Friday, December 31, 2010

Year of the Pet Groomer

I remember about this time last year, when everyone on declared 2010 to be the Year of the Pet Groomer. Fresh out of school, I felt that I could get in on the revelry; my foot was pretty far in the door, or so I thought. Now, I feel like more of a groomer than ever before.

I keep portfolios of dogs that come into my care. The earliest shelter dogs and the ones from school have one of their own. 2010's is just over two inches thick! I just finished tallying up all the different breeds and trim styles, and these are the results:

Total entries: 409
Multiple appearances: 63
Natural styled: 30
Silhouette tidy: 53
Coat strip: 108
Sporting: 132
Sporting jacket: 27
Scruffy jacket: 1
Square terrier: 26
Short-legged terrier: 8
Lion: 9
Bolero: 2
German: 5
Miami: 3
T-clip: 2
Desi: 1

Considering that these are just the dogs that I put in the portfolio, it's no wonder that I feel like I've worked harder in the past year than any before! In addition to learning the correct patterns, I've developed a fine eye for detail and the dexterity for style! THIS is grooming, baby!

So then, if 2010 was the Year of the Pet Groomer, what outstanding adventures will 2011 hold? Happy New Year everyone!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Bare Mechanics of Training

NOTE: I do not claim to be a professional ethologist or behaviorist by writing this blog. The following information is an accumulation of material from various authors I've studied since 2007. The list includes, but is not limited to: Dr. Ian Dunbar, Patricia McConnell Ph.D, Nicole Wilde, Jean Donaldson, Karen Pryor, Victoria Stilwell, Brenda Aloff, Turid Rugaas, Paul Owens.

I've been wanting to do a blog on behavior and training for some time now. Finally I feel I have enough information and experiences to work with. However, I realize that there are plenty of different views--some of which are terribly skewed--on the different terms. So, I decided to do this little write-up and put it at every header of all future training posts. Now we can all be on the same page! I realize that this is a re-hash of everything I've studied, but it amazes me how many people get their terms mixed up. So here it is in clear and simple print.

In my experiences, there are four forces that are constantly at work when teaching and training, even if we don't realize it: positive, negative, reinforcement, and punishment. It's common to associate "positive" and "reinforcement" with only things that are good, while tying "negative" and "punishment" to only things that are bad. When dealing with training, it's best to view these items through a psychologist's eyes.

Positive (+): adding
Negative (-): removing
Reinforcement (R): something intended to increase the frequency of a behavior
Punishment(P): something intended to decrease the frequency of a behavior

Now these can be combined into four basic mechanics:

Positive reinforcement (+R): adding something intended to increase the frequency of a behavior
Example: Dog gives paw on cue. Gets a treat.
Positive punishment(+P): adding something intended to decrease the frequency of a behavior
Example: Dog barks. Gets a zap from a shock collar.
Negative reinforcement(-R): removing something in order to increase the frequency of a behavior
Example: Dog stops pulling on lead. Tightness of the collar subsides.
Negative punishment(-P): removing something in order to decrease the frequency of a behavior
Example: Dog is playing tug and his teeth catch your hand. The game is over.

Note that when I define reinforcement and punishment, I use the word intended. In order for either one to work, the "something" must be effective. Example: if you ask my dog Xavier for a series of complex behaviors and you have a big broccoli in your hand, you will get snubbed--he hates broccoli! If you have a little sliver of chicken, you've won his heart and he's ready to impress you!

More often than not, the mechanics work closely together. Someone who says that they never use punishment, in actuality, has used it in some form. If you've ever taken your dog back inside for being too noisy, that's (-P); you've removed the dog himself from something--being outside--in order to cease his carrying on. Before you go thinking that you're a horrible person for having done so, let me point out that not all punishment needs to be brutally aversive; by the same token, not all rewards need to be the equivalent of hitting the jackpot lotto. Again, it simply must be effective.

One more point I'd like to touch on for now: the mechanics need not be only physical. Not all (+P) consists of giving the dog an uncomfortable feeling, nor does (+R) have to be about stuffing the dog full of treats. Dogs are very sensitive to our vocal tones. One good displeased "Ah!" sends out a clear message: I don't like what you did there! Also, a happy "Good dog!" is an excellent example of (+R) because, let's face it, dogs aim to please.

In the coming articles I'll be talking about types of training, the power of (P), and other things - stay tuned!!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Tribute to Zebee, the Toughest Maltese!

I haven't been in the business of grooming for too long, but I've already experienced client loss, something no groomer looks forward to. My first was sweet old Trevor, the donut Pomeranian. Then, one of our Yorkie clients, Miss Emma, developed cancer rapidly. Now, a third name is added to the list: Zebee, the toughest Maltese.

Last June, I stopped in Nancy's shop, hoping to learn a few pointers before heading off to school. On the table was a tiny white body, curled up comfortably on a towel. Zebee's eyes met mine and I knew that this was no average dog. Three years ago, he injured his back and became partially paralyzed. Even at the age of twelve, his eyes glowed like a puppy's. Nancy said he was on borrowed time, and wouldn't be with us much longer.

After school, when I got the job with Nancy, I was surprised to see Hunter in the shop with his brother Zebee. Although there weren't any improvements in his health, Zebee was still as spunky as ever. He sang a song in the tub and tried to stand on his own. We put him in a sling and watched in amazement as he tried to stand on all four legs, if only for a short while. Zebee's mom said that he still got around the house without assistance, which amazed us even more.

The months passed by and Zebee's frail body grew weaker. His will to live was unbroken, and you could see it in his eyes. I thought for sure that at one point, Zebee would not be back for another groom. Tuesday, he returned with his brother for the final time. He had his song in the tub and was very alert. Suddenly, he collapsed. We thought for sure he had died right there in the shop, until he showed signs of fading consciousness. Although his body gave out, Zebee's will remained. His last moments of life were spent with his mom and brother. It was decided that it was in Zebee's best interest that he be put to sleep.

None of us knew for certain what became of him after they left. Jo had a hard feeling in her throat, I felt dizzy, and the shop was, in general, much quieter. Nancy confirmed that Zebee was no longer with us. Although my dizzy spells subsided, I was filled with sadness for having lost the tough little Maltese.

Then, I realized that this was not the time to grieve for Zebee. There were other dogs at the shop who still needed tended to; I had to be strong for them. It occurred to me that I had to have the strength of Zebee to get through the rest of my day's grooms, and suddenly I was inspired. All of the dogs went out looking great, and afterward we all remarked about how incredible it was for Zebee to hold on as long as he did, even when things looked bleak.

In my younger days, I questioned the nature of the social animal. Why form bonds when ultimately, they will one day be broken? Among other things, these ever-important bonds lead to our own personal improvement, whether it is shared between friends of the two-legged or four-legged variety. It isn't always easy to stand in the face of adversity, but this little Maltese did it on a daily basis. I'm glad to have known Zebee, and I wish to share in his strength.

It's never really goodbye; there will always be another dog show.
See you on the other side Zeb!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Sunday Wrap-up

It's never going to get any easier as the years go by to bring such a great show to a close. I'm still amazed when people say they won't go; with so many wonderful products, events, and people, how can you not love Groom Expo? However, as I look at the pile that Vanessa referred to as "grooming supplies throw-up" covering the entire corner of the room, I should be so lucky that the show isn't longer, haha!

First thing I did this morning was book it to the trade show. Frankie Brown stood at the doors, and--in a similar fashion of last year's opening day--was getting us completely riled up. He went right for the throat this year; instead of saying how he was going to put his size fourteens through the doors, he had us count down from ten and then he threw them open! Gotta love Frankie!

With a few extra minutes, I stopped to talk to Jorge before the Forever Stainless Steel booth got mobbed. He even said it himself: "D'y'know, every time I see you walk by I am running my mouth!" Yep, same old Jorge! When I told him about how far I've come since Intergroom, he was impressed with how much I'm constantly growing. Yep, I will never stop!

