckily, I didn’t have to worry about all the tracking. It was just the rough cut before the bath. Once the dog was clean and blown dry, the groomer finished it in no time.
Fast forward 10 years. I had mastered the clippers and figured out how to eliminate tracking in the coat. On rare occasions, I still had problems. By that time, I was in my own mobile grooming van and running my own business. One of my clients was a buff American Cocker whose owners wanted clipper cut.
Most of you who have been groomers for any amount of time know some buff-colored Cockers track terribly when clipper cutting. This dog was no exception.
It didn’t matter what blade I chose.
It didn’t matter how powerful the clipper was.
It didn’t matter what time of year it was.
The. Coat. ALWAYS. Tracked.
On one appointment, I basically threw my hands up. I could not get the tracking out of the coat. I had used all the tricks I knew to no avail. As I sat there contemplating how to remove the lines, I had an idea. What would happen if I reversed a blade over this coat? Hmmm. At that point, I figured I didn’t have much to lose.
I tried out the technique on an obscure spot on the dog’s body. I reversed a #7F blade then stepped back to check my work. I realized it was going to be way too short. I bumped up to a longer #4F blade. When I tried again – it was perfect. It was the length of a #7 blade. And even better, it was baby butt smooth. Eureka!
Over the years, I’d figured out how to get all coat types super smooth, but this Cocker type coat had always given me trouble. Once I mastered that coat type, coat tracking was a thing of the past for me.
So how do you get coat super smooth without any tracks?
There is not one simple answer but there are lots of techniques and trouble-shooting options. Here are a few tricks that I discovered with years of practice.
Every coat type is a little bit different. Some coats barely track at all. Others are almost impossible to get smooth. Learning how to minimize tracking takes time and practice. Mastering a smooth clipper cut in the least amount of time takes focus and attention to details.
There are a lot of moving parts when it comes to mastering clean perfect clipper work. Groomers who have mastered a track free simple “All Trim,” on a regular small to medium-sized can groom a pet in one hour or less.
If you struggle with this problem, my book, Notes from the Grooming Table, has a very detailed section about clipper work in the front of the book. My Learn2GroomDogs.com streaming video platform also has some great videos about efficient clipper work in the Core Video Category. Make sure to check out those two educational resources. If you work with a team of stylists, someone within your group might be able to coach and mentor you. You can also look for local clinics or workshops where you can work with a seasoned professional.
As with all grooming techniques, there are many ways to get the job done.
When I was a contest groomer, I always did my Poodle cuffs by hand. I would brush the coat down then give it a quick fluff with my comb. Once it was fluffed, I’d glide a long straight shear in and set the lower edge. Then I’d re-fluff and grab my long curved shears to round and bevel the edges. It was time-consuming.
Done well, the beveled cuffs came out gorgeous. Done poorly, they were a sloppy mess. I had four chances to be perfect with my cuffs – or four chances to really mess up.
For pet dogs, I quickly taught myself another method. It was quick. Fool-proof. And it worked well on most of my shorter stylized pet trims.
On most of my pet trims, I cheated off excess leg hair by skimming it with a guard comb. Not only was it fast – it helped me set the length, too. Once I had the legs roughed in, I would brush the leg coat over the clipped foot with a firm slicker brush. I would slide my hand down the leg with my thumb and first finger resting just below the clipper line on the Poodle foot. My fingers would be my guide as I slid in a small pair of detailing scissors (I choose small shears for the safety of my own fingers!). I would scissor all the way around the cuff line, removing the longer hair.
When I released the coat… voila! A perfect cuff for an active pet. I could adjust the fullness of the beveled cuff by adjusting my scissored line somewhere between the lines of the knuckles of the foot and just below the clipped line on the foot. The lower I was on the foot with my cuff line, the fuller the bevel.
Once my cuff was set, I would neaten and finish the entire leg with shears, smoothing out my guard comb work.
I used this method for years. I even started to incorporate it into my more polished work in the contest ring. It worked well there, too – especially if I used it as a double-check after I did my cuffs with longer shears.
