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December 2012
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March 2013

Preparing and Scheduling for Competition Groomers

The following article is an excerpt from my Competition Grooming Guideboook!


Chapter Two: Preparing Yourself

There is much preparation that goes into competitive grooming.  Most of all, you will want to be preparing yourself emotionally for your journey.  Now is the time to confirm with yourself that you will happily do what it takes to get into the ring with all you’ve got.  Months ahead you will be looking at how to get dogs together to compete with, talking with your clients or breeders, allocating funds to travel, looking at hotels and air fair or driving itineraries, making arrangements for your clients to be cared for while you are away, practicing on at least a couple of dogs each week at your workplace (to check your pace, your thoroughness, and to critique your skills as if you were in the ring), possibly working with an experienced mentor to help you along, and most of all- you’ll be making lists and more lists!  But it is all in the name of something great.              One of the greatest attributes of our industry for all of those groomers and stylists who are looking to climb the ladder of knowledge and ability is that all of our industry icons, our “A” list members, and our top stylists from around the country are always available and willing to help you with your questions.  Now is the time to possibly also locate a mentor or an active or seasoned competitor to pose your questions to for their advice.  I have never had another competitor turn their back on me when I have asked them a question on what to do with my competition dogs, and I know from experience that you should feel confident enough to approach and question those with the knowledge you want to gain.  Actually, what better way to learn that from someone who has already been there?  You can ask in person at the industry trade shows or you can arrange for one on one learning and hands-on sessions or you can email pictures of your finished grooms, stacked and presented for the camera, so that they can do an outline or shoot back with the changes they see need to be made and what they see is right on.  Photos, though, are never the best way to get guidance with a dog, but they are better than getting no help if that is all you can do for now.  The best way is to bring your dog to someone with the experience to assist you and let them see the dog and your groom from every angle.  They may not always be available to offer their help for free at a trade show because they have their own itinerary and responsibilities to get to, so scheduling one on one is the most ideal learning opportunity for you, and next in line is by attending learning seminars where you can ask all of your questions directly to the speaker.

It is a lot of planning and devotion, and money, and time- but the preparations are what make the journey exciting and fun.  If you choose to just do a show or two a year for the fun of it, that is up to you, but if you get hooked unexpectedly by the competition bug, oyu will want to go big and do all oyu can to not waste your time or mnoney.  Poor planning can make the journey a little more bumpy, but it will only take these mistakes one time around to prove their avoidance for the next time!  There are many points to remember and it can be helpful to get an idea ahead of time at what all you will want to go over and remember when preparing.  Here is a general timeline and the duties that will fall into place as competition time draws near.




10-12 weeks and longer:  

  • Make contact with a possible mentor if you want to work with someone to give you tips and critiques in preparation for the ring.  Mentors could be stylist friends that you know, dog show conformation class exhibitors with your local kennel club, members of your area’s grooming association or club, or simply approach groomers that you have seen place in competitions and ask them for some tips.  Always check the pet grooming websites online to post a “need ad” for a mentor if you are coming up empty handed. Be sure to check your mentors credentials and experience just to be clear that you are getting quality advice, especially if you are paying for their time.
  • Start surveying your client list for possible competition worthy dogs. 
  • If you are employed by another, and haven’t yet, now is the best talk with them about what you want to do and be sure to get their agreement on allowing certain clients to be involved in your plans.  Be sure that you have a signed contractual agreement between you to state clearly that you are responsible for the fees accrued in their free or discounted grooming so the business owner will loose no sales.
  • Go to local dog shows and make business card contacts with breeders.
  • Begin to decide which breeds you are comfortable with or are personally interested in learning about.  You will groom a breed better if you have a personal interest in that breed.
  • Talk with groomer friends to see if they have dogs or clients that would be interested.
  • Visit all of the learning sites listed in this book to gather as much knowledge and make as many contacts as possible.
  • Decide on what competitions and classes at these competitions you would like to enter.
  • Begin to allocate funds to cover expenses.
  • Start mentioning to your clients that you are planning this trip and why, and try to schedule their grooming around the date so they are still cared for.
  • Start making your organizational show lists.
  • If you have dogs on hand for competing with as of now- start practicing your grooming start to finish on them. Time the groom.  Work on properly presenting the dog on the table.  Take your time to do a thorough job, notice conformational attributes and flaws, address coat issues such as density or texture by trying products or working the coat with only scissors to harden it. 