After swinging by the Romani's to pick up some water peelers, as well as to chat briefly with Marlene Romani (very funny lady), I decided to go and show support for Ellen. Her seminar on mobile grooming was excellent; although primarily geared towards mobile groomers, she included a lot of ideas and strategies that can be incorporated into any salon. I hope to use some of these great tips to better improve my customer relations.

It was already time for the Sunday luncheon, which included a happy retirement party for Judy Bremer-Taxman. Emotions ran high as Mr. B played a video entitled "The Best of Judy". The fifteen minute collection included some of Judy's best--or, not so best--moments of her seminars on carding and client relations. Everyone in the room was laughing hard, especially when she was singing Harvest Moon, with modified groomer's lyrics, to an Old English Sheepdog doll, and then dancing with it! Other clips included her poking an audience member with a skip-tooth blade, pretending to do battle with an angry stuffed animal kitty, and declaring that she just plain had enough! When Judy took center stage and thanked all the people who had an impact on her career with Barkleigh, tears flowed steadily from everyone; some of her friends were lost, and others saw her through her darkest moments. In closing, she thanked all of us for coming and showing the love through all the expos each year. Mr. B loaded up his air gun with confetti and shot it onto the stage. Judy teased him to shoot her in the butt--even though she is retiring, she will always be the same hilarious Judy. While she will be missed in the programs, she still plans on coming as a spectator. Good thing, it just wouldn't be the same without her dirty sense of humor!

"Hey Mr. B! Hit my butt!" ~Judy Bremer-Taxman

Rock on Judy!

I also had the honor of meeting some of her friends, originally from Russia. They presented her with a photo frame containing two paw prints shaped from dog hair and an embroidery of a Hershey kiss that said "20 Great Years". If I can say one thing about this year, it's been my most emotional by far!

I met up with Tosha, Vanessa, and Sunny at the Poodle demonstration. Although our speaker covered a lot of things I already know, I picked up some useful tips for scissoring topknots and tails. Tails especially tend to turn out funky for me. Turns out there's a better angle I can hold my shears to. Can't wait to try it out!

Ooh la la... Poodleful!

After bolting around the trade show for a bit longer and picking up some Furminators for the shop, Vanessa and I went to our last seminar: the Oster clipper clinic. I can't say that it was the most exciting thing ever, but now I'm looking forward to going home and opening my clippers up. I need to check things like the carbon brushes, the blade drive, and the wiring. I want those babies to last; now I have the knowledge I need to extend their life. The seminar let out early, but I got to catch up with Novi, Dianne, and Debra. Then I got to meet Vivian Nash! With as crazy insane as the show was, I'm glad I got to reconnect and make some new acquaintances. These are the friendships that will be able to be instantly rekindled at the trade shows I go to. The only person I was looking for and didn't get to see was Judge Joey. Bummer, I was looking forward to talking to him for a bit. But wait, there's still some other things left to do!

Vanessa and I went to watch the creative competition. There were some truly amazing entries this year, one of them being Jean's Toybox theme. Others included a Bambi Poodle that looked less like a dog and more like a real deer, the Queen of Hearts, a Jurassic bark, and a breathtaking 9/11 tribute with a feathery-looking eagle sculpted out of the Poodle's hair. We didn't get to see who won; I needed Groomer's Helpers, Tosha needed a Les Pooch brush, and the trade show was minutes from closing! We got to our respective booths in the nick of time, as several other vendors started breaking down early. And so concluded another wonderful year of dog hair, products, tools, and me being mischievous with my credit cards, haha!

Both Tosha and Vanessa left just over an hour ago. We thought it was funny how we're all going in separate directions to get back home. It will never cease to amaze me how these shows can bring us all together with one common goal: to become better groomers. Well, that, and to have a fun time! As I stated at the beginning, it's never going to be easy to bring such a wonderful thing to an end. But I know that I can't be sad, because I always remember one of my most favorite quotations of all time: "It's never really goodbye, because there will always be another dog show."

Peace out, and see y'all next year in Hershey, baby!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Wild Wild Westie, and Saturday Shockers and Sweets

Last night's western party was wild, wild, and in more ways than one! Guess who won a free pass to next year's show? Me, as the Wild Wild Westie!

Since I decided that I was obligated to outdo myself every year, I racked my brain trying to come up with a creative costume. However, the western theme is extremely limited. While talking out loud about possible ideas, my mom walked by and said "How about a Westie?"

I paused for a moment before nodding and saying "The Wild Wild Westie." And so the legend was born.

There were some really great costumes there: saloon girls, Indians wielding tomahawks, a sheriff, and your standard cowboys and cowgirls, just to name a few. No one got as many reactions as I did, so I felt that I was going to be a frontrunner for this year's contest. One event I tried right away was the mechanical bull. I stayed on for at least ten seconds before being thrown off. I landed funny on my not-so-great foot, so I decided that was enough for one night. Other events that were just as much, if not more, fun included instructional line dancing. The teacher and Mr. B played us through songs like Cottoneyed Joe, Cupid Shuffle, and Macarena, all while Mr. B littered the dance floor with fuzzy cowboy hats, balloons, and glow sticks. We even did a conga line in honor of our Puerto Rican guests. There were plenty of Kahlua and creams to go around, as I found a $20 crumpled up in my pocket--don't you love that? However, my motto is that yes, I can drink, but I will always go to my classes sober!

After a while of wild dancing to country and pop songs, Mr. B announced the costume contest was beginning and that all contestants needed to be on the floor. I ran out and did the Westie wiggle; I was picked out almost instantly! The already crazy atmosphere was escalating! Nine other people got called up, including the Indians, the sheriff, and the cowgirls. We were all asked to tell a little story about our costumes. Mine was simply: "My name is J.C. I am a mild mannered groomer by day, but at night, I turn into the Wild Wild Westie! Woooo!" Then I turned around to display my name on my back, and to shake my tail! The crowd cheered; I was a finalist, up against the sheriff. Ultimately, she won when she handcuffed a man. She got the VIP package, but I was more than thrilled to receive a Do-It-All pass. If it means I'm getting into the show next year, I won't complain at all!

Afterward, the handcuffed man came up to me and told me I should've won; the sheriff had both her friends and his friends cheering for her, a definite advantage. I told him that either way, I had a free ticket to next year, and that was just fine with me. Turns out he was one of Chuck's friends that I had dinner with from last year! We danced for a little bit before he left.

I also met up with Novi, who rode the bull twice. It was winding down to the end, and everyone was getting tired. Mr. B fired random songs at us to keep our spirits high, including but not limited to Apache, Baby Got Back, Don't Stop Till You Get Enough, and several others from last year's 80s party. We closed out doing a kickline to Low Places. Someone fell out of sync and caused a massive domino effect. There was lots of laughter and smiles all around; it was a moment of clarity and zen for me. I belong here, and at last I've arrived. I may not be in the competitions or be a crazy super-groomer, but the best is yet to come. I look forward to it every day, and things like this just fan that fire within.

And after all that excitement I couldn't sleep!

Saturday was a proverbial rollercoaster. Tosha, Vanessa, and I went to Melissa Verplank's time-saver seminar and picked up some excellent tips. After buying some of my very own Les Pooch brushes (no more need to sneak Nancy's anymore), we bumped into Ellen Ehrlich, who invited us to a practice run of her mobile seminar at the end of the day. Things were really looking up, right?

This is where things got hairy, in a bad way. I really hate to say this, but as a result of the two seminars of his I attended, I have lost a tremendous amount of respect for Gary Wilkes. It pains me to think that a brilliant Groomer to Groomer columnist whose articles are based in science and fact feels that hitting and shocking a dog in any fashion is appropriate. His views on positive reinforcement are horribly skewed, as he shares the all-too-common vision of, as I call it, "the Stepford trainer." No, not all those who use +R view punishment as a barbaric thing. I am a believer in negative punishment (-P), that is, removing something in order to decrease the frequency of a behavior. If Xavier is barking outside, I take him back in. He is removed from something he wants: to be outside. How is this not punishment? I think I'll write another blog on this topic, because I feel a soapbox moment coming on. Let me just keep it at this: we're no longer living in the stone age. We know dogs aren't stupid, and have capacity to learn. Real learning doesn't happen overnight. Any person can hit and shock another being into submission, but how many can actually teach them what it is that they want from them?