In the past few years, I’ve seen extremely talented stylists start using another method to get perfect cuffs every time. They use a #30 or #40 blade on their clippers! Who knew?
So how do you do it?
It’s very similar to my old method, but instead of shears, pet stylists reach for their cordless 5 in 1 style clipper. They set the blade at the shorter levels, basically the length of a #30 or #40 blade.
Hold the foot off the table at a comfortable level for the pet. With a firm slicker brush, brush all the hair down around the foot. Once the coat is brushed into place, slide your hand down the pet’s leg, thumb and forefinger closest to the foot.
Stop and hold the foot with your fingers coming to rest right at the clipped cuff line. While maintaining your hold on the foot, gently trim at right angles around the cuff with the #30 or #40 blade. Simply touch the coat at the edge line you want to set.
The fullness of the leg coat will determine where you place the line. For fuller legs, use the top of the crease marks on the toes. If the leg coat is shorter, move the line closer to the clipped cuff line.
When you release the coat, the fur will be nicely beveled. The line should be crisp and free of all stray hairs. As with the hand-scissored cuff, check the work from all angles to make sure the cuffs are level from side to side and front to back. Don’t forget to look from table level when inspecting your cuffs for perfection.
It may take a few tries to perfect this technique, but once you do, creating flawless cuffs every time becomes simple. With a well-prepped dog, this technique is fun, fast, and super safe.
Did you try it? How did it work for you? Jump on the Learn2GroomDogs.com Facebook page and tell us what works for you!
There are immediate questions that needs answers:
As a professional pet groomer, we always need to remember – humanity before vanity.
Can you demat a badly tangled coat?
Once in a great while, a client will have a legitimate reason why their dog is in poor condition. Occasionally, I will demat a dog if I sense it’s a one-time occurrence. I know the tricks to get a dog detangled relatively quickly. I have the skill, products, and tools to do it safely and humanely. However, there are two main reasons why I won’t always do it.
Here’s a perfect example. Years ago, I had a Bichon owner who always brought her dog in matted. This Bichon had a dense, curly coat. She was a regular six-week client. The owner was always immaculately presented when she dropped her dog off – the clothing, the hair, the makeup, the shoes, the jewelry, and nails. You get the idea. Oh, and she drove a Cadillac.
This was a woman who was used to getting her way. Her dog was always on the edge of whether we could brush it out or not. She never brushed the dog at home between groomings. The dog was a great advanced student dog. He was quite tolerant of the brushing process making him a super lesson dog.
One week she missed her six-week scheduled appointment. When she showed up two weeks later, the dog was trashed – matted all the way to the skin.
Crest. Head. Legs.
We told her we were going to have to start over. We would need to shave her Bichon down to the skin. He would be naked. It was the only humane option.
She was horrified. She couldn’t be seen with a naked dog! There must be some way to save the coat.
There was. She could get the dog combed out HERSELF and bring it back. But we were going to have to be able to sink the comb in all the way to the skin and pull it easily through the coat.
We gave her a thorough lesson. We even sent her home with the proper tools. We told her to come back when she felt her Bichon was totally combed out. Then, and only then, would we would give him his longer, fuller Bichon haircut.
She went home determined that she would be able to get him detangled. A few days later she returned. When we did the comb test, do you think he passed?
Not a chance. She watched the comb clearly get hung up in the coat on the first pass.
We told her to take the dog home and continue working on him.
Long story short, she returned six more times before she finally gave up. We shaved the dog with a #7F blade. We were able to leave a little tiny bit of extra coat on his head and a tiny bit of fluff on his tail. Everything else was naked.
When her sweet Bichon finally grew out about 12 weeks later, we set her up on a two-week maintenance schedule. She never missed another appointment. She learned her lesson.
Here are the three options for clients who bring you a matted dog.
When faced with a matted dog, how do you have a conversation with the owner?
The conversation needs to be sincere. It needs to focus on what is in the best interest for the pet. You need to be sympathetic to the reasons why the dog got in this condition.
(Stop rolling your eyes… I can see you.)
When you speak with an owner, they need to understand there’s only so much we as groomers can do. The last thing we want to do is hurt, injure, or bring discomfort to their pet.
