Dog Grooming Terminology…and the State of the Industry


This is a Maltese I groomed in a puppy trim. They do not  grow like this .naturally. they need haircuts.

This is a Maltese I groomed in a puppy trim. They do not grow like this .naturally. they need haircuts.

Should dog groomers be licensed?  If so—who makes the rules?

In case you didn’t know from reading past blog posts, I  generally work as an independent contractor.  Often, taxes are taken out of my paycheck (& I feel this is a good thing, as I pay less per cent FICA—or Social Security), but my hours are not regular, and often I don’t know what I am doing day-to-day.  Doe a very long time, grooming terminology was pretty standard.  If I made a mistake—it was leaving a dog’s hair too long—and it could always be cut shorter.

Often I’ve had employers/contractors lie to me about how booked they are and how much work I can expect (and how much income I can expect to make).  This has been happening much more often in the past 10 years as  the hobbyists/fanciers who originally owned dog businesses retire, and the  ‘slack’ is taken up by people  who just want to own a pet business (who are not groomers), or  people being taught at dog grooming schools—who think they really know how to groom.

Some DO know how to groom—at least they can  scissor evenly. But do they know the nuances of the breeds?  Or,  that if you clip a double coated dog you might cause clipper alopecia? How about that it’s not how much suds you get —but the agitation of active ingredients of shampoo against the dog’s hair?  Do they know that neither hair—nor water—in the dogs ears cause ear infections, but it  is  a synergy of  bacteria, yeast, and stress that  are the cause of most ear infections?  Ah, no.  Nor do these newbies know anything about animal behavior. They are not fanciers from way back who  took delight in communicating with their pet dogs. Many I have met decided to groom  because they didn’t know what else to do with their lives and they ‘loved dogs’, or (more recently) a dog groomer  injured their dog, so they decided they’d do it better….yet…

These newer groomers (who’ve been taught  in the past 10 or so years), who  claim they  run  their businesses so they are safe, or are better at  styling, or do a better job brushing dogs—-do they really offer a better outcome in terms of safety  for dogs or quality of work?

I recently worked for a very skilled groomer who  graduated from a grooming school and never worked for anyone but herself.  That was a red flag to me, because we learn so much from each other.   Upon graduating grooming school, she immediately bought a mobile  grooming van, and was successful.  I’ve had several mobile groomers tell me their clients are not so concerned about styling.  They are  concerned about convenience only. It so happened that this particular groomer I was working for  was very conscientious.  However, she thought that everyone who ever learned to groom learned the same terminology, the same methods, the same styling  practices, but worse, now that she was in a shop (rather than in the van), it was safe to allow all the dogs to run loose in the shop.  It was not safe, for  individual dogs, and  this was for many reasons.  In any case, she thought we should be licensed as it would be safer for  dogs. Really?

Her dog was  killed when it hung itself  jumping out of the tub…and although she has signs that say: DO NOT LEAVE DOGS IN TUB UNATTENDED, her bather regularly does this.   The owner is too busy to notice.   So, she allows  two practices  that are not safe for  pet dogs.

This business owner complained about how much shampoo her groomers were using.  It could be very irritating  to a dog’s skin to use concentrated shampoo…but she was not making sure the shampoo was being diluted to the ration the manufacturer suggested.  I  guess that as long as the groomers made the dogs look good, it was not enough of an issue to  solve.

When I  was taught to groom dog…every dog was a poodle.  Maybe  one out of 50 dogs a miniature Schnauzer or a Cocker Spaniel.  We never saw Maltese or Yorkies, and there were no Shih Tzu or Bichons because they were not yet recognized breeds by the AKC.  So how did we learn these  other breeds?  By either apprenticing with hobby breeders or professional AKC handlers, or going to grooming seminars which the kennel clubs held.

There were no ‘bath & tidy’ groomings, but what started happening was that dog groomers offered the service of a bath which included the ‘tidy’: which was—for every shop I ever worked in…besides the bath—the ears and nails, the sanitary trim (including hair in pads of feet), and scissoring up to  first joint:  the hock or pastern!  Now, they are calling any  ‘off’ breed  grooming—which—in the past—you would never use a clipper blade on the body (unless the owner specifically asked)—-a bath & tidy.  For us old timers—this was a full  Golden Retriever (or Collie, or Pekingese) grooming.  I was rudely told  that I didn’t know how to groom because of how I interpreted instructions!

So, how are we going to legislate this?  If the shop owner discounts how unsafe it is to allow a pack of dogs—a new mix  of dogs —including intact dogs—every day—that doesn’t know each other, to socialize, but they are not licensed as a dog daycare center—-so nobody is actively watching  dogs to make sure nobody is bullying another dog,  or checking to make sure  the dogs socializing are inoculated against kennel cough (or don’t  have  giardia or other type of parasite ), is YOUR PET any safer than if the  shop and groomers are  licensed?  As an aside—best practice in dog daycare is :  no intact dogs, and  one ‘handler’ for every 12 dogs. In Illinois,  15 dogs per handler  are allowed…but the law is not enforced.

Who should set the guidelines to license groomers?  The veterinarians,  who’ve mandated that dogs should get a rabies shot every year (when their immunity is probably good for  at least  five, if not 10 years)? The veterinarians who suggest putting a harness on a dog so he doesn’t suffer a collapsed trachea rather than telling the owner to teach the dog not to pull on the  leash?  Groomers who are politically connected, but may not be able to tell a Lhasa Apso from a Shih Tzu, or a Welsh Terrier from a Lakeland?

I worry about all this.  I was told I was not a good groomer  because I didn’t know a ‘bath & tidy’ on a Golden Retriever was actually really a full groom.   I was accused  of not  cleaning a Portuguese Water Dog’s ears out (after a breeder told me to NOT pull all the hair out as it night irritate the ears more than leaving some hair in), and for not  deshedding a nervous dog who clearly was flight shedding…because the instructions did NOT include a deshedding treatment.  I can’t tell you how many groomers have laughed at me about this (not believing that it happens frequently)!

I worked  briefly for a groomer who tethered all dogs to grooming tables, which resulted in  a lot of  anxiety, pooping, and  leash chewing. She discounted that dogs  are stressed when tethered, and she just didn’t want to buy more crates. In addition, she sold  harnesses, so  dogs could pull their owners around.  No collars, only harnesses (not realizing that after this cute fluffy dog dies the owner will have had enough of a dog being in charge of them, but thinking there is no alternative, and not getting another dog.

Maybe I shouldn’t worry.   One groomer whom I respect  said that designer dogs are a fad (but will ethical hobby breeders…breeding for the betterment of their breeds, be able to maintain a gene pool?).  That as dogs get injured in poorly run shops, those shops will go out of business.  I wish I could be so optimistic.

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