Dog Grooming – A Sh*t Sandwich

Written By Maria Sweeney, Owner at Vanity Fur.

Dog Grooming - A Sh*t Sandwich

An old boss of mine in a past life used to give us what he called sh*t sandwiches. It’s where he told you off for doing something wrong, then threw in a commendation for a great job you’d done on a project, before whipping the rug out from under you with another jab at something else you’d failed to deliver on.  Just because there was a layer of jam in the middle it didn’t make the poop sandwich taste any sweeter, but I appreciated the sentiment. Come to think of it, I’m pretty sure a sh*t sandwich is supposed to be comprised of  a compliment, an insult and another compliment, but he was a tough taskmaster.

Little did I know at the time I’d be dealing with sh*t sandwiches of a whole other kind three years on. Rather than the figurative kind, today I’m dealing with the literal ones.

Since leaving a career in corporate sales and marketing and embarking (no pun intended… sorry) on a dog grooming career, I have never been happier when the alarm clock goes off in the morning. As a crazed animal lover it’s a dream come true to go to work and greet clients with waggy tails and wet noses. Grim meeting rooms and boring presentations used to be the order of the day, and the only thing wagging was the finger of the sales manager because targets weren’t being met.  These days however it’s all about bathing, brushing, barking and whose turn it is to play with the puppy. Well, almost.

I have to be honest, I’d be lying if I said I’m also pretty darn pleased when I lock the salon door in the evenings and go home tired, aching and covered in dog hair. Not to mention the smell that follows… well, you’ve read the title you can probably guess.

Dog grooming is tough. Physically, mentally, economically. When you sign up for a life as a dog groomer they don’t tell you that you’re relinquishing all rights to a presentable image, and that your partner will be handing you the wire brush and carbolic soap before you step over the threshold of your own doorstep. For anyone thinking of getting into dog grooming I am going to share with you some very sage advice I was given by the girls over at Positive Dog Training in Sandyford, as well as some other things I’ve learnt along the way. Liz and Suzi were kind enough to let me spend a week with them during my initial training to see how a fully functional groomers, day care and retail outlet operates, and just what a big commitment it is to run such a facility. They were unflinchingly honest, which is a refreshing approach in any walk of life, but also showed me how despite all the challenges you WILL face, it can still be the most rewarding experience for anyone bonkers enough to still want to do it.

  •  Hours are long and hard
    In order to break-even in dog grooming you need to be performing a certain amount of grooms per day, depending on what your overheads are like. Unless you’re one of the corporate pet superstores however it’s not all about how many dogs you can get onto the grooming conveyor belt and back out the door looking like a shorn lamb. In order to make the experience a comfortable one for the dog you need to take your time, stay relaxed (or believe me, they will sniff it out!) and give your undivided attention to the client you have on the grooming table. Despite your best efforts however you will always have to deal with dogs who don’t want to be there, and as any of us with a wilful animal knows, they sure can make life difficult sometimes when they want to. Inevitably you will run over schedule, or you’ll want to accommodate a client who can’t drop off/pick up their pet within normal working hours, or just as you’re finished Buddy’s summer teddy bear cut he decides to relieve himself right there on the table and stand in it. Back in the bath we go to start all over again.
  •  Injuries, aches and pains are commonplace
    The scourge of any dog groomer is the constant lower back pain you will encounter from hunching over the grooming table, lifting 50lb Newfoundlands into the bath, and bending down every 10 mins to pick up a fistful of hair from the growing pile around your feet. Repetitive strain on your wrists and hands is pretty much guaranteed, and if you’re really unlucky carpal tunnel syndrome can develop. Make sure you take whatever steps you can to avoid such injuries, your body is your main asset and if you’re out of action you can’t work. Ensure you have an electric bath that lowers to the floor for ease of entry and exit, and hydraulic grooming tables that can be easily adjusted to sit at the right height for your size and the size of the dog you’re working on. Wear good quality rubber sole shoes and be sure to exercise and stretch in your spare time.
  • Money is bad. Overheads are high, and competition is cheap.
    You will not make it rich as a dog groomer. If that’s why you’re here, I’m sorry to tell you that you might as well get your coat.  Dog grooming is a labour of love and if you’re lucky will just about let you cover your living expenses. Rent (unless operating from home), rates, insurance, service charges, equipment, utilities, VAT – that’s alot of expenditure before you even think about paying yourself. Even if business is booming, physically you are only able to perform a certain amount of grooms per day. Often you are competing with newcomers to the market who offer reduced pricing, or who can simply afford to charge less for whatever reason. Make sure you thoroughly research all your outgoings and what you can afford to live on if you do invest in setting up in a dog grooming salon.
  • You will get bitten. Fact.
    If you’re lucky you may get away with surface wounds, but at some point in your grooming career you will get a bite that is a little more serious. If the bite is a bad one, you may not be able to work while it heals. Do you have a supplementary income or an insurance policy?
  • You will get sh*t on. Literally, by the dogs, and metaphorically, by owners and competitors.
    The first thing you need to do as a dog groomer is turn around and leave your pride on that hook at the door. Put it up there on the higher one, you won’t be needing it for a while. Cleaning bums, expressing anal glands and picking up poop are just a few of the things you will be doing in your first 10 minutes on the job. Perhaps more difficult to get to grips with however is the colourful array of owners you will be dealing with. Unfortunately, not all people are nice. Some are just downright mean, and will try to make you cry, or get out of paying you for the 3 hours you just spent dematting, brushing, washing, drying and styling their pet because they haven’t bothered to brush her in a year and now she is too short. You should also be prepared to face mud slinging from the competition, who don’t want to lose their valuable clients to the new groomers in town and who will bad mouth you to anyone who’ll listen. Develop a thick skin, you’re gonna need it.
  • Work can be repetitive and lonely.
    Did you know that typically the 3 most common breeds a groomer sees are Bichon Frise, Shih Tzu and Cavalier King Charles? It varies depending on area but it’s a good general rule of thumb. These breeds are where you will spend the majority of your time. Be prepared to put out five of the exact same styles every day and to give each one the enthusiasm and care they deserve. Unless you’re lucky enough to have an assistant groomer or co-worker, the likelihood is you will be working alone in your salon for at least 8 hours a day. Dogs are great company, but they can’t discuss last night’s episode of Eastenders with you. Grooming can be lonely, so make sure that the company of animals is enough for you. Three grooming students I know all opened their own salons and closed them again in less than a year because they couldn’t handle the loneliness of the work.

So there it is. The highs and lows of dog grooming. All packaged up in a nice sh*t sandwich.

Are  you a dog groomer? Are you thinking of becoming one?  Let us know your own highs and lows of the grooming world.

*Image courtesy of