Safety First

Professional pet groomers create art on living, breathing, moving, sometimes unpredictable animals by using sharp tools. You never know when an accident is going to happen but there are steps that you can take to help reduce the chances of one occurring. Putting a safety plan into effect at your workplace will make you feel confident that you have done what you can to keep both you and the pets in your care safe.

From the moment a pet enters your work space, it is important to keep it kindly and comfortably controlled. This means handling the pet in such a way that it cannot accidentally leave your grooming area and maintaining it in a secure manner so as to prevent injury.

Escape and Restraint

Give thought to the entrance doors in your facility. There should be some barricades between the pets and the opening to the great outdoors to make sure they cannot become lost. Look at your windows, as well. Are there any from which a dog or cat could exit? If so, take steps to secure reachable windows to prevent escapes.

Pets also need to be safely restrained while they’re being groomed. Most groomers use safety loops to prevent an animal from jumping out of a tub or off a table and potentially injuring itself. In an ideal world, grooming loops in both tubs and on tables will be affixed to panic snaps. These simple, inexpensive tools keep the loop solidly attached unless the groomer needs to release the pet, which can be done in an instant with one easy motion of the thumb and forefinger. Panic snaps can be obtained from Groomers Helper.

The Groomers Helper table restraint system is not only an excellent tool to prevent pets from falling off the grooming table, it also helps prevent pets from biting groomers. Additionally, a version of Groomers Helper for the tub may be available in the not too distant future.

“We are currently prototyping and testing different models so groomers can use the Groomers Helper in their bathtub,” said Chuck Simons, founder of Groomers Helper. “They should be ready by Groom Expo if all goes according to plans.”

Although dogs and cats have “four on the floor” and good traction, providing slip and skid resistant surfaces inside bathtubs and on grooming tables—as well as on floors where pets will be walking with wet feet—is another important consideration. This is particularly true for geriatric dogs or those with joint problems. A skid or slip can cause painful injuries. Something as simple and as inexpensive as yoga matting can provide a soft, no-slip surface that is lightweight, easy to clean and portable.


Keeping an eye on the temperature and humidity in your work space is vitally important to keeping pets safe. Dogs cool their bodies by panting; if the air they are breathing is too warm, they cannot properly regulate their body temperature. Keeping thermometers in areas where dogs are housed or actively worked on is an excellent plan. Since grooming areas are often humid, consider using a dehumidifier to reduce the amount of moisture in the air. This will make breathing more comfortable and safe for humans and pets alike, as well as reducing the chance of mold and mildew growth.

If you use cage dryers, institute regular checks on them to make sure that the timer is working properly and that cords are not frayed or damaged. Pets should never be left unattended while a cage dryer is in use and using heat settings above “warm” is not advised. Cage dryers should only be used on well ventilated cages, ensuring that the pet has a free flow of air around it. Stand dryers should never be pointed into a cage, as most are designed with higher ranges of heat than are cage dryers.

Clippers and Blades

When grooming pets, it is important that both clipper blades and scissors be clean, well maintained, oiled and sharp. Dull clipper blades can cause skin irritation and forcing dull scissor blades through a coat is more apt to cause nicks. Nail trimmers work best when new and very sharp. A dull nail trimmer crushes the nail before it cuts through, causing discomfort and creating fear in dogs that are having their claws trimmed. On the flip side, if you use stripping knives, they should be dull. Sharp knives can scrape skin and cut coat rather than help you pull it from the follicle.

When people entrust their beloved pets to our care, they rely on us to make sure we are as careful as possible, taking every imaginable precaution to ensure that their well-being is our number one priority. Accidents can happen at any time but taking preventative steps can greatly reduce the number of unfortunate incidents.

Table Talk

Wise pet stylists know that the investment they put into purchasing a grooming table will pay off for many years to come. This is the key tool on which much of the work of styling pets takes place. Tables with variable heights make a groomer’s life dramatically safer and easier. Large animals can simply step up onto a secure tabletop, eliminating the need to physically lift them. Additionally, the groomer can adjust the height as he or she works, allowing easy access to all parts of the pet while eliminating bending and contorting into muscle-straining positions.


Lift tables may be operated by foot pump hydraulics or by electricity. While hydraulic tables are often a lower initial investment, the smooth, push-button operation of electrically powered tables is extremely user-friendly.

When choosing grooming tables, people should pay extra attention to top platform construction. Materials range from stainless steel to particle board, with variations in between. High-end tables will have tops constructed from sturdy, durable material. Stainless steel tabletops are hard-wearing and easy to sanitize.

“Tables made by Forever Stainless Steel are all stainless steel and feature a recessed-edge tabletop with a removable comfort mat that dogs love to stand on,” said Jeanne Caples, director of operations at Forever Stainless Steel. “The cushy, nonabsorbent mat lifts out easily for cleaning and can even be put in your tub for washing.”

Tops constructed from wood can also be long lasting “if they are made from good wood,” said Robert Lutz, the company’s vice president of sales. Look for tops made from construction- or marine-grade plywood. Many lower-priced tabletops are made from fiber or particle board. These products are also known as reconstituted wood products. They are manufactured by mixing wood parts with resin or glue and then processing them at high heat and pressure. These types of boards may not hold up well when exposed to moisture. Since many grooming shops are humid environments, and since many a wet dog is placed on a grooming table for drying, the potential for damage to tops made of this type of wood is considerable.

Another drawback is that grooming arms clamped onto tops made from reconstituted wood products invariably dig into the wood and cause the integrity of the board to deteriorate. Large dogs putting pressure on the arm can cause the tabletop to crack or break off.

Groomers choosing these lower-end tables would do well to make sure that the tabletop can be replaced if it is damaged.
“Buy a table that has a removable and exchangeable top and tops are assembled with bolts. Wood screws can be ripped off,” said Lutz.

“The standard for grooming tables in the U.S. is 24 x 36 or 24 x 42, with a three-quarter or inch [thick] tabletop,” says Chuck Simons, owner of Groomers Helper. “There should be a 4-inch clearance on each end, centered for the grooming table clamp. There should also be three inches on the sides for any standard grooming table clamps. This will allow you to put any standard grooming clamp on your table, along with the no-sit option of the Groomers Helper. Our grooming arms are the strongest available, guaranteed never to bend.”

Tabletop Options

Beyond the basic construction type of the tabletop, the matting that covers it is something to take into consideration. Many tables come standard with dark, ribbed matting affixed. While the ribbing does offer a no-slip surface for pets to stand on, it can be challenging to clean all those ridges. It can also be argued that the surface is not comfortable for pets—especially larger, heavier animals—to stand on for prolonged periods of time.

Pebble-finish surfaces are another typical grooming table topper. While they do not offer as much traction as the ribbed surface, they are far easier to clean and sanitize and seem to be more comfortable for the pets to stand on.

