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
Don’t you love it when an owner walks into a salon and ask for this trim by name? They actually think this is a universal standard trim that all groomers and pet stylists should know how to do. When we start asking them questions, they get all huffy, thinking we don’t know how to do our jobs. Frustrating!! You and I know there isn’t a consistent right way to do a “puppy cut.” There are many – many variations!
The puppy cut is one of the most popular haircuts. It works well on a wide variety of pets. From Shih Tzus to Doodles. From Pomeranians to Bichons. 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 out as a trim style for Poodles. The puppy cut is a specific trim used on young Poodles in the dog show world. Once the puppy turns a year-old, they are 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. Coats can be curly, wavy, or straight. Almost any purebred or mixed breed that grows hair looks appealing in a “puppy cut.”
Many owners love this style of trim. It can be very cute. It’s easy to care for. It’s highly versatile. That’s a win-win-win for any busy family! The dog does not drag in dirt and debris from outdoors. Their ears do not drag in the food or water dish. The need for brushing between grooming appointments is minimized. And on smaller pets, bathing between grooming appointments is a breeze. When done well, it can be extremely attractive, to boot.
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.
The term “puppy cut” can be tricky. In some circles the puppy cut can also be known as the “teddy bear trim”, “summer cut”, or “kennel cut.” I’ve even seen some salons turn their version of the trim into their “signature haircut.” So the puppy cut becomes “The Posh Pet Special” (brilliant marketing by the way!) Generally, the only things that change between theses trims are the names and the length of coat.
It’s important to keep this in mind, too: one person’s interpretation of a puppy cut might be that of a smooth-coated puppy. Think Boxer, Pug, or Beagle. Another person’s interpretation would be that of a fluffier breed like a Shih Tzu, Bichon, or Poodle. There’s also a big difference between a four-week old puppy and a ten-week old puppy in terms of coat growth.
With all these interpretations, there is a wide variance of what each individual dog will look like and what each owner expects their dog to look like. If an owner is requesting this trim for the first time, be prepared to discuss the trim in detail with the owner. DO NOT ASSUME YOU ARE BOTH ON THE SAME PAGE! Communication is the key to a happy customer.
Here is a great tip to remember when talking with clients: whoever is asking the questions controls the conversation. As groomers and pet stylists, we are problem solvers. Uncover the problems in five simple steps.
Here is a list of talking points when a new client request a “puppy cut.”
It’s important to have a thorough conversation with the owner when considering this haircut. There are so many variances with a puppy cut. Simply having the client state they want one is not specific enough.
Advise the client about trim options that would work best for their dog. Based on the condition of the coat and your pet’s body structure, you will be able to offer some valuable suggestions. A skilled pet professional will know how to make minor changes to the trim enhancing the pet’s appeal. Maybe the pet’s coat is too tangled to do the longer trim today. You’ll be able to suggest alternatives on how to modify a trim that works best as you discuss options for future trims.
Educating clients on proper pet hygiene is a valuable service most salon offer for free to their clients. In order to keep the dog looking its best, you can advise the client on how to best maintain 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 life style and coat texture. Maybe you suggest they get a full haircut every 4-6 weeks. Or maybe a maintenance program would be better suited for the client when you see them for weekly or bi weekly appointments.
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.
There is a good reason why the “puppy cut” is one of the most popular trims in grooming salons around the country. There are many – many variations!
P.S. You can make this and ALL grooming conversations easier and more successful.
I was at GroomExpo just a few weeks ago and met many wonderful pet professionals. One of them was Connie Carter of Gorgeous Growlers Grooming in Florida. She had attended several of my lectures and at the end of the show she stopped to thank me as we passed in the hall. We chatted a bit and as we parted ways, I reminded her that I was happy to help with any questions that she wanted to email to me. I love complex questions that can lead to blog topic ideas! Well, guess what? Connie didn’t waste any time. Within a week, I got my first question from her – and it’s a good one.
“Can I learn how to hand-strip online? How long does it take to learn how? I have a new client whose Westie puppy is being delivered at the end of October. I do have some experience helping but I’ve never done a full hand stripping job of my own.”
The short answer to your question is: “Yes.” You can teach yourself to hand-strip if you have the right information. The trick is getting the right information at the right time – AND you need to have the right dog with the right coat to practice on!
There are two types of coats that need routine stripping to maintain the correct texture and color:
1. Sporting Dogs (also known as Gun Dogs)
2. Harsh-coated pets (primarily in the Terrier and Working groups)
I still remember the coat of my first hand-stripped show West Highland White Terrier. It felt like a suit of armor. The dogs’ jacket was so hard, nothing was going to penetrate that coat. At that point in my career, I had only clipped Westies. They were smooth, soft, and cuddly. I had no idea what hand-stripping was – let alone that hand-stripping was the correct way to prepare the coat.
I rank the difficulty of hand-stripping on a scale from 1 to 3. The coat is factored in, as well as the temperament of the pet.
