Interview With A Professional Dog Groomer

The Dog Guide had a wonderful opportunity to interview Crystal Rolfe, a professional Dog Groomer who has been keeping dogs looking their best for over 16 years. Crystal is currently a groomer at Four Muddy Paws in St. Louis, MO.

Tell us about your own dogs. How long have had dogs in your life?

I cannot remember a time when I didn’t have a dog around. My family has always had dogs and they were constant family members. Currently we have 2 dogs…

Akira or Kira for short. She is a Pit bull/Shar-Pei who I brought home from the city pound that no one else wanted. She was on a rescue hold for almost a month and I really KNEW she was this really great dog but the public didn’t pick up on that. On her scheduled execution day I brought her home. I figured I’d be able to find her a wonderful home and I guess I have.

Bender – our little Boston Terrorist. Bender was rescued from an irresponsible breeder with his sister. He is typically with me 24/7 and is one of the greeter dogs at the salon.

How did you become involved in grooming?

I was really looking for a new type of job since I really didn’t like the retail one that I was stuck in. I cannot tell you how excited I was to be hired as a bather at a local grooming shop. Even though it didn’t pay much, this was a dream job. I couldn’t believe that I got to be around dogs and dog folk and get paid!

What training did you complete to become a groomer?

The shop I started out at was a family owned business and pretty small. There were about 3 groomers and 2 bathers, myself included. I really lucked out at this shop because the owner was an INCREDIBLE groomer and trainer. She really believed in learning the business from the ground up and taking pride in your work. She taught me about being honest and upfront with your clients.

When there was an opening in the grooming area she decided to start training me on the side. One or two days a week I would shadow her while she groomed a dog. Sometimes she would scissor one side and I’d scissor the other to match her. As my skills improved, I started to become even more excited about grooming. I never thought I could even cut hair let alone do it well.

After getting the “Grooming Bug” I attended every seminar about grooming that I could and just about every local dog show. Our shop was also very supportive of competing in seminars so I had to try that as well. I won 1st place in a creative styling competition and 1st place in a Sporting competition…man, I was addicted!

I received certification through the ISCC (International School of Canine Cosmetology).

Where do you work now? Can you tell us a bit about it?

I am now working at Four Muddy Paws, a healthy pet market in St. Louis, MO. It’s part pet boutique, part health food store, and part self-service grooming. I am the only groomer at my location and I have 2 assistants (one who is in training to be a full stylist).

I have been there since the opening of the store, 4 years ago. My clientele is wonderful here and many of them are also my neighbors since I live right down the street.

Do you groom all breeds of dogs?

Yes, I love grooming all different types of breeds and styles. My favorites to groom are typically the terriers and poodles.

What is the average workday like for you?

I usually arrive at work about 7:30am and after a cup (or two) of coffee I’m off and running. I schedule about 6-8 dogs a day depending on the type of dog. I also try to help out with the retail aspect of the store since I like to be involved with my clients. I feel if my client’s pets are on the proper diets, this not only affects their health but also their temperaments and their coats.

My clients make their own appointments online so I’m frequently on the computer checking in. Normally my grooming day ends around 6:30 and I’m pretty exhausted by then, but in a good way.

How long does it take to groom a dog?

Typically most dogs take about 2-4 hours from the time they arrive in the salon. I do a lot of rotation with them and I’m finishing one while another is getting bathed by my assistant.

What should people know about “hypoallergenic” breeds and grooming?

I do not believe there really is a “hypoallergenic” breed of dog. I feel this is just wishful thinking. Many times it’s not the shedding that’s the biggest problem but the dog’s saliva and dander that are the culprits. If there is a problem with allergies in the family then it would probably be best to own a dog who does not shed it’s coat much since shedding only increases the dander in the house…. spreading it all around.

If the dog does not shed, typically this means that the dog’s coat will continue to grow and will need to be groomed on a regular basis. There will still be shedding but it will be minimal, so this increases the chance of tangles and mats.

What breeds should people consider if they are looking for a low maintenance dog (as far as grooming)?

There are many types of dogs that require little combing and brushing. The ones with a short tight coat like Boxers, Dobermans and Boston Terriers only need a bath and nail maintenance to look nice. However, the shorter coats do tend to shed more. Low maintenance could also mean paying a groomer to keep up the dog’s coat on a regular basis. That way the owner always has a well-groomed pet and can have just about any type.

What breeds should people consider if they are looking to spend a great deal of time grooming?

