Hate your life? Want to work with dogs?

As thought I haven’t beaten this ‘dead horse’ enough….someone gave me some old Oprah magazines, and  someone asked Suze Orman if she should go for the  dog grooming career change.

Suze’s answer was good…in so many words, she told the  woman to  apprentice.  I am going to add to that.

When I learned to groom dogs, over 40 years ago, America was a much different place.  Lots of us in the white middle class lived the  Donna Reed Show/Ozzie & Harriet suburban existence.  Our families might have been dysfunctional, but what white households spent on  overhead was a much lower  percentage of gross income than it is now…& we are not going back. Face it.  You want a better balance?  Consider expatriating yourself, and I am not joking.

Also…when I learned to groom dogs, the  industry was still at the point where you   could not apprentice with an experienced groomer.  They taught their kids.  It’s the culture of the industry.  I  went to a dog grooming school.

Also, the culture of the industry remains that the people who go into dog grooming for a living are not great capitalists, and they don’t care if you can support yourself or not.  They want to do what they want to do, and that’s how it is.  & that is why there is anecdotal evidence that the average groomer stays in the industry for less than 5 years.  They get injured, they get bored, they get frustrated with not earning a real income. Think about it.  I wouldn’t take a job that paid $8.50 an hour unless it included benefits—&  your benefits are worth an average of $5 an hour.  So—that’s $13.50 an hour.  It’s easy to figure out what a grooming shop grosses if you  know what the average charge is per dog, and you know  how many dogs the shop averages in a day or a week.  If you apprentice as a dog bather, you will get to see all this.

But wait a minute here!  Do you groom your own dog?  Are you in control of your own dog?

Have you  ever followed through and gotten a dog to off leash reliability?  I’ve put obedience titles on  two sighthounds (both were nationally ranked in their breeds when they competed) and I trained other people to train their dogs.  If you  haven’t  trained your own dog, how do you figure you are going to get someone else’s dog under control to make it look good and not injure it?  They can teach you some of the skills you will need if you go to a dog grooming school, but they can’t teach YOU to be a leader.  You must be a leader.  Any  experienced dog person will tell you, it’s either you or the dog, because dog ownership is not a democracy.  Also, my other favorite thing to remind  potential dog professionals of is: you are not going to be grooming Lassie.  Think Cujo, and hope for Benji. Also, the dog grooming school can’t teach you talent.  You have to have an ‘eye’ for  dog, and know in your mind’s eye what the ideal dog of that breed is supposed to look like.

How fit are you?  Are you even remotely athletic, or in shape?  I was not.  I made a point to start working out on a regular basis, because  dog grooming is very physically demanding. You will be lifting, carrying, bending—a lot.   When I first started grooming, as a teenager, I would come home after work, eat dinner, and fall into bed.  I remember once my mother waking me up and yelling at me that my father had to walk my dog, and I was so paralyzed with exhaustion that I could not move.  I  do  what  personal trainers call core exercises.  A lot of groomers leave the industry because they get injured, and you are less likely to get injured (and you will  heal faster if you do) if you are physically strong.

Ok, you really wanna do this…and the grooming schools you’ve contacted have  helped you to get loans (grants?  maybe…my state is broke, but  I hear about retraining grants…).  When I was contemplating graduate school, a number of people with advanced degrees told me to NOT PAY FOR GRAD SCHOOL. They told me that if any grad school had confidence in me, they would give me an assistantship. They were right.  If you are going to put yourself into significant debt to learn a skill…you’d better be awfully sure you will make enough of a living to pay that debt back without cutting into your living expenses.   Keep in mind—they may give you a syllabus of what they will teach you—but you don’t know what they will NOT teach you.  You will not learn the nuances of the breeds—but if you want to be a good dog groomer, you really need to learn them. The only way is to talk with the  hobby breeders and fanciers.

There are several  dog grooming websites where you can ask questions of dog groomers:  http://www.TheGroomersLounge.comhttp://www.groomertogroomer.com ;   http://www.petgroomer.com Go ahead and post…ask  how they got into the business, & how long they’ve been supporting themselves grooming dogs. Ask what breeds they do the most, and their average fee per dog.  Ask how they learn about equipment and styling, and new techniques.  Ask if they are busy all year , or if their business is seasonal.  Ask if they show  dogs or are otherwise involved in performance events.  Ask how they hire, and what their groomers make in an average hour or day.  Some groomers will be honest about this.  In fact, I was, when employed by successful businesses, averaging over $25 an hour when I worked.  But  from grooming dogs last year, I earned just $19,000.  Ask how many groomers work for businesses owned by non-dog groomers (or other non-dog  fanciers).

