How to Get Smooth Legs on a Close Haircut – Tricks to Eliminate “Stickie-outies” on Legs

Do you struggle to get the spindly legs smooth of that clipped #5 all trim? The body comes out nice and smooth – but the legs… ugh.

Legs are always a pesky problem for new groomers. Maybe you’ve been grooming for a while, but still struggle with this area. You’re not alone. Legs should only take you a few minutes to get smooth. If you’re missing the mark, here’s some help.

My Golden Rule for All Clipper Work

3 passes and you’re done. Period.

Your end result should be super smooth. No rough spots. No sticky-outies.

Fast. Clean. Simple.

bladerrLegs have their own sets of challenges. One of the largest issues is simply the shape. When you set a clipper blade on one of those spindly legs, the point of contact is minimal. Look at it on your own finger, simulating a leg. You’re only making contact with one or two teeth. You’re going to have to rapidly go over those legs several times if you have any hope of getting them smooth.

I have some ideas for how to get a nice finish on those legs in no time. It’s easy when you understand the principles and the foundation skills of all good clipper work.

1. Don’t skimp on the prep.

An excellent bath and a quick high velocity blow dry can make a world of difference in your finish – even on #10 or #7 all over trim. If they have six weeks or less of coat, get them into the tub right away. It won’t take you any more time to bathe and blow them dry and you will get a superior finish.

If the dog has more than six weeks growth, quickly knock off the bulk of the coat. Don’t worry about getting it smooth or neat at this point. Just remove the bulk of the coat as fast as you can. You don’t need to be bathing and drying all of that extra hair. Once the bulk of the fur is removed, head to the bathtub. Follow up with a quick high velocity dry to get the coat to stand up and away from the dog’s body.

If the dog will not tolerate a high velocity dryer, don’t worry. Just make sure they are thoroughly towel-dried. Give the pooch a light mist with a coat amplifying product or hairspray. Use a soft slicker brush to back brush and work the product into the coat while it is still damp. Let them air dry in a comfortable environment until they are dry and ready for finish trimming. Keep in mind this is a very short haircut and fluff drying is not really necessary.

2. Know your holds.

There is an order that you need to work over the legs to be efficient. Start from the top and work down to the toes.
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Whenever you are working on legs, always keep them as low to the table as possible. The higher you lift the leg, the more uncomfortable the pet is going to become. As they become uncomfortable – they struggle. They nip. They whine. They squeal.

You need to be absolutely clear on whether you’re honestly hurting the pet or if they’re just being difficult. If you do not lift the leg more than an inch or two off the table, more than likely, they are just being difficult. Proceed in a calm, cool, and collected manner.

To get the top of the legs, hold onto the toes. I place my finger into the crevices of the foot pad. Then I press down between the digits so only skin is trapped between my fingers. Then I have a good hold so that I can maneuver the leg low to the table but I can get clearance all the way around.

If you’re holding them correctly, and they still struggle, simply maintain your hold. Anchor the heel of your hand on the table while you’re still holding onto the toes. Let the pet lightly resist your hold. After a few tries, and you don’t let go, most dogs stop pulling. You have gently and quietly taught them to hold still for the clipping procedure. Yeah! Minor victory for you! Be sure to give them praise when they do well and begin to respond positively.

For the toes, it’s a little trickier. For the front legs grasp the top of the leg above the elbow joint, then gently squeeze with your thumb and first finger. This hold will also offer stability as your hands rest in the armpit area. As you squeeze you will notice the dog will literally point its paw. This will give you enough rigidity in the pastern joint to run the clipper smoothly over the foot area, getting a smooth cut.

On the back legs, you’re going to slide your hand underneath the dog’s thigh. Stretch your fingers so that they can sit just above the ischium joint (point of buttocks) and the stifle joint. With the leg slightly off the table top, squeeze gently. Just like on the front, the joint will become stiff and the dog will point its toe. This will give you the firmness you need to work the clipper over the foot area.

