Choosing the Right Dog Groomer

Grooming a dog at home is not for everyone. Learn how to select the perfect dog groomer for your best friend.

Dog GroomingAlthough there is lots of hands-on grooming you can do with your dog, if you find you lack the time or inclination to do the job, there are lots of professional groomers who can do it for you.

At last count, it was estimated that there are approximately 30,000 grooming businesses in the U.S. This includes home-based salons, commercial locations, mobile groomers and those connected to boarding kennels and veterinary hospitals.  However, finding the right one for you and your dog will involve more than searching the Yellow Pages, whether in print or online.  It’s like finding the right barber or hair stylist.  You need someone who will give you a style you will like and you want to be treated with courtesy and care. 

Since we are talking about a beloved family member, it might also be compared to finding the right preschool teacher for your human offspring.  You want someone who is kind, knowledgeable, trustworthy and easy to communicate with but in the groomer’s case, you also want someone who has the skill to make your pet look awesome. 

Where to start

Ask for a recommendation from your veterinarian, friends who own well-groomed pets, boarding kennels, pet supply stores, or shelters.  If you can’t find a recommendation you like, there are pet groomer locaters listings online at, the National Dog Groomers Association, and Intergroom, one of the nation’s largest grooming industry tradeshows. 

If your dog is a purebred canine that requires expert styling, scissoring or hand-stripping – a Poodle, Bichon Frise, or one of the terriers, for example – you may seek a recommendation from your breeder.

You may also have seen examples of a groomer’s work strolling around your neighborhood, in the vet’s waiting room or romping at the dog park.  Word of mouth is a pet groomer’s best advertisement but before you make that first appointment, investigate some more. Visit some groomers to determine which one might be best for you and your pet. 

Groomer certification 

At this time, the pet grooming profession does not require licensing, but there are three national organizations that offer grooming credentials. These include: the National Dog Groomers Association of America, the International Society of Canine Cosmetologists and the International Professional Groomers, Inc. Certification is earned through a series of hands-on practical and written tests and judged by accredited professionals. 

Another fun thing to check for is whether or not the groomer participates in grooming competitions. These contests take place at conventions and trade shows nationwide where dedicated groomers show off their skills as they vie for trophies, cash prizes and grooming equipment, but most importantly, the respect and recognition from their peers.

Professional dog grooming is demanding work but it’s a labor of love for the vast majority of its practitioners. A groomer needs many skills –animal handling, brushing, dematting, clippering, bathing, blow-drying, scissoring, and hand-stripping for starters – and must be able to visualize the way a dog should look so she can execute the required trim. Each AKC-registered breed has a specific standard to which it should be groomed. In addition, she should be able to produce a pet trim, a shorter and easier-to-maintain version of the breed’s look.  If she is unfamiliar with your breed, she should have reference books to draw upon so that she may properly style your dog according to your preference.  If yours is a mixed-breed, the “standard” is a piece of cake – she should make it look adorable!

Making an appointment

It’s a good idea to call ahead first because with a dog population currently estimated at 77.5 million, skilled groomers are in demand and sometimes work on a tight a schedule. The groomer should welcome your visit, answer your questions courteously and assure you that if your dog has special needs, she will do her best to accommodate you. 

If your dog is a puppy or a senior citizen, a conscientious groomer will get it in and out as soon as possible.  The groomer will look over the dog’s coat and discuss its styling and may have a portfolio on hand or a website you can visit to view her work.  The shop should look and smell clean and you should be able to observe the staff caring for their canine clients in a kind and respectful way. For your pet’s protection, vaccination records of all pets should be required.

Doing your homework

A groomer is not a miracle worker. They cannot take a poorly maintained dog and turn it into a splendid show-stopper in one visit. You can make your dog less stressed and your groomer’s job easier by teaching the dog to accept the attentions of strangers.  Obedience classes are wonderful for imparting good manners and socialization. Handle your dog’s feet to get him ready to have his nail’s clipped and feet tidied up. Crate train your pet so he won’t get upset at sitting quietly while drying and then while awaiting your return.

In between grooming appointments, try to keep the coat free of mats and tangles. Use a gentle slicker brush a couple of times a week, making sure you are brushing all the way to the skin, not just the coat’s top layer.  Check your brush work with a stainless steel comb to make sure no tangles have been left behind.  And rebook the dog just as you do with your own hair stylist; this will help you avoid extra charges for dematting because for the groomer, time is money.

Groomers like to see puppies for the first time when they are around four months of age. Once your dog has had his second series of puppy shots and has housebreaking down pat, he will be ready for his first “big boy haircut.”

Good luck to you both!

-Articles from our Grooming Expert-

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