Are you the happiest person in the world when you’re brushing your dog’s hair? Do you love to give your good boy a bath? Does a clean dog make you happy? Dog grooming might be your calling. But how do you become a dog groomer?
Dog groomers are having a moment thanks to Instagram. There are over two million posts with the tag #doggrooming and a quick perusal will make your heart leap with joy as you see cute dogs and even cuter before and after pics.
There’s more to dog grooming than just fluffing a floof. Here’s what you need to know about getting started as a dog groomer.
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Unlike a cosmetologist or hairstylist, there is no license for dog grooming. But there are ways to get trained in the art of dog grooming.
Take an online course
QC Pet Studies has an online course that shows you the basics, from grooming career opportunities to an overview of dog anatomy, maintenance of hair and skin, discussions about dog behavior and temperament, and other practical advice.
It’s like an online textbook for potential dog groomers and contains good information, but it’s expensive ($1598!). In many cases, it’s likely more practical to get hands-on dog grooming experience.
Go to a dog grooming school.
The National Dog Groomers Association of America offers in-person certificate training courses. Their workshop and certification program is held around the country.
Workshops have four major sections: orientation, breed demonstrations, stripping, thinning, and carding (techniques for dealing with different dog hair), and patterns (line placements on specific breeds).
After attending a workshop you can test (with a live animal) and get certified.
Get on-the-job training.
It’s one thing to read about grooming a dog. It’s quite another to face an excited, giant floofball while you’re holding a pair of shears. Melissa Graham, a dog groomer based in South Dakota and a member of Dudes with Dogs on Facebook, says, “There are schools, but some have hands-on training, some do not. I feel that having hands-on training is best. You always have room to learn and grow.”
Learning how to calm nervous dogs is just part of the job. “When I began, I had to learn how to bathe and dry dogs, and do light trims,” she says.
After six months at her first job at a local shop, she bought dog grooming books and practiced on her own animals and those of family and friends. “I had to learn how to have patience with the animals and the owners,” she adds. Eventually, she started her own grooming business out of her home.
Before you get into grooming, don’t expect it to be all wagging, fluffy tails. Graham says she has seen dogs in poor health, brought in under heartbreaking conditions.
The worst is “seeing animals so matted that they can hardly move. Seeing animals that should be let go yet people don’t want to,” she says. One dog even died in her arms due to prior health conditions. “I have seen animals in pain. It is not for the faint of heart.”
There’s more to it than just learning how to put bows in a Maltese’s hair—though that’s important, too!
One major part of dog grooming writes Arielle Pardes, is learning about dogs’ anatomy and their breeding history. “For example, poodles were bred to be sporting and hunting dogs. You know those pom-poms on their hips? Those are designed to keep their joints warm in cold water.”
Coat care varies by breed, as do common haircut styles, like these popular four cuts for Goldendoodles.
CPR and first aid
Regular folks can learn animal CPR via the American Red Cross’ 35-minute online course. The course teaches you how to check for vital signs, do preventative care, and provide first aid to dogs and cats “for the most severe emergencies.”
That’s because, as Graham noted, some dogs come to the groomers in health distress.
Stripping, thinning, and carding (oh my!)
Carding is the removal of undercoat from a dog’s coat, often used in pugs, Chihuahuas, Labs, cocker spaniels, and setters.
The intention is to have the top, flat coat lay down smoothly with a tiny brush, cutting out the short hairs that tend to shed. Check out this video for an example.
Stripping and thinning is a similar technique used to remove excess hair from dogs that have two coats (the undercoat and top coat).
In this case, hand-stripping removes excess hair from the top coat, pulling from the roots. This is more necessary for dogs with coarse coats like schnauzers. For some dogs, they may use thinning shears.
As with humans, there’s an art that’s almost mathematical to cutting hair. Each officially recognized dog breed has a certain pattern considered proper for the breed—e.g. the iconic cuts for poodles and schnauzers.
At the NDAA, their courses cover “correct line placements on terrier and sporting breeds, as well as correct feet, ears, and heads. We will also touch on how to … achieve the proper poodle topknot.”
According to Play Bark Run, there are 31 different grooming styles and trims for breeds. It’s a lot!
Unless you run your own business or work in higher-end salons, dog grooming is not a high-wage profession. According to the Houston Chronicle, the average salary is $22,710, but it’s expected to be a growth industry (22 percent in the next decade), which is ahead of the curve. Dog lovers really love their dogs and are learning to treat them even better.
Small business and boutique groomers
You might have the skills to turn dogs into beauty queens, but starting your own business is more than just a pair of shears. Graham says that equipment can run as much as $20K, noting that the clippers, dryer, table, and tub are all expensive. While dog grooming “is not a business that you are going to get rich in,” says Graham, the rewards can be high. “Many groomers do it because of the love of animals and wanting to help them look and feel better.”
Mobile or in-home grooming has become more popular in recent years. Dogs stressed out by traveling to a strange place often do better when a groomer comes to them. Mobile groomers travel to a client’s home, which can be a great opportunity for more independence and income for a moderately experienced groomer.
Rover now offers in-home grooming in Seattle, Austin, Denver, and Washington D.C., and it’s expanding! Check out their page here if you’re interested in offering your grooming services in one of those cities.
Pet store chains
Big chains might prep poodles for the Westminster Dog Show, but they’ll get a dog bathed, trimmed, and freshened up from the ears to the anal glands. (This is the less glamorous side of dog grooming!) Many groomers get started working for big box stores. It can be a good place to get experience, with a trainee program for newbies.