3. Tip of the clipper.

No matter what blade you use, it is important to maintain a consistent degree of tip to the clipper blade. This is also known as “keeping the blade up on it’s cutting edge.” Imagine a pencil being held right under the blade as you guide it down the leg. The closer the pencil is to the teeth, the higher the tip angle. The further back you keep the imaginary pencil, lesser of the degree of tip. Generally speaking, the closer the blade cuts, the higher you need to tip the blade for it to be effective.

clipperrrEqually important is the amount of pressure placed on the blade. The perfect pressure is the weight of the clipper. Let gravity do the work. When you get in those awkward positions, you will need to simulate the same amount of pressure as your work on the sides and under the dog. Use your own arm to teach you how to gauge the pressure while maintaining consistent pressure as you would maneuver around the dog.

4. Don’t forget to brush.

It’s important to back brush. On the shorter trims, a softer brush is generally your best choice. Back brushing is done with the slicker brush while brushing the coat against the grain. The pressure on the brush should be very light. Use the entire pad of the brush, making gentle contact with the skin and coat. Keep the pressure soft on the brush so the skin is not scraped, causing a potential “brush burn.” Back brush the entire leg once. Then make multiple clipper passes using effective techniques. Once the bulk of the coat is gone, repeat the process a second time to get a smoother finish. On the third back brush pass, there should only be high spots or uneven areas left to get with the clippers.

5. The final detail finish.

Once you have back brushed and clipped the legs three times there should be very little coat left, but there are always a few pesky strays that pop out.

This is the time to pull out a nice pair a blending shears. For this type of detail work, I prefer a finer toothed blender or thinning shear. I always opt for blenders over normal shears for safety reasons. I rarely opt for a smooth bladed shear. The risk of injury is just too great. A blending or a thinning shear is a much safer option to get those final stray hairs you just couldn’t pick up with the clipper.

As a professional pet groomer or stylist, you always want the dog to look its best. Uneven haircuts do not reflect positively on a professional salon. You must be able to do a significantly better job than the dog’s owners could do themselves.

Dealing with all four legs on small to medium-sized pets should not take more than 1 to 3 minutes per leg to complete the bulk of the clipper work. Never forget, as much as we love our jobs, time is money. You want to become as efficient as possible.

Pay attention to the details. There’s a difference between a good #7 All and a bad #7 All. If you want your clients to return – you need to pay attention to the details. These low maintenance style trims are the bread-and-butter of many professional grooming salons. Getting those low maintenance haircuts super-smooth in the least amount of time possible is the key to a successful salon

Happy trimming!

Melissa

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Correcting Behavior During Grooming – Learn the 4 Keys to Successful Pet Handling

If you are a long time pet professional, you’ve probably mastered today’s topic. If you are fresh to the industry, you are probably struggling with it.

How do you handle the dog that does not want to cooperate with the grooming procedure?

You’ve heard me say this about dogs before – but let’s do a quick review.

  • They are hard-wired to think like a dog.
  • They are a predatory pack animal.
  • They are silent communicators.
  • They read body language.
  • They respond to energy.
The most over used word in a dog’s vocabulary is “no.” It’s a common enough word, but it means nothing to them. Why? They hear it all the time. How often is that word spoken every day? Pet owners are constantly “crying wolf” around the dog.

It’s typical. Dog owners overuse the “no” word, yet never back it up. They don’t project the energy necessary to stop the behavior. Thus, they do not convey a strong pack leader presence. The issue they are trying to correct continues unchecked. Many dogs are not trained to understand basic rules and boundaries within their own family pack.

Dogs that are unruly, wiggly, or mildly aggressive on your grooming table have not had consistent training at home. You see it in your shops, salons, and mobile units don’t you?

It’s painful to watch someone who does not understand how to project authority work with these dogs. They think they can win the dog over by using high-pitched baby talk. First, they coo to the dog. Next, they try to reason with it. Not only are THEY getting more and more frustrated… so is the dog. Plus, any staff members within earshot of this ineffective banter are about to lose their minds!

The dog continues to be unruly… wiggly… mildly aggressive. The groomers’ frustration builds. Next, you hear:

“No!”

“Stop it”

“Quit it!”

“No!   NO!!  NO!!!”

As they spew out the words, their breathing is becoming short and rapid. Their energy is weak. They are losing control of the dog. Someone is going to get hurt – either the dog or the groomer.

Quote In A CircleSo how do you stop this acceleration of bad behavior?  

  1. Stop using the word “NO.”
  2. Remember the 3 C’s – stay Calm, Cool, and Collected.
  3. Correct undesirable behaviors before they manifest into an action from the dog.
  4. Be consistent, consistent, consistent.