Do you still want to do this?  Do you know how much it costs you to live very month? What you spend on groceries, utilities, insurance,  gas and maintenance for your car, rent, savings & retirement. Retirement?  I know of  a few dog groomers in their 60’s, and I probably know some part timers in their 70’s, but none in their 80’s.

Is your hobby  shopping?  Are you into fashion?  Your clothes are going to get  ruined…as are your nails.  You might want to think about whether you are willing to forgo this.  In fact, you are going to start keeping every receipt for every purchase.  I put everything I can on a credit card that pays cash back.  That’s how I track my spending.  Of course, it goes without saying that I pay it off every month.  My credit score  is in the 750 range. It would be higher if I had a higher income.

You are going to triage your stuff.  Can you do that?  Can you edit your belongings into  keep/sell or donate/ toss?  You are going to start itemizing on your taxes. and you will need every deduction you can find.  Whenever I donate anything, I  get an official receipt, and I list everything I donate, using an IRS approved client valuation guide.  Just about everything that  works or isn’t damaged has a value—but  you  will not get 100% of the value as a deduction—your value is based on your tax bracket. Yes, it might change, but  that’s how it is for now.

Do you keep a calendar or date book?  Because if you do not, you will never be able to do this. This is a service business, and you have to know when you will be delivering service.  You will also have to learn how to manage your time, and how much time a given task takes.

Are there certain types of dogs you don’t like?  Get over  it.  My clients know that if they were all Cocker spaniels, Saint Bernards, or Old English Sheepdogs, I wouldn’t have a dog.  Many groomers don’t like Chow Chows, Afghan Hounds, or Lhasa Apsos.  Some groomers won’t do the giant breeds. It’s up to you.  As long as I can handle the dog, I will do my best to groom the dog in a humane fashion and make that dog look as good as I can. It’s a matter of integrity.

Integrity…sticky subject.  I believe in planned breeding.  However, there is a terrible pet overpopulation problem in this country.  You , as a pet care professional, have to know this, understand this, and be able to articulate how you feel about this.  I  will probably never ever again, in my life, purchase a puppy.  I don’t have the time to train a puppy.  If you  really have the time, and won’t make excuses, and that’s what you want, go for it…but don’t say it’s because you want to train the dog the way you want to train it, because that is bs.  If the dog  does not have a mental issue (& sometimes you won’t know this until the dog has physically matured), you can train most dogs if you know  good  behavior shaping techniques &  are consistent.  I have written about this before:  the dog not totally housebroken by the age of 6 months has only a 50/50 chance of ever being reliable.  It’s not a breed issue, in most cases…it is a dynamics issue.  That said, I’d  go to a breed specific rescue to  check out dogs.  If you like Pit Bulls, there are plenty in shelters all over the continental USA—especially  in big city areas. That’s where all the macho idiots who want tough dogs overbreed.  I don’t want them choosing what kind of dog I own.  Similarly…what if the only  job you can find is with a pet store that sells puppy mill puppies?  The manager will tell you  they only buy from USDA licensed breeders.  Sure they are—but that isn’t the issue. They are breeding & selling pet dogs as livestock.  They don’t care if  someone with megabucks comes in to buy a puppy she is not prepared to care for. They don’t care.  But as a dog lover, YOU must care.  Do you want to be part of that?  Supporting the sales of puppies to  people who will  start making excuses & want to dump the pet (or abuse or neglect it) once the novelty wears off?

I know there is a lot of motivational stuff out there about  living your dreams, but face it:  people make a living telling you to discount reality.  A lot of us got into the industry by grooming and training our own dogs. Try that before you quit your day job.



One Response to “Hate your life? Want to work with dogs?”

  1. Gabriel Smith Says:

    As a member of the dog grooming community, I find this Astonishingly challenging thanks, I do believe your audience would most likely want more reviews of this nature keep up the great hard work.

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