Dogs have the mentality of a two-year-old child. If their two-year-old child, grandchild, niece, or nephew came to them with their hair matted all over their head, would they ask the child to tolerate having it combed out? If the tangles were tight and right next to the scalp, making every stroke of a comb or brush painful, they would most likely trim the matted hair out. Have you ever tried to remove gum or candy stuck in a child’s hair? Imagine the same impossible tangle right next to the scalp, covering the entire head. Trimming off that hair would be the most humane thing to do, even if the end result is not the haircut you would typically prefer.
It’s similar with a dog, only with the dog, the hair isn’t just on their head. It’s all over their entire body. You might be able to salvage a very small section but it’s not fair to ask the dog to submit to a lengthy dematting process. Most dogs do not have the pain tolerance or patience to sit through it. It could take hours to thoroughly brush and comb a dog out. Plus, there is a high risk of injury to their skin. And to top it off, asking a dog to sit through an extensive dematting process could be traumatic. It could scar them for the rest of their grooming life.
Even if a dog does have the tolerance for it, the cost will be extensive. Tell them what your hourly rate is. Estimate how long the dematting process would be. On a small dog, it might be about two to three hours (and yes, I would estimate on the high side), plus the regular grooming time.
If my hourly rate was $60 an hour, the customer would be looking at an extra $90-$120 for the dematting, alone. Money talks, so most of the time you can stop there.
If you sense the client is willing to pay your dematting rates, move into your next talking point: what’s in the best interest of the pet.
While it’s good to know they would be willing to spend the extra money to have the dog combed out, it’s also important to see if the dog will even tolerate it. At this point put the dog on the counter or grooming table. Grab your combination comb, sink the wide toothed end down to the skin – and give a firm tug. Gauge the reaction of the dog. Most of the time they will flip around with extreme displeasure. It’s visually clear to the pet parent their fur baby is being hurt. That’s exactly the reaction you want.
Most pet parents cannot stand seeing their dog in pain. If they understand this condition is painful to the dog they can often be trained not to allow their pet to become matted again.
The reaction of the pet, how deep the pet parent’s pockets are, and whether you feel the owner can be rehabilitated into a well-trained client will determine where your conversation will go next.
Most of the time, you’ll want to go with the humane route – and that means a full shave off. I might – or might not – try to salvage a small amount of coat on the head and tail, if possible. Mentally prepare the owner for what the dog will look like after the grooming process. Remember to emphasize that this is the only option for their pet.
Once you settle on what you are going to do that day, talk about future haircuts and how to maintain the dog so it never gets in this condition again.
Talk to them about their lifestyle and how their pet plays a role.
Ask if they are willing to find the time to properly brush and comb their dog between professional groomings. If they are, give them a thorough demonstration on proper brushing and combing techniques for their pet’s coat type. We always keep the necessary tools on hand in our retail area. Make sure your clients leave with the proper equipment to maintain their pets at home. Having a handout outlining proper line brushing techniques is also extremely helpful.
If they don’t have the time or the desire to brush their pet at home between groomings, talk about booking more frequent appointments and setting them up on an economical maintenance schedule. The maintenance schedule could be weekly or biweekly.
If the dog is just too far gone, if the client is a repeat offender, or you just don’t have time to deal with a matted dog – skip to the chase. I would simply tell them, no – I will not comb their dog out. There are no other options other than to shave the coat off.
Talk to them about rebooking their next appointment in 6-8 weeks. By about 12-14 weeks they should be grown in enough to be able to get the trim of their choice if they want to maintain a fuller look. They might also opt for a simpler trim style that is short – one length all over. Their choice will be based on how they want to care for their fur baby.
Regardless of whether you are doing a brush out on a matted dog or simply shaving the matted coat off, I encourage having owner sign a matted pet release form. This form opens the door to talk about the dangers involved with matted coats. It’s a simple fact: if the dog is extremely matted, there is going to be a higher risk of injury to the pet. If you talk about it prior to the grooming and the dog does get injured in any way, most of the responsibility has been lifted from your shoulders. However, that doesn’t give you the excuse to be careless. The last thing any of us want to do is injure a pet. However, when they are severely matted, the risk of them being hurt is always present.
