Grooming can be one of the most enjoyable and rewarding career paths in the world. One can fulfill their love for animals, creativity, and helping others while ensuring that client’s pets are being treated with care and living healthier lives. If this sounds like a life you are interested in, then welcome aboard! You are joining a community full of talent, dedication, and joy, but it can still be quite the journey to becoming a full-fledged independent groomer. This is where we step in.

We interviewed one of our WAHL E.L.I.T.E. Educators, Suesan Watson. Sue is a third generation pet stylist whose dynamic career stretches over 40 years. A “Certified Master Groomer”, she is located in Hoffman Estates, Illinois. Sue began grooming competitively in 1995, and has received many awards. Sue is a winner of the “Wahl 2003 Groomer of the Year” award, and only recipient of three consecutive “Cardinal Crystal Grooming Achievement Awards for American Groomer of the Year.” In addition, Sue has been nominated multiple times for “Cardinal Grooming Contest Judge of the Year”, and Cardinal “Congeniality” awards. She shared her experience becoming such a successful groomer and the lessons she learned along the way.

If I was interested in becoming groomer, what kind of education or experience should I look into?

“The first thing you want to do is look in your area to see where you could become a bather. One of the first things you need to learn is how to properly wash a dog. A lot of people say well I bathe my dog at home all the time its no big deal, but it’s not the same when you’re working on other people’s animals. Not all dogs are easily worked on, so you need to kind of get your feet wet. So getting in as a bather somewhere can really help get you to understand how dogs work, how to handle a dog, how to handle the fear of working with a dog that’s difficult to work on, and with all of this stuff, if you start out the right way, it’s going to help you become a better groomer. You have to have that understanding of dogs and how they think. Even working at a vet where they do boarding, you know just getting your hands dirty and seeing what it’s like to be around animals. It’s not like your own pet in your own home. So learning how to handle that and work with them is very important.”

What are some good clippers you recommend for beginning groomers?

“First you want to decide what you’re going to do. If you’re going to do everything, a full fledged groomer, you need to get a good heavy duty clipper. I do recommend Wahl, I turn to Wahl Clippers because they are easier and lighter to maneuver, because of the balance in the clipper. And I know that some people say it doesn't matter, you’re just cutting dog’s fur, but when you’re using your hands as your main tool of your work, equipment and how it handles becomes very important. So finding something lightweight that has a good balance to it will help with hand clipping and the prevention of carpal tunnel and the clamping in your hand. I generally recommend a Wahl clipper as your main clipper, because its everything a groomer needs.”

Do you have any advice for working with clients and ensuring that their dog receives a healthy groom?

“What you have to stress with your clients, is you practice humanity over vanity, and often you have to do a lot of brushing to the dog to get the look that the customer wants. It’s not fair to a dog to have to be put through what I consider mild torture. It hurts. The dog doesn’t say it hurts, but they still lash out. Either through barking, screaming, or even biting if it escalates to that level. So the kind of things you can teach your client, is you practice humanity, what’s safest for the dog, over vanity, which is what the client wants to see. It takes a lot for a dog to go to a grooming. Groomers who have been grooming for a long time make it look easy, but they didn’t start out that way. That comes with years of experience and handling of a dog, finding out what’s best for you. You want him to love the experience, so the best way to do that is to do the kindest thing for him and do understand that.”

How should I approach grooming the dog? Where do I even start?

“Generally speaking, I start at the back end of the dog and work my way forward. It gives the dog an opportunity to have your hands on him, getting used to the feeling of what you’re doing, If he’s not used to being groomed, it gives him that opportunity to get used to the feel and vibration of the clipper. The way it works through the hair. So starting from the back and moving forward always makes it easy, going to the head and face last. Because by the time you get there, he has become accustomed to being touched and handled, he knows what to expect just by the feelings of your hands and they feel more settled, more at ease.”

How about as I get closer to the dog’s face?

“I generally try to use one of the 5-in-1 clippers when it comes to the head and face, because it is a lighter weight than your big powerful clipper to do the body with. So I will switch to those with a comb attachment to achieve the length that I’m looking for. So all I have to do then is go in and neaten with my scissors, instead of doing everything with my scissors and thinning shears. SO you can do all of that if you’ve gotten a lighter weight clipping, you just want to make sure you don’t have a lot of vibration going up around the head, face, and ears.”

What’s one lesson you wish you knew when you were starting as a groomer?

“Patience. I think when starting out, we automatically assume that dogs have an understanding of what we’re doing in the grooming process. But what I think we don’t see right away, is if they have had a bad experience at a grooming shop, that a lot of their behavior comes from mistreatment or misunderstanding from what’s expected of them, and it can cause a lot more tension between you and the pet, so I think having the patience and understanding that all dogs are unique, just like people, and if they have been hurt, it’s a learning process for them to trust again to where they’re not going to be injured during that process. So, I think patience and understanding would be number one.”

Working as a groomer is an amazing experience, and there are so many animals and clients in the world who are waiting for your talent and your care! With Sue’s tips in mind, we hope you can feel more comfortable stepping into the world of grooming, and can begin a long and memorable career making sure animals are healthy, happy, and beautiful!

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