Anyway, in between these "events" was a much more enjoyable luncheon that involved the game show: "Are You Smarter Than Judy?" Three randomly selected contestants were pitted against none other than Judy Bremer-Taxman in a trivia style game show hosted by Mr. B. Questions ranged from trivia about groomers, famous TV dogs, even a "Name That Tune" segment featuring the barking dog songs. All the contestants received Sally Liddick's new book, as well as a mouth full of Tropiclean fresh breath foam from Judy. And yes, she let the dirty jokes fly; use your imagination, kids!

"Who wants some foam in their mouth?" ~Judy Bremer-Taxman

Judy draws a blank...

My other purchases of the day included a gallon of Why Bitch shampoo, a bottle of that aforementioned Tropiclean stuff, and my big purchase: a Chris Christensen Kool Pup dryer! Only problem is that they sold out, so mine will be shipped to me within the week. Rock on guys, and especially BBird! I can't wait to try my "mojo comb", haha!

The last seminar of the day was Melissa Verplank's bow-making made simple. I still can't make bows to save my life! I need to practice making them of chopsticks like I did back in school. Tosha and I met up and headed off to see Ellen's mock seminar. Aside from some computer issues, I feel like she is ready to deliver tomorrow. She's nervous, but there's no need for her to be; she's a wonderful public speaker, personable, and humorous to boot! Looking forward to attending the real thing tomorrow!

Right, I've been booking it all day. On my way back up to the room, I finally ran into Judge Joey! We still didn't get to talk all that much, but I did tell him about winning the pass to next year. I need to catch him tomorrow...

Back to booking it! I changed into my "fancy" clothes and made a run for the Best in Show dinner. By the time I got there, the show had just begun. Novi walked up on stage with his beautiful Poodle; several people in the audience as well as myself were all rooting for him. The Best in Show went to the freestyle groomer, but Novi seemed proud that he had made it so far, and rightly so. Groom on, Novi! Maybe I'll be up there with you someday!

Dinner was served, and while I was eating, I had the pleasure of talking to Joanne Russell, better known as Sparkly Barkleigh. I still find it amazing that even the biggest names in the industry had humble beginnings similar to my own. So much for that notion about being born into the business I had for so long; I will be laughing at that for the rest of my days! I love Joanne's attitude, as it mirrors my own: always learn, always improve, share with other groomers, and don't forget to have fun with it all!

After judging Level 2, they waited for Level 3 in order to do a tribute to John Nash. Bridget McAllister and her Aussie performed freestyle while Sasha Reiss sang Con Te Partiro; there wasn't a dry eye in the entire room, and if there was, they were holding back hard. I myself was crying; that's one of my all-time favorite songs, Sasha can sing it better than Andrea Bocelli, and considering it was all done in John Nash's memory, of course it got the water works going. Shirlee Kalstone's story of his life made it all the harder to not shed a tear; even though I never had the opportunity to actually meet John, I feel connected to him through the school and his closest friends. Level 3 is now to be awarded with the John Nash memorial trophy every year.

Out came the Dancing with Dogs competitors! There wasn't a crowd favorite choice this year, which I felt made the event a little more light and carefree. There was an Aussie grooving to Black and White; a drum-playing, drink-serving, partying Border Collie; a Chihuahua weaving to her own theme song; and a sparkly Golden backing it up to Black-eyed Peas, just to name a few. Even though I didn't get any pictures of the dogs this year, I did get 5 of 6 Sasha performances on video. When you hear him sing, you understand why I am a fan!

Sasha rocks!!
(I had several videos, but they were removed at Sasha's request. He's promising a performance that's bigger and better than before. Needless to say, I'm already looking forward to it!)

Now, after that day-long rollercoaster ride, I am exhausted. Groom Expo 2010 is sadly coming to a close. However, there is but one more day of fun and fur left to go--let's close this show with a bang!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Friday... Sparkly and Soothing!

...but not at the same time, haha!

Today began with the day long seminar on creative grooming. Angela and Lori touched on topics ranging from Blo-pens, dyes, glitter glue, and braids. It inspired me to pick up a tube of Davis Glitter Glue. Wait until I get back home and get Xavier on the table!

Our friend from the Internet Social, Sharon, joined me in exploring how much fun you can have with dog hair. We ate at Bear's Den for lunch and both spent some money at the trade show! At first, the floor sounded and felt very quiet; as the day went on, things started to get nutty. Gotta love that trade show excitement!

I stopped by the Wahl booth and talked with Lisa Leady for a bit. She says cat grooming is easy money, but you still can't pay me enough to do it. More power to the cat groomers, I say! Somehow we got on the topic of my dog being a couch potato. When I told her that we stay more fit in the winter from running through the snow, all she could say was "You really ARE backwards!" Yep, I revel in it, haha!


Getting back to the creative seminar, we got to watch as a Chinese Crested was decked out in glitter for the h
olidays, a Schnauzer got rhinestones and a ghost pattern put on her back. The main attraction, however, was the "Poodlington" - a gorgeous standard rocking the Bedlington style. Sophie was the model for a flower and fish on one side, and a pumpkin--with her tail as the stem--on the other.

Flower, fish, and pumpkin-butt!

Dyeing seems like a lot of work, but it's well worth it, especially if the color holds the way you want it to. Hair swatches for each client really is a great idea! The final product was amazing; each shape was carved and penned to real artistic beauty. They even put sparkles on the fish! Ahh, those final touches really make a dog stand out, no? As a treat, someone brought in a longhaired Shih Tzu. Braiding patterns is something I'd definitely like to try. Hopefully the clients will remember to remove them before they get tangled and matted!

After the seminar was over, they were announcing the results of the Poodle competition. After a brief "Hi!" to Judge Joey, I met up with Sunny, Terri, and Debra, who were rooting for Novi. His Poodle looked gorgeous: crisp, curvy... groomed to a T, really. When the judge announced, "I hope I'm not butchering this..." we knew that Novi won the Level 1 Poodle class. Congrats are in order Novi, truly a job well done!

Novi wins!

Before going to my next seminar, I decided to stop at the Cocoa Beanery and get a bagel; Bear's Den was packed. As I reached for it, I heard a familiar voice...
Lisa: That is NOT a good dinner!
Me: Well, hey... I've survived on worse, I went to college! I've survived on Doritos and pop, and look at me! I'm as skinny as stairway railing!
Lisa: Yeah, someone really ought to throw you a sandwich.
Me: Or two.
Lisa: Or three.
Me: Now THAT is crossing the line!
Sorry I almost made you spit your latte all over the place, Lisa :)

On my way back up to the room to drop off some purchases, I ran into Jay Scruggs in the elevator. He's very personable, as we began talking like we've known each other for a while. Sue Zecco is overseas, so sadly they have no booth this year. He was glad that I was enjoying the expo, and chuckled when I told him about the Davis Glitter Glue... somebody is going to get sparkly paw prints when I get home!

The canine massage class was very informative. Lead by former Groomer Has It contestant and fellow Ohioan Sherri Shinsky, we covered the basics of dog anatomy, the do's and don'ts of massage, and introductory touches. I might try these on Xavier before I cover him in bling.

The last class let out early, so I am writing this now; by the time I am done jumping around in costume at the Wild Wild West party, I won't want to write! Stay tuned tomorrow for more details...

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Off to a Good Start!

Groom Expo 2010 kicked off today to an excellent beginning! Sadly, Debi wasn't able to make the trip. Tosha and I have been doing it big in her honor.

This morning, I got to say to Lisa Leady as well as Novi. I wish him all the best in his competition... GO NOVI!!

