Salvage Work

Spring is here – and not a moment too soon!  Many of us will be seeing a lot of pets that are ready for a great makeover in the coming weeks.

As many of you know, I’m a big dog person.  Working on these large furry dogs that have a huge shedding problem is one of my favorite things to do in a grooming salon. Over the years I’ve gotten really quick with the process and rarely cringe, no matter what the size of the dog, nor the condition.

My #1 rule is: Never work on a dirty dog. If water can penetrate the coat, let your products do the job.

Working on a dirty dog is not only unpleasant, but it also takes longer to do.  There will be a lot of coat damage and breakage.  A dirty coat is dry and brittle. The dirt and dander trapped within the fur makes it more difficult to brush out. Working on a clean coat will be easier for both you and the pet – and much more enjoyable.

If there are large chunks that water cannot penetrate, go ahead and break up the tangle using the tool that is safe for the pet.  Don’t worry about removing it completely, just break it apart so the water and shampoo can do their job.

Prepare your bathing area.  If the dog is exceptionally dirty, use a shampoo especially designed for dirty dogs.  Using a follow-up treatment of a skin and coat conditioner after bathing twice (or maybe three times in some areas) will assist with the brush out and dead coat removal during the drying process.  Make sure you have all the tools you’ll need to aid in getting the dog clean, like rubber curries or scrub brushes.  Make sure you have plenty of towels handy!

My favorite trick when working with this type of job is to bring my high velocity dryer right into the bathing area.  With the dog fully lathered, blow the shampoo right off the pet while it is tethered in the tub.  The slippery soap will allow the dirt, loose coat, and tangles slide out. The clumps will be trapped in the shampoo and will stick to the back wall of the tub, minimizing the mess.  Not all the shedding coat or mats will be removed but a lot will, making your job easier once you transfer to the drying table.  Once you have blown out the pet, follow up with the rinsing process.  Repeat this process as many times as necessary to get the dog “squeaky clean.”

Once the pet is clean and thoroughly rinsed, apply a skin and coat conditioning treatment before heading to the drying table.  Read your directions: some conditioning treatments need to be rinsed out while others do not.  Your high velocity dryer and a heavy slicker brush will be your best friends during the drying process.index

Rule # 2: Be Methodical and Thorough

First, blow out as much moisture and loose coat at possible with the air flow.  Use the highest power setting the pet is comfortable with along with a condenser cone.  Once you have pushed as much water and loose fur from the pet, remove the condenser cone and bring the air flow close to the pet’s skin.  “Boost” any loose coat out of the dog by lightly patting the area with a slicker brush where the air is striking the skin.

Continue to work over the dog in a methodical manner until your brush glides through the coat easily and no more loose coat is trapped in the brush.

Rule #3 – ENJOY!

When the dog is complete, it should smell clean and fresh.  The coat should be glossy and float freely as the dog moves.  There should be an irresistible desire to reach down and bury your hands in a freshly groomed pet.

Happy trimming!



What are your favorite tools and shampoos to use for those tough jobs? What secret tricks did we miss? Let’s talk about it on our Facebook page with your Melissa Verplank family.

Proactively Dealing with Skin and Coat Issues

Quote In A CircleThere are times in most professional groomers’ careers when customers mistakenly blame others for their pet issues. There are a wide range of possible scenarios that happen before or during the grooming process, including:

  • During bathing, a scab falls away from an older injury, making it look like a fresh wound.
  • Removing tight mats from the leather results in an ear hematoma.
  • A dog arrives for his appointment with fleas or ticks. However, the client refuses to believe their pet had them prior to stepping into your salon.
  • After trimming a pet with super sensitive skin, an area becomes inflamed once it gets home.

How do you proactively handle these situations and prevent having upset customers?

Three ways.

  1. Communication
  2. Honesty
  3. Proof

matted profileCommunication

The best start to effective communication is to get your hands on the pet before it goes into the grooming process – preferably with the owner standing right there. You’re going to be looking for anything unusual that could possibly pose a problem after the grooming is finished.

Let all your senses come into play.

  • What does the skin and coat look like?
  • What does the skin and coat feel like?
  • What does the skin and coat smell like?

Give the dog a visual once over. Identify any potential problems. Confirm what you may see by sinking your hands into the coat all the way down to the skin. Is there anything unusual? Lumps? Bumps? Mats? Filthy coat? Grit next to the skin?

