By Daryl Conner
I count myself among the lucky few who can honestly say I have loved my work throughout my entire career. For 35 years I have felt privileged to spend my days making pets more comfortable and attractive, and I’ve made a good living while doing so.
Looking back, I can see that spending over three decades scrubbing dogs and cats has taught me some valuable lessons. Here are some of the most important ones:
1 Don’t scrimp on important tools
It saddens me when I hear groomers say, “Oh I could never afford quality shears, a high velocity dryer, an electric table, a bathing system, a clipper vacuum system, etc.” These tools are investments—not only in a groomer’s career—but in themselves. Choosing not to invest in the tools that make our work both safer and more efficient is an invitation to having a short grooming career.
2 Never stop learning
One of the real joys of this career for me has been the knowledge that there is so much more for me to discover. From books to seminars, from internet groups where others share their own hard–won knowledge to taking lessons from more experienced groomers, there are literally endless opportunities to learn and expand your skills. This keeps the work fresh, challenging and interesting.
3 Be flexible
I learned to groom in a small shop that offered boarding and grooming when I was a young newlywed. From there, I worked at a large, busy veterinary hospital. When I had a baby, I got creative and became one of the first “house–call” groomers, working weekends and evenings when my husband was home to watch our daughter. When she got older, I converted an RV and went mobile for a while. A cross–country move landed me in an upscale grooming spa environment, and now I have a lovely grooming studio in my home. I have been able to tailor my job to fit different needs at various stages of my life. How many other careers can be so flexible?
4 Make groomer friends
Having friends that understand the uniqueness of our work is a huge boon. Grooming pals can not only empathize when you tell them you had an accident that involved loose stool and a high velocity dryer, they can also share lessons, shore up your backbone when you need it and share your pain when you tell them you dropped your new $300 scissors on the concrete floor.
5 Go to trade shows
Where do you make groomer friends? Trade shows, for one! Besides making friends at shows, you can see and touch the latest and greatest new tools, grab some show specials, attend classes to learn new tricks and techniques (see #2 above), and get your batteries recharged. Trade shows are an investment in your career, and just plain fun, too.
6 Be bold, go for the challenge
At the first trade show I ever attended, I was mesmerized watching the grooming competition. As I observed the people in the ring creating art on living creatures, I thought, “I could never do that.” At the same instant, a little voice in my head was yelling, “I want to do that!” And I did. I only stepped into the ring around a dozen times, but I learned so much each time I was bold enough to try. And though I am not a very competitive person, I found I very much enjoyed competing in this area. I brought home some pretty ribbons and trophies and feel good about (almost) every time I was brave enough to groom in front of a crowd. Grooming offers many opportunities to challenge yourself.
7 Take care of your most important tool
I am nearly 60 and have some hearing loss, which I attribute to years of using a high velocity dryer without hearing protection. I am wiser now, and never dry without my trusty ear plugs. I am trying to remember to use a mask to protect my lungs, too. I’ve always been pretty good about investing in supportive shoes, anti–fatigue mats and an ergonomic stool. I am careful of my back. Taking care of our bodies in a career that can be hard on them is important. To anyone reading this who is just starting out, please take care of yourself now so you can keep grooming as long as you wish.
8 Learn to say “no.”
There are times you have to turn away the dangerous dog, refuse the unrealistic request or disappoint the customer by not working on your day off, but learning to politely, yet firmly say “no” is a wonderful life lesson that can be learned with a clipper in hand.
9 Be patient
My niece calls me, “Epically Patient Aunt Daryl.” I learned much of my patience through grooming. I realized early on that nothing is to be gained by becoming testy when a poodle is dancing and twirling, whining and whirling, and the clock is ticking while I am scissoring. I have learned to go deep to a peaceful place within myself and let my calm wash over the pet. Practicing patience with animals makes it easier to be tolerant with humans, too. It’s an excellent skill to have.
10 Enjoy the relationships
Perhaps the most important thing grooming has taught me is that no matter how much I love the pets, it’s the human bonds I forge that are the most important. There is something about making friends with people over a shared caring of their pet that can create truly amazing relationships. Some of the people I met when I did house–call grooming 30 years ago sent wedding gifts to my daughter when she was recently married. These are folks I haven’t seen in 15 years, but we have remained friends. Grooming has blessed me with many gifts—the pet and people bonds being the most amazing of all. ✂️