Confessions of a Pet Groomer

Ah, I love the smell of wet dog in the morning!

Twenty-two years ago, at the age of 34, I decided to switch careers and become Renee, the dog and cat groomer. I founded Pet-i-Care, my own dog and cat grooming salon in Buffalo, N.Y.

It was the best decision of my life!

Happy to go to work

I look forward to meeting my doggie customers every morning. It is a fun job, a rewarding job and -- sometimes -- even a dangerous job. If my "customers" aren't happy, they don't just complain, they can bite or scratch! But I've mostly been able to successfully read my animal clients' state of mind, cater to their moods and complete their beautifying grooming to their satisfaction and mine. And, oh yes, to their owners satisfaction, too.

I attended the now defunct M & M grooming school in Tonawanda, N.Y., in 1988. I didn't approve of the way the owner/instructor treated the animals, however, so I left before my graduation and finished my training in another groomer's shop.

I think most of the public assumes groomers are somehow certified, but they are not. Actually, there is no license or any kind of certification required to be a groomer anywhere in the United States, nor anywhere else -- which is a big bone of contention in the industry. There are several grooming schools in the United States where you can receive a certificate of graduation, but it doesn't really mean anything.

My employees and I do attend seminars held at the closest school to us (in Rochester, N.Y.) whenever they are offered, which is usually only every other year if we're lucky. There are also many good DVDs available on grooming specific dog breeds and cats, as well as how tos to accomplish "creative" grooming, by using doggie dyes and stencils, etc. Groomer chat rooms and message boards are another good source of new techniques and products, as well as professional publications.

After finishing my training in the private salon, I opened my own grooming shop in December 1988, along with a pet-sitting service that I ran for about eight years. If I lived in a warmer climate, I'd probably still be doing that, but I got tired of going out at 11PM to walk dogs in minus-20-degree weather and two feet of snow in Buffalo. I do it on occasion for a customer in a pinch, however.

A thorough process

To be a successful groomer, a love of all things animal isn't enough. You NEED to be able to handle them with love and understanding -- even when they're trying to bite your hand off! The grooming process is a three-step plan. Each dog or cat is placed on a table to get their nails cut, ears, groin and pads of feet cleaned and a comb-out or a shave. This first step is called the rough cut, as we're not going for beauty on this first part. The hair is removed before the bath as you don't want to wash all that hair you're going to remove anyway. Plus, if you bathe a pet before removing the mats or the undercoat, the water tends to "set" the coat, making it more difficult to remove.

The second step is the bath, with each shampoo chosen for the specific animal's coat needs -- be they dry, oily, fleas, etc. The third step is the finishing cut, which is where the groomer gets to showcase her talents, by smoothing out the haircut and doing the hand scissoring on the feet, tail and, most importantly, the face.

By the way, I actually discourage cat owners from having us give their pets baths, unless absolutely necessary. Most cats don't really need them unless there is a particular skin problem, etc., as they constantly groom themselves. We actually do a lot of cat grooming at my shop, as most salons do not want to do them. It's easier to recover from a Rottweiler bite than a cat bite, believe it or not.

I encourage all new puppy owners to bring in their pet between 9-12 weeks of age, for a free "puppy package" initial groom. The owners stay and wait while we allow the pup to run around the shop, exploring everything and getting used to a new place and new people. Then we cut the nails, clean the ears and do a pretend brush and clipper run. After lots of loving and hugging and a special puppy treat, they go home happy, and hopefully will remember what a fun place our salon is.

Satisfied customers

I have several customers who can only get their dogs to leave the shop while they dangle a treat in front of them. While some owners say they are embarrassed by this, I tell them I'd much rather other people see them dragging their dog OUT, rather than in! Many of our doggie customers, while waiting for their turn on our tables, just jump right up on the table before we're quite ready. That's good for us, as it saves back injuries from lifting the big ones.

As in any profession, groomers need to keep up with the latest trends in hair styles and products. Several years ago we discovered the benefits of unrefined coconut oil for dogs with hot spots due to allergies or some bacterial irritations. It can be applied to the skin topically for a hot spot, or added sparingly to the diet for more extreme cases. We've also improved many ear problems with a gentian violet treatment.

Being a pet groomer is a truly rewarding career that gives back every day in doggie kisses and kitty licks. I don't know what could be a better way to spend the day at work!