Some tables offer the option of rotating tops. Spinning the pet 360 degrees with the touch of a finger is a luxury that most groomers could learn to appreciate. This time-saving option allows the stylist to stay in one place and eliminates the need to physically turn the pet during the grooming process.

Investing some thought into the construction and options of this key piece of gear will help groomers enjoy their purchase for many years of happy, safe grooming.

The Controversy Over Cage Drying

In recent years, bills have been introduced in several states attempting to mandate licensing of the grooming industry. These bills are most often proposed in response to dogs being killed or injured while they were cage dried as a part of the grooming process.

Why Cage Dry?

Groomers use cage dryers for a variety of reasons. A damp dog can become chilled (hypothermic) if it is exposed to cool temperatures over a period of time. In a cool grooming environment, blowing warm air on a damp dog keeps it comfortable until it is time for it to be finish dried on the table. In a busy grooming shop, it makes sense to bathe several dogs and let some of them become partially dried while waiting to be fluff dried or finish dried. Meanwhile, the groomer can be bathing, prepping or finishing other dogs. Used in this way, cage dryers can be an enormous time saver. Also, spending some quiet time in a cage can offer an important rest period during the grooming process for cats, puppies, very nervous dogs and geriatric dogs.

Cage Drying Problems

Problems occur when improper equipment is used or when correct equipment is used improperly. For example, many groomers direct the air flow from stand dryers, which are designed to be used when a pet is on a grooming table, into a cage. At first glance this practice seems practical enough. However, many stand dryers are manufactured so that they heat air to much higher temperatures than dryers designed to be used on cages. Many stand dryers put out air heated to 130 degrees or higher.

The reason for this is that stand dryers are intended to be used in an open area to allow the free flow of air around the pet. Groomers using stand dryers are typically brushing the section of hair that the air is directed toward, so their hands and arms are in constant contact with the air, insuring that the temperature is safe and comfortable for both the groomer and the pet. When a dryer capable of reaching such high temperatures is directed at a pet inside a cage, it cannot escape the blowing air and can easily become overheated or receive damage to areas of his skin.

Conversely, a dryer that is designed to be used on a cage, though it has lower heat settings and built-in timers, can be used in such a way that it can cause harm to pets. For example, if the timer is faulty, pets can be exposed to warm air for a long period, causing them to overheat. If the pet is in a cage with limited air flow (such as an airline-type kennel or a cage with solid sides, floor and ceiling), it can become too hot as well. Some groomers may even place a towel over the cage door to increase the temperature inside the cage. This can be a recipe for disaster.

It is important for groomers to remember that dogs do not cool themselves by perspiring but rather by panting. A hot dog will pant, exposing the moist, highly vascularized tongue, mouth and sinus cavities to cool air. The blood exposed to the cool air circulates through the dog’s body, effectively decreasing its temperature.

However, if the dog is trapped inside a cage that is being filled with warm air for extended periods of time, it is unable to reach cool air and its core body temperature can become elevated to dangerous levels. Normally, a dog’s body temperature should register between 100.5 and 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit. In one case where a dog died from grooming-related overheating, it was reported by the veterinarian that the dog’s temperature was 109 degrees. At this temperature an animal’s organs begin to shut down.

Groomers need to be aware that certain dogs are more prone to having difficulty with heat. For example, brachycephalic dogs—breeds with short muzzles such as pugs, shih tzus and bulldogs—should not be cage dried. Very young or very old dogs should be carefully monitored if heated dryers are used, as should very anxious dogs.

Proper Use

If cage dryers are used, they should be placed in a room where a staff member can watch the dogs at all times. It is a good idea to keep thermometers in cages, out of the reach of pets, so that the temperature can easily be observed at a glance. It’s important to note that groomers should not assume a dog will exhibit distress if it becomes overheated. It is also recommended that all staff members know the symptoms of overheating and what first aid steps to take while the pet is being transported to a veterinarian.

Properly maintained cage dryers used with caution can be helpful tools for groomers. Used incorrectly, however, they can cause loss of life of beloved pets. Using proper equipment and following common-sense safety precautions will keep pets safe and your business booming.

The Right Clippers

Every pet groomer spends a lot of quality time with his clipper, which is a fundamental part of the toolbox he uses on a large percentage of the pets he works on. There are currently many brands of clippers to choose from, each boasting a variety of virtues but the basic design of most of them is pretty similar: They use electricity to power a motor that moves a blade that cuts dog and cat hair.

Good clippers represent a fairly sizeable investment for groomers. From bare bones, one-speed, corded clippers at around $100 to top-of-the-line cordless models at almost $500, choosing which one is best for the way you groom can be mind boggling.

Groomers in the United States tend to wan to work with lightweight, high-speed clippers. They say “I don’t want to use a heavy tool” at trade show booths and in on-line forums. Here are some things that should be taken into consideration when choosing this all-important tool.

Weight: The human body has the ability to adapt to lifting, carrying and working with tools that vary in weight. Look at athletes who train with weights to strengthen their muscles. They are able to increase the size of the weights they lift as their bodies adapt and strengthen. So, working with a heavier clipper simply means that your muscles will need to grow to adapt to that clipper.

But why bother when there are lighter clippers available? Well, there is a trade-off that comes with less weight. Lightweight clippers are made up of plastic parts. By its nature, plastic is lighter than metal and that is good, right? The unfortunate downside to plastic parts is that they wear out more quickly than those made from metal. Those same groomers who prefer lightweight clippers often find that they have to be repaired frequently and replaced as often as every year.

Speed: Clipper speed is stated in a measurement known as SPM, or strokes per minute. What this refers to is the number of times the top (cutter) blade of the clipper moves across the lower (comb) blade. The higher that number is, the faster the blade moves. With high speed comes friction and with friction comes heat. Hot blades can irritate a pet’s skin during grooming. Heat also contributes to the clippers needing more frequent visits to the sharpener to keep them properly adjusted and cutting well. Clippers that offer multiple speeds seem like a fun choice but groomers often report, that they always just use it on the highest speed.

Vibration: Many groomers do not realize that the vibration of a clipper can cause irritation, strain and even numbness in the hand and wrist. When choosing a clipper, look for one that offers a low vibration setting for comfortable clipping in the long run. Unfortunately, some models have very low vibration when they are new but as they begin to wear with use, they may develop an annoying shimmy.

Corded vs. Cordless: There is something wonderful about being untethered by an electrical cord while grooming. If you use a vacuum system to enhance your work, clipping cordless makes even more sense, giving stylists more freedom of movement as they work. When trying out cordless clippers, hold them and feel where the weight of the clipper is. In some older models the battery pack is the heaviest part of the hand piece, which can cause wrist strain when making adjustments to hold the clipper in a balanced position. Lithium ion battery technology has improved the maneuverability, durability and longevity of cordless clippers by leaps and bounds.