First, you need to have the proper equipment. Always have control over the dog with a kennel lead or grooming safety loop. The leads and loops need to be adjusted high on the neck, right behind the ears.

On leash, keep mild tension on the lead. Not so much that you are choking the dog, but enough so that you can control the pet. Once you know the pet, you will probably be able to relax the lead tension if they are mild-mannered and well-behaved. Adjust the tension of the grooming loop so that there is a very slight amount of slack when the dog is standing comfortably.

Here’s a trick for working with new dogs that I learned ages ago. I teach them what MY sound is for correcting an undesirable action. I use a sound – not an actual word. It comes from low in my gut, coming out sounding more like sharp grunt. While I use the sound, my breathing is deep and slow. My eyes are steady on the dog. I’m giving the dog eye contact that means business (women, you know what I’m talking about! We all have ‘the look.”). I gently, but firmly, redirect the dog as I wish them to behave.

As soon as the dog cooperates, I soften my eyes and my hands. I might give a calm, single word of praise combined with a gentle, reassuring stroke.

The SECOND the dog makes a move to repeat the undesirable action, I repeat the correction. I am consistent in the training. I never step out of the 3 C’s mental zone: Calm, Cool, and Collected

My 10 Rules When It Comes to Dealing with Challenging Pets

  1. Never work on a pet that you feel is dangerous to itself or to you.
  2. Always maintain the 3 C’s: Calm, Cool, and Collected.
  3. Remember that dogs are silent communicators that respond to energy.
  4. Never take an unfamiliar pet from the owner’s arms.
  5. Always maintain some form of physical control.
  6. Become a lifelong learner of canine psychology and body language.
  7. Remember that not all pets are candidates for all professional grooming settings.
  8. If the eyes glow red or green – DO NOT GROOM THE DOG.
  9. Humanity always comes before vanity.
  10. Your hands are your livelihood – always protect them.

We will constantly be faced with less than cooperative pets in our careers. It is always better for you to win the trust and cooperation of a pet for the grooming process. Most of the time, this translates into becoming a highly effective dog trainer.

Dogs are hardwired to think like dogs. We love them, even treat them like children, but we need to remember that they are not humans. They are dogs. The more experience you can have handling dogs, combined with actively studying their language, their psychology, the more effective you will become.

Remember these four important rules. Do not use the word “no.” Always abide by the Three C’s: Calm, Cool, and Collected. Correct undesirable actions before they become an issue. Finally, be super consistent in everything you do with a dog.

Happy trimming!

Melissa

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How to Read Classic Dog Body Language – Appropriate Composure for the Pet Professional

We work with pets because we are passionate about them. It’s simple: we love what we do. Yet it’s important to remember that every dog is an individual. Not only do they look different, they all have different physical and emotional characteristics. Different personalities.

Some dogs receive clear directions from their owners. They have rules and boundaries at home. This makes them very easy to work with in a professional setting. Other pets will not be well-mannered in a professional setting. The personality quirks we all experience working with pets will vary from dog to dog.

  • Many will be perfect angels
  • Others will be mildly annoying
  • Some will be potentially dangerous to work with for both the handler and the pet

Based on your level of pet interaction experience, you should be able to work through many of these personality quirks. Your commands to the pet need to be clear, concise, and consistent.

Dogs are primarily non-verbal communicators. However, they do have a very clear language of their own. It is up to us to interpret that language. The good news? Dogs are very clear in the messages that they give us.

I firmly believe that 98% of all dog bites are preventable. If you have read the pet correctly, getting bitten is highly avoidable. At times, you will need to take appropriate precautions to protect yourself. You need to gain control of the situation in a manner that is safe and respectful of the pet. It’s important to your career not to become injured. Remember, your hands are your livelihood.

Whenever working with pets, it is always critical to remember the 3 C’s. As a professional you must remain:

  1. calm
  2. cool
  3. collected

…at all times – in all circumstances.

There are many different types of dogs. Many will require special handling techniques. Plenty of groomers or stylists are good with all personalities. Others have honed their skills. They specialize in working with dogs with special needs such as puppies, geriatric dogs, or aggressive dogs.

Here is a collection of basic dog postures we see every day. Every position indicates a different attitude. This is by no means everything you will need to know about “reading” dogs. If you are working professionally with them, this is just the tip of the iceberg.