We met up with a girl named Vanessa; she and Tosha ended up going to the same shampoo and breed classes. I went in the direction of ethologist Susan Bulanda. I feel like I got a complete mental workout. All of the information we covered involved science-based reasoning as to how dogs interact with the world and why they do it, as well as a few reasons why we interact with our dogs in the ways we do! It was a real breath of fresh air for me; lately I've felt as though I'm beginning to disconnect with my ethological roots. Sometimes a good reminder like this is exactly what you need to put everything back into perspective. Many thanks to Susan Bulanda, the seminar was phenomenal in so many ways.

Afterward, I met Tosha and Vanessa at the Hershey Grill. Chocolate butter bread and turkey tenderloin - delicious! Once we were finished with our dinners, it was off to the Internet Social. I was happy to see Dawn Omboy and Ellen Ehrlich again, plus some new friends. This year's raffle was not the lucky star it was for me last year, but I did come out with some prizes: a breathe-easy mask and a pillow that Ellen made. So comfy and cute!

Dawn Omboy hosts and hands out prizes at the Internet Social!

Today was a great introduction of things that are still yet to come. Walking by the vendors setting up gets you a sense of electric excitement that can only come from the world's largest grooming trade show. Off to bed soon, tomorrow's gonna be huge!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

It's That Time Again...

...Groom Expo is just one day away!

I'm already in Hershey. Doing it big this year, as today is also my birthday - there was no way I was driving instead of celebrating! Today I'm hitting up the Chocolate World, then meeting Tosha and Debi for dinner at Bear's Den. After we get settled into our room and try to sleep--the excitement's gonna make it hard--it's showtime!

Stay tuned for direct reports from Groom Expo 2010! For now, see y'all in Chocolate World!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Odyssey of Heath the Poodle... or "Bowser the Schnauzer"

A lot of the grooms I do come from pampered pets, and others are done for rescue dogs. Each and every one holds a special place in my heart. Recently, when the shelter got a Poodle surprise, I took one little guy to a whole new dimension of style. Just how much can one groomer do with a Poodle, anyway?

Two weeks ago, I went to the shelter for my weekly rescue groom. Alyssa, our director, came running up, excited about something. I knew that it wasn't going to be an ordinary day! Seventeen miniature Poodles were rescued from a puppy mill bust; some went to get groomed, but eleven fell under my care. And so began what we dubbed as Poodle-Palooza, a two-day event of mats, grime, shave-offs, and compassion!

Only one Poodle got styled that weekend. The apricot one I dubbed Pooka was one of only three with halfway decent coat, and was scheduled to be fostered that night. I put him in a manly German trim. As for the others, they were matted beyond saving, and there were several that had corded. With the help of my German Red clippers (now known as the B.F.G.), all of the Poodles were freed from their hairy straight jackets. Some topknots were saved, some came off with the body coat. One stood out from the rest: a little male Phantom Poodle. While I couldn't save his topknot, the hair on his face was in good shape. I left it to see if there might be something I could do for him.

Originally, Poodle-Palooza was to be a three-day event, with baths and styling on the last day. However, all of the Poodles went to foster homes early. Boo. I had ideas for styles on the ones with some coat left, and they were all gone. I also thought of the Phantom boy.

Fast forward to this past weekend. Who's waiting for me in one of the kennels? None other than the Phantom boy! Now designated Heath, the little rascal was sitting quietly in his kennel, looking like a ragamuffin. Suddenly I bubbled with excitement - there was one that I could still work on! I decided to make him look like a little Schnauzer; the hair on his face was still in good shape, and I figured I could fashion eyebrows and a beard out of it.

Heath was very shy at first, slowly climbing into my arms, then whining in the tub a little. Once he was dry and saw the clippers, he immediately relaxed. Must've remembered how good he felt after his last encounter with them! At least this time I didn't need to take a #10 blade or shorter to him! He grew quickly; I used a #6 to set his pattern and still got quite a bit of hair off. Now Heath was starting to gain some confidence, barking at passers-by. "Get out, it's MY turn!" he seemed to shout, haha!

As I was finishing him up and putting the final details on his head, one of the other volunteers walked in. He howled at her, definitely playing the part of a Schnauzer! I asked, "Doesn't he look like a Schnauzer?"

To which she responded, "I didn't know we had a Schnauzer! Is he up for adoption?"

I had to chuckle. "This isn't a Schnauzer. He's one of the rescue Poodles!"

Honestly, I was proud of myself for doing such a good job on him. Nothing about the cut said Poodle. A second volunteer came in and declared him "Bowser the Schnauzer." Afterward, we sang The Look to him, because he definitely had it! There wasn't anyone who saw him without cracking a smile. Plus, he was prancing and waving his paws all around joyfully; he knew he looked good!

It really IS amazing what you can do with a Poodle!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Give Yourself a Happy Face

There's been a lot of talk around here about behavior and handling, a subject I'm very passionate about. I picked up a fully engrossing book about clicker training called Reaching the Animal Mind. Author Karen Pryor shares her experiences working with animals using non-aversive training. I'm about halfway through the book. There hasn't been too much mention of using positive reinforcement with humans, other than kids teaching ponies to surf. Yes, you read that right! It got me wondering if +R could really be effective on humans, and then it hit me: I was the recipient of +R training, and at a very young age!

1991 meant entering the first grade. Mrs. Thompson had the foresight to understand the importance of proper spelling; teaching us to get high marks on our papers was her passion, and she knew just how to do it. The first few weeks were very easy words. She read down the vocabulary list, and we wrote what we heard. We checked our papers all together, one word at a time. "If you got that one right, give yourself a happy face!" Wow! What kid doesn't like happy faces, especially in exchange for a good job? "If you didn't get it, don't do anything." Oh no, not nothing, anything but that! Six-year-old kids just crave attention! I remember the elation and frustration of my classmates, as well as my own, depending on how we answered. Everyone really wanted those happy faces! We turned our papers in, and she gave us a grade.

Here's how it worked: the happy face was the marker, similar to the clicker, to let us know we did the right thing. The grade was the reinforcer, the payoff, the result of getting happy faces. With everyone wanting the happy faces so badly, the grades stayed high.

After a few weeks, Mrs. Thompson collected our papers immediately after we were done. They got graded and handed back. No more happy faces? That's just fine. Mrs. Thompson phased out the markers and went straight to the reinforcer. After we fully associated the marker with the reinforcer, the happy faces were no longer needed; we understood the importance of the grade, and our test scores remained high. How do I know this? She posted them on the halls for everyone to see. Parents and other teachers were impressed. This is what a true trainer of +R does: the markers don't become a permanence, and eventually the reinforcer is phased out as well. This is when real learning takes place.

So then, the skeptics will ask, why isn't everyone still a perfect speller? The answer is simple: the reinforcer, the grade, suddenly became the fastest route to unpopularity. Learning wasn't the "cool" thing to do from a social standpoint, so kids misspelled words frequently, and on purpose. It still continues today: just look up any teenager's Myspace page! If you're an English major like me, you might just feel disgusted. However, sharing a laid-back attitude towards proper spelling--peer pressure--is now the reinforcer. Since I didn't give a lick about popularity, my spelling remained excellent. Thanks Mrs. Thompson, wherever you are!

The above is an example of just how complex behavior patterns can be, yet how easy it can be to create and change them. Animals are nowhere near as complex as we are, so most anyone can get a handle on what +R is all about. Give it a try! Teach your dog how to dance, show your cat how to wave hello, have your gerbil press a lever... and if you do it successfully, give yourself a happy face :)

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Doggie Daze Are Here Again!

Every year at the shelter, we host an event known as Doggie Daze. It's a time for reunions and fun for humans and canines alike. We usually see a good amount of our former shelter dogs come back for a visit, and get to meet some new faces too! The event grows every year, and 2010 proved to be no exception!

