The Do’s of Pet Styling Education

by Mitzi Hicks NCMG, President Golden Paws School Consultant

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Are you are looking to begin or advance your pet styling career? If so you need to know how to choose a top quality educational provider especially for the foundation of your career.

Are you an employer of pet stylists? Employers must know which qualities and skills to look for in graduates and where to seek  additional training for promising employees.

In my grooming career I have enjoyed talking to hundreds of future pet stylists as well as stylists looking for continuing education, and  their employers. Each is seeking the same goal, to advance their professional skills for pet styling!

Professional pet stylists compile initial and ongoing training with experience enabling them to groom all breeds and pet designs. Their knowledge must include pet handling, safety and communication. They must know the tools of the trade, and how to use them on different coat types. The same goes for products.

There are practical expectations to know and practice proper sanitation and cleanliness. Pet stylists do not work only with pets but also people. They must have client relations skills knowing how to execute style consultations with professional and ethical behavior and to organize client and pet information. Whew! That is a lot of requirements. Actually this list is  incomplete but covers the most important factors. Professional pet stylists wear a lot of hats and have to be adept with every one of them.

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In this light career starters should realize that their educational goals are far more broad than bathing and styling techniques alone. When they get a more rounded initial education the odds are better they will be more gainfully employed. Employers are desperately seeking  knowledgeable, skilled pet stylists who are professional and ethical in addition to performing the art of grooming. They need pet stylists  who won’t harm pets and want the best services for their owners, pets and workplaces.

With all these goals in mind can you see the objectives for a great pet styling education? It is likely that friends and family of career starts do not realize that pet styling is more complicated subject as you are learning here. Now you can enlighten them and share the significant demand for skilled pet groomers.

Not all grooming training programs are the same! Know what to look for in one. You are spending money which is a significant  investment in your career. Your local grooming school may not always be your best choice based solely on its convenient location. Too many unfortunate graduates have spent a lot of money and time at some schools only to learn they did not get the training they needed to for a desired position or as continuing education. It is the responsibility of students to compare programs offered to them. Students have other responsibilities. They must show up on-time, listen to instructors and follow school rules. The hours of grooming courses fly by.

Commit to your program. Pet grooming is not a dial in profession. Compare as many schools as possible. Do they have:

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Structured programs with multiple instructional methods? Instructional text books, videos, theories and practicals? You can learn a great  deal by observation. So observe prospective schools. Your educational success will parallel the moral compass and qualities of the leadership and personnel of the school.

Expect step-by-step instructional guides teaching styling skills with the assistance of an instructor(s). You will take the instructional material with you not the instructor. The instructor should be trained in the schools instructor program and be present at all times. An assistant instructor should be available if the instructor is not present. Make sure during your training you will be grooming dogs with enough hair for styling because that is the only way to develop your fine finish skills that make a difference between an average stylist, a good or great stylist!

It is vital that you choose a school teaching grooming on different coat types. Once you learn your styling skills you can transfer them to create any breed design or client request by following the instructions in an all-breed book or client instructions. While training, even when the dog is getting shaved, you should first be instructed to put a design on the dog to practice your styling skills before it gets shaved.

When you make an onsite visit of a school observe the quality of their finished pets. Do they look clean, neat and well balanced? Even if the pet is shaved it should still be clean, neat and well balanced. Whatever the school or salon style is, that is what you will be learning!

Meet the instructor and observe the class and the teaching style. Is the school clean? Are the people professional in looks and demeanor? Talk to the students. Nearly all states require schools to be licensed as educational institutions. A state licensed school gives you a school catalog and a enrollment form outlining the program, hours and other vital information including a complaint procedure should you ever need it. When you graduate you will receive your diploma or certificate, it depends on the state on what it is called. You want a great education so look well before you leap!

Some pet stylists want to improve their styling skills through continuing education. I admire these people, it says a lot about a person who has been “grooming” 10-15 years and wants more continuing education. This is then a good reminder to career starters that pet grooming is not a career that you can “pick up” on your own and all at once!

Employers! Realize that graduates you meet do not always reflect the competency level of school programs. Students have the responsibility to show up on time, listen and learn. Employers considering hiring graduates should contact their schools or training programs and check attendance records. Was the job candidate on time at school? Did they follow instruction? Different states have different vocational education regulations governing schools and grading systems may be as simple pass or fail.

Many employers who are also groomers do not have time to teach groomers. It costs money to teach a person who may or may not stay or work out. In an even worse situation are  salon owners who don’t know how to groom and are held hostage by incapable “hostile” or  “diva” employees! Employers should not shy away from hiring new graduates. As one of my most respected friends and a leader in the industry said, “Why not hire a school graduate? They are moldable and you can train them to be the employee you want!”

Remember they are nervous and will be slow in the beginning. It may benefit employers to give graduates a week or two of work on a tryout basis and see how they settle in. If they hold promise in their grooming and as employees, consider supporting their continuing education desires.

Career seekers, experienced stylists and employers need to know the differences between certification, diplomas and licensure.  Currently it remains that there is no U.S. state requiring pet stylists to pass a test for vocational licensing similar to cosmetology careers.

The public is vastly unaware of this fact. Many new groomers never received a formal education or training of any kind because there are no requirements. It is even possible for these “stylists” become instructors. Career seekers or experienced stylists seeking education should become aware of their instructors’ training.

The news is not all dark. In fact, because there are so many groomers without formal training those that do get the training should be able to achieve greater success and better jobs.

State licensing is likely to become a reality in the future. If you want to stay abreast of any state licensure on the horizon consider joining PIJAC (Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council at www.pijac.org) for news alerts.

No licensure of pet stylists has passed, because pet stylists got involved with PIJAC or their state legislation to enlighten them on some badly written bill components. I believe in intelligent licensing; Cosmetologists have state licensing and it makes them a stronger profession for it. Unfortunately some state legislators and non-industry people introduce broad aspects of a licensing bill that doesn’t address specific education, practical skill level testing and safety.

These bills are too broad, confusing and open to interpretation which is not good for pet stylists, pets or clients. The Bills have thus far rightfully been shut down. Our industry would be stronger with a well written, intelligent bill. All pet stylists need to be a part of the solution of intelligent licensing, as you do not want your career in the hands of people who do not understand our industry.

Support continuing education. Pet stylists need continuing education to keep up with industry standards and improve their core skills.

Professional stylists will never or should never stop learning. As early as 6 months after graduating and working as a stylist the door should open to more continuing education. Some may want to consider certification through an organization such as the National Dog Groomers Association (www.ndgaa.com).

I recommend this avenue to pet stylists who want their skills tested through their peers. By passing the skills tests, you will become certified as a Master Groomer (CMG). For a list of other certification organizations visit www.petgroomer.com. Never stop learning and growing in your career!  ♦

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Mitzi Parrish, NCMG, as a second generation stylist, salon owner and educator began her career at the age of 12. Mitzi has taken the 5 decades of educational experience and developed the nationally licensed Golden Paws Pet Styling Academies. A turnkey school program which has successfully graduated over a thousand students and allows qualified salon owners to become a part of the Golden Paws Educational experience benefitting career seekers, pets, clients, the industry and themselves both financially and personally. “My greatest joy is seeing how a great education can change the lives of students, pets and clients in their care. Who could want more?”

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