You will need to gather loads of information about canine communication. By doing this, you’ll learn to work in harmony with dogs. When that happens, you’ll instantly feel the rewards. You’ll quickly learn how to respond to them in a non-verbal way.

By being knowledgeable in canine body language, you’ll keep both you and the pet safe at all times. The more time you spend studying dogs and working firsthand with them, the more proficient your skills will become.

Our number one responsibility to the pet and its owner is to always treat the pet with the utmost respect using humane handling practices.

Basic Body Language of the Pet

There are basic body positions that you need to recognize immediately when observing a pet. The eight basic positions have been illustrated for you below. Spend some time observing dogs so that you can instantly recognize these eight positions.

Non-Threatening Body Language:

  1. The Relaxed Stance
  2. Play Bow
  3. Submissive Body Position

These 3 indicate dogs that are safe to approach in a calm, gentle manner. These dogs are generally easy to work with and respond well to basic commands. Normally, an enthusiastic dog will need a little firmer command while a submissive dog will respond better to gentler techniques.

Use Caution When Approaching Body Language:

  1. Highly Submissive Postures
  2. Stressed Posture
  3. Alert Body Posture
  4. Defensive Body Position
  5. Offensive Body Position

 

These positions indicate you need to approach with caution. Based on how you interact with them, they may feel comfortable and slip into a nonthreatening language. If they do that, it indicates they are safe to approach.

If they feel threatened in any way, they can easily slip into the flight or fight mode. This is their natural defense. If you have them tethered with a lead and not under control, this flip of personality could easily manifest into a very difficult situation. This is a pet that could attack, bite, urinate, defecate, or release its anal glands.

Working with pets is a highly rewarding career option. However, if you don’t truly understand canine body language, passion can quickly turn into frustration. Use your passion early in your career to learn everything you can about their body language. It’s an invaluable skill to have.

Happy trimming!

Melissa

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Paying Groomers – What is Fair?

How and what professional groomers get paid is always a hot topic. There are so many variables:

  • Hourly?
  • Commission?
  • Pay rates?

MoneyOver the years I’ve tested just about every possible combination of scenarios to try to determine what was fair, what worked, and what didn’t.

When I started my first business, I groomed in the vans right beside my mobile groomers. My team earned 50% commission of the grooming charges. We also had an extra “house call charge” for the front door service per stop (not per dog).

My mobile fleet grew from one van to six in about five years. Plus, I added a grooming salon to the mix. We were busy all the time. However, every once in a while, cash got tight.

Have you ever been there?

As we grew, the cash flow would have high and low swings. When the swing went up, it was fun, and I could reinvest in the company. I would buy another van and pay for continuing education for both myself and my team. We celebrated when we met sales quotas.

Occasionally, I would struggle to make a payment. If catching up got too deep and available cash got tight, I would grab a credit card. In those moments, I needed to keep the vans on the road and take care of expenses no matter how high the interest rates.

The busier we got, the less I paid attention to the finances. After all, we were all working and bringing in money. It was inconceivable to think we wouldn’t have enough money to pay the bills or commission.

Quote In A CircleBut then it happened.

A payroll check bounced. The lights got turned off. The phone service got shut off.

Each of these stressful, embarrassing, and terrifying moments are the hard lessons many business owners face.

Early in my career, I didn’t pay attention to the financial health of my business. It was a painful lesson I needed to learn the hard way. I was losing sleep over it and after more than one negative incident, I vowed never to let it happen again.

Detailed bookkeeping wasn’t my forte – I would rather have been grooming. However, I bit the bullet and invested in a bookkeeper. She was much wiser than I when it came to money matters. She made sense of the income and the expenses and I started paying attention to my cash flow.

We worked closely together and each month she would create a profit and loss statement for me. It would contain all the standard categories along with monthly and year-to-date figures. Plus, she added a column that tracked the percentage of expenses to sales.

The percentages were critical. No matter how rapidly we grew, I started to see trends in the percentages. It allowed me to easily track the fiscal health of my companies at a glance.

Early in my first mobile business, the only thing really saving the company was the house call charge on top of the grooming fee. Little did I realize how detrimental a 50% commission rate was to the health of a business. It’s very hard to run a profitable company when you pay out almost half of your grooming revenue.

