By Daryl Conner
Did you know there is a word for the fear of trying something new? It is neophobia.
In our industry, there is a constant influx of new ideas, techniques and tools. It can be daunting to break away from tried–and–true techniques and devices that we are used to, but stepping out of our comfort zone can dramatically improve the way we work.
Here is an example. When I was learning to groom in the 1980’s, the method that almost all groomers used was to pre–clip each pet, brush out the tangles and then bathe it. After drying, the dog was re–clipped and finished. When you think about it, this means each pet got groomed twice. I was scandalized when I first heard the idea of washing first, and then grooming. It took me a while to get up the courage to try it, but I did, and have never looked back.
Working on clean dogs has many benefits; clean coat is easier on our tools so our blades and scissors keep an edge longer; it is better for our health, as we are not touching and breathing in dander, dust and pollutants from the pets’ coats; and clean coat brushes out easier and with less damage to the hair shafts than dirty coats do. Since damaged coat tangles faster, pre–washing helps keep the hair healthier in the long run.
I asked other groomers to share examples of things they were hesitant to try but ended up loving. Here are some of the responses I got:
Clipper Vacuum Systems
Many groomers shared that they were scared to try this technology because they were worried the skin would be sucked up into the blade, or that the learning curve for adapting to working with suction would be too steep. Others were afraid of making a large investment. Every single person, however, said they now cannot imagine working without their vacuum system.
Working with a vacuum system allows groomers to style pets faster and more efficiently, while achieving beautiful, plush cuts on a wide variety of coats. Vacuum systems also reduce the amount of hair and dander in the air we breathe—an especially important health bonus.
This technique is designed for use on matted pets when it is desirable to leave as much length as possible. The basic idea is to wash the matted dog, getting the pet as clean as possible, and follow with the proper conditioning treatment for the coat type and texture. Then the pet is towel–dried, and sometimes lightly dried with a high velocity dryer to push the coat away from the skin and remove enough moisture so that the pet is not drippy. Next, the dog is clipped using the longest blade that will go through the matting. And because wet hair is a bit stretchy, on some coats it is possible to get a blade as long as a #4 through the tangles. Tightly matted coats will require shorter blades. Once all the hair is clipped off, the pet is dried and then finished.
I recently used this technique on a matted Bichon. I was able to use a #4 blade and finish the dog with a #1 snap–on comb, leaving a nice, plush coat. Without wet clipping I would have had to use a much shorter blade to get through the tangles.
Many groomers are hesitant to try this method—worrying about damaging blades or even ruining their clipper by working on a damp coat. So to be safe, electric clippers should be plugged into a GFI outlet when wet clipping, or a cordless clipper can be used. Remember to clean and oil your blades well when finished. This technique can be a real game–changer on some dogs and is a great technique to master.
This technique, used to maintain the correct texture of harsh–coated breeds like many terriers, is a bit of a lost art for pet groomers in the United States. In Europe, many pet groomers still hand strip. The basic idea is to pull or pluck the dead coat out to create the proper coat length and shape, rather than clipping. This maintains the proper color and texture of the coat. Since only dead coat is being pulled, it is not uncomfortable for the dog. (I have had dogs fall asleep while I am working on them!)
Because so few groomers in this country do it, it can be hard to find someone to learn from; however, there are videos and online tutorials to help get you started. Hand stripping is a fun skill to add to your expertise.
Once looked down upon, distance learning has gained radical acceptance this year since the worldwide COVID–19 pandemic shut down schools, colleges and hands–on learning experiences of all kinds. For groomers, where much can be learned by watching someone and listening to them describe their technique, distance learning is a huge gift. Thankfully, many industry talents generously share their skills this way—some for free and some for a small, worthwhile fee. One of the best things about this method of learning is that you can watch the videos over and over until you are comfortable with the knowledge.
Half–moon combs and Carbon Fiber combs were both mentioned when I asked groomers what tools they were hesitant to try. Specialty combs can come with a hefty price tag, but one groomer who was hesitant to spend what she did on a half–moon comb now says, “I feel naked if I don’t use it, and I think the quality of my work has really improved.”
Carbon Fiber combs are not expensive, but many groomers discredit them without trying them, thinking they are flimsy or gimmicky. Those that love them say they are a must–have because they cut down on static and do a fabulous job fluffing coats.
Wide Clipper Blades
Designed to clip faster, these wide blades get rave reviews from some of the industry’s most illustrious groomers. Because each blade is wider, groomers can cover more territory in less time—and the quality of the blades leaves a lovely finish. Snap–on combs are now available for wide blades, too.
To me, one of the joys of being a groomer is the constant challenge of learning new things. Trying new tools and techniques helps prevent burnout by keeping our minds active and excited to learn. It can also make us work more efficiently, safely and effectively. Say “no” to neophobia—try a new tool or technique today! ✂️