To be proactive, it’s important to identify potential issues before the grooming process even begins. With severely matted pets this is critical. Talk to the owner. Point out the issue and offer a solution if you can. Discuss the potential risks and the benefits you feel are in the best interest of the pet.

Identifying potential issues in the skin and coat prior to starting the grooming process is a great way to start educating customers. Many clients have no idea how to best deal with their pet’s coat, the health risks associated with the lack of regular grooming, temperament issues, or the aging process. Most want to do what is best for their pet if information is presented in a sincere and respectful manner.

lengthsOwners rarely understand how we do our job or how our clippers work. Telling a client is one thing. Having a fake fur chart of how long each blade or guard comb leaves the pet can be extremely beneficial. It’s a physical tool to help educate pet parents. It clarifies blade lengths and defines the term “short” in a way clients can comprehend.

Some salons display solid pelts taken off severely matted pets. These matted chunks of coat – or pelts – serve as a great education tool. It’s not just for severely matted pets. They offer an excellent communication tool to talk about coat length, brushing techniques, and things hidden in the coat like bubblegum or fishhooks.

Unfortunately, we all have a few clients who are just impossible to educate. Careful, I can see your eyes rolling…

Let’s face it. During check-in we can’t always spot every potential problem in the dog’s skin or coat. If it is going to change the price or the look of the haircut, stop and call the owner to discuss it. If it’s extremely matted and is going to cost more to do the groom – you want to get verification to either proceed with the dematting process or opt for a much shorter haircut.

Personally, I prefer to emphasize the risks and slightly over-estimate the cost when I’m first talking to the owner. Thus, whatever I might find – or charge – is a welcome relief to the pet parent upon pick-up. If you do accidentally injure the dog or must charge extra, it does not come as a shock to the owner. In most cases, injury can be avoided, and the groom is less expensive than anticipated.

Whatever the case, it’s better to have too much communication then not enough.


Whatever you have found in the dog’s skin or coat, be truthful with the client.

If it’s something minor, take the time to point it out and clearly show it to the owner. Tell them what you have done to help minimize the issue. Make suggestions on what they should do at home. Maybe it’s just keeping an eye on the spot or using some pet soothing appointment. If the issue has the potential to be a long-term problem, tell them how you plan to deal with it in upcoming grooming appointments, so you don’t aggravate the problem in the future.

We literally go over pets from the tips of their noses to the tips of their tails. It’s amazing what we discover as professionals. We are not vets and should never diagnose our discoveries, but we are trained observers. Whenever you find something out of the ordinary, tell the owner.

If I were to find anything I would consider a medical issue, it would be best to tell the owner what I would do if it was MY dog. Sometimes it would just be keeping an eye on something until the next vet visit. On other occasions where I feel it is critical the pet receives medical attention, I would tell the owner (if it was my dog), I would go straight to the veterinarian. I’ve even had a few situations where I called the vet for the owner and they went directly from the grooming appointment to the veterinarian.

We are all working in the best interest of the pet. Honesty can go a long way, coupled with sincerity and compassion for both the pet and the owner.


If you overlooked something at check-in, but discover it after the owner has left, document it. Having proof about the condition when the owner returns helps prove it was a pre-existing issue. It helps establish your case that you did not cause the problem prior to the grooming.

There are many ways to document or provide proof of the pre-existing problem.

Almost everyone has a cell phone with a digital camera. Use it! A photo or a quick video does wonders to prove a point. It’s important to get that initial shot when you first discover a problem. It might be a scab or flea dirt and fleas crawling through the coat. It might be a toenail that has curled into the foot pad.

Here are a few of the items I have collected over the years. Most of the smaller items have been put into plastic baggies.

  • fleas (preferably dead)
  • ticks (preferably dead)
  • maggots
  • hotspots
  • scabs and pus
  • bubblegum
  • rubber bands
  • fishhooks
  • burrs
  • matts
  • pelts
  • pine sap
  • grossly overgrown toenails
  • excessive blown or dead coat

I’m sure you have an extensive list, as well.

If you don’t want to get blamed for something, be proactive. Honestly discuss what you have found with the pet owner. You are the professional observer and trained professional. As a professional groomer, our job is not only to make the dogs look and feel better, it’s also to educate their caretakers.

Always remember, put humanity before vanity and do what is in the best interest of the pet.

Happy trimming!



