Competition Grooming: Where To Start? - Groomer to Groomer

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Competition Grooming: Where To Start?

By Michell Evans

“Hello Michell.  I have been grooming for five years and I just attended my first grooming show, Northwest Grooming Show.  I was fascinated by the grooming contest.  I think I would like to try it but it seems so impossible.  I know you used to compete.  Do you have any advice?” –Sheila

Hi Sheila. I know it seems daunting but, with a good plan, you will be successful! These tips are meant to keep you from experiencing the worst case scenarios.

Read the rules for each and every contest and attend the contestant meeting. The rules change from producer to producer, show to show, and class to class.

The model that you choose is very important. If you don’t have your own dog you will need to find a dog that you can take away from home for a few nights or more. If you don’t have a client that will agree to this, then I suggest asking local breeders if they have a dog that they would be willing to send with you. Do yourself a favor and find a well behaved dog that is beautiful. It adds a whole other level of stress to compete with a difficult dog. A dog can be difficult for various reasons. Temperament, difficult coat, structural and conformation faults are all challenges that can be avoided with a good model! Also, don’t discount the stress that can be added by an owner who is reaching out constantly to check on their dog.


It is best to practice on the dog at least four times, complete with a time clock! Practice will help you be confident when it comes to the real thing. This is a commitment of nine months. Each practice session should allow eight weeks of grow–out before the next attempt at perfection. If you are working with a hand stripped or carded breed, the coat needs more frequent work.

Be sure to pack a comprehensive grooming kit as well as a travel kit. Make sure that you have good working equipment and back-ups to the items that might fail during the contest. Be prepared for doggy illness and injury, human illness and injury, grooming and presentation.

Take a cordless clipper so that you can work even if there are power issues. A bright or light colored table pad is helpful for grooming in dark conditions. Also, a grooming smock that is totally different than the color of your dog will create a better background for the judge to see your dog. If the table pad and clothing complement each other, all the better! Keep a screwdriver in your kit that doubles as phillips or flat–head. I promise you will need this at some point.

As for your travel kit, always have paper towels, plenty of poop bags and extra bath towels. Avoid using the hotel towels for bathing and bedding. Take towels that are old and tired and just throw them away if you don’t what to travel back with them. Take an old bed sheet to cover the beds in the hotel room. This way you don’t have to worry about unnecessary hair and dirt on the hotel bedding. Never leave dogs loose in the hotel room. Always travel with a crate and use it! Dogs appreciate limited space when they are navigating new situations.

Everyone fears the dreaded injury during a contest. Peroxide is a must for this, either in the form of saturated cotton balls in a zip lock, in a spray bottle, or both. Peroxide dissolves blood. If you were to injure yourself or your dog during the contest you have a way to manage it without drawing attention to yourself. Keep styptic powder and a dark colored towel in your kit. This way if there is any blood you are not showing it on a light colored towel. Always tell your judge at the time of judging that you have injured your dog, if they don’t already know. Most contest rules do not state that an injury is a disqualification.

When traveling with a dog, always use slip–leads or choke–chains as your form of leash. Even if you are confident that the dog you are working with will not run away, do not risk it! They are in a strange place surrounded by strange people and you cannot predict their behavior. Many times with a regular flat collar they can pull their head out and bolt.

Have evacuation plans in place for your vehicle and your hotel room, or other accommodation. This might simply mean that you have a slip–lead ready and accessible for each dog and that you know where the exits are located. Keep their flat collar on as well. This should have clear and correct information on it. Always carry a rabies certificate with you. If the dog were to bite someone, the local authorities have the right to confiscate the dog until proof of rabies is provided. This could mean that the dog would be detained in a local shelter.

Everyone wants new competitors to succeed! If you are unsure about something, simply ask your judge. There is a contestant meeting at most grooming contests for this very reason. You are not the only person with questions. You are most likely not the only first time competitor. And every world famous competitor had a first time!

Break a leg, Sheila! ✂

I am a multi-Best-In-Show and Best-All-Around groomer. I am the recipient of many Barkleigh Honors Awards including journalist of the year. I am a Silver and Gold medalist for GroomTeam USA. I am the winner of Show Dog Groomer of the Year 2015. I am a (VIG) Very Important Groomer-Ambassador for Purina and I have been teaching as The Grooming Tutor since 2000. And I groom to make a living, just like you. Please send questions to [email protected]

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