It’s even more challenging if you had W-2 employees vs. independent contractors (but that’s a whole ‘nother blog!). In the state of Michigan, an estimated 13% was paid in payroll tax obligations for my staff based on their wages.

Look at the chart below. If you are a commissioned groomer/stylist, find your rate. Next, find your average price per dog. For example, if you earn a 50% commission rate and the average ticket price of the dog is $50, you would be earning $25 per dog.

CHART_1

Did you find your place on the chart?

Notice what happens to the earning potential when pets are priced higher, yet the commission rate is lower?

Where would you rather work – at a salon with lower-priced dogs but at the 50% rate or at a higher priced salon with a lower commission?

The commission rate isn’t the true barometer of your earning potential. The price per dog combined with the commission rate is what you need to look at. Even if a commission rate is 38% but the average ticket price is $70, you would be earning $1.60 MORE than the 50% commission rate at $50 average grooming price.

Don’t get hung up on the commission rate. Pay attention to the average price per pet COMBINED with a commission rate. Then, do the math. It might surprise you!

In the next set of charts, I want to demonstrate what happens to a business paying out a 50% commission rate to employees. In these examples, I have simplified salon expenses. Most salons will have a longer list of expenses. The examples show how the numbers would play out over the course of a year. As you look through the amounts, notice what happens.

A

I have used a 50% commission rate for salon generating $150,000 per year.

B

The salon is generating $210,000 annually while paying out a commission of 50% to the groomers.

C

The salon is still generating $150,000 per year but now the commission rate has fallen to 44%.

D

The grooming commission rate is 44% but the average ticket price increased per dog, earning the salon $210,000 annually.

In example A, the salon is clearing $5,910 for the entire year or less than $500 each month.

If you are a salon owner, I’m guessing you did not get into business to run a nonprofit company. In this scenario, that’s pretty much what’s happening. Remember, I simplified the outgoing costs of the businesses. Most salons will have more bills to pay than reflected in this example.

If you are an employee working at a salon paying 50%, you feel it every day. The lack of cash flow filters through. Chances are, the salon struggles to make ends meet. It has to cut corners. One financial hiccup can send it into a downward spiral.

The only way a 50% commission-based salon can truly make ends meet is if the salon owner is also one of the groomers. Another option is to have other streams of income other than just grooming.

Raising prices and dropping the commission rates is in the best interest of a business. It creates a cash flow buffer which takes the pressure off everything and everyone. It allows the business to thrive instead of struggle. It allows for higher-quality products, equipment, and education. These items make the workspace more enjoyable while minimizing burnout and maximizing quality.

Most salon owners and their employees are among the most passionate people I know. We’re hard workers and love pets. Owners and staff need to work together as a team. Everyone needs to understand what the numbers look like in order to have an enjoyable work environment.

My professional grooming department at Whiskers Resort & Pet Spa currently runs with a team of seven stylists and three grooming assistants. The team has both full- and part-time employees. The sliding-scale commission rates range from 38% – 44% for full grooms based on client satisfaction, rebooking, and financial quotas. Stylists earn lower commissions on simple bath and brush pets requiring less time. Stylists can bounce up and down the tier system based on the previous quarter’s performance. Grooming assistants are paid hourly based on experience and performance. On average, the grooming department’s commission payroll runs between 36% and 43% of gross sales. With lower commission rates, we can afford to pay the assistants and a portion of the customer service team that books all the grooming appointments.

Even with lower commissions, the average ticket price runs between $65 and $70 per dog. Based on personal motivation and experience, stylists groom an average six to 12 dogs a day. As a bonus, on a typical day, a stylist can also earn anywhere from $30 – $80 in tips on top of their commission rates. This department is flourishing, and the turnover is extremely low.

Salon owners, if you don’t have a firm handle on how the dollars stack up, I encourage you to track them and pay attention. If you don’t want to deal with it yourself (like me!), hire a bookkeeper. Then work closely with them and learn. They love to tinker with numbers the same way we like to tinker with dogs!

I encourage you to compare the charts. Check out the numbers. Think about how you fit within these examples. Then run your OWN numbers and see how you stack up. It does not matter whether you are the salon owner or a commissioned stylist. The numbers don’t lie and are the key to EVERYONE’S financial health and success.

Happy trimming!

Melissa

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