New to Doggie Daze this year was a bounce-house; a dollar got you fifteen minutes of airtime. Also, we collaborated with other rescues to bring even more awareness to homeless animals. Not only did we get several dog rescues to set up tents, but a farm animal sanctuary also showed up with chickens. There was even a llama from a local llama farm!

Vendors lined the hall with various doggie products. One could find everything from treats to training to boarding services. A Chinese auction took center stage with some wonderful gift baskets up for grabs. One table in front of that hosted some demonstrations, including mine - all about grooming, of course! Last year, only a few people came to see me talk about grooming tools. I was excited to see a small crowd come into the hall! Granted, they came and went, but I had some time for questions afterward. Even if I only reach a few people, that's a few more people than not!

The big excitement came in the morning, when I rocked my Rainbow Brite Cocker Spaniel suit from last year's Groom Expo. Seemed like everyone was drawn to me, the giant dog, and couldn't wait to make a donation! Those who had only a few large bills came back to drop a few bucks in my donation jar. Only one dog was truly afraid of me, but only because she was waking up from a nap and not really sure of what was going on. Imagine waking up to a strange ten-foot person - yikes! And yes, only one Labra-doodle tried to sniff my butt, haha!

After walking around for two hours, I raised $74 for our animals! Not too bad, especially considering the bounce house pulled in just $44! The humans was entertained, I had fun, the animals got a little extra money towards their well-being... everyone won today! Seeing as how I practically got my start from bathing the big hairies, as well as adopted my Xavier there almost two years ago, I'm honored to give a little something more to our organization. The fur will continue to fly in the grooming room as long as I'm in town - I love my shelter!

Alyssa (the dog director) and I outside the hall

Rock on!!

For more information about our shelter, visit our website at

Monday, June 21, 2010

I Got Bit... the creative grooming bug! HA!

Last week, TLC aired Extreme Poodles, a documentary following the creative groomers at Groom Expo Pasadena. To watch the incredible amount of skill put into each dog, to catch a glimpse of the dye work, to witness each scissor snip, was an absolute thrill! We talked about it at work all week long!

On Friday, a mini Poodle came in. The family had buzzed a spot on her back where she scraped herself. Looking at it, I thought I could clip it into a star. Dad just said it would grow back in, no biggie. Boo. The shape stuck in the back of my mind, and I knew that in the coming days I was going to put a star on someone...

...and then it was Saturday night. I had Xavier up on the table for a routine card and de-shed. I looked at one spot on his thigh and said to him, "Let's try!" About a minute later, Xavier boasted a star in his coat!

They say dogs like to be groomed differently. He loved it! His star got him more attention than before. How many dogs do you know of that have a star on their butt? Haha!
The nice thing about putting a star on him is that his coat is agouti colored: alternating bands of black and white on each hair. Essentially, I just tipped the hairs in order to get the shape. No sunburn for this Nordic boy! And I'm not worried about his coat not coming back. In the past, I've taken his entire backside down with a #3F, just to see what it would look like. No fuss, no muss.

Having a star on your butt is just a price of your mama being a groomer!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Products in Review: the Andis #6F Blade

Now I'll admit, in the time that I've been grooming, I've always been an Oster gal. I have an Andis 3 3/4F blade that I needed for school; I like it best for Bichon backs as it leaves a little more coat to be noticeable. However, I picked up a new toy at Intergroom that I've fallen head over heels for: Andis's new #6F blade!

I was skeptical at first. Sure, it was between a #5F and a #7F, but did it really make that much of a difference? Jodi Murphy used it on a Schnauzer, and the look was surprisingly natural, as if the dog was handstripped. I decided to get one, as I could try it on some of the shop dogs. After working with several different coat types, I know I have to get some more of these little gems at Hershey!

So what makes this blade so great? We decided to try a 5F, the 6F, and a 7F on a Shih Tzu who was going short anyway, juxtaposing the lengths. The 5 left the coat a little scruffy looking, and the 7 made him look shaved. The 6, however, was the best of both worlds. Think of a short cut on a Shih without the shag and also without seeing skin. This is the finish you get with #6.

One thing that was also clear, since the 6 wasn't quite so short, it left a little extra color to the coat. The length left the look naturally smooth like a Lab's, instead of naturally short like a Dalmatian. I admit, it was a little disheartening to go over it with the 7F; the difference in look and feel was immediate.

I got to try it with several other coat types. My favorite--of course--is to use it when giving a lion cut to a rough Nordic dog, like a Pomeranian. We all know lions don't have totally naked butts anyway! Haha!
Other coat types included the tight curly Poodle. It left the color, but also showed the slightest curl! Not a bad way to check your work. When I was at the shelter over the weekend, I got to work on a lovely Brittany for the second time. The first time, I used a 4S blade; the look was very natural, but he grew in too fast! This time, I took all the scragglies away--for a while, at least--with the 6, just to see how it would look. When blended with a #5F, this was easily a trim suited for any dog with a sporting coat! Even the sporting saddle coat of the Cocker Spaniel looks better when the 6 is applied!

Now, I realize that grooming standards probably won't accept the #6 blade for a while, as it does leave some extra hair. So why have it? It's a great option for clients who want the hair gone, but to not have the dog look like a sheared little sheep. Also, we all have owners who want custom trims, like the lion. It's true what they say about subtle differences: they don't know exactly why, but they do know it's different!

I still have more coats to try this baby out on. Different textures will likely yield different results, and I can't wait to see what they are. One thing's for sure, I'm dying to do a lion cut, once again! Haha!

Monday, April 19, 2010

A Cumulative Insight to Intergroom 2010 - Part 2

Somehow, I was perfectly fine on Saturday morning, despite the fact I danced until I almost dropped! Guess it's just the spirit of the trade show, haha!

As far as shopping went, Saturday was a little more hefty for me. I was amazed at the selection at the Frank Rowe booth and ended up with a few extras. Then, I ran towards the Groomer's Helper booth with Dianne yelping, "Chuck! Chuck! We need loops!" In addition to a hug, we each got two regular loops and a little one. Man, do I love those loops! Chuck, don't stop making them!

Did I mention I now have a reputation to maintain? I stopped by the Davis booth and one of the reps asked me if I was the dancing dog at Hershey. Oh man, people are already recognizing me! Just wait until they can do that for my grooming, not just the way I bust moves, haha!

Today was the day for breed trim classes. Jodi Murphy hosted the Cocker Spaniel seminar, which I found very informative and helpful. I'm going to take her advice on holding the hair when I bevel my feet. I've never wanted to groom a Cocker so badly, haha!

In between seminars, we ran into none other than Debra and Novi from school! After some talking about how we were hoping for a few more vendors to be there (Kenchii, we're looking at you!), we agreed to meet up and hang out after our classes were over. How cool, a mini reunion!

The Schnauzer class was also a lot of fun. The little guy, Riley, kept trying to paw at Jodi and Dianne Betelak, and was just adorable. I snapped a picture of him yawning! They used the new #6 blade on him, and I knew I had to get one; it made his back coat look very natural, and now I want to try it out on some shop Schnauzers!

The best class, hands down, was the introduction to the Black Russian Terrier. Cash (short for Cassius) was the biggest dog I've ever seen in person, dense and muscular. I'd be struck with nothing but paralyzing fear if I saw one of them coming at me! Cash filled me with a sense of awe; the big beastie on the table was dignified and regal. That is, until Judi started clippering him! He got nervous, as he'd never been clippered, and began to wiggle. Soon, mama held onto one side, papa held onto the other, and Judi stood in the middle, taking off all that thick hair!

At the end of the seminar, we got to come up to get close to Cash. Dianne couldn't stop touching his hulking body. I held my hand out, completely unafraid, for him to sniff. As I felt the rush of air going into his giant nose, I also felt a sudden and strong connection to him. I truly believe that some dogs and people can form an instant bond, and I shared a special moment with Cash, albeit a brief one. Even after we walked out that door, I was still in awe over the gentle giant propped on the table.