        8-10 weeks:

  • Choose which dogs will work for your eligible classes.  Meet with the owners and go over your lending contracts again, sign them mutually and have them notarized.  Personally deliver a copy to each of the dog owners.
  • Whether working on client dogs, breeder dogs, or your own personal dogs, now begin a weekly maintenance grooming schedule for these dogs. Take your time with each of the dogs that you are planning to utilize for competing when you groom them. Watch the clock to see how much time the groom takes you.  Time how long you spend on each task like the sanitary work or markouts and even drying so you know how long that takes you, and try different techniques to cut off some time. 

Remember that when you are in the ring, you will want to get a great outline first and then perfect your scissor finish work.    ~Bathing and conditioning the coat for maximum healthy growth, trimming in markouts, feet & sanitary until 6 weeks from the show date.

  • Study your breeds!  Practice your stacking, you presenting and your smiling!
  • If needed, take on a few extra hours to groom your competition dogs and still get all clients taken care of.  You do not want to disturb your business work day or clients as they are not only your income, but they are going to help pay for your new endeavor!  You may want to groom all competition dogs on a separate day (my personal choice) or take one less dog a day to have ample time to care for each competition dog’s coat to get it up to par in time for the show.   It is extremely important to not impact your business income and clients’ grooming quality and schedules in any way while you are competing.  there are a few salons that have been lost to the competition bug because of mismanagement of time and income while away at competitions.  This is avoidable with just a little extra time and planning on your part.
  • If you are employed by another, talk with them and get your dates available now.

6-8 weeks

  • Continue weekly grooming visits.  If using a coat builder or volumizer such as Jazzing (a clear hair colorant that binds to the hair and produces a more dense coat in thin or sparse, problem areas- available at Sally’s or other salon supply stores) or experimenting with products such as Thick & Thicker, do it starting now so that you will know ahead the results that you get on that coat with these products, how to properly apply them and to fine tune the outcome.
  • Book your flight if needed.  Book your dog’s flight arrangements if needed.  Be sure to shop around different airlines and on discount sites like Expedia and Travelocity.  Double check if you are an NDGAA or NASE, etc. member as this membership can get you discounts on hotels and rental cars.  And be sure to double check on your luggage fees. Most airlines now charge fees per bag if it goes in cargo.

You will have to have all current medical info and the owner present at this time.  It is best to book your dog’s flight arrangements yourself and not leave it in the owner’s hands.  Not only are you responsible for fees, but the airline needs to know the situation and that you are caring for the dog in the owner’s absence.  Certain states have laws governing owner-absent care and temporary ownership/parent ship of a dog, so just be sure to clue in the airline now to avoid any hiccups. 

  • If your car is making a long trip, be sure that it has a current tune up and care so it is running smoothly.
  • If you are relying on a ride with a friend, be sure to get these commitments laid out now for minimal last minute surprises.  It is always best to not wait to make travel arrangements, not only for the peace of mind at having this done ahead of time as you will have a lot on your plate, but also remember that the closer to your trip date, sometimes hotel rates and surely flight rates will go up in cost.  It simply doesn’t pay to wait!
  • Study your breeds and practice your presentation skills!

4-6 weeks:

  • Continue with weekly maintenance grooming visits.
  • Double check and try to rebook with all clients at the time they leave so that everyone is accounted for as much as possible.
  • Change your answering machine message to mention your upcoming trip (be sure it is an upbeat and excited manner!) and remind clients of your short absence.
  • If you are leaving family behind, get together a list of contact info for where you are staying.  If leaving a pet behind, make these arrangements now as well. 
  • Arrange with a pet sitter if needed.
  • Study your breeds and practice your presentation skills!

2-4 weeks:

  • Start seeing competition dogs 2 times a week; once for a complete brushout and the second visit for a bath/coat treatment from now until the day before the show, or as needed per their breed requirements. 
  • Study your breeds and hone your grooming skills!
  • Have needed shears and tools sharpened if needed.
  • If you are reliant on any personal medications, be sure they are filled & ready for your trip.

               1 week prior:

  • Confirm any travel plans the owner has if they are coming along and driving themselves. Go back over the times you need them there.  If they are riding with you, be sure that they are all set to go. 
  • See the dogs every other day if needed to assure the coat is in optimal condition.
  • If the breeder or owner is allowing you to home the dog until after competition, now is the closest safe time to take the dog in.
  • Double check that the dog is current on all needed vaccines and acquire the Vet info to have for your crate tags.  Be sure that you have them in hand when you leave whether the dog is coming with you or the owner as you will usually need them in order to be issued final registry of your ring number. 
  • Do a final sweep of grooming clients to be sure everyone is taken care of over your leave.

