As I have pointed out before, one does not require certification to become a dog groomer. However, obtaining this via training from an accredited pet grooming institution will not only give you greater knowledge and, hence credibility, this will also afford you the skills and confidence to better serve your furry clients.
In order to get a handle on what it takes to become a certified pet groomer, I spoke with International Certified Master Groomer Linda Easton, head of Salem, Ore.-based International Professional Groomers, Inc., one of three U.S. institutions that provides groomer certification about how to go about getting the best training possible.
How to Find Dog Groomer Schools that Offer Certification
In order to obtain proper certification, one must receive training from a school with instructors who are certified master dog groomers.
"There three major sources for certification in the U.S.," Linda said. "One is my organization, the National Dog Groomers Association of America and the International Society of Canine Cosmetologists. They also have the ultimate certification for a master groomer."
This means that they have undergone a series of comprehensive practical and written tests.
"All of these organizations base their criteria on American Kennel Club breed standards," Linda said. "They have a standard for each different breed. You also get to understand certain things to do to make the dogs look better, to give them a better profile. The latter is the best thing, as it makes the dogs look a little better and happier if they are groomed well."
Proper schooling that leads to certification requires a considerable time commitment.
"Our minimum schooling is 480 hours, which is 16 weeks," Linda added. "Some programs are shorter. But that’s a fairly average amount of hours around the country."
Furthermore, some schools offer full-time, five day a week training programs, while others offer programs that allow students to attend classes on a part-time basis.
"You could train on a part-time basis while you're still working, and want to pursue grooming as a second career," Linda said.
What to Look for in a Dog Groomer School
When looking for a groomer school, be sure to find one with instructors that have received certification from one of the above-mentioned schools. Groomer schools may have one to several instructors that are masters.
"We offer memberships to schools; 15 schools are now members," Linda said. "They are listed on our website. Up until now, everybody has been flying blind trying to find schools. We are going to expand this next year (2014) to make an umbrella for schools. There will be minimum standards for how many hours they teach, if they have a curriculum - which a lot of schools do not – and that they will guarantee with what you will be learning. For example, we will guarantee that you will be grooming at least five dogs a day in a shop."
Linda added that, if you feel that your skills still need fine-tuning following formal training, you can stay on and continue to train at good schools for no extra money because they want to see you succeed.
What About Groomer Apprenticeships?
Linda said apprenticing with a reputable established dog groomer is good supplemental training, because it will give you hands-on experience in a real-world scenario.
"Apprenticeship is the way most of us old time groomers learned the trade," she said. "What is most effective is to go through school and then go out and apprentice, even for just a few days a week until you start a business."
This is also a good way to get a closer look at the actual nuts and bolts of running a grooming business such as effective customer service, marketing, types of products that groomers use to increase their bottom line, etc.
Red Flags to Look For in Dog Grooming Schools
While there are any numbers of excellent dog groomer schools out there, there are also some turkeys.
In order to avoid investing your valuable time and money into a potentially bad school, Linda says that you should thoroughly investigate any school or schools you may want to attend.
"They should tour the school and see if the dogs are being handled gently," she said. "They should ask themselves if they would take their dog into the school? If the instructor does not have any kind of certification or claims that you don't need certification, that's another red flag."
Otherwise, some dog groomer schools allow students to come in and just groom dogs, unsupervised. This is the kind of school to avoid.
"You should check to see if the students are just grooming dogs, or if someone is giving them tips while they groom. Is it clean? Does it smell bad? Is it really noisy? Are the dogs confined safely? Are the dogs and groomers safe? Look for the same things you would look for in a grooming shop."
Linda also recommends finding a school that has a standalone bather program, or go to a shop and offer to be a bather for free for a few days to see if this is really what you want to do.
"This is a good indicator of what the work really is like,” she said. "That way, you can determine if you like it before investing a whole lot of money and deciding you don't want to do this."
Update: In 2014, IPG introduced the revolutionary new Salon Details Certificate program, the first of its kind in the world. You can read about this here.