We met up with Novi and Debra, who both bought tickets to the Best in Show and John Nash tribute banquet. We went back to the room to change; Dianne wasn't going in ripped jeans, and I donned my Nash uniform. When we went back to the Expo Center, we all felt horribly under dressed - everyone was really fancied up!

The banquet began with a rice appetizer as the winners of all the competitions presented their dogs and were named Best in Show from their respective classes. Looking at those dogs gave me a good idea of what I ultimately want to aim for. Next was a chicken entree and the Cardinal Crystal Achievement awards, hosted by Lisa Leady. She ended up winning two of them, and cried for each one. Big congrats to you Lisa, you really are an outstanding example from our industry, and give each one of us something to strive for!

Emotions continued to run high as we continued with our tribute to John Nash. Judge Joey took the stage to talk about John Nash, the grooming innovator, and John Nash, his friend. I got choked up as he talked about all the things John did in the short time he was with us; I felt like I got to actually know him, even though I never met him. Joey showed us the video of the pilot Groom School, taped almost ten years ago. I was filled with mixed emotions as I watched it: there was the school I wanted to go to; there was the spirit I wanted to keep alive; there was the team who started it all; there were the scissorcises I'm still aching to learn! It was a wonderful tribute overall, and increased my drive to strive all the more. Now if only someone can show me how to boogie with a pair of shears...

There was music towards the end, but I decided to leave the floor to the seasoned pros this time. I sat with Novi, Debra, and Dianne; we gabbed until the party ended, then went next door to the Embassy's lobby to hang out. By the time we shared our funniest stories and were ready to say goodbye until Hershey, it was already close to 2 A.M.! Once again, I crawled into bed, ready for Sunday, the last day of Intergroom.

I'm still surprised I was able to wake up on time; two wild nights since I was in school, and I was able to function! Fueled by the excitement that lingered in the air, it was time to wrap this one up.

I admit, I went a little crazy with buying scents, but honestly, who can resist trade show deals? I got Show Season's Pacific Breeze, Mutt Magic, and Sugar Cookie. Davis had White Tea, Lavender Magic, and Plum Blossom; I got one of each! It's kind of ironic that I went so crazy buying doggy colognes, and then bought a bottle of Miracle Air from Chris Christensen. Guess that means that I can just spray one cologne until I get sick of it and then get rid of it, making way for the next one... yup, I've already done it several times!

The Espree booth had Plum Perfect shampoo as well as Berry Delight, which I never heard of. I bought a bottle to try, hoping it might "get all the shit out of the coat"! Haha! My last big purchase was a new Wahl Arco trimmer. Nancy lets me use the one at the shop now, but this way I'll have my own and she'll have a backup. I opted to get the special pink one, as some of the proceeds are donated to cancer research.

Classes were good, overall. The Poodle class contained several neat tricks for sculpting a perfect Poodle build, even on a not-so-perfect dog. Jodi's Clipper Tricks had several gems of information, although most of them I already learned from Nancy! Maybe I know a little more than I realize...

Anyway, the last class was an interesting one, although not what I was expecting. It's About Time, featuring Gary Carlson, was all about ways we can cut time wasters out of our schedule to make more time for us, and then celebrate having done so. While I liked the fact that he stressed the importance of positive reinforcement for people and made the class interactive, I was expecting to pick up some speed grooming tips. Well, at least I got a few good snippets out of it, and can easily apply them!

Dianne's husband drove up from Philly to help her haul her new table back home. I waited outside the competition ring while she searched for the perfect one. I got the chance to say goodbye to Chuck and Jorge, but not Joey. It made me really sad, actually; I wanted to thank him for the night before. He's one of the busiest guys I know... him and Xavier! Hehe!

The trade show was now officially closed. Vendors began tearing down their booths. Somehow, it just didn't seem right. I knew it was Sunday, but it felt like Intergroom ended too early. That's the one thing I will always hate about trade shows, they just never last long enough. The only other thing I don't like is that the people in the audience will usually talk during a class! I didn't sign up so I could strain to head the speaker while someone goes on about something irrelevant. What's one of my favorite sayings? Shut up, listen, and learn! Good thing I have a strong willpower, otherwise I just might shout that out someday!

Other than two gripes, Intergroom 2010 was truly a blast. It might not have been as wild and big as Hershey, but what trade show can compare to that behemoth? Intergroom drew a nice crowd, had a variety of vendors, and hosted some fun classes, not to mention I got to meet up with old friends and make new ones. Aren't those the main goals of any trade show?

I'm still quite tired from my trip home. Dianne and her husband left the hotel last night; she went to see little Etta and get her brand new toys ready to groom! I'm glad I stayed at the hotel one more night - I really didn't have even half an hour in me to drive. I love that feeling of complete exhaustion after the show's close, knowing you had a great time while improving yourself. No doubt about it, I'm completely hooked on trade shows. it bad I already have a list started for Hershey?

A Cumulative Insight to Intergroom 2010 - Part 1

So I've decided to split this in two, simply because there was so much going on! Apologies for not writing a day-to-day series of updates on this exciting trade show, the hotel I stayed at didn't have free Wi-fi. Still, I made a ton of memories at my first Intergroom!

Xavier went on vacation as well. I dropped him off at the kennel Thursday, just after 7 A.M. He wasn't too eager to wake up until I told him he was going for a ride. Even then, he was just too tired to jump and scream like he usually does. I love how he walks into the kennel like he owns the place, haha!

I stopped to see my aunt, went to get a coffee, and by the time all was said and done, I was on the road at 9, on my way to Philadelphia to pick up Dianne. I will never get tired of driving through Pennsylvania's rolling hills. One of these trips, I'll need to have someone along to take pictures - simply passing by all that natural beauty is a waste! Even the unnatural wind farms, which have grown in number since my last traverse through the state, are a sight to behold. And who doesn't like driving though tunnels?

Soon I arrived in Philadelphia. I never knew the city was so beautiful! There were tons of old neighborhoods everywhere, the yards of large houses filled with trees and colorful plants. The really fun part was getting to meet little Etta, Dianne's White Schnauzer puppy. Now there was a bundle of puppy joy if ever there was one! Combine cute, smart, and bouncy, and you have Etta.

Dianne finished packing, and off we went to New Jersey! On the way there, we talked about a lot of things, including how she needs to learn snap-on combs and how we've both been progressing in our craft. The trip was relatively quick, only an hour and a half from her house. We passed several--and quite varied--areas of NJ, including an industrial area. Now I know what they mean when they say it sometimes smells funny!

Our room was waiting for us. We checked in, put our suitcases away, and went straight down to the Italian restaurant. Talk about tasty! I had a delicious chicken francais, followed by a decadent piece of real tiramisu. We agreed that as good as the dinner was, it was merely a precursor of what was to come the next day: Friday, the opening of Intergroom! Neither one of us could sleep!

We woke up several times during the course of the night before the time finally came to get out of bed and ready for the show! We got to the Expo Center just minutes after the trade show doors opened, and were greeted by none other than Frankie Brown! I wonder if he got the crowd all riled up like he did at Groom Expo? Haha!

Upon walking through the doors, neither one of us knew what to do next. Rows of vendors lined the floor, and a competition was already underway in the center of it all. We checked out a couple of booths before our first class. I got to say hi to Jorge at Forever Stainless Steel. I asked him why he wasn't speaking, as he said he was going to. His response? "I have been, jus' so busy with my salon, so I was' jus' lazy an' didn' put anythin' together!" Good ol' Jorge, haha!

Our first class was about snap-on combs. Overall the presentation was good, although I disagreed when the speaker said you couldn't use them with a Clipper Vac. They actually don't cut much shorter when you use it, the Clipper Vac just makes the hair stand up, therefore saving you some time since you won't need to back brush as much. Other than that, there was some excellent information in that seminar, such as which breeds look better when done with the combs.

