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"Learning the skills of pet grooming takes a love of working with animals, an understanding of dog behavior, coat-styling ability and the basics of running a business," says Rose Ordile, groomer and trainer for the animal stars of Hollywood.
Not only does Rose groom dogs, but she's also a dog makeup artist, able to make three dogs of different coat patterns look identical for a movie or television commercial. She became a groomer because she loves working with animals. She trained at an accredited grooming school in Las Vegas, Nev., where she completed a 9-month course.
Schools range from 8-week courses to those offered by the month, similar to human hairdressing schools. Check if the schools in your area are accredited or at least have a respectable program. Once you find a school, ask for a brochure; see what they're teaching and what their certification is. Find one that doesn't complete its course in too short a period of time. Courses of greater length will go into more detail.
Attention to Detail
Attention to detail is the key to learning to groom. Dog grooming isn't just learning to clip a dog; it's learning about the various clips for each breed and about animal behavior. You must learn how to handle dogs and how to recognize and treat skin conditions. Some courses are all-breed and some are solely for specific breeds, such as poodles and terriers.
Short-coated dogs don't usually need clipping. Basic grooming procedure for these dogs entails clipping nails, cleaning ears and brushing and bathing properly. For long-coated dogs, you'll learn haircutting, coat shampooing and conditioning. You'll learn how to shave the tummy, clean the areas around the tail, feet, head and ears. You'll also learn how to style the haircoat.
Poodles, schnauzers, Welsh terriers, Scottish terriers and West Highland white terriers each have specific styles. Most schools will teach you specific pet grooming/styling, as opposed to show grooming, which is more advanced. Learning about proper preparation of a dog for competition takes more skill, knowledge and training.
How Much Schooling?
A good grooming school program should last about 6 to 9 months, and an extensive course usually takes you through the business aspects of a grooming shop, in addition to grooming. The first part of the course is strictly grooming: cutting nails, cleaning ears, brushing, bathing and clipping styles. The second portion of the course focuses on how to run a business: dealing with clients, questions to ask about pets, scheduling and timing yourself in your grooming.
Be an Apprentice
In addition to formal schooling and coursework, you may begin your education at a good grooming business, starting as a "brusher and bather." This is a good way to start. You first learn about dog care, behavior, brushing and bathing. Once these basics are mastered, the owner can then teach you how to groom and style. By working as an apprentice, you'll get good practice and then you can consider opening your own business.
Certification and licensing are based on state regulations; some states require them, some don't. It's important to learn from a certified, reputable shop. At a certified school, the teacher has to be a "master groomer," with a certain number of years of experience and learning.
Whether school or in-house trained, you need to know the questions to ask a client. If a pet is touchy or gets anxious around the feet or head, a groomer needs to take more time, be gentle and careful to make the pet's experience a good one. This will make things easier on both pet and groomer.
Your Pet's First Groom
The first time in a grooming shop may be a frightening experience for a pet. The sound of the clippers, dryers, other dogs, strange people handling him and being away from the owner, may all elicit anxiety or fear. A good groomer should ask his/her clients questions about their pet's grooming experience and expect the pet owner to answer them honestly.
Some pets are turned away from shops because of bad temperament. If a client isn't honest, this may result in a dangerous situation for the groomer and a bad experience for the pet. In all cases, a groomer would be wise to be a little more careful and take a little more time to make the experience a good one for all involved.
An experienced, skilled groomer has gone through a school course or received on-the-job training and has worked for at least a year. The more dogs you groom, the more competent and efficient you'll become.