(Because Connie based her question on a West Highland White Terrier, I will focus more on the harsh-coated coat types. I would say Westies fall between a 2 and a 3 on the following difficulty scale.)
Super simple. The hair pulls out with very little effort.
Requires a bit more thought and effort. The hair needs to be worked a little bit more. You will need a wider variety of stripping tools to get the job done. You also need to think about the new layer of coat coming in. This fresh layer of harsh coat will need to be constantly rotated. The rotation normally takes place at consistent intervals so the dog is never stripped down naked.
In a word – challenging. Different parts of the coat on the dog’s body grow at different rates. Hand stripping them in the right sequence is critical for correct coat regrowth. Some sections are easy to pull down, while others are very difficult. Getting the dog to look conformation show ready is an art. It requires education, knowledge, training, skill, and practice. Lots and lots of practice.
Many accomplished stylists do a combination of half stripping, half clipping on their pet clients. This technique mimics the look and texture of a properly pulled coat. It’s typically much quicker to do. It’s easier on the pet – and kinder to the client’s pocketbook. It will also leave a bit a coat on the dog, making it more attractive to a pet owner.
When you are first starting to learn the technique of hand-stripping, it is advantageous to start with what I would consider a #1 rated dog. Start with something very easy. Preferably, the coat is blown and literally falling out. This type of coat requires very few tools to pull it out – maybe just your fingers. Which breeds with these be? Here are a few:
Once you have mastered the skills required to hand-strip #1 and #2 rated coat types, then you’re ready to start working on the most challenging group. Remember to keep in mind that this also depends on the dog.
All of the harsh-coated breeds will vary slightly with their degree of difficulty. A number of factors affect where they ultimately fall in this rating system. Genetics need to be considered. Hormones, as well as whether the dog is altered or intact will affect a coat. The length of time between grooming sessions will dictate how readily their coats pull. The climate and the season will also play a role in how easily the coat is removed.
Where do you turn when you want to learn the technique of hand-stripping? You have options – and many of them can be self-directed.
Start with observing high-quality dogs. Seeing a dog in the flesh is the best way. Go to dog shows. Study the dogs in the grooming area as well as in the ring. Look at magazines featuring top winning dogs. Do an online search for images of AKC or UKC Champions. Go to top breeder websites. Watch dog shows online or on TV.
You need to firmly etch a mental picture of what a high-quality hand-stripped dog should look like. It is also important to actually touch the coat to get an idea of what it feels like. Achieving any type of quality without this knowledge will be impossible.
Breed specific books will give you details. There is one particular booklet I really like. It does an excellent job of explaining the techniques of hand-stripping. It’s older and though it may not be very sophisticated, the material is timeless This book caters to what I would consider the more challenging breeds: broken-coated Terriers that have their coats “staged” for proper regrowth. However, the techniques outlined can be applied to many of the easier breeds as well. Click here to see more details about this book.
Most professional pet groomers are visual learners. Videos are a great way to go – as long as the content is accurate.
In this day and age, you have to be very careful. Trust me, I just did some quick research to see what was currently available on YouTube concerning hand-stripping. There certainly was a wealth of information but much of it was scary. Sure, there is a few nuggets of excellent content but you have to know what you’re looking for and have enough knowledge to know whether you’re looking at quality techniques or not. You’re better off looking for top stylists that are producing videos on the topic. You can find them both in DVDs as well as online streaming. In the Learn2GroomDogs.com library there is a wide assortment of streaming video lessons. Here’s a hint. If you search the site using the word “strip” in the search bar, you will pull up ALL the hand-stripping lessons. From there, you can isolate what appeals to you.
All of the training partners do a great job. Jennifer Hecker does an excellent job explaining the basics of dealing with a harsh-coated Terrier. Lisa Leady, Suesan Watson, and Amy Triezenberg all focus on beginner and intermediate hand-stripping. Most of their lessons deal with typical pet dogs we see in our grooming salons. Michelle Evans focuses on more advanced techniques, as well as how to apply different stripping techniques. There are many other training partners sprinkled through the hand-stripping section who also have exceptional lessons.
When you are looking for DVDs or videos to watch, make sure you verify the qualifications of the demonstrator. There are many high-quality lessons available but others can be a waste of time.
Clinics and Seminars
One of the best ways to learn hand-stripping techniques is to attend a clinic or seminar. Advanced hand-stripping is definitely an art. It takes plenty of knowledge and practice. Learning from a master is a huge shortcut when it comes to becoming proficient. How do you find out about clinics and seminars? Many certification organizations host workshops. Make sure you are on their mailing lists. Join a couple professional groups on Facebook such as Pro Groomer Network. Your state may have an organized groomers Facebook page. Grooming schools in your area may also host events.