Shape: Groomers are taught to hold clippers lightly and in a position similar to that of holding a pencil. Many clippers are designed in a uniform shape from end to end. More modern models feature an indentation, or waist, designed to be more ergonomically correct; this helps reduce strain and fits even those with smaller hands more comfortably. Groomers find that they either love this shape or loathe it because it forces them to hold the clipper in only one position. Some stylists like to vary their grip, depending on what sort of grooming they are doing.

Ideally, groomers will be able to try out different brands and styles of clippers at a trade show so you can determine what works best. Check for good balance, how the tool feels when held in the clipping position, excellent workmanship and low vibration. Turn the clipper on and let it run awhile to see how quickly the blade heats up. Check to see what kind of warranty is offered and what parts are covered. Groomers may also consider asking a clipper repair person what brands hold up best after prolonged use. It makes sense to invest a little time and energy in researching all options since this is a groomer’s most indispensable tool.

The Art of Detangling

Where there is hair, there is the potential for tangles. As professional pet stylists, we are well acquainted with this phenomenon, and how to deal with matted coats is a hot topic when we get together to talk shop.

To Shave or Not to Shave

For many groomers, the only answer to dealing with knots is to shave them off. Their battle cry is “humanity before vanity.” They believe that the act of dematting is cruel. Then there are handfuls of professionals at the other end of the spectrum who refuse to shave a pet, ever, no matter what.

Most of us fall somewhere in the middle. Debi Hilley, who is the owner of A Cut Above, in Albany, GA, has been grooming for 20 years. She has also been breeding American cocker spaniels nearly as long.

“Because of this, I consider myself to be somewhat of an expert at dematting!” she said. “Many groomers tend to not demat coats which can easily be brushed out. With today’s products, from specially designed shampoos, conditioners, and coat sprays to amazing brushes and dematting tools, removing tangles can be done safely and kindly in many situations.”

The trick to easier and gentler grooming is knowing when and how to demat.

“My rule of thumb is usually 15 minutes or less of extra work on client dogs,” said Hilley. “I think knowing the difference between felted and tangled is key. Felting to me is when large areas of the skin cannot be seen due to a very tightly tangled coat. Manageable mats are usually small areas of tangles that are not tightly adhered to the skin.”

It is possible to have both felted and matted areas on a pet. In some cases it may be possible to brush out a dog’s matted ears, tail and face, though the body coat is felted and must be shaved.

“Removing reasonable amounts of matting is not painful or damaging to the coat,” said Hilley. Being able to save some of the pet’s personality by detangling whatever areas you can is a sure way to make customers happier with your work. For example, if you have to closely clip a badly matted cocker spaniel’s legs and body, but can brush out those signature flowing ears, the resulting look won’t be such a drastic change for the owner.

Proper Technique

“I never brush a dirty coat,” Hilley said. “That is damaging to the hair. The dirt and oils in the coat help to hold the mat together too. I also think people need to know that the old adage ‘water makes mats tighter’ is not true. Water actually makes the mats easier to remove.”

To begin the job properly, wash the pet using shampoos and conditioners such as the Best Shot line, which is designed to smooth individual hair shafts and make brushing easier. Use your high-velocity dryer to lift matted areas up and away from the skin while drying.

Make use of some of the excellent detangling sprays on the market too. They can be applied to a damp coat but work best once dry. Slicker brushes such as Tuffer Than Tangles are great tools to begin the dematting process. For heavier knots, dematting tools work wonders. And don’t forget the importance of a really good comb.

“I use a wide-tooth poodle comb—I like my Oster,” said Hilley. “I use it from the outside in on the mats while the dog is wet to split the mats.”

Reducing the size of tangles can make the job go more quickly, and doing so reduces tension on the skin making the pet more comfortable. Cut through the tangles from root to tip, creating sections, or even shortening the length of the hair with scissors before brushing where appropriate.

Every groomer is going to face dealing with a matted coat from time to time—perhaps even daily. So it’s important that they know how to groom a dog’s coat efficiently, humanely and aesthetically. Having this expertise is not only good for dogs but good for your business.

Seeing Eye to Eye

They say that the eyes are windows to the soul. This can be true for animals as well as people. Pet owners often request, “Please make sure I can see his eyes,” when they hand over care of their dog to their groomer. People like to see the expression of their pets face without fur hiding their peepers.

During the grooming process, stylists are often the ones to discover that there might be a problem with the pet’s eyes. If a dog or cats eyes have a bluish cast or are cloudy, they may well have impaired vision. This means special handling is required so the pet does not injure itself during the grooming process by bumping into something while moving through unfamiliar territory or by inadvertently stepping off the grooming table because it cannot clearly see the edge.

Spotting Eye Problems

If the third eyelid (located behind the lower lid) or the conjunctiva (the inner lining of the eyelids) are red, irritated or swollen, the dog may have an irritation or injury to the eye.
Also, if one or both eyes seem to be enlarged and too big for the eye socket, the pet may be experiencing glaucoma, a condition in which fluid builds up in the eye and causes pain and sometimes blindness. Referring a customer to take their pet to see their veterinarian if any of these symptoms are noticed is the best plan of action.

The most common eye care problem that groomers encounter is that of excessive discharge. This can range from a minor annoyance with wet hair building up around the inner eye corners to a more severe problem when groomers are presented with a pet that has a serious accumulation of thick, wet, odiferous, crusty matter that needs to be removed.

Often, the skin below is severely irritated and very sore and the pet wants no part of having the buildup washed away, no matter how gently you try to make the removal. In many cases this can be taken care of while the pet is being bathed. Running a gentle stream of warm water over the area every few moments between washing other areas of the body loosens the matter and eventually it can be lifted off with the help of a fine-toothed comb or a cotton ball soaked in warm water or saline solution. If the pet will not allow this process, the client will have to be referred to their veterinarian.

Groomers can help by trimming the hair around the eyes closely and recommending that the affected area be gently cleansed twice a day at home. Pet owners should be instructed to use a moist cotton ball or gauze pad and wipe from the eye corner away from the pet’s eye. Caution them to not touch the eye with the cotton or gauze, as that can cause further eye damage.

Tear Stains

How to best handle tear staining is a question that professional groomers are often asked about.

Excessive tears can be caused by a variety of things: hair or eyelashes rubbing on sensitive eye tissue, blocked or clogged tear ducts, enlarged tear ducts, poor diet, mineral-rich water, infection, stress, pollution, allergies, teething (in puppies), ear or dental infections and even plastic food bowls. But why do clear tears cause ugly red coat stains?