Next: 10 Jobs That Let You Work With Animals

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October 11 2011 at 5:18 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I commend you groomers! You are awesome people. We have 4 children who love how sweet our ShihTzu looks and smells when I bring him home. We rescued him from the pound and are so lucky to have him, and he deserves the best. "Phoebes Pet Heaven" is our fav place!

December 16 2010 at 10:57 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

As to the $50 clippers...there is no way those would work in a salon environment. They may work ok doing just the one dog (your Maltese) every month or so. In today's economy it takes at least $70,000 to build a nice salon, and that's bare bones for the most part. What people don't realize and appreciate is how hard groomers is very manual labor. We do make great money, but we earn every penny. The sad part is so many people are turned out of the so-called schools and they know nothing of professional grooming. I have a hard time telling new graduates that they just don't cut it (pardon the pun) yet. I've been grooming since 1978 and see how the industry has evolved. The pet industry is big money now, but you do have to earn it when you actually work with pets, and not just sell collars.

December 16 2010 at 10:36 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Hey Mike, you can't read! Ha, and you haven't a clue.

December 16 2010 at 10:32 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

It's about time the industry garners some respect! I have a college degree and consider myself to be very well educated. I also happen to love animals. I worked as a groomer for several years before carpal tunnel forced me to switch careers. Contrary to popular belief, this is not an easy job. Yes, anyone can pick up a pair of shears and call themselves a "groomer", but these people normally don't last very long in the business. If you are looking for a reputable groomer, check that individual's "stats" long they've been grooming, what sort of training they have, etc. and then make an educated decision, rather than trashing the industry out of ignorance or a bad experience. (And, Yes, I am aware of the poor practices of some other groomers--i.e. blasting an old-style kennel dryer on a bracheocephalic breed [pug, shih tzu], witholding water, etc.--but it's unfair to judge an entire industry on the actions of those ignorant or ill-educated "groomers"). Just wanted to add my "two-cents".

December 16 2010 at 9:11 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Catherine George

I love my Border collie and take care of most of his grooming, but expressing anal glands? No thanks! I'm glad to pay for this service.

December 16 2010 at 8:33 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Catherine George's comment

My thoughts exactly!!

December 16 2010 at 9:01 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Nice article Renee!Don't let some of these comments get to you, I enjoyed reading it. It takes a special kind of person to still enjoy such a difficult job after that many years. Unless you are a groomer you really don't know how hard physically and mentaly grooming dogs for a living is.
I went to grooming school with Renee, and we live in the same area-I hear nothing but good things about Pet-I-Care! She really loves and cares about her customers-human and k-9.

December 16 2010 at 8:30 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

You people who say negative things really need to get a life. There are some of us that really enjoy these articles, and your comments are so rude.

December 16 2010 at 6:51 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to sx's comment

being a groomer in upstate NY ( and waiting for my first dog as I type) I would just say for people to watch there dog...he/she will tell you if you have a good groomer or not. Simple as that, they are happy to go or scared to go.....mine are scratching the door to get in and have to be carried out as i don't allow dragging :)

December 16 2010 at 8:48 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

I'm thinking the first one would be: I'm a professional dog groomer. After that, confess anything you like. No one will be listening.

December 11 2010 at 7:39 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to rcastl2335's comment

RT, you wouldn't like your dog as much if you had to clean out his anal glands? That's not saying much about you. Sorry, but if you looooove your ShihTzu, nothing would get in the way of that love. Maybe you meant to say something else, but used the wrong wording? Hopefully.

December 16 2010 at 9:42 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I could help but notice someone saying something about buying clippers for $50.00, OMG, that must be the Walmart type which is NOT what it takes to groom dogs. A basic set of clippers, starts at about $130.00 from Pet Edge and then they go UP. Blades are around $15.00 and UP. Combs, brushes, scissors, splitters, ear cleaner, shampoos, conditioners, cologne, etc , there is more to grooming than sticking your dog in the tub. A Real Groomer, usually has about $2000.00 invested, just to START grooming and thats not counting the cages, towels, dryers, the list goes on. I spent over $1000. for certain cages to dry pups in. The cost of getting your pet groomed is little compared to the cost of being a groomer.

December 11 2010 at 5:57 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
3 replies to Dyan's comment

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