In between classes, Dianne lost her wallet. We retraced our steps and one of the vendors pointed us in the direction of the judge's pit. None other than Judge Joey was walking around inside! We walked up on the stage to get his attention. I said hi; he looked at Dianne and said that her wallet was at the front desk. Awesome! There were some goodie bags that caught Dianne's eye, and this is what happened next:

Dianne: Hey what are these? Can we have one?
Joey: Eh, I think they're for the competition. I'd let you have one, but I dunno...
Dianne: What's in 'em?
Joey: (digging through a bag) Looks like a Le Pooch brush, and some whitener (handing her the little jar)
Dianne: Hmm, whitener... what's the best whitener?
Joey: Um... (reaching for the jar)
Dianne: You can have it back when you tell me what the best one is!! (Playing hardball, anyone? Haha!)
Joey: (laughing) Honestly, the best one, they took off the market a few years ago. Why, I dunno. None of the rest really wow me.
Dianne: (still holding the jar) Is there anything else I can do to whiten coats? (handing it back)
Joey: Use product stabilizer before you use your whitener, it'll get all the shit out of the coat!
Dianne: I tried that, but it didn't work!
Joey: Then you didn't do it right!

Yup, Joey's still Joey, haha!

The Clipper Art class was alright. Nothing really surprised us, but there were some helpful hints given. Apparently, the best way to work on a Poodle is to imagine a giraffe. Makes sense, as both are long and leggy. That one ran two class periods. The first one was full to capacity, but only about half the people showed up for part two.

Shopping on day one was really light for me; all I bought was a smock and two pairs of pants. Dianne, on the other hand, bought a Kool-dry and one of the competition tables from Edemco! How exciting! We decided to head back to the hotel. On the way out, we stopped by the front desk to see if there were any tickets left to get into Joey and Doc Halligan's new talk show pilot taping. Sure enough, there were. Even better, they were free! The night just got better!

I have to say, Live with Joey Villani and Doc Halligan was a lot different than what I was expecting. Sure, there were segments where they talked with us as well as pet care professionals, but then there was the shock factor - asking people on the streets what their pets think about sex, and how Doc Halligan learned to give artificial insemination to horses in vet school! I actually want to see the show get picked up, as it has a little bit of, well, everything! The pilot will be finished in May. I can't wait to see the finished project, as there were several video clips we didn't get to see.

Dianne decided to punk out (her words, not mine!) of the party that followed the taping. Now it was just me and a bunch of people I didn't know; I was hoping to see someone from Hershey there. Jorge already said he couldn't come because he had to go take care of his Pom, Tito. "He iss probably crossin' his legs, waitin' for me!"

While waiting for the room to re-open, another loner came up to me and asked if I was there by myself. We got to talking; turns out, her name was Capri, and she's new on scene, like I was in Hershey in 2008. As we stood around and nibbled little cocktails offered by roaming servers, we covered topics that included but weren't limited to mobile businesses, products, and even a little bit of ethology! Any time I get a chance to discuss it and share the valuable resources from authors like Patricia McConnell, you know I'm going to do it!

The room opened up; all but one corner was dark, with the DJ hiding in the shadows with his equipment. Party lights covered the floor and speakers blared music loud, yet no one was really dancing yet. Capri asked him to play some AC/DC, and the room came to life! We danced to You Shook Me All Night Long and Highway to Hell before the room went calm again. The DJ began playing country songs, and a few more people got up to dance. I'm more of a classic country gal myself, so I went to get a Kahlua and cream. We got back into some modern party songs, followed by a techno remix of Cottoneyed Joe. How could you not dance a jig to something like that? I started to do the Russian kick, and soon I was out of steam. Another Kahlua and cream, please!

The dancing continued between my group (three more people came and sat at our table), a couple, and the table next to us. One of the groomers was really grooving! I wanted something I could really bust out moves to, and then it hit me: go ask the DJ to play Say Hey! I could always try my hand at dancing like I did in the dream I had before Hershey. It might look funny, as I'd be doing it solo, but I didn't care; time to really cut loose and have some fun! Sure enough, the song came on and I leaped onto the floor. I'm quite sure it looked like a train wreck, but I still danced like I've never danced before. I broke a massive sweat, was completely out of breath, but man was that awesome! Haha! I went outside to get a bottle of water, and ran into Judge Joey and Doc Halligan, talking to some other people. When I came over, they looked at me funny; here's what happened:

Me: Hey, y'all missed it! I just danced my ass off in there!
Joey: Come on, you're good to do it some more!
Me: (eyes wide, shaking head) Nah, man, I'm exhausted! Oh, Doc Halligan, nice to finally meet you!
Doc: And who are you?
Me: Just call me J.C.!
Joey: Yup. She's an Xavier fan!
Me: Yup, all the way! (tapping my left side with my right hand) Hehe!
Joey: Did you post on my Facebook?
Me: I don't think so. Not yet, anyway.
Joey: Oh yeah, you're from the Animal Planet blog! This is J.C. DogHero!
Me: Yup! So how is Xavier anyway?
Joey: He's good. He's showing dogs this weekend, otherwise he would've been here.
Me: Aww! Seems like that's the way it goes, we're always so close to meeting!
Joey: Haha, don't worry, you'll get to meet him, he's just out and about a lot...
Me: Yep. Well, next time you see him, tell him I said hi and... aww, well, y'know! You know me, Joey!
Joey: Haha, you know I will! (turning to Doc) So, what are you so nervous about?
Doc: What about our reputations? Will they be hurt doing a show like this? They didn't really give us any guidelines, and I know this isn't what people are expecting.
Joey: Eh, I'm not worried.
Doc: Well, yeah, you have a face for TV! But what about me? I'm a doctor!
Others: We liked it because it was so different. I mean, it has that selling factor to it plus some good advice...
Me: A little bit of shock and awe...
Doc: Yeah, that's it! (turning to Joey) Oh, and thanks for telling me my ear thing was falling out!
Joey: Hey, I couldn't get a word in, not a word! I tried doing this (quickly gesturing to her ear), but you just weren't getting it!

Haha, it was like watching a snippet from Groomer Has It, the way those two have at each other! The conversation pretty much continued like that, then I went back to go dance. I was almost completely exhausted by that time, though. A few songs later, and the DJ closed the party with some Lady Gaga. It was raining and cold outside, which is probably what kept me alert enough to make it back to the room. I crawled in bed and hoped I wasn't completely debilitated the next morning... haha! Hard to believe that a third of the show was already gone. Two more days to go, baby!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Enough is Enough, you Whipper-snappers!

That's what two dogs would've told me the other day, if they had the ability to speak English.

Two old dogs, a brother and a sister, came into the shop for a bath and neaten. We're not talking eight or ten years old, but sixteen - each! You wouldn't have guessed it from looking at the sister, as she was the calmer of the two. Her brother drooled and panted in his crate while waiting for his bath.

Sis was OK in her crate, but was crying and whale-eyed for her entire bath. I'm guessing that it was the water that was making her panic, because she seemed to ease up a little when I blew it all off. She got to relax in the crate dryer while I got her brother in the tub. He was acting a little squirrelly, so I had the idea in the back of my head to prepare for the worst. Good thing I did - when I turned the dryer on, even with just one motor, he completely wigged out. Thrashing, screaming, and snapping at the air, the poor dog was in full-on panic mode. My first thought was to restrain him so he didn't hurt himself or me. He ended up biting his tongue and flinging a few spots of blood on the tub. Not as bad as I was prepared for, but enough to leave me a little gun-shy of the HV for a day! We put him in the crate dryer with his sister and called mom.

Now, neither one of them ever had a bad reaction to being groomed. We thought it was just that time when age caught up with them, and that their tub days should become a thing of the past. We let them relax with each other in the dryer for a little, then I got the girl out and did her nails, with no problems. Same thing for her brother, he was a total sweetheart for his paws - definitely NOT what I was expecting after his encounter with the dryer! He even gave me a few friendly nudges, as if to say, "Thank you whipper-snapper, I'm getting too old for this!"

