Improving Your Grooming by Attending Competitions
Attending competitions is a great way to expand your skills beyond traditional educational opportunities such as school and home study. It is also lots of fun! Maybe you will find a competitive force within you, and someday you will enter the beginning levels of competition. Check our certification and associations, industry calendar, and trade show pages to locate competitions. We also list competitions as well as discuss them at GroomerTALK Community.
by Jay Scruggs, Super Styling Sessions
Having been a competitive groomer and now a competition judge, I am constantly asked, “How does someone get started in competition, and what are judges looking for?” This article will answer those questions and help you to become more competitive in the ring.
To get started in competition grooming, find a breed you are comfortable grooming. Your dog should display good conformation, a nice coat, good behavior, and be easy to travel with. Many top competitive groomers own their dogs or borrow them from reputable breeders in their area.
Preparation is the key to becoming a top competitor. It starts with the basic fundamentals of grooming. Prep work, clipper work, balance, and symmetry are very important, but preparation ranks as the most important skill. I would recommend going to AKC shows and knowing breed standards. Acquire books and DVDs that will help with the breed you are working on.
Once you choose a dog, prepare it months before entering a show. I recommend bathing and conditioning the dog weekly to have the coat in impeccable shape before the competition. Work on the trim you are going to compete with six months before you actually compete. This will allow you to get critiques and make any changes necessary.
Groom the dog and takes pictures. Find judges or groomers you respect in the industry and send them pictures for critique. Make necessary changes. Also, make sure you start timing your grooms every time. Work in a fashion that allows you to groom the dog in the allowed time leaving 20 to 30 minutes to finish work.
Always try to bathe your dog on the day of the competition. You want the coat to be as fresh and clean as possible. Never try something new on the day of the competition. You never know how different products will affect the coat.
A few days before the competition, bathe and prep the dog for the show. Clean the pads, sanitary areas, ears, and a good bath and brush. Doing this before the competition will help you know if there are any areas of concern with the coat or skin and if the pads or sanitary get irritated easily. This practice gives you time to treat issues before you compete.
On the day of the competition, ensure your well-rested dog is exercised, fed, and watered. Make sure you have all the event essentials in your tack box. Ensure scissors are sharp and oiled and all equipment works properly. Having a backup of all your products is a good idea because you never know when something will fail.
Read the Competition Rules
Most competitions require at least six weeks of growth. Don’t make it harder on yourself; bring in a dog with an excessive coat. When entering the ring, be sure to arrive early to get set up. This will help calm the nerves. I would always go to the ring, get set up, and have someone bring my dog to the ring once I was ready. Try to wear something that compliments the dog. If you have a black dog, don’t wear dark colors. You want the judge to be able to see your work. Be prepared if you have a dark-colored dog. You may want to bring a lighter-colored mat on the table to help you see the lines.
The judge will first come over to evaluate the coat length and confirmation of the dog’s preparation and cleanliness. At this time, let your judge know if there are any problems. Missing coat, ear infection, hot spots, or anything else you may need to point out before. Judges do not like to hear a lot of excuses, so a better specimen and fewer problems will help.
When the time starts, judges will be watching Ringside. They will observe how you handle the dog, what techniques you are using, as well as the difficulty of the trim, and how suitable it is for the dog. If you are doing a breed standard trim, ensure you follow the standard. A lot of new competitors try the mixed or miscellaneous class, which gives groomers a little more freedom in their work.
It is critically important to clean off your table when the class is finished. Ensure no loose hair is on the table or in the dog’s coat. Hair tends to gravitate towards the feet. Judges do not like picking up feet and having to clean the hair off of them. Stack your dog and face the judge. Keep the dog stacked from the start of judging until they say you can relax. You never know when the judge may glance back and take a second look. It also helps the judge if they are comparing your dog to another in the class.
At this point, you will start to sweat, and your heart will pound. Presentation is the key. Try to stay relaxed. The judges and the dogs will sense the nervousness.
The judge will comb through your dog. ALWAYS keep one hand on the dog and try to keep it stacked. As the judge moves, you should also move with them. Try to stay out of the way and maintain the dog’s posture. The judge checks for clipper work. Did you use the appropriate blade? Are the lines in the right place? Is the coat even from one side of the dog to the other? How well does the trim suit the dog? Is the scissor work even and smooth, and is the trim well-balanced? All of these factors will help decide the placements. The more you have right, the better the placement.
After inspecting all the dogs in the class, judges will start comparisons. Standing tall and proud even if judges are not looking at your dog. You have just spent months preparing and enduring two or more hours of hard work in the competition. Be proud of completing it. Sometimes the judges will know their first placement after going through the dogs. You may even think they are not interested in your dog or not get a second look and yet win the class. Many times judges do come back in the ring after going through all of the dogs. When this happens, it means the competition is very close. It could be the difference between the first and second or even a third placement.
Once placements are announced, always be a good sport. Congratulate the winners, and make sure you get a picture. You want to document your wins and have something to compare to moving forward as you improve. You may not always agree with the judges, but until you actually have a comb on the dogs, you will never know what they see. I have judged countless competitions, and the dog that apparently looked the best from outside the ring did not win or sometimes didn’t even place once they were combed through.
Lastly, remember to thank the sponsors, show promoters, and others involved. A lot of money and time is spent to put a competition together. ALWAYS get a critique from your judge whether you agree or not. This will only help you get better as a competitor. I would get judge critiques and then take my dog to other judges for their opinions. Then it was back to the drawing board to get ready for the next competition. ♦