             The day before:

  • Clean your tools.
  • Pack you tool bag or box (see packing checklist!)
  • Pack your personal suitcases and toiletries.
  • Load your car with all supplies if driving.
  • Pack your carry on bag if flying.
  • Gas up your car if driving.
  • Pack your cooler if driving.
  • Print off online directions, print off airline itinerary, print off show attendance confirmation and show addendum if you haven’t already.
  • Call and touch base with breeder or dog owners about when bring dogs by in time for your timely departure. *Be sure to give them a time cushion!  And when they arrive, take the time to send them off well and secure with the leave.  If they are going with but not riding with you- be sure to impress upon them exactly what time you will need them there by if you are leaving the same day of the competition, where to meet you at, exchange contact numbers and let them know the weather forecast if there is any adverse weather you will be travelling through, and be sure to remember to ask if there’s any anxiety on the pet’s behalf as this could put a serious kink in how they feel for their full day ahead. 
  • Take your pet to the boarder if needed.  Remember to leave with them clear and thorough contact info to avoid a catastrophe in your absence!
  • If you are leaving you home empty, take out your trash, clear perishables from refrigerator, etc.
  • For safety, change your business answering machine so it does not say that you are going to be out of town.
  • Double check with pet sitter if you will have one visiting.
  • Get to bed early and (try to) get a full night’s sleep! 

The day of:

  • Finish last minute packing of personals if driving.
  • Finish packing the car if driving.
  • Eat a good breakfast.
  • Give the dog(s) time to run & play a bit before you leave. 
  • Settle your dog into their crate calmly.
  • If flying, get to the airport with plenty of extra time to get your crate(s) into baggage safely, to get your baggage checked and get to your terminal on time.  Allow for traffic and remember that when you rush, this is when things get forgotten.


~I realize that all of this information may be overkill!  But in the interest of educating readers at every level, all of the possible outcomes and requirements are being overviewed here. When you actually start making preparations for competing, things will likely flow smoothly and with less effort once you know all of your information ahead of time.~



What to discuss with prospective dog lenders:


* Talk in depth with your clients about how competitions work:

They can travel with you or you can take the dog alone- (if the show is close, them coming along will ALWAYS make things easier for you as you now have an assistant to watch & care for their dog while you are in the ring. Which may allow you to compete in more classes!), the length of the day at the competition, show them pictures of the show winners from years past & the show itinerary, go over what grooming schedule and maintenance is involved to keep up with on their part, and relay to them how excited you are- they will most likely be excited, too! And if you are a first timer, this will be a bond between you both as you are learning together!

*Explain why you are competing:

You are continuing your education which brings them a higher quality of grooming services and promoting your career.  

*State the benefits they will receive by working with you:

They are receiving free grooming and upkeep on their dog for the next 6-8 weeks!  And, their dog will be the center of attention!  

* Be clear, genuine, and up front with your dogs’ owner as to how important it is that they allow you to do your grooming work without disrupting the schedule of grooming care. 

*Discuss any vacations or times when they will be absent during the time you are conditioning their pet.  If needed, see if you can sit their pet in their absence or personally  make grooming arrangements with their boarder.  There have been those who’ve had a client go on vacation, board their dog, and have it returned for their next grooming with a short clippered, or hacked-up, or matted coat!  Yikes!

*Go over the actual contract agreements slowly with them.  Explain what you are giving to them concerning the grooming and its monetary value, what they would owe should they breach the contract and how it would have to be repaying to you.  Give then time to look it over and decide if it will work for them.  But do not proceed until the signed and notarized contract is in both of your hands!


NOTE: some dishonest people may ride the contract in order to get free grooming and then try in many different ways to find a loophole.  If they try this once, remind then that you do have a binding contract that you need to follow through on or you will have to hold them accountable.  Proceed from their normally and let them make the final decision.  Either way, it is always best to have a back up or reserve dog that can take their place, should something happen.  This dog gets all of the same treatment (and flattery!) and their owner would be explained to what part their dog is playing. 