There are limits on what you can – and should – do for the animal. Be honest. Be sincere. Keeping the pet foremost in your mind when coming up with a solution will always play in your favor. Even if the client is upset, stick to your guns. It’s the client’s fault the dog is matted, not yours.
Mentally prepare your client the worst-case scenario: a totally naked dog. Over-estimate the amount of time it’s going to take. Over-estimate the amount of money it’s going to cost. Over-estimate the risks involved with dealing with a severely matted pet. If you do that, anything beyond naked or less expensive or even a mild nick is going to be seen in a positive light by the client.
Unfortunately, there isn’t an easy rule for solving the problems of tardy or no-show clients. The good news is that you have lots of options to help deal with it. Depending on how busy you are, cancellations can either be a blessing or a curse. In either case, if you have a client who is chronically dismissive or disrespectful of your time, you need to be proactive and correct the problem.
Our kennel, Whiskers Resort and Pet Spa, experienced 68 reservation cancellations over the 4th of July holiday. During the summer months, Whiskers runs at over 100% occupancy rate with its 180 rooms. During peak holidays such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, and Spring Break, Whiskers charges a $50 deposit for all reservations. This deposit is nonrefundable if the cancellation takes place two weeks prior to their check-in date. In the past, the deposit has not been charged for Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, or Labor Day. That will be changing.
For years we’ve tracked grooming appointment cancellations at The Paragon School of Pet Grooming. Despite our continual efforts to knock the rate down, its remains a persistent 10%.
In the pet grooming industry, time is money. Clients who are chronically tardy or don’t show up for their appointments create havoc for both your schedule and your pocketbook.
(However, if you are overbooked, it can also be a blessing.)
There is no perfect solution for this problem. Everyone has a slightly different take on this situation. Some salons run on a very tight schedule while others are more relaxed. And let’s face it, there are times when the client has a legitimate excuse. So, what do you do?
Are there exceptions to your rules? Absolutely.
If you don’t already track how many cancellations you have each day and each week – start tracking it. Find out what your cancellation average is per day. Once you know the number, you can be proactive in correcting the problem.
Another way to look at it is from a dollar standpoint. At Paragon, our average cancellation rate is 10%. If you apply the 10% rate to your situation and you do 20 dogs a day at $50, that starts to add up! That translates into losing two dogs or $100 every day! Times that by five days a week and you’re at $500 of lost revenue. To me, it’s worth taking the time to simply call and remind people of their upcoming appointment the day before!
We are in the business of building positive relationships with our customers, both the two-legged and four-legged variety. Your personality and the type of relationship with your clients dictates how firmly you adhere to the demands on your time. Remember, these customers not only affect you and your time, they ultimately affect your schedule and your other clients. You need to be warm, caring, and maintain your professionalism.
Just because you are warm and caring does not mean you can’t set rules and boundaries. Remember, you can still provide great customer service and have a mutually respectful relationship that benefits both you and your client.
It’s been over 35 years since that first time. I still remember standing in awe, watching a talented pet groomer give a dog a haircut. She handled her clippers with ease. The long fur fell away like a hot knife through butter. The end result was smooth and gorgeous. And she was fast – super fast. She made the whole process seems so simple.
The first time I tried, I quickly discovered it was not simple. Those initial attempts were pretty pathetic. Saying my first efforts were rough and choppy would be polite. There were long tufts hanging out everywhere. I was frustrated beyond belief.
I was determined to master the skill. After all, the groomer I had been watching proved it could be done. It was simple – I just had to focus and figure it out.
Fast forward a few years of practice and a couple hundred dogs later, and I could make any dog look amazing. When I did a simple haircut on a pet, the fur fell away like a hot knife through butter. The end result was smooth and appealing. I could finish dogs in no time. I’d gotten very efficient with my clippers.
