by Jay Scruggs, Super Styling Sessions
Having been a competitive groomer, and now a competition judge, I am constantly asked, “How does someone get started in competition and what are judges looking for?” This article will answer those questions and help you to become more competitive in the ring.
To get started in competition grooming find a breed you are comfortable grooming. Your dog should display good confirmation, nice coat, good behavior, and be easy to travel with. Many of the top competitive groomers own their dogs or borrow dogs from reputable breeders in their area.
Preparation is the key to becoming a top competitor. It starts with the basic fundamentals of grooming. Prep work, clipper work, balance and symmetry are very important, but preparation ranks as the most important skill. I would recommend going to AKC shows and know breed standards. Acquire books and DVDs that will help with the breed you are working on.
Once you choose a dog start preparing it months in advance before entering a show. I would recommend bathing and conditioning the dog weekly to have the coat in impeccable shape before competition. Work on the trim you are going to compete with 6 months before you actually compete. This will allow you to get critiques and make any changes necessary.
Groom the dog and takes pictures. Find judges or groomers you respect in the industry and send them pictures for critique. Make necessary changes. Also make sure you start timing your grooms every time. Work in a fashion that allows you to groom the entire dog in the allowed time leaving 20 to 30 minutes to do finish work.
Always try to bathe your dog the day of the competition. You want the coat as fresh and clean as possible. Never try something new on the day of the competition. You never know how different products will affect the coat.
A few days before the competition bathe and prep the dog for the show. Meaning, clean the pads, the sanitary areas, and ears as well as a good bath and brush. Doing this before competition will help you to know if there are any areas of concern with the coat or skin as well as if the pads or sanitary get irritated easily. This practice gives you time to treat issues before you compete.
On the day of the competition, make sure you are well rested, dog is exercised and fed and watered. Make sure you have all the event essentials in your tack box. Make sure scissors are sharp and oiled and all equipment is working properly. It is a good idea to have a back up of all your products because you never know when something will fail.
Read the Competition Rules
Most competitions require at least six weeks growth. Don’t make it harder on yourself and bring in a dog with an excessive amount of coat. When entering the ring, be sure to arrive early to get set up. This will help calm the nerves. I would always go to the ring and get set up and have someone bring my dog to the ring once I was ready. Try to wear something that compliments the dog. If you have a black dog don’t wear dark colors. You want the judge to be able to see your work. Be prepared if you have a dark colored dog. You may want to bring a lighter colored mat to put on the table to help you see the lines.
The judge will first come over to evaluate length of coat, confirmation of dog, preparation, and cleanliness. At this time let your judge know if there are any problems. Missing coat, ear infection, hot spots, or anything else you may need to point out before. Judges do not like to hear a lot of excuses so the better the specimen and less problems will help.
When the time starts judges will be watching ringside. The will observe how you handle the dog, what techniques you are using, as well as the difficulty of the trim and how suitable it is for the dog. If you are doing a breed standard trim make sure you are following the standard. A lot of new competitors try the mixed or miscellaneous class which give groomers a little more freedom in their work.
It is critically important to clean off your table when the class is finished. Make sure there is no loose hair on the table or in the dogs coat. Hair tends to gravitate towards the feet. Judges do not like picking up feet and having to clean the hair off of them. Stack your dog and face the judge. Keep the dog stacked from the start of judging until they say you can relax. You never know when the judge may glance back and take a second look. It also helps the judge if they are comparing your dog to another in the class.
At this point you will start to sweat and your heart will pound. Presentation is the key. Try to stay relaxed. The judges and the dogs will sense the nervousness.
The judge will comb through your dog. ALWAYS keep one hand on the dog and try to keep it stacked. As the judge moves you should also move with them. Try to stay out of the way and maintain the posture of the dog. The judge checks for clipper work. Did you use the appropriate blade? Are the lines in the right place? Is the coat even from one side of the dog to the other? How well does the trim suit the dog? Is the scissor work even and smooth and is the trim well balanced? All of these factors will help decide the placements. The more you have right the better the placement.
After inspecting all the dogs in the class judges will start comparisons. Even if judges are not looking at your dog, stand tall and proud. You have just spent months preparing and endured two or more hours of hard work in the competition. Be proud of completing it. Sometimes the judges will know their first placement after going through the dogs. You may even think they are not interested in your dog or not get a second look and yet win the class. Many times judges do come back in the ring after going through all of the dogs. When this happens it means the competition is very close. It could be the difference between first and second or even a third placement.
Once placements are announced always be a good sport. Congratulate the winners and make sure you get a picture. You want to document your wins and have something to compare to moving forward as you improve. You may not always agree with the judges but until you actually have a comb on the dogs you will never know what they see. I have judged countless competitions and the dog that apparently looked the best from outside the ring did not win or sometimes didn’t even place once they were combed through.
Lastly, remember to thank the sponsors, show promoter and others involved. There is a lot of money and time spent to put a competition together. ALWAYS get a critique from your judge whether you agree or not. This will only help you get better as a competitor. I would get judge critiques and then take my dog to other judges for their opinions. Then it was back to the drawing board to get ready for the next competition. ♦