Have you ever been blamed for an injury you didn’t cause? How did you handle it? Let’s talk about it on our Facebook page with your Melissa Verplank family.

How to Use Anatomy to Groom the English Setter

Quote In A CircleExcellent grooming starts always starts with a firm understating of canine anatomy. It is the FOUNDATION of all grooming.

Basic pattern lines are set based on the muscle and bone structure. Depending on how physically active a dog is, the muscle structure may be very prominent. It could be lurking under a layer of fat. It may also be poorly developed due to age or lack of physical activity. Nonetheless, those muscles are there. They will help you set symmetrical and correct pattern lines.

The bones are there, too. Whether the dog is anatomically correct when compared to the breed standard is something else altogether. Understanding what a physically sound dog is will help you immensely. When you know the difference between good and bad structure, you’ll be able to hide many faults.

When we combine all the layers of the dog – the bones, muscles, the skin, and the fur – we will be able to mold and shape the coat to highlight the dog’s best features and downplay the others. If the bone structure is a little less than perfect, you can use the hair to camouflage those defects.

Before you begin grooming any dog, get your hands on them! Close your eyes. Feel the structure under the coat. Sink your fingers deep in the fur. Pay close attention to the muscle groups highlighted in color in these diagrams.

The Essence of the Breed

Before you start grooming any dog, you need to familiarize yourself with the breed and understand its essence.

The English Setter is a Sporting dog of great style. It should be physically fit and structurally sound to work long hours flushing game in the field. The general outline of the English Setter will be rectangular. The shoulder lay back and the angles of both the front and rear assemblies should allow for adequate reach and drive.

The coat is silky, flat, and should lay close to the body. English Setters have longer feathering on the ears, chest, abdomen, underside of thighs, back of all legs, and on the tail. The longer coat should not be so long as to hide the true lines of the dogs, movement, or the function of field hunting.

1Landmarks for Grooming & Styling

When it comes to grooming, let’s work around the dog using its anatomy as a reference.

When done “correctly,” Setters are hand stripped for a very natural look. However, in pet grooming circles, it is common to see the pattern clipper-cut or styled using a combination of clipping and stripping to save time. Regardless of the method you chose, the anatomy reference points – or landmarks – will remain the same.

Setting the Throat

Feel for the muscles at the sides of the neck to set the throat pattern line. A visual clue to this area is at the “frill” or cowlick line running down the sides of the neck. The throat area is directly below the jaw, inside the muscles running down the outside of the neck. The shape is generally a soft “U” shape. The lowest part of the “U” stops a few fingers above the prosternum bone.


The jacket coat on the bulk of the body is shorter and lays flat on dog. Follow the natural lay of the coat when working this area. 


Use the turn of the muscle at the shoulder to set the jacket pattern on the body.


The turn of the shoulder will also tell you the location of the elbow. This is the general location of where to start the pattern on the body, sweeping back and upwards towards the flank of the dog.

2Spring of Rib

The turn of the ribs will help set the pattern line separating the dog’s body jacket which consists of much shorter coat, blending invisibly into the longer feathering found on the lower portion of the dog’s body.


The undercarriage line creates a focal point for balance of the overall dog. The highest point of the graceful sweep will be directly under the last few ribs.


Moving into the flank area, the thigh muscle should be exposed to help accentuate a physically fit and muscular dog.


For balance, the tail should reach to the hock and be a triangular flag. There is a slight gap of fur on the underside of the tail at the base. This slight space separates the longer rear furnishings with the feathering on the tail.


The top line maybe level or slightly sloping from the withers to the tail.


The long graceful neck is well muscled and slightly arched.


The lines of the skull are parallel with a well definite stop.


Set well back and low, even with or below the level of the eye. All these areas are natural landmarks used as reference points on any breed. When you combine anatomy with the official breed standard for any purebred dog, you have knowledge. You can use this understanding to accentuate the proper structure of the English Setter.

Always remember, all transition lines should be invisible. Ideally, the English Setter should look totally natural when finished – as if the coat simply grew that way.

Combining the use of these anatomical landmarks and skillful technical skills, a talented pet stylist can easily create a symmetrical, stylish, and well-balanced trim on any dog – purebred or mixed breed.

Happy trimming!



What breeds are a struggle for you? Let’s talk about it on our Facebook page with your Melissa Verplank family.

I Want a “Puppy Cut”

“Give my dog a puppy cut.”