“Tear stains are usually caused by dye molecules called porphyrins,” said veterinarian Greg Magnusson on his website “Porphyrins are iron-containing molecules, produced when the body breaks down red blood cells. Porphyrins are excreted primarily through bile and the intestinal tract but in dogs, a significant amount of porphyrin is excreted through tears, saliva and also urine.”

“When porphyrin containing tears or saliva sits on white fur for any length of time, stains result. These iron-related stains intensify/darken in the presence of sunlight,” said Magnusson.

“All dogs produce porphyrin, but of course porphyrin staining is most noticeable on light colored dogs. If you have ever noticed a white dog who has been licking or chewing on his leg, the hair in that area will turn iron-brown in color as well,” said Magnusson. “Primarily then, most tear stains in most dogs can be simply prevented by keeping the face meticulously free of porphyrin-containing tears. That means keeping the face hair trimmed, and wiping the face at least twice daily with a slightly damp wash cloth, to dilute out and wash away the tears.”

Burt’s Bee‘s offers a gentle solution that helps to prevent stain build up when used daily.

“Our pets are part of the family and deserve the very best in natural care,” said Elizabeth Fella, marketing coordinator at Burt’s Bees. “The Burt’s Bees Natural Pet Care products are perfect for our pets since they adhere to the highest environmental standards and are made from safe, natural ingredients.” This product contains soothing chamomile, is pH balanced for dogs, cruelty free and made in the USA.

Understanding what causes the stains your clients complain about is helpful, but it is clear to see that in most cases caring for those all-important windows to the soul is a job best left to the medical profession.

Grooming with Eastern Flair

Symmetry. It is a word that every groomer has had drilled into them as they learned their trade. The standard has been that a symmetrically groomed pet was a well-groomed pet. Looking at a dog’s outline, we have been told that all of the parts should blend and balance with one another creating a pleasing image. No one part of the pet’s style should stand out or call attention; rather, the look should be cohesive, balanced and in proportion.

All that has changed recently. When Asian-style grooming was introduced to the United States, most groomers were a bit surprised to see the incredibly creative varieties of grooms all hallmarked by radical asymmetry. Here were dogs with necks clipped very close, boasting full heads, so that they resembled a bobble head doll or over-the-top adorable stuffed toy.

There were dogs with short head furnishings but long ears or shaved ears on a breed known for having full ear feathering. There were pets with very short body coats accentuated by long, flowing hair on the legs.

It was a bit mind boggling but once the shock wore off, American groomers in droves began to adopt the fun and unique trims invented by stylists in Japan, Korea and China. There are plenty of reasons why we have fallen so hard for the whimsical eastern flair.

One reason is that “It’s cute,” said Olga Zabelinskaya, Groom Team USA member and owner of Elite Pet Spa and Boutique in Madison, N.J. “It is a kind of haircut that is unbalanced. Most often found on small dogs like Maltese, Yorkshire terriers, poodles and shih tzus, this groom is created by clipping the body short, having longer, flared hair on the legs and creating a unique style on the head. Heads may be in a panda or a mushroom style or a teddy bear style. Ears may be very short or very long depending on the pet. Tied-up top knots are common as is short chin fur with a longer coat on the top of the muzzle. This gives dogs a puppy look no matter what their age is. When creating the head, accentuate the eyes and nose, so they appear to be three dots in the middle of the face.”

A second reason that Asian trims are terrific is that the typical close-clipped body, often as short as a 7F blade, lends itself to easier care between grooms for many pet owners. While it is true that those long, flared legs need between-grooming upkeep, the short body coat means reduced matting which is a major bonus for pet owner and stylist alike.

Zabelinskaya encourages customers to book every four weeks to keep the longer leg coat from becoming tangled.

Reason number three to love Asian style grooms is that they are original.

“A Yorkie groomed in the Asian style will not look like all the other Yorkies in the neighborhood,” said Zabelinskaya.

For customers that want to change things up a bit, having their pet clipped to make it look unique and stand out can generate the desired attention.

“Decorations are part of the look, as well,” said Zabelinskaya. “Bows, neckties or colorful flowers all add to the fun.”

More and more of her clients are requesting Asian type grooms.

“A year ago I groomed just two dogs this way,” said Zabelinskaya. “Now about every third customer wants to try this new look. It’s a good trim for people who don’t like a lot of coat but do like a lot of style. It’s different.”

Different can be a delightful challenge for groomers. Learning a whole new way to groom dogs and create fun new looks is a terrific outlet for creative people. Asian-inspired grooming allows us to step away from traditional breed standard styles and create a look that emphasizes each pet’s personality.

Award-winning creative groomer Cat Opson of Estrella Pet Grooming, Capistrano Beach, Calif. agrees.

“When I think of Asian fusion, the first thing that comes to mind is cartoon, teddy bear-looking styles,” she said. “Big heads, big tails, over exaggeration, styles pushed to the limit. Adopting these techniques is a really unique way to set yourself apart from the shop down the road. My clients love it. The way I got them interested in the beginning was by grooming my own toy poodle that way. He comes to work with me and greets everyone as they enter.”

Groomers interested in learning more can purchase Japanese grooming books online that are filled with beautiful photographs of uniquely groomed dogs. They can also attend grooming seminars given by people like Opson and even learn from the comfort of their own home by watching Adding some eastern flair to your grooming repertoire is a fun way to exercise your creativity and delight your customers.

The Wilder Side of Grooming

When Jerry Shinberg, founder of the All American Grooming Show, first challenged groomers to come up with something a little different in the competition ring, he could not possibly have imagined what the fertile imaginations of pet stylists would create as time passed.

From the first efforts of slightly different, unusual patterns, an entire arm of the grooming industry has developed and the creative competitions are the highlight and grand finale of grooming trade shows across the country. Intricate designs are clipped and trimmed, and color, feathers and gem stones are applied to create art on the living canvas of pets.

The level of craftsmanship and artistic talent have caused people outside of the grooming industry to sit up and take notice. Fashion photographer Paul Nathan used stunning photos of creatively groomed dogs to assemble an entire book, “Groomed.”

“I would say creative grooming is about taking grooming in the opposite direction of the practical maintenance of dog care,” he said of the project. “It is about creating an extremely fantastical, unique and imaginative artwork with the dog as the canvas, using non-toxic, washable dyes, masterful clipping and sometimes accessories.”

Angela Kumpe has won multiple creative grooming awards and international fame for her creations.

“The current trend is that new pet-safe products are becoming available from multiple sources,” she said. “One exciting new development is hair crayons. Many groomers have used chalk to get quick, vibrant color, but it fades quickly and can rub onto other parts of the coat, ruining a design. These new crayons are basically chalk in a wax base. It goes on as easy as chalk, the color is long lasting and it stays where you put it.”

Other popular trends like “face and bootie bling are popular, too, and can easily be added to pets by any groomer right in the salon,” she said.

