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Experimenting with New Techniques

Experimenting with New Techniques

By Michell Evans

  “Hi Michell. I went to Groom Expo West this year. I attended several classes on various grooming techniques. I was so pumped! I got back to my salon and tried many of the things that I learned. Some of the techniques worked out and others not so much. My customers are loyal and I don’t fear losing them, but it was pretty much a disaster.”

“I was running behind, feeling overwhelmed and inadequate. I always thought I was a pretty good groomer, but after attending classes and watching the grooming contests, I see that I have a lot to learn. Most of my dogs are all one length all over with a cute head and tail. Do you have any advice on how to change and improve my grooming skills without overwhelming myself and my customers?” –Terry

The day that we know everything about grooming is the day to retire from grooming. Part of the joy of grooming is that there is no ceiling to the amount of knowledge that can be gained. From customer relations to dealing with difficult dogs and cats, to mastering our own hand eye coordination; every day is a learning experience. They say that the key to a long and happy life is keeping the body and mind engaged. Well grooming does that—for sure!

If terms like rear angulation, up–right head carriage and shoulder lay–back are new to you, it can be overwhelming. Practice reading breed standards in the American Kennel Club’s Complete Dog Book or on their website, and then look at photos of champion specimens of each breed and you will start to see how the terms apply to the dog’s appearance. You will find these terms being used time and again. There is a glossary in the back of the book to assist you.


Try to apply new techniques on just one pet per day, or even one per week, at first. To apply too much too soon can wreak havoc on your schedule and self–confidence. One of the main differences between stylized grooming and simple shave down grooming is longer leg hair. Simply converting one dog per day from a shave all over to a shave on the body and an attachment comb of a longer length on the legs will slowly but surely convert your clientele to a more stylized, higher priced clientele. And yes, you would increase the price for this style because it takes more time and more skill.

Leaving longer leg hair gives you more opportunities to develop your scissoring skills. And changing to longer coat on the legs creates a more balanced look. The fullness that is created on the legs balances out the heaviness of the body, much like fashion can appear to improve one’s physique or conversely tragically destroy it. Dogs do not look their best with shaved legs. Use comb attachments for legs so that the coat is long enough to comb–up and scissor finish.

A good rule of thumb is to go up at least three blades from your body coat length for your leg length. For example, if you shave the body in a #7 blade, you would do a #2 comb on the legs. And if you use a #4 blade on the body, use a #1 comb on the legs. Many clients will not even notice that the coat is longer on the legs but they might notice that their dog looks better. Of course, we all have customers who will not approve of the longer coat on the legs. They simply want them shaved. That’s ok.

After some months go by and you are successfully leaving more leg coat on a decent portion of your customers’ dogs, try adding a little bit of coat to fill in a sagging dip in the topline or leave a little coat on the back of the neck to create a better arch, or the appearance of a longer neck. There are any number of physique enhancements that you can create with hair. I am sure these are the kinds of things that you were seeing and learning at the show that sparked your awareness.

It is very important that the bits of coat that you leave to create the enhancements are well blended so that the client cannot see that there are two different lengths of coat coming together. Thinning shears are a great tool to use for blending the different lengths together. If your enhancements look like bad toupees, it will not go over very well with your customers.

Fall is a good time of the year to try adding some filler–coat here and there because many clients ask to have their dog left a little longer at that time anyway. Don’t forget that some enhancements are actually created by removing coat. For example, to make a chubby dog look thinner you can shave the brisket and belly with a shorter blade.

I hope some of these slow and steady changes allow you and your customers to enjoy the process of growth. Keep learning and enjoy grooming, Terry! 

Have a question you want Michell to answer? Please send questions to [email protected]

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