*NURTURE your relationship with these dog owners!!  You will be seeing a lot of them, and they of you.  They need to know how grateful you are, how important they are, and that this is a mutual favor situation to which you will both benefit.  You can remain in the driver’s seat and still show gratitude and flattery to them!  Remember to set aside the little annoyances that may surface in light of the bigger picture as long as they are following through on their end. If they are totally disrespectful to your work, don’t “fire” them unless you have a back up dog in the wings or you might kick yourself later!  And if you do “fire” them, let them know that they will still owe you for the grooming given thus far- as should have been stated in your contract.








What are “breed standards” and how do I know which dogs are up to breed standards?

Breed standards are usually created and laid down by the various parent clubs of individual breeds.  It is a set of descriptions that outline in depth the qualities that an individual dog in the breed should conform to. Breed Standards are then accepted by international bodies such as the AKC or CKC. 




For example:


Golden Retriever Breed Standard



Sporting Group

General Appearance
“A symmetrical, powerful, active dog, sound and well put together, not clumsy nor long in the leg, displaying a kindly expression and possessing a personality that is eager, alert and self-confident. Primarily a hunting dog, he should be shown in hard working condition. Overall appearance, balance, gait and purpose to be given more emphasis than any of his component parts. Faults--Any departure from the described ideal shall be considered faulty to the degree to which it interferes with the breed’s purpose or is contrary to breed character.

Size, Proportion, Substance
Males 23-24 inches in height at withers; females 21½-22½ inches. Dogs up to one inch above or below standard size should be proportionately penalized. Deviation in height of more than one inch from the standard shall disqualify. Length from breastbone to point of buttocks slightly greater than height at withers in ratio of 12:11. Weight for dogs 65-75 pounds; bitches 55-65 pounds.

Broad in skull, slightly arched laterally and longitudinally without prominence of frontal bones (forehead) or occipital bones. Stop well defined but not abrupt. Foreface deep and wide, nearly as long as skull. Muzzle straight in profile, blending smooth and strongly into skull; when viewed in profile or from above, slightly deeper and wider at stop than at tip. No heaviness in flews. Removal of whiskers is permitted but not preferred. Eyes friendly and intelligent in expression, medium large with dark, close-fitting rims, set well apart and reasonably deep in sockets. Color preferably dark brown; medium brown acceptable. Slant eyes and narrow, triangular eyes detract from correct expression and are to be faulted. No white or haw visible when looking straight ahead. Dogs showing evidence of functional abnormality of eyelids or eyelashes (such as, but not limited to, trichiasis, entropion, ectropion, or distichiasis) are to be excused from the ring. Ears rather short with front edge attached well behind and just above the eye and falling close to cheek. When pulled forward, tip of ear should just cover the eye. Low, hound-like ear set to be faulted. Nose black or brownish black, though fading to a lighter shade in cold weather not serious. Pink nose or one seriously lacking in pigmentation to be faulted. Teeth scissors bite, in which the outer side of the lower incisors touches the inner side of the upper incisors. Undershot or overshot bite is a disqualification. Misalignment of teeth (irregular placement of incisors) or a level bite (incisors meet each other edge to edge) is undesirable, but not to be confused with undershot or overshot. Full dentition. Obvious gaps are serious faults.

Neck, Topline, Body
Neck medium long, merging gradually into well laid back shoulders, giving sturdy, muscular appearance. No throatiness. Backline strong and level from withers to slightly sloping croup, whether standing or moving. Sloping backline, roach or sway back, flat or steep croup to be faulted. Body well balanced, short coupled, deep through the chest. Chest between forelegs at least as wide as a man’s closed hand including thumb, with well developed forechest. Brisket extends to elbow. Ribs long and well sprung but not barrel shaped, extending well towards hindquarters. Loin short, muscular, wide and deep, with very little tuck-up. Slab-sidedness, narrow chest, lack of depth in brisket, excessive tuck-up to be faulted. Tail well set on, thick and muscular at the base, following the natural line of the croup. Tail bones extend to, but not below, the point of hock. Carried with merry action, level or with some moderate upward curve; never curled over back nor between legs.

Muscular, well coordinated with hindquarters and capable of free movement. Shoulder blades long and well laid back with upper tips fairly close together at withers. Upper arms appear about the same length as the blades, setting the elbows back beneath the upper tip of the blades, close to the ribs without looseness. Legs, viewed from the front, straight with good bone, but not to the point of coarseness. Pasterns short and strong, sloping slightly with no suggestion of weakness. Dewclaws on forelegs may be removed, but are normally left on. Feet medium size, round, compact, and well knuckled, with thick pads. Excess hair may be trimmed to show natural size and contour. Splayed or hare feet to be faulted.