Stylists use small gem stones to create impact either singly or used to fashion a pattern on pets’ faces or “booties.” The gems are attached to areas with short, smooth fur using nontoxic, water-soluble glue. “And another fun new trend is tattoos” she said. “Rub on tattoo transfers designed for children to use can be easily applied to pets’ underbellies, where the hair is already sparse and is usually given a sanitary trim anyway.”

Many companies have responded to groomers pleas for safe, easy-to-use color. Companies such as Davis Manufacturing, Warren London, Opawz, PetPaint and Espree now carry nontoxic colors, glitter and more.

Finding pet-friendly semipermanent dyes, temporary paste hair colors and unusual accessories has become much easier for everyday groomers. A stroll through trade show floors across the country allows groomers to find fun new products available at many booths.

Stylists are finding that just a small touch of color, nail art or one sparkling gem can cause a lot of excitement among their clients. These additions may only take an extra moment or two to apply, but can make a huge visual impact.

Kumpe recently caused a stir when she painted a facial portrait on the back of a smooth Chinese crested dog. She explained, “Lori, Craig and I were hired by an artist in June to design 13 dogs for him,” as part of an advertising project for a new clothing line. “One thing he asked me to do was paint the image of a French actresses face on the back of a Chinese crested. I didn’t think I’d be able to do it at first, but really it was pretty simple.”

First she printed a picture of the actress’s face in black and white. Then she cut out a stencil for the eyes, nose, nostrils and the outside edges of the lips.

“The rest of it was like putting on makeup,” she said. “I layered on colors, using an airbrush. First, tan, then sort of a ‘bronzer’ to create depth and the shape of the nose and cheek bones. I used different shades and kept layering; red to the lips, pink to the cheeks. Once when I was on the Queen Latifah show the makeup artist there took time to explain to me every step of how she applied makeup, and why. I used that information as I was airbrushing this face onto the dog with an Espree airbrush. The products were a combination of Bombay nontoxic India ink and the new Espress airbrush ink.”

She added false eyelashes to complete the picture and her results were stunning.

Finishing Touches

Fabulous finishing touches can be splashy and memorable, or more subtle.

“Groomers who decide to add that extra touch of ‘wow-za’ to coats have a vast array of products to use like Showseason Sparkle Sprays,” said Sandy Gyogyi from Showseason Animal Products. “They come in four different versions, 24 kt (gold), Crystal (silver), Party (green, purple, silver, pink and gold) and Just Sparkle (fragrance-free gold and silver.)  All of these finishing sprays create shimmery, shiny coats with an extra dose of bling. They can be applied with ease to any coat color.  Black coats look awesome with 24kt. while a more subtle treatment involves the use of Crystal Sparkle Spray on a white coat to create a monotone shine that hits when the light is just right.”

Finishing sprays have been around for a long time.  Groomers look for a pleasant scent and a tell-tale “just groomed” shine when choosing such sprays.  Ideal for smooth-coated dogs, products such as Nature’s Specialties can work.

Decorative finishing touches can be as simple as a ribbon bow or fabric bandana, but many groomers have perfected the art of finishing their grooms with elaborate accessories.

“I am a mobile groomer,” said Lisa Correia, owner Bark ‘n Purr Mobile Salon. “Ten years ago, when it started my business, I was one of a handful of mobile groomers in my area. Today, within a 25 mile radius of my home, there are at least 45 mobile groomers and that is not including stationary shops and big box stores. Accessories to me are just as important as giving a fabulous groom. I am always looking for new and creative ways to accessorize my grooms. I needed to go beyond the everyday bow and bandana.”

It is one of the reasons why she helped found Feathers N Flair.

“We specialize in out-of-the-box accessories; no bows and bandanas, rather feathers, flowers and neckties,” Correia said. “Can they get a little pricey compared to everyday bows and bandanas? Yes, they can. But if you are giving a fabulous groom, why shoot for ordinary? Feather extensions can last for up to five months and are naturally dirt resistant and water repellant and can be washed and dried many times over.”

“Our flower collars and ear bows are adorable and totally unexpected and are guaranteed to make my clients smile. Bows and neckties are the new and classy version of the traditional bandana. What’s nice is that the client can easily take them off and save them for special occasions. They last for years. My thought is that when your clients are paying top dollar for your groom, it is nice to spoil them with fine accessories.”

Groomers may find that their clients’ preferences for finishing products may vary, and it is a good idea to note what they desire in their customer information file.

“I found that tastes differ in different areas of the country,” said Lois Brown, owner of The Grooming Booth.  “When I lived in Wisconsin, everyone wanted bows.  Here in Ohio the majority of my customers want bandanas instead.”
If a customer has a no-bow preference and the pet is delivered to them all beribboned, they can feel that their desires are not respected and be quite unhappy.

Also, because many people are sensitive or even allergic to the scent of perfumes, keeping accurate records about perfume preference is important. Groomers report that many customers are requesting that unscented products be used on their pets.
From glitter to feathers, perfumes to shine-enhancing sprays, the sky is the limit for how you choose to delight your grooming customers.

Grooming Rustic Breeds

Move over, doodles, there are new grooming challenges in town. Known collectively as “rustic breeds,” these dogs have some specific grooming needs that are important for savvy stylists to know about.

Just what is a rustic breed? One definition of the word “rustic,” is simple and artless. And that is a good thing to keep in mind when working on breeds that fall under the rustic category, breeds such as the Spanish water dog, pumi, barbet and lagotto romagnolo.

Keep It Simple

One thing that attracts fanciers of these breeds is the unkempt, natural appearance of their coats.

When it comes to grooming these breeds, “less is more,” said Sheryl Gaines, of New Jersey, who breeds and shows Spanish water dogs.

“This breed has a single coat, somewhat like a poodle, but you will find different degrees of curl and texture from dog to dog,” she said. “The coat can be described as ‘wooly.’“

Gaines keeps her show dogs in corded coats, but for pet groomers her instructions are simple.

“Take everything off one length all over,” she said. “If the dog is matted, use a 7F blade, nose to tail. If it is not matted and the owner wants a bit of length you can use a 4 or 5F blade.”

The problem is that groomers take a look at the whimsical faces of this breed and want to style them.

“No poufs,” said Gaines. “No long ears, no sculpted head, no brushing, no combing, no drying.”

On its official website, the Spanish Water Dog Club of America states, “The Spanish water dog should never be aesthetically groomed.” This goes against just about everything any groomer has been taught.

For the Spanish water dog pet, breed fanciers are adamant: Keep it simple. Put the dog on the grooming table, take every bit of hair off at the same length all over the body. Then wash, towel and let the dog dry naturally. For groomers who itch to create a “look,” this simplicity can be hard to grasp.