Finding a mentor for a particular technique or breed will certainly fast track you to your goals. The mentor may come from the conformation show ring, the competitive pet styling arena, or they may have years of experience grooming pets. As your skills grow, your mentors might grow and change. And if you can’t find a mentor, find a study partner who is looking to expand their skills. Somebody that you can work with you as a team to find the best information. Meet up after hours to work on your skills together with practice pets.
Whatever route you choose, you certainly can teach yourself. Finding help in the form of books, videos, seminars, clinics, or an actual mentor will certainly help. The more you are able to combine those learning resources, the shorter your learning curve.
The art of hand-stripping is becoming more widely accepted in the pet grooming arena. When a new harsh-coated Terrier walks through your door, think twice about clipping the coat off. Is that really the best option? Clipper cutting a harsh-coated Terrier typically destroys the correct texture. Many clients opt for that route simply to reduce cost and time factors associated with hand stripping. For those clients that have educated themselves about their breeds, hand stripping may be their preference – as long as they can find a professional pet stylist that can execute the technique correctly.
Are you that person?
Do you do any hand-stripping? Why or why not? Jump over to the Learn2GroomDogs Facebook page and tell us about it!
It’s a day like any other when you get a phone call from a client:
“I have a (insert breed here). Do you know how to groom them correctly?”
You’ve never groomed this breed before. In fact, the closest you’ve come to one is seeing it at a dog show. Maybe you’ve never even heard or seen the breed before.
“Why yes, Mrs. Jones, we certainly can make your Bedlington look like a Bedlington!” you say confidently as you book the appointment for the following day.
You hang up the phone and reality sets in. You’ve never seen this type of dog cross your grooming table. You don’t have a clue how to actually groom it correctly. What do you do?
The first thing I would tell you is – don’t panic!
Here are three core strategies you need to groom any breed of dog.
So what is your next step? How are you going to be confident when that client walks in the door tomorrow?
Your next step is to look up the breed in reference books. If you have an American Kennel Club (AKC) Complete Dog Book (or a similar book from your country), start there. This will give you the official breed standard. Review the breed profile. Read about the history of the dog to gather clues about the dog. After a quick scan, you I have a good idea of the size, temperament, and structure of this new dog. Most books will also have photos that accompany each breed. If you don’t have an official breed standard book handy, you can always look it up online.
Once you have become familiar with the breed itself, take a look at your grooming books. Review the instructions. Compare the instructions to what you have read and saw in the breed standard.
The Internet is an invaluable research tool. Use it wisely. Most breeds will have a parent club that hosts an official site for the breed. Spend a few minutes reviewing images of top winning dogs in their galleries. With a little luck, you may even find grooming directions or links to grooming directions from dedicated breeders.
As groomers and stylists, we are a visual bunch. “A picture is worth a thousand words.” This is so true for us. I love to do Google image searches of breeds I’m not familiar with. Here’s a tip to finding good images. When you enter terms in the search bar, add keywords like: AKC Champion Bedlington Terrier or UKC Champion Fresian Water Dog. There is a big difference if you type into your search engine, “images of Miniature Schnauzers” verses “images of AKC Champion Miniature Schnauzers.” You will pull up a WIDE assortment of images. Some will be great. Others not so great. Some will be worthless. And others will be totally off the mark. You need to have enough knowledge to filter through the images, finding the best images to suit your needs.
Use a little caution when looking up information online. Always remember – not everything posted on the internet is correct or presents the best image of a breed. Make sure you use all your resources to gather the most accurate information possible.
Watching videos on the breed in question is also a great option. Again, a word of caution – not every “how to video” on the internet will be beneficial. Today, anyone can post a video online. Unfortunately, there is a lot of poor quality grooming being featured – especially if it is free. Go to trusted sources like Learn2GroomDogs.com that are truly qualified to demonstrate how to groom a particular breed.
Yes, you need to do a little research. Will it require a little effort? Yep.
However, if you have those three nuggets of knowledge, you will have the foundation skills to groom any breed.
With those 3 skills, you can groom any breed of dog that comes your way.
If you are a newer stylist or just don’t have the time to do all the research, there is a shortcut. Notes From the Grooming Table will allow you to fast track your knowledge. Simply grab the book and turn to the breed you have a question about. We are just about to release the fully updated Second Edition of Notes From the Grooming Table. Keep your eyes open for how to get this revised edition – announcements on how to get yours will be available soon.
As pet groomers and stylists, we get to see plenty of dogs. It’s rare and exciting to get a breed you are not familiar with. Most of us pros enjoy the challenge of learning about a new breed. Figuring out what we will need to do to make the dog look like it should – or could – look like if the owners allow you to groom it correctly.
I know, I know… many owners just want the hair shaved off once they walk through your door. Or the dog is in such poor condition, the only humane option is to shave the coat off and start over. That’s always a disappointment once you’ve put in effort to educate yourself. Hopefully, the new client motivated you to learn few new things you can add to your knowledge toolbox even if you didn’t get to execute the trim!
Did these tricks help? Go online and tell us what you think on the Learn2GroomDogs Facebook page.