I'm glad mom was understanding about everything, but I hope that clients in the future can be the same way. We see people's dogs more often than the vet, after all, and something like this temperament shift is not to be taken lightly. Also, owners need to know how strong a dog's breaking point is, and what better place to hear that than from the groomer? I know that those two dogs are going to have a good road prepared for them, one of ease and quiet. What more could an old dog ask for?

This has got me thinking that someday, I'd like to offer a waterless treatment for senior dogs. No tub and no dryers. Just get 'em on the table, spray 'em good, brush 'em down, towel 'em off, all done! Sure, it won't get them as clean as a regular bath, but there is only so much an old dog can tolerate. Hmm, maybe I'll end up using Dogs in Style?

Wag on, my wise old four-legged friends!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

More Stuff On the Way

I've decided that I want to have some more fun with writing entries. After a few months of professional grooming, I feel like I've got my foot far enough in the door to include some neat articles. Behavior stuff will be coming in the future, once I take some ABA courses as well as go through the training program at the shelter. In the meantime, I'll be posting reviews about products, humorous stories about how wacky my doggy clients can be, and--of course--highlights from trade shows and events. Posts will now carry tags for ease of navigation - you can get right to the silliness if you want to, or skip right to the trade shows.

Expect these new things--and maybe even an overhaul--coming soon!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Looking Back...

I've never really been one to be overly critical on the past. I'm more about pushing forward in order to improve myself for tomorrow. However, there will always be the occasional glance back - not to dwell on what could've been, but to see in better perspective how far I've come.

One of my classmates started an Internet group for Nash students and grads. Reading all of the posts about the good times and the bad brought several truths about. Not everything we learned was modern or even practical, but it was for the purpose of getting our feet wet. The "right stuff" came in the form of the foundations of a good groom: prepping, coat care, (some) tool usage, and bathing. The rest was all style, a lot of which has fallen by the wayside with me in favor of more contemporary and efficient techniques and patterns... and snap-on combs. What really made school worth it was the people I met along the way, plus the (mis)adventures we shared. I met some amazing people in school, and wouldn't trade the time we spent together, good and bad, for anything in the world. Guys, I better see you at Groom Expo this year!

A few nights ago, Xavier and I were in his kennel, among the melting snow. As I was beginning to dread what his paws are going to look like in a few months, I looked into the sky and saw it was clear. Only a few constellations were visible--curse you city living!--yet it was enough to remind me of that night I went horseback riding at Michelle's and stared into a seemingly infinite blackness speckled with hundreds of stars. I realized just how much I've grown, not only as a groomer, but as a person.

In regards to grooming, I was just learning how to work with those darn tight curly coats. They still give me some grief, even though I love working with them, but Nancy is helping me along the way. Now, when it comes to personal growth... as I gazed into the sky, I remembered fragments of an old poem I wrote in 2007, the worst year that has come to pass. I wish I could find it in its entirety, but I remember looking into the sky, unhappy, and wondering if anyone was looking back. At the same time, it was humbling that the stars in the sky would still be there, years from then, largely unchanged. These days, I look into that same sky, only feeling the happiest I've ever been, wondering where I'll be when I look up years down the road. It's amazing how much we change and how far we go in the course of a few short years, isn't it?

But that's enough looking back for a while. I'm fueled with a familiar confidence and awe, ready to groom what dogs may hop up on my table. And just in time, I'm registered and ready to go for INTERGROOM, baby! One week and one month on the countdown, to be exact.

Yes, I'm very excited! Stay tuned!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Snowed In... Again!

2010 is proving to be the snowiest year on record, just in case you haven't noticed! Northeast Ohio got hit last night for the third time; Old Man Winter must have some bad karma on us. Or is it good karma?

There are some definite pros to having two feet of snow on the ground. It's certainly prettier to look at and live with than two feet of rain - no mud or flooded basements! We have gigantic icicles hanging from the roof that are on the verge of turning into a solid ice wall, rather decorative. Trees are weighted down with the stuff, and no longer look so barren. As I've been saying for almost two years now, happiness in winter is a Nordic dog! Xavier and I take off running through the white landscape at least once a day. Well, I try painfully to run, and he just does the kangaroo hop! When he's in the kennel run, he has to make at least three snow angels. He's finally decided to keep a longer winter coat - less shedding in the house.

As for the cons? Driving is a nightmare. Nancy gave us the day off today, which means I won't be grooming until Thursday. Those icicles are at the right height where I can smack my head right into them!

Seems like there's a lot more good that the snow brought than bad. I'd say the cons are frustrations, but they'll soon pass, once the roads are clear again. After that, I'll be grooming, playing with Xavier, and enjoying hot chocolate at the end of a fulfilling day.

Most people I know can't stand the snow in the least. If there's such a thing as past lives, I'd be willing to bet I was a Viking!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Down and Back Up Again

Well, I called it when I said there would be a battle of the salons. It all belonged to me, however, and I decided that a high-volume environment is not right for me. Perhaps I'll be able to achieve that someday, but I still prefer to work a little more closely with the dogs. Don't get me wrong, my former salon does a fine job, and part of it is because the routine they have is genuinely theirs; they've refined it for over a decade, and have it down to a T. For a newcomer like me, it just isn't in the cards.

The other salon, although slower, is looking promising. Ran by a good friend of mine, it's an environment that I can readily adapt to, and also where I can really hone and fine-tune my skills. Efficiency really is everything, and it's an area that is currently under construction for me. Even though it's the slow season, I'm using it to my advantage; a low volume of dogs means more time for me to develop a finer eye for detail and better dexterity with my tools. Needless to say, I'm excited to see how far I go in the coming months!

Working in a high-volume environment was uncomfortable for me at this stage. It was like the foot I had in the door of grooming got slammed hard. For this opportunity, I just stuck my other foot right back in! Now it's time to wriggle myself the rest of the way!

Friday, January 22, 2010

We Are Tired!

Xavier and I are currently on the verge of passing out. This late at night, we engage in one of our favorite pastimes: curling up and watching King of the Hill together!

I realize it's been a while since my last entry. Since then, I've picked up two jobs at two different salons! One of them is very high-volume, and the other one is rather slow this time of year. I have a feeling that there might be a battle over where I stay, but I'd like to keep both. One will help me focus on speed--especially for baths--and the other will help my accuracy, as I might get to do a little more of the grooming there. Between the two, I have a lot of valuable information to obtain. Hot topics right now include snap-on combs, stripping out dead coat with something other than the Furminator, and re-learning a few patterns that are more "correct" for their breeds.

Tomorrow is going to be exhausting, as I'll be focusing primarily on speed bathing. It's definitely a subject I need to work on, but then again, what isn't right now? I take it all as a learning experience. It's like I said in class one day, "I'm willing to try what might come down the pike, and I'll only dismiss something if I KNOW it's stupid!" Hehe. Good times.

Also, Xavier's birthday was yesterday. He turned five, as far as we know. He got Buddy Biscuits, Evo treats, and a giant beef shank. Let's just say that after all that overindulgence, he paid for it this afternoon - whoops! Luckily, he's easy to put back on his normal digestive track. A little rice with his food works wonders - thanks to this advice from my vet, he has spring in his step again. Good thing birthdays only come once a year!

OK, time for King of the Hill!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Stir Crazy!!

So what's been going on now that I'm a grad? Well... not much, actually. I'm in the balance of possibly working at two salons. I won't know for sure until my interview on Saturday. More details to come.

Right now, however, I feel like I haven't styled a Schnauzer or scrubbed a Sheltie in ages! Xavier is going for his bath tomorrow; an afternoon of de-shedding is always fun! I miss working on 4 to 5 dogs a day though. Maybe that means I'm ready for a high-volume salon?

All I want to do is groom. It's coming in due time, but I'm definitely feeling stir crazy. Since I don't have access to dozens of doggies, I'm just listening to Michael Franti's All Rebel Rockers... although that's not really helping any. Now I just want to dance! Hehe!