One hint given by Groom Team USA member and industry educator Kendra Otto is this:

“The key to properly maintaining many of the rustic coated breeds is the raking and combing before the bath,” said Otto. “This will keep the pet happier for the grooming experience. They’re also air dried to keep the curls. You want the breed to look messy and unkempt.”

Otto is featured in several educational videos produced by Learn2groomdogs showing the proper way to groom several rustics, including the pumi and the lagatto romagnolo. Groomers can purchase a subscription and watch Otto working on actual dogs while explaining the best techniques and tools to create the signature looks of each breed.

Know Your Limits

When grooming a rare breed that fits into the rustic category for the first time, don’t hesitate to admit that you are not familiar with the techniques necessary to create the correct look. Many pet owners will have specific grooming instructions that came from their breeder. If so, ask them to bring them in with their pet, and take time to read them over.

Also remember that help is at your fingertips. Each breed club has extensive websites that all include detailed grooming instructions.

For example, the Lagatto Club of America states on their website, “…The coat should be shown in a rustic style with no fluffing or blowing out. The coat should match the lines of the dog and the curls should be evident. The dog should have the appearance of the working dog that it is.”

The breed club for the Hungarian pumi offers that, “In order to achieve the characteristic corkscrews and curls in the coat, the hair is allowed to dry naturally. The coat must never appear fluffed and blown dry, obscuring the characteristic curls.”

The message is clear, put the blow dryer away. Tools that are helpful for styling these breeds are clipper blades that leave coats as long as possible, as well as snap-on combs and chunker-style thinning shears, all of which allow groomers to remove excess coat while maintaining the correct natural appearance that these breeds require.

Don’t be daunted if your appointment book has a rare and rustic dog on its pages. Simply do a little research on the breed. Learn what their standard calls for and brush up on the grooming requirements. Then put everything you know about grooming other breeds aside and plunge into the unique world of grooming rustics

Options for Tubs and Lifts

Most people would agree that a pet is not fully groomed unless it has been effectively bathed, and having a proper place to wash dogs and cats is a critical part of designing any grooming space.

There are so many options when it comes to where to get pets wet. While some groomers choose to adapt a human style bath tub by elevating it, many companies now design bathing areas specifically for pets.

From tiny tubs designed for toy breeds and cats to enormous walk-in spaces for giant dogs, and even tubs that lower and lift with the press of a lever, professional groomers can find the perfect unit for the way they work.

“In the human hair industry, stylists don’t think twice about buying appropriate tools designed to do the job they are intended for,” said Nancy Apatow, president of PetLift. “I firmly believe that pet groomers could last longer in their profession, and enjoy it more, if they would invest in good equipment from the start. Buying the best durable equipment actually saves groomers in the long-term.”

PetLift manufactures a variety of styles of bath tubs, large and small, with convenient options such as walk-in ramps and in-tub restraint systems. Their products are made in the USA of high quality stainless steel.

A tub that is properly designed to minimize lifting and bending, which allows groomers to work ergonomically, will pay off in the long run by minimizing wear and tear on the most important tool of all, the groomer’s body.

Ever Evolving

Manufacturers take groomers’ feedback into consideration, and are constantly developing new products to fulfill customer demand.

“We have two new bathtub models that we are introducing,” said Mark Arndt from Forever Stainless. “They are not full-sized tubs and are not mini tubs, but something in between. We call them MidiTubs, and they are designed for versatility and space savings.”

Both tubs come with a choice of left- or right-handed plumbing, space for a recirculating bathing pump if used, and both have the faucet fixture located on the back deck for ease of use and to maximize work space.

When choosing stainless steel tubs, check the gauge of the steel. The lower the number, the thicker the steel is. For instance, 16 gauge steel is 108 percent thicker than 20 gauge steel. Also check to make sure that the seams are fully welded to prevent leaking.

If you are buying a non-stainless tub, keep in mind that the more seams there are, the more chance you have of eventual leakage.

“UltraLift’s fiberglass-composite wash units are made from a single mold, which means no seams, no leaks, no caulking,” said Bob Lutz, of UltraLift.

These tubs come in two sizes, standard and space saver, and groomers can choose between stationary and elevating units.

“The pride of our tub/wash unit line is the elevating Professional 3-Side Splash, which raises and lowers the rail height between 24 to 42 inches by the touch of a foot pedal,” he said. “When at its lowest height, the entry passage is 14 inches from the floor, allowing for easy entry and exit even for geriatric dogs. Once the dog is secured, the unit may be raised up to a comfortable working height for the bather. The process saves time and money, allowing for greater efficiency in the salon by enabling one person to simply guide the dog into the tub/wash unit without requiring assistance from additional personnel, and greatly reduces stress and strain.”

These electrically powered tubs can make the bathing process easier and safer for both pets and groomers, virtually eliminating the need to lift dogs in and out of the bath.  Keeping pets safely restrained during the bathing process is an important task. Well-designed tubs have places to clip a safety loop to in order to prevent wet pets from taking inappropriate flying leaps.

When it comes to the best loops to choose, many groomers vote in favor of the nylon ones made by Groomers Helper.

“I like them because they are keep dogs very secure,” said Ashley Pelletier, a groomer at 2nd Family Dogs in Texas. “I love the quick release; in case of an emergency such as a seizure, the dog can be swiftly removed from the loop. I especially like that, when properly clipped, dogs cannot back out of the loop.”
The sturdy fabric lasts a long time, even when exposed to water, and the loops machine-washes well.

Elevate Your Grooming

When purchasing a grooming table, stylists should consider that this tool is the basis of their work environment.

It should be compared to a carpenter’s tool bench or an artist’s easel. The grooming table is, after all, where much of the magic happens. It should keep pets secure, and enable hard-working groomers to perform their work safely and comfortably.

In the past, tables were stationary affairs. The first moving grooming table was invented and marketed by PetLift.

PetLift started out in the beauty industry. It developed the first hydraulic lift table for dogs by putting a tabletop on a hydraulic chair base. That original design was so successful that PetLift still makes it to this day.

Nancy Apatow, the company’s CEO, said they are always working to develop new products to help the grooming industry.

“Our guideline is to produce tools that are safe, durable and functional,” she said. “We have groomers tell us they have used one of our tables for 20 years or more.”

Since that first table, PetLift has developed multiple models of both hydraulic and electric tables, including one with an illuminated top.

“I get a little passionate about our products, because I know that good tools make a difference in a groomers career,” she said. “One woman came up to me at a trade show and hugged me. She told me that she had lost three years of her grooming career because she had injured herself at work. After rehabilitation she was starting again … She told me, ‘If I had your table to start with, I wouldn’t have become injured.’ Groomers think nothing of spending hundreds of dollars on scissors, but they scrimp when it comes to their work station, and that can cost them in the long run because they get hurt and cannot continue to work.”