If the owner would like to groom the dog at home, the breeds I suggest would vary depending on how much research the owner would be willing to invest time on. There is also the matter of equipment, which could become quite expensive. Many breeds of dogs have a very long silky coat, which is similar to a person’s own hair. Once you learn how to care for this coat, it’s relatively easy to maintain. These breeds include the Maltese, Yorkshire Terrier, Tibetan Terrier, Havanese, Chinese Cresteds, and Old English Sheepdogs etc… Terriers that require hand stripping can also be maintained at home once the owner masters the skills required to pull out the dead hairs by hand. These breeds include the Cairn Terrier, Border Terriers, Jack Russell Terriers, Norfolk and Norwich Terriers, etc…

What should people look for when choosing a groomer?

My advice would be to ask people you see in your neighborhood where they take their dogs (if you like the way their dog's look). If you are new to the area, maybe ask around the local dog park or check out the reviews online. Local veterinarians may also be of assistance since they will know which groomers have been known to injure pets.

Once you have a list of places to check out. visit them to do a walk through. How clean is the environment? There may be hair on the floor, but you can get the idea. Ask if you can see where the dogs will be held while waiting to be picked up. Can you see into the grooming area? If not...this could be a concern. At our salon we have a half-door for conversation and 2 one-way windows so the customers can observe the grooming process. There should not be any heated cage dryers AT ALL...only fans and blowers with no heat. Will the dog's be taken for walks and if so, where? Check that area out too, it should be fairly clean and not have poop all over it.

Getting an appointment may take time since a well-liked groomer will be pretty busy. If you have a dog that requires a haircut and they can fit you in that alert.

If your dog has special needs, make the staff aware of them. For example, you may be able to bring preferred shampoos or ear treatments. If you know your dog can be difficult, be sure to let them know that. This can prevent problems and even injuries.

Pet grooming is NOT a formally licensed vocation. Unlike a hair stylist, almost anyone can come in off the street, pick up a pair of scissors and call himself or herself a groomer. Make sure to do your research.

If readers want to groom their own dogs, what should they know?

I would never recommend using clippers or scissors on your dog unless you are trained. There are many injuries that can result if you are unskilled. A novice with a pair of sharp scissors and a wiggly puppy are not a good combination.

Why is grooming important?

No matter what type of dog you end up taking into your family, it will need some type of grooming. Even a hairless breed requires monthly upkeep. I normally recommend that a dog be groomed every 4-6 weeks. This can vary depending on the dog's coat. Even if you decide to groom your dog yourself, regular nail trims, anal gland checks, ear cleaning and a good brush out will have to be done.

If nails are left to grow too long, the vein in the nail will also grow out making it difficult to cut the nail to the proper length. If the dog is forced to walk on untrimmed nails, this can lead to all sorts of problems including joint issues deformities of the foot.

Heavy coated dogs that shed will need regular brushing to remove the dead coat so that their skin can breathe. While dogs that do not shed their coat can develop matting if not combed out regularly.

Do dogs generally behave during the grooming process? Do you have any tips for owners getting their dogs used to being groomed?

Start ASAP! It's never too early to get your puppy ready for the grooming experience. Bring them to the grooming shop as often as you can to get him used to visiting and bring lots of treats. Practice in small sessions at home putting your puppy on a table (on a towel) to get them used to holding still. Comb them with a steel comb even if they don't have enough hair yet, so that they are used to it. Your puppy should be able to trust you and let you maneuver his body without a lot of struggle. Practice holding his face still. Teaching your puppy good manners will help him (and the groomer) have a pleasant grooming experience.

Teach your puppy "Bite Inhibition", meaning that he can nibble but must learn not to bite hard and to stop when the playtime is over. A positive puppy class is VERY important for all puppies and will make them a more enjoyable family member. It will also help them at the grooming shop since they will have to learn tolerance and control. Puppies need to learn they are not always the ones in control and how to trust others who are. This early training is very important whether you'll be grooming the dog or taking him to someone else to groom.

Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?

I have been grooming dogs and cats for over 16yrs now and I am still learning new things all the time. The Internet was not readily available to me when I first started out, but now that it is, I am able to use it to my advantage. I have watched countless videos on dog training and grooming on You tube and researched all sorts of products directly from their websites. I am now able to chat with other groomers from all over the world and learn new methods and techniques from them. There is so much information out there for dog owners. I've seen a lot of heartache and can tell you countless stories of how people "learned the hard way".

Please do all of the research that you can (and then do some more) before you bring home that cute little puppy.


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