What You Need to Know About Show Grooming - Groomer to Groomer

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What You Need to Know About Show Grooming

By Michell Evans

“Hi Michell. I have been trying to improve my grooming by going to dog shows. I have been surprised that the grooming is not as good as I expected. Sometimes I wonder why the judge picked the one with a bad haircut. I have also run into many rude and unhelpful people. Some of them seem downright secretive. I have always admired pet groomers who have the ability to do show grooming, but frankly I find the grooming to be much more beautiful at dog grooming competitions. I really want to be able to groom show dogs but I don’t know how to get started.” – Holly P.

Hi Holly. There are several things that you need to understand about dog showing. First, politics aside, each dog is being compared to the written breed standard—not to the other dogs in the ring. Of course, there are some comparisons being made by the judge, but the point of those comparisons is to see which specimen fits the breed standard the best.

Second, determining conformation (how well the dog conforms to the written breed standard) does not require a perfectly groomed coat. The judge only needs to see a generally clean, maintained coat trimmed to the basic outline and current style to determine if the coat is the correct color, texture, type and length according to the standard. The dog as a whole is being judged, not the haircut. The judge is primarily looking at movement, structure and overall conformation.

Third, there are many things to consider when you are ringside judging, which should be done discretely. Many amateur exhibitors are in those rings. Today might be their first time presenting a dog. A bitch who is looking a little moth–eaten may have had a litter of puppies recently and lost much of her coat and become stained in areas. A wire coated breed may have blown coat and fallen out of rotation, thereby, making their coat look softer and less lustrous. You may be looking at a puppy who has not developed a coat yet or has a poor texture as a youth but will later develop a beautiful coat. The judge may choose a dog with a less than beautiful coat and haircut based on the dog underneath. Meanwhile, in a grooming contest the skill of the groomer and the beauty of the dog and its coat are being judged.


If you purchase a show catalogue at a dog show you can follow along and gain some insight about what you are observing in the ring. For example, if you see what looks like an amateur grooming job you may discover that the exhibitor is actually entered in an amateur class or realize that the one with the beautiful floor length coat and rich color is a 6 year old mature male who has been growing testosterone fueled coat for over ½ a decade. Now it might make more sense.

Fourth, trimming of a dog may be different in the show ring than it is in a grooming contest because in a dog show the dog is largely judged while moving, and in a grooming contest the dog is judged standing still. When grooming a dog for movement, you have to be aware of flopping coat and coat that may disguise a flaw in the gate or enhance a correct gate or both. The best competitors can achieve both a perfect standing–still groom and a groom that will work and flow in movement as well.

As for getting a helpful conversation going at a dog show, go back to your catalogue and look at the Owner Handler classes and Bred by Exhibitor class. Do not try to spark up a conversation while they are all gathering to exhibit. Rather wait until the breed has finished and then approach one of the exhibitors from those two classes. These are the people who will most likely take time with you to promote their line, kennel and the breed as a whole. The point of a dog show is similar to that of a livestock show. They are showing off their breed stock in order to fund and perpetuate the line.

Many of the exhibitors are paid professionals and they are quickly off to their next client with no time for questions, so don’t feel snubbed. Remember too that even the most gracious losers may be simply holding their emotions inside until they get to a more private place. Your questions may be better asked to a winner from the classes. If someone comes across as rude, it probably has nothing to do with you and everything to do with difficult professional and social situations that accompany competition of any kind. When you do approach someone remember that flattery is a good place to start!

One way you can get experience is to make yourself available to volunteer. This goes for learning opportunities in both types of competitions. You could meet them at shows and carry stuff for them. You can go to their kennel and wash dogs for them. They might have you walk/potty dogs for them. Don’t be disappointed if they don’t let you do any grooming for a while, or never. You will still learn a lot! Don’t underestimate the grooming that goes into short haired breeds. If the only person who you can find to mentor you is a breeder/exhibitor of short haired breeds, take the opportunity!

There is much to be learned from show grooming and exhibiting, as well as grooming contests. Your grooming will only improve from the experience and knowledge. I hope that this helps you get your foot in the door. ✂

I am a multi-Best-In-Show and Best-All-Around groomer. I am the recipient of many Barkleigh Honors Awards. I am a Silver and Gold medalist for GroomTeam USA. I am the winner of Show Dog Groomer of the Year. 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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