When Sean Dowling, groomer and owner of Laurel, Md.-based Sean Patrick’s Pet Spa, opened his business 7 years ago it was important for him to invest in quality equipment that would look good and last.

“I wanted to convey a very professional appearance,” he said. “I bought a Forever Stainless Steel hydraulic table. I’ve bought three more since then, and it’s impossible to tell my oldest table from my newest; they all look perfect despite constant use. The pets appreciate how sturdy the tables are; there is no wobble. The removable rubber mats keep the pets secure and comfortable, and are easy to clean and sanitize in the tub for use the next day.’

Different Options

Adjustable tables can be either hydraulic or electric. Electric tables move more quickly and smoothly, but cost more to purchase.

“Electric tables save time, and time is money in grooming. They also save wear and tear on the groomer,” said Bob Lutz, owner of Ultralift. “Hydraulic tables do not go up and down as smoothly, and dogs may be reactive to the movement, especially when they are lowered.”

Whichever type you choose, know that keeping pets safe is a major benefit of lift tables. Tables lower close to the ground so that dogs can step on and off without injury. An additional safety product is the Groomers Helper. Invented by Chuck Simons for his groomer wife, Beth, this tool is a pet safety and positioning system.

“It’s like having a second pair of helping hands,” said Simons.

When purchasing tables and grooming arms, it is important to make sure they will work with the Groomers Helper safety system.

“We also have developed the strongest 1-inch stainless steel table arms and locking table clamps,” said Simons. “They are guaranteed never to bend.”

Lift Tubs

Bath tubs that lower to admit large and giant breed dogs are fairly new on the grooming scene.

“We have tubs that will lower to 14 inches, so there is no need for two or more groomers to have to lift that Newfoundland up and over,” said Lutz. “This means it is safer for the pet and really prevents back injuries in groomers.”

Nancy Apatow is excited about a line of new stainless steel tubs that they will be introducing soon.

“They are very innovative and I believe they will revolutionize the industry. We hope to have them ready by the end of the year.”

Tubs and tables that do the heavy lifting are wise investments for groomers who want to stay passionate about their work for years to come.

Drying Off

In order to produce an excellent finish on a groomed animal, the pet must be very clean, free of dead hair and tangles, and properly dried. There is more to this last step than many people realize.

Preparing a pet’s coat for clipping, scissoring or plucking is the basis of a job well done. Getting the pet from clean and wet, to clean and totally dry from the skin to the tips of the hair is a large and time-consuming part of the work to be done. How the dog is dried has a huge effect on the finished result of the grooming. It may seem counter intuitive, but the drying process should begin before a groomer ever even gets the pet wet.

Air Flow

Good air flow in the environment is hugely important. Any area where pets are bathed has lots of moisture in the air. Installing a vent fan over bathtubs can make a dramatic impact on how much moisture gets trapped in the grooming area.

Drying a pet in a space full of wet air is nearly impossible. Air conditioning helps, removing water with ventilation and dehumidifiers are even better.

Choosing Products

Did you know there are shampoos designed for animals that will actually help you dry coats more quickly? Show Season’s Speed Dry shampoo works by making it easier for water to move through the coat so it can be quickly removed from the coat. Shampoos and light conditioners with silicone or silk proteins help to smooth and seal individual hair shafts so that water does not linger there, and can be absorbed or blown out more easily.

Beyond these products are after-bath sprays, such as Quick-Dry from Davis Manufacturing, Ultra Fast Blow Dry Conditioner from E-Z Groom and Speed Dry spray from Show Seasons.

The ingredients in these products work by reducing the surface tension in water, which makes it easier to remove it from the coat.

The Power of Absorption

Using regular towels or super absorbing, microfiber clothes is the best first step to drying dogs and cats. By actually extracting much of the water physically with toweling, it reduces the amount of water that would be blown into the environment with a dryer while reducing time spent evaporating moisture with air.

 Super-absorbent clothes, such as Moisture Magnets, available through MDC Romani, work by sucking water out of the coat like a sponge. They can be wrung out and reused on the pet as they become saturated, and can be machine-washed and dried, on low heat, just like terrycloth towels.

 Happy Hoodies are soft, absorbent tubes that come in three sizes, and when slipped over a dog or cat’s head, they begin to remove moisture from the coat on contact. They also buffer the sound of mechanical pet dryers, helping to keep the pet calm while the body coat is being dried. Once removed from the head, stylists will find that the area where the Hoodie was is already free of the heaviest moisture, and drying time in that area is pleasantly reduced.


Placing a towel on the table beneath a pet that is being dried is a time-honored practice, but one fraught with frustration. Towels slip and blow off, and nails become tangled in them.

Fit to be Dried grooming tabletoppers end that frustration. Designed to stay snugly on the grooming table, these towels absorb moisture from the pet’s feet as they stand to be dried, as well as absorbing water that is blown off the coat.

It even reduces the sound of air that high-velocity dryers produce when hitting the hard surface of an un-topped table.They provide comfortable footing for the pets and are machine wash and dryable.


Whether a groomer chooses to use a traditional dryer with a heating element which removes water by combining the action of air movement with warmth or a high velocity dryer designed to push water out of the coat with the movement of air, the drying time will be vastly reduced and the end result improved if the groomer begins the drying process before they ever even wash the pet.

Just remember to keep the humidity low, utilize products that will smooth the hair so it releases moisture, absorb as much water as possible mechanically, and keep pets calm and comfortable.

Tool Evolution

As professionals whose primary job description involves cutting hair, keeping up with the latest innovations on all things sharp is a smart thing to do.

Clippers and scissors continue to evolve as savvy stylists demand tools that can hold up to the difficult and creative tasks at hand. When it comes to clippers, a groomer’s wish list includes power to get through the thickest coats smoothly, and a tool that will last.

And let’s face it, they like a clipper with some color and character, too. Manufacturers continue to offer new, innovative tools to choose from.

“Our most recent and revolutionary clipper has a brushless motor,” John Vasone of Conair, said. “The motor is unlike that found in any other pet clipper. It is similar to motors used in radio-controlled airplanes.”

The motors found in most other clippers have parts in them called “brushes.” The brushes are made of metal and, with time, wear out.

“Because of the way this motor is designed, it will last a long, long time,” Vasone said. “We have tested it and it has gone over 10,000 hours of run time. Because of this we offer a 10-year warrantee on the motor. It is also a very light clipper; it only weighs 9.4 ounces, about the same weight as a good-sized Delicious apple.”

Erich Jedersberger, from The German Red Clipper Company (Aesculap), explained the company’s new FAV5 Hybrid clipper.

“One of the main reasons for the launch of the FAV5 Hybrid is to offer a high-quality pet clipper at an affordable price,” he said. “If the groomer wants to make it cordless, he/she can do so at any moment, just buying the battery pack in a second step.”