Broad and strongly muscled. Profile of croup slopes slightly; the pelvic bone slopes at a slightly greater angle (approximately 30 degrees from horizontal). In a natural stance, the femur joins the pelvis at approximately a 90-degree angle; stifles well bent; hocks well let down with short, strong rear pasterns. Feet as in front. Legs straight when viewed from rear. Cow-hocks, spread hocks, and sickle hocks to be faulted.

Dense and water-repellent with good undercoat. Outer coat firm and resilient, neither coarse nor silky, lying close to body; may be straight or wavy. Untrimmed natural ruff; moderate feathering on back of forelegs and on underbody; heavier feathering on front of neck, back of thighs and underside of tail. Coat on head, paws, and front of legs is short and even. Excessive length, open coats, and limp, soft coats are very undesirable. Feet may be trimmed and stray hairs neatened, but the natural appearance of coat or outline should not be altered by cutting or clipping.

Rich, lustrous golden of various shades. Feathering may be lighter than rest of coat. With the exception of graying or whitening of face or body due to age, any white marking, other than a few white hairs on the chest, should be penalized according to its extent. Allowable light shadings are not to be confused with white markings. Predominant body color which is either extremely pale or extremely dark is undesirable. Some latitude should be given to the light puppy whose coloring shows promise of deepening with maturity. Any noticeable area of black or other off-color hair is a serious fault.

When trotting, gait is free, smooth, powerful and well coordinated, showing good reach. Viewed from any position, legs turn neither in nor out, nor do feet cross or interfere with each other. As speed increases, feet tend to converge toward center line of balance. It is recommended that dogs be shown on a loose lead to reflect true gait.

Friendly, reliable, and trustworthy. Quarrelsomeness or hostility towards other dogs or people in normal situations, or an unwarranted show of timidity or nervousness, is not in keeping with Golden Retriever character. Such actions should be penalized according to their significance.”

 *courtesy of the American Kennel Club

So you can see that these guidelines cover all aspects of not only the dog’s physical makeup, but their personality and movement as well. 

Developing your eye to notice the melding of these characteristics in a particular dog comes with time and study.  Properly choosing a dog closest to breed standard will make less work for you on the grooming table and help you overall style outcome. The best thing you can do is get your hands on the many current breed magazines, grooming DVDs and books available to you.  Log onto sites like and or and read the posts and look through all of the breeds that interest you.  Sites like list the breed standards for each breed and printing these off or purchasing “the AKC All Breed Dog Book” to study is very necessary.  Magazines like “Dogs In Review” are priceless for they afford you the luxury of seeing all of the world’s top dogs at your fingertips.   Get out to local dog shows and bring a notebook.  Sitting at these shows lets you take all of the best dogs from each breed and look at how they move, how they act, and how to bring out or accentuate these characteristics in their grooming.  This will eventually help you get your head around making your hands do what you see in your mind on how that dog should look when it is groomed (and making contacts at these shows with breeders can be a wonderful source for acquiring dogs to use in the competition ring, but we’ll get to that in a bit).  You can also learn volumes of grooming techniques by watching the competitors as they groom ringside.  Some of their tricks differ from what we do for our grooming, but what we are both trying to achieve with our skills is the same.  To accentuate the breed characteristic for that dog and to cover up any existing flaws so as to bring that dog as near to “perfect” a breed standard as possible. 





You will know ahead of time which breeds are those that you really enjoy grooming and feel a connection with.  This connection will help you develop your eye and to excel in your proficiency and skills and this in turn will help give you an edge on those styles in the competition ring.  However, it is also important to grow by challenging yourself with dogs that you are not as familiar with in order to learn while you compete.  There will be others in the ring with you that are trying new breeds and learning as they go, so do not be afraid to go into  territory in front of others.  They are in the same boat as you and are too concerned with their own tasks at hand to pass judgment on your grooming!





Just a note- one of the most common and yet overlooked flaws in pet dogs is weight.  Even a couple of extra pounds will throw that dog’s balance off and therefore make your grooming harder.  Weight affects the dog’s underline most obviously, but when compared side by side with a dog of same type but a couple less pounds, you will see that the weight affects the dog’s entire profile, and you will have to try to compensate for this.  -Giving competitors with a leaner dog the upper hand.  So, if you are choosing a dog that has some extra weight aboard, talk with the owner about nutrition and diet.