It took years of hard work. There were years of standing on my feet until they throbbed, working until my hands and shoulders ached. However, my pain can be your gain. Here are a few tips to enhance your speed when it comes to simple, low maintenance haircuts:
You’ll always get a smoother cut on a dog that is clean and the coat has been fluffed. Once you make the initial pass to remove the bulk of the long coat, it’s time to pick up the brush. Back brush the entire dog and go over it a second time. On the third pass, again gently back brush the entire area that needs final attention. Did you get that? Back brush!
When do you know you are done? You are done clipping when there is no more coat coming off the dog after it has been washed, dried, and effectively back brushed. Period.
Clipper work on a low maintenance haircut style can be extremely frustrating for new groomer. But once you master the clipper and understand how to work with the coat, it becomes second nature. It becomes simple. You become fast. And you will be able to perform the haircut safely with great precision. You can do it. It just takes focus
In my years of teaching new pet groomers, I’ve seen hundreds of dogs take advantage of a new students. Dogs pull, squirm, whine, snarl… and bite. I’ve seen many students frustrated to the point of tears.
Then a miracle happens.
An instructor will walk over to the pet and gently take over for the student. Suddenly, this challenging pet turns into a perfect angel. The students’ jaw drops. A moment in stunned silence passes before the student exclaims, “How did you do that?!” The answer is simple:
Dogs have keen senses and an uncanny ability to pick up on our energy and our confidence. They read us clearly even when we don’t think we are connecting to them. In the example above, the dog picked up on the instructor’s energy without a word having to be said.
Dogs are primarily nonverbal communicators. They have a language of their own. They are very clear in the messages that they give us. It is up to us to be able to interpret that language.
The #1 rule when working with pets is to remember the three C’s. As a professional you must remain: Calm, Cool, and Collected in ALL circumstances. The second you step out of this energy mode, the dog pet will know it.
Dogs are hardwired to think like dogs. They need a pack leader. If you do not exude the three C’s, dog language translates that to “poor leader.” The pet will not follow you. It will not cooperate with you.
So how do you gain the upper edge in this situation? Believe it or not, it all starts with your BREATHING.
I know it sounds far-fetched. How could something we do without conscious thought help in this situation?
To create a calm, cool, and collected energy, you need to be cool, calm, and collected. Deep breathing allows you body to channel that calm and focus. To make it happen, your breaths need to be deep and saturating. Breathe in slowly and deeply through your nose. Draw in the air and feel it fill your lungs. Now exhale slowly through your mouth. The most important part of deep breathing is to regulate your breaths. Three to four seconds in. Three to four seconds out.
Try it. You will feel the oxygen saturating your body. Tension begins to leave your shoulders. You will start to feel more relaxed almost immediately.
Deep breathing can release stress and provide other noticeable health benefits. You will likely feel calmer after performing deep breathing exercises, and may trade feelings of anger or fear for a focused, relaxed state of mind. Most dogs will totally gravitate to this energy in a very positive way.
I firmly believe that 98% of all dog bites are preventable by reading the animal correctly and taking the appropriate precautions to protect yourself while gaining humane control over the pet. Your hands are your livelihood. You must take utmost care not to let your hands become injured.
Every pet is an individual with different physical and emotional characteristics. Some dogs receive clear directions and boundaries at home, making them very easy to work on in a professional setting. Other pets will not have the skills necessary to be well-mannered candidates in a professional grooming setting.
The personality quirks that you’ll experience while working professionally with pets will range from dogs that are perfect angels, to dogs that are mildly annoying, to dogs that could be potentially dangerous to work on for both the handler and to the pet itself.
Whenever working with pets it is always critical to remember the 3 C’s. As a professional you must remain calm, cool, and collected in all circumstances. And don’t forget to BREATHE.
Whenever you have a dog on a table or in your grooming facility, you must use humane, respectful, and consistent training messages. The more you can learn about dog psychology and combine it with actual experience, winning the control and the respect over the dogs will become second nature.
Always remember that dogs are primarily silent communicators. Excessive talking or giving of commands is not necessary to effectively communicate with them. Much of your control can come from maintaining the Three C’s – Always remain Calm, Cool, and Collected while working with any animal.