This clipper has been well received by groomers because it offers high torque for supreme cutting quality, yet the blades stay cool because of lower speeds.  The separately sold battery pack includes a charger and two light-weight lithium ion batteries.

Wahl representative Judi Cantu Thacker is extremely enthusiastic about her favorite clipper.

“The new KM10 is every groomer’s dream,” she said. “Powerful, quiet, brushless motor, two speeds, smooth finish and, best of all, it comes with a 5-year warrantee. It stays cool when clipping for an extended period of time. For such a cool clipper, it is one hot product.”

Another option out there for groomers is the Oster A6.

“The Oster A6 is a 3-speed clipper that is ergonomically designed with a black overmold that is anti-slip,” Al Fisher, account manager/sales for Oster, said. “The same clipper is offered in purple for groomers that like to add some color. It is slim, light and very popular.”

Andis offers a huge selection of professional end clippers, from the AGC single speed to the AGC2, Super2 speed.

“My favorite is the Excel,” Diane Betelak, an Andis company representative said. “A lightweight, small bodied, very powerful 5-speed clipper that now comes in five different colors: pink, silver, blue, purple and the newest color, spring green. This little clipper can power through the toughest coat and still look pretty.”

What’s New

When it comes to innovations in scissors, groomers are talking about the relatively new chunker-style blending shears.

“Our 26-tooth blender is far and away our most popular seller out of our entire line of scissors,” Fisher said. “Designed for cutting the tips of hair, not for bulk thinning, this style of scissors creates a beautiful, natural finish with very little effort.  They are useful for everything from shaping sweetly styled “teddy bear”-type heads to all-over scissored body finishes and lots of things in between.”

Groomer Liz Czak, owner of Yankee Clipper Pet Grooming and Supplies in Rockport, Maine, said hardly a day goes by that she doesn’t wonder how she ever groomed without this type of blender.

“I’ve only used them for the last two or three of my almost 50-year career, but I certainly wish I’d had them all along” she said. “I find I use them on almost every dog I groom.”

Though most commonly found as a straight shear, Randy Lowe, of Precision Sharp, has begun to craft chunker-style blenders with curved blades.

“Groomers like them for working on rounded heads and anywhere a soft, curved trim is needed,” Lowe said. “I’ve been selling them as fast as I can make them.”

When choosing clippers or scissors, it is helpful for groomers to attend an industry trade show so that they can hold the tools and see how they feel in hand. By working with a vendor at a show, groomers can be fitted so that the scissors they choose fit their hand optimally, ensuring not only good scissoring results, but also less hand fatigue and joint stress.

Groomers should purchase clippers that offer low vibration, good balance and excellent cutting power to help reduce injuries caused by working repetitively with power tools. With the myriad of choices available to modern stylists, the “perfect” tools are just waiting to be discovered.

Adventures in Cat Grooming

Cat grooming is not for the faint of heart.

“I firmly believe that if you are going to groom cats, then you have to leave your ego at the door,” Crystal MacDonald, Pretty Paws Pet Grooming in Henderson, Nev., said. “Cat grooming is not a ‘Get ‘er done no matter what’ kind of thing. You have to be willing to stop when it’s time, take time out to play with, or comfort, the cat, and be willing to tell a cat guardian that today is not the day, bring it back next week to finish.  It can be an intense effort.  You have to really love cats to be successful at this.”

Feline grooming needs differ quite radically from their canine counterparts. It is important for groomers to remember that, though dogs and cats may share their lives and homes with people, cats are, indeed, an entirely different species than dogs. Safe and compassionate handling combined with specialized knowledge are the cornerstones to successful cat grooming.

Experienced cat groomers suggest that in order to handle cats safely, the following guidelines should be considered.


Before attempting to groom cats, learn as much as you can about their physical and psychological needs.

You can find useful and general information in books and on the Internet, and you can get specific grooming-related information from The Professional Cat Groomers Association of America,  the National Cat Groomers Institute of America or from the Cat Grooming Symposiums, which holds annual events across the country.

Understand Body Language

While a dog may wag its tail when it is happy to see you, a wagging cat tail is a warning that should be heeded.

Cats communicate their feelings and intentions quite well with their eyes, ears, body position and tail.  Once a groomer learns to read cat body language, their grooming success rate will climb.

Product Knowledge

Shampoos, conditioners and even cleaning products used in the grooming area that are perfectly safe to use around dogs can cause illness or even death in cats. People who want to add feline specialty services must learn what ingredients in the products they use can be harmful.

This can be tricky because some products which are labeled as safe for feline use actually contain ingredients that are known to cause problems. To make matters even more confusing, many pet products contain no list of ingredients at all, leaving the safe use of those products purely up to chance.

Even very benign-seeming ingredients, such as natural essential oils, cause negative reactions in cats.

Ideal Environment

In a perfect world, cats would be groomed where they feel safe and secure. Unfortunately, many grooming spaces have barking dogs in them, or at least the scent of dogs and other cats, which can cause the cat to become very stressed. Steps can be taken to minimize these stressors, however.

House cats in the tallest cages possible, covering the cage door entirely or partially with a clean, dry towel so the cat feels hidden. Be certain there is no way for a frightened cat to exit the grooming area should it get loose.  Clean cat cages, grooming surfaces and washing areas with a cat-safe, scent-free cleanser before working on the pet.  Have all tools ready at hand before beginning because cats have an internal timer—that timer may be set to 30 seconds or an hour, but when the cat is done, it is time to stop grooming.


“Less is more,” Amie Wright, of Dirty Dogs and Smelly Cats, in Ohio, said. “The less you restrain, the better the experience will be for all.”

Grooming loops, which are safety features used around a dog’s neck, are disastrous when used on a cat, and may cause choking or even a broken neck.

“Never restrain a cat by holding the scruff of its neck,” Sheryl Woods, cat-exclusive groomer and grooming educator at Wet Whisker Cat Grooming in Chicago, said. “Scruffing is an aggressive action to the cat, and you will never build a bond by man-handling the cat.”

Bathing and Drying

The old wives tale that cats hate water is not true. Cats can be comfortably and safely bathed using cat-friendly techniques. Using warm, soothing water, cat-safe products and a calm, reassuring demeanor goes a long way.

Many cats have rather oily coats, and this can present a challenge when it comes to getting their beautiful hair really clean. More than one bath is often needed to ensure that the end result is a fluffy, fragrant feline. And getting those dense coats dry is a huge challenge as well.

Wrapping the cat firmly in a warm, dry towel and holding it for 15-20 minutes will absorb much of the water. Groomers call this a “kitty burrito.”  Next, working from the haunches up, use a mechanical dryer and comb to remove the rest of the water from the coat, unwrapping each area as you work.


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