Ask 10 customers or groomers to describe this style and I bet you get 10 different answers. One one hand, it’s a great conversation starter! On the other, it’s a quick way to discover how easy it is to misunderstand one another.

The puppy cut is popular because it works well on a wide variety of pets.  Almost any breed that grows longer coat can be done in this easy-to-care for style. Yet, the puppy cut is also the most misunderstood haircut in grooming salons around the country. Why? There are no clear directions of what this trim actually is or how it should be done. It’s left up to individual personal interpretation by owners, groomers, or talented pet stylists.

The puppy cut started as a trim style for young Poodles in the dog show world. Once the puppy is a year old, it  is put into the elaborate adult haircut for the conformation ring. Today, the term “puppy cut” is used very loosely. It can apply to a wide variety of different breeds. It’s highly adaptable to any size of dog or coat type.

Many owners love this style of trim – and with good reason. It’s cute, easy to care for, and easy for customers to remember by name. In this trim, the dog does not drag in dirt and debris from outdoors. Their ears don’t drag in the food or water dish. The need for brushing between grooming appointments is minimized. On smaller pets, bathing between grooming appointments is a breeze. What’s not to love?

So what is it?

Essentially, the puppy cut is one length all over. The most common length is between 1-2 inches over the body, legs, tail, head, and ears. Typically, it’s done with a clipper fitted with a long guard comb over the blade. There should not be any clipper marks, uneven coat, or sharp edges left in the fur. Next to a powerful clipper, high quality blenders are your best friends when doing this trim. Everything is soft and plush, like a fluffy puppy.

This is where things get tricky. In some circles the puppy cut can also be known as a teddy bear trim, summer cut, or kennel cut. I’ve even seen some salons turn their version of the trim into their “signature haircut.” Generally, the only things that change between theses trims are the names and the length of coat.

It doesn’t stop there! Others associate the puppy cut with smooth-coated breeds like the Boxer, Pug, or Beagle. Basically, the idea is of a youthful, “puppyish” look.  Hence the name.

With all these interpretations, it’s easy to envision things differently. While that’s not a bad thing, not being clear on what the final look will be can definitely affect the result and your relationship with the customer. If an owner is requesting this trim for the first time, be prepared to discuss the trim in detail. DO NOT ASSUME YOU ARE BOTH ON THE SAME PAGE! Communication is the key to a happy customer.

Getting a clear understanding starts with a conversation. Spend a few minutes with the client and the pet before the customer leaves your salon.

Getting the conversation right starts with the 3 L’s:

Look – Use those precious moments as your clients walks in to observe the pet. What do you see? These first impressions can be used to guide your conversation.

Lead – This is the time to ask for clarity.  Ask leading questions about each area of the pet (body, head, ears, legs/feet, and tail):

  • How do you want your pet to look? Smooth and sleek or fluffy and plush?
  • What is the pet’s lifestyle? Is he the life of the party or a designated lap dog?
  • How long should be coat be? Remember, “short” means something different to everyone. Be specific to be sure.
  • How should the head look? The head and face are a big part of the dog’s personality. Getting this part right is very important to your customer.

Listen – Listen for details and clues. The customer may not know grooming terminology – that’s one reason they rely on you. Interpret their observations and preferences so you can create a clear mental picture of style options.

Now that you’re clear about what the customer wants, it’s time to put your talent and experience to work. A skilled pet professional will know how to make minor changes to the trim that will enhance the pet’s appeal. If the coat is too tangled to do the longer trim, you’ll be able to suggest alternatives that work best for his current condition. You can then discuss ways the customer can work on the coat at home to make it possible to have a longer, fluffier look as the pet grows out.

Educating clients on proper pet hygiene is a valuable service most salons offer for free to their clients. In order to keep the dog looking its best, you can offer suggestions for maintaining this haircut between grooming appointments. At home brushing and bathing can make a big difference in how they look and smell, too. You can also make suggestions on how often the trim should be done based on the pet’s lifestyle and coat texture. Always remember, your clients are the lifeblood of your business. Taking a little extra time up front for a warm and welcoming pet consultation will go a long way toward building a solid relationship with them.

Try these tips and see if it helps you get closer to your client’s idea of a puppy cut… the first time!

Happy trimming!



What’s YOUR idea of a puppy cut? Share some pictures on our Facebook page with your Melissa Verplank family.