From Bather to Groomer: Are You Ready?

Ask The Grooming Tutor

By Michell Evans

“Dear Michell, I have been a bather in a dog grooming shop for over a year now. I see that the groomers make more money than I do and that frustrates me because I spend so much more time on the dogs than they do. I would like to make more money, but I am perfectly happy to continue bathing dogs. I just don’t know if cutting hair is something I want to do right now. There is another girl in our shop who is learning to groom and her paychecks have actually gotten worse because she is so slow right now. Any advice?” –Amy

Hi Amy. In some salons a bath is all a bather is expected to do. That’s it. Simply bathe the dog. Then the groomer (stylist) does all the drying and prepping. In others, the duties of a bather cover all aspects of canine and feline hygiene. When you start learning to bathe pets, just getting the pet clean and rinsed well is enough to master. At this stage you are learning how to work with the animals in the safest, most comfortable and most efficient way possible, for both you and the pet.

As you develop your skills, you might be asked to add ear plucking and cleaning, anal gland expression and a variety of oral hygiene treatments. You might also be expected to do de–shedding treatments that are done while the pet is soaped up in the bathtub and administer a variety of bathing treatments like flea treatments and medicated shampoos. At this stage you might be blowing out (HV drying) double coated breeds as part of the de–shedding process as well.

And as you become even more advanced, you might be asked to add HV drying on a grooming table. This is a whole new territory as far as dog handling goes. Most dogs are a little insecure on the grooming table. This is one of our biggest allies in grooming but it can also pose challenges for new bathers. Most pets prefer not to have their heads HV dried. This stage offers a lot of challenges in learning how to safely and comfortably handle the pet while still achieving a dry pet from head to toe.

As you advance, you will likely be skilled in the art of fluff/stretch drying with a stand dryer and tooth scaling, depending on state law. De–matting comes in at this stage as well, with some de–matting being done before the bath. Not much crate/cage drying happens at this skill level.

The most advanced bathers will likely be asked to shave pads, shave rectums and genitalia as well as clip and grind nails. Some salons might even ask you to clip the face, feet and tail patterns onto the poodles and trim around the feet on other breeds, and possibly even to trim up ears, tails, eyes and bangs. By now you are probably doing lots of dogs all by yourself with no stylist contribution.

If you are providing all these applicable services for your employer, consider asking for your title to be changed to hygienist rather than a bather and ask for a bigger commission or a higher hourly rate. A hygienist like this is the backbone of the grooming salon. They are the foundation of the groom. At this point they are, in some cases, doing more labor on the pet than the stylist.

Many grooming salons pay their bathers a low rate and give them the brunt of the work. This can be a mistake. Quality starts with the hygienist! Any salon would pay their weight in gold, if they had it, for a quality bather who enjoys bathing and wants to stay in the roll of a bather. Teaching groomers to groom from the bather position costs the salon a lot of money. The owner or other staff must produce less to make time to train and the trainee is not productive for up to a year, or more. Not to mention the bather–turn–groomer does not make much money while learning, as you mentioned with your co–worker.

Asking for a raise poses many challenges to your employer. As an employee you might think it is simple to give a raise, but the money has to come from somewhere and the employer has to crunch the numbers and figure out where. This is a tightrope that employers walk because stylists are just as integral to the quality production of pet grooms as a good hygienist! In some cases the raise for the hygienist means less commission for the stylist.

If you are simply bathing the pets and that’s all, your employer might consider a small hourly or commission raise depending on your productivity and quality. If your employer allows, learn all the areas of pet hygiene that I mentioned above and develop your speed. You should expect periodic raises that coincide with added efficiency and skill. Skill plus speed equals value. Happy advancing! ✂

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