Any time you feel you are losing control of the three C’s, it’s time to step away from the grooming table and take a break. Breathe. Only when you can totally regain your composure is it time to step back and begin your work again.
This is the time of year the big shedding breeds come in. They’re often the ones that haven’t been groomed in FOREVER. You know the ones – Goldens…arctic-type breeds…Saint Bernards. They have that coat that totally trashes your salon – and maybe even you. There are tricks to getting this type of job done without too much agony. For anyone who’s missed this blog in the past – it’s a perfect time to revisit my blog on salvage work.
As many of you know, I’m a big dog person. Working on these large furry dogs is one of my favorite things to do in a grooming salon. Call me crazy – but I just love the transformation in this type of job. Over the years, the process rarely makes me cringe, no matter the size or condition of the dog – I see it as a fun challenge!
My #1 rule: Never work on a dirty dog. If water can penetrate the coat, let your products do the job.
Working on a dirty dog is not only unpleasant, it also takes longer to do. Plus, there will be a lot of coat damage and breakage. A dirty coat is dry and brittle. The dirt and dander trapped within the fur makes it more difficult to brush out. Working on a clean coat will be easier for both you and the pet – and much more pleasant.
If there are large chunks that water cannot penetrate, go ahead and break up the tangle using the tool safe for the pet. Don’t worry about removing the tangle completely, just break it apart so the water and shampoo can do its job.
Prepare your bathing area. If the dog is exceptionally dirty, use a shampoo especially designed for dirty dogs. Using a follow-up treatment of a skin and coat conditioner after bathing twice (or maybe three times in some areas) will assist with the brush out and dead coat removal during the drying process. Make sure you have all the tools you’ll need to aid in getting the dog clean like rubber curries or scrub brushes. And make sure you have plenty of towels handy. To see my video lesson on salvage work at Learn2GroomDogs.com, click here.
My favorite trick when working with this type of job is to bring my high velocity dryer right into the bathing area (bring your eye and ear protection, too!). With the dog fully lathered, blow the shampoo right off the pet while it is tethered in the tub. The slippery soap will allow the dirt, loose coat, and tangles slide out. It’s the same principle as applying soap to get a tight ring off your finger. It speeds up the entire process when it comes to mats, tangles, and shedding coat if you get the product right down to the skin.
As you work the high velocity dryer over the soapy dog, the loose coat and shampoo will stick to the back wall of the tub, minimizing the mess.
Not all the shedding coat or mats will be removed – but a lot will – making your job easier once you transfer the pet to the drying table.
Once you have blown out the pet, follow-up with the rinsing process. Repeat this process as many times as necessary to get the dog “squeaky clean.”
Once the pet is clean and thoroughly rinsed, apply a skin and coat conditioning treatment before heading to the drying table. Read your directions: some conditioning treatments need to be rinsed out while others do not. Your high velocity dryer and a heavy slicker brush will be your best friends during the drying process.
Rule # 2: Be Methodical and Thorough on the Drying Table
First, blow out as much moisture and loose coat at possible with the air flow. Use the highest power setting the pet is comfortable with and a condenser cone. Once you have “pushed” as much water and loose fur from the pet, remove the condenser cone. Bring the air flow close to the pet’s skin. “Boost” any loose coat out of the dog by lightly patting the area with a slicker brush right where the air is striking the skin.
Continue to work over the dog in a methodical manner until your brush glides through the coat easily and no more loose coat is trapped in the brush. Double check your work with both your hands and a wide tooth comb.
When the dog is complete, it should smell clean and fresh. The coat should be glossy and float freely as the dog moves. There should be an irresistible desire to reach down and bury your hands in a freshly groomed pet.
To me, this is one of the most gratifying types of grooming jobs we do. It’s relatively easy but it does require knowledge and skill to be thorough and efficient. Oh, and the right tools including one – or maybe even two – powerful velocity dryers!
What are your tricks for deshedding the big jobs? Jump on the Learn2GroomDogs.com Facebook page and tell us about it. Post your pictures of those messy salvage jobs for a chance to win a free monthly subscription to Learn2GroomDogs.com!