A series of interviews with our tutors at Oxbridge. What will your tutor have to say?
In the Oxbridge pod today, we’ve our award-winning dog groomer Aimée Gardiner and her trusty sidekick and wonder pooch, Edward. They chat (and bark) about grooming, breeds and responsibilities, and their experience at Crufts.
Please introduce yourself and tell us about your role at Oxbridge
I’m Aimée, and I tutor the dog grooming course at Oxbridge. It was a stroke of luck how I came to be at Oxbridge! I already run a business as a dog trainer and a groomer. But it was one of my clients, who also tutors at the college, who recommended me. At the time, Oxbridge were looking for a talented groomer, got in touch and here I am. It happened so quickly!
Could you tell us about how you’ve gotten where you are today?
I started grooming as soon as I left college. I’d studied a national diploma in Animal Management and spent a lot of time in the college’s on-site salon. It was
here that I’d gained experience grooming different dogs people brought in. After college, I went to university. I finished a BSc in Animal Behaviour and Training, while grooming on the side. And, as a graduation present, I bought myself a dog with the remainder of my student loan (Laughs).
The dog was from a show kennel, and at six months old, I took him to his first big show. He got reserved Best Breed and Best Puppy. I later entered him into a championship called Ladies Kennels Association. He got second in the class, qualifying for Crufts. I quickly learned there’s a difference between grooming a pet dog to a show dog. Pets you can groom how you like, but with show dogs, you have to minimise faults and maximise attributes. So, for the last eight years since school, I’ve been grooming all kinds of dogs, especially show dogs, and I’m really enjoying it.
My first dog was from a show kennel. At six months old, I took him to his first show.
Why dog grooming? Why did you choose that route?
I love dogs. Before going professional or even starting to study, I had a little grooming room in my house. I had everything from a grooming table to the proper scissors. My passion was always there. So, when I finally did graduate, I didn’t have to buy anything. When I first started grooming dogs, it was more out of love. I was clipping pets, friend’s dogs, and then, you know, I had the bright idea of turning my services into a small business and charging people for an hour’s groom.
And now tutoring? Why?
I come from a background of teachers. My grandmother still tutors children. She teaches prep, which prepares children to go into school. My dad used to lecture at the University of Birmingham as a professor of occupational health. Growing up, my grandmother would tell me stories about her teaching days. You might say teaching is ingrained into me.
What are the key responsibilities of a dog groomer?
Quite a few responsibilities are health-related. Checking over the dogs, making sure there’s nothing wrong with them. As a groomer, you need to check everything and everywhere. You’re looking under their fur, behind the ears, all the places an owner might miss. With show dogs, you’re also looking at ways of hiding flaws and bringing forth their best attributes. One thing we look for in each check-up is fleas and parasites. A few weeks ago, I had to give nine dogs in a row a flea bath, which is good for the dog, but not the groomer. However, probably the most important responsibility is making owners happy by doing everything possible to make their dogs look nice.
The most important responsibility is making dog owners happy
What’s your favourite breed to groom?
(Melting) Flat-coat retrievers (Edward’s ears peak at this compliment). This is Edward, my flat-coat retriever. This is the breed I like to show, and it’s my favourite to groom, too, but they’re naughty! (Aimée says as Edward eyes the chocolate chip cookies on the centre of the table). And they’re hard to train. But they’re so they’re pretty!
Are there any breeds that you specialise in dog grooming?
Not really. You’ve always got to be prepared for a new challenge. Like in training, you’re never just grooming one kind of dog breed but several in one day. I’ve got two shih tzus mixes coming in for grooming, but I’ve never groomed these particular shih tzu mixes before, so it’s going to be an exciting test. They’re very energetic dogs.
Let’s talk training. What was that like?
When you’re learning, you’re not trimming many dogs in the beginning. So, my learners can take a breather there. However, over the course of your training, you will gain skill working on a lot of dogs. There are A LOT of different coat types. So, you must learn how to manage, tend and address the challenges associated with each coat type. Different breeds have different requirements. Show and pet trims are also very different. For example, take a shih tzu. A show trim has a long coat that nears the ground, whereas, generally, the coat is clipped off in a pet trim. Poodles are a big one, too; they have so many different trims, from the continental clip to lamb clips and puppy clips. They’re very customisable and a favourite for showing.
The more you practice you get at dog grooming the better and faster your get.
So, the rumours about trimming nine dogs a day aren’t true?
Where did you hear that? But no, I don’t think I’ve ever done that many while training. More like two or three. When you’re first starting out, you’re not very quick we don’t expect you to be. However, the more you practice the better and faster your get.
So, your experience has led you to dog grooming at events like Crufts. What was that like?
I show my own dogs at Crufts. So, Edward will be in Crufts this year, and I’ve got an older dog called Jack at home. Jack has won his class twice at Crufts, as well as a third and a fifth at Crufts. Edward here also has a fourth at Crufts.
Well played, Edward!
It’s nice and a big achievement and a compliment because the classes at Crufts are massive. Crufts draws international attention, too. There’re dogs competing from all around the world. I’ve met people from Russia, who tell me it takes them four days to get their dogs over here to compete.
Do you have to do a lot to prepare a dog for Crufts?
Yes. I’ve already done the pre-work for Crufts. Whereas if I was just trimming a pet for an owner, they wouldn’t mind their dogs having a bath, a trim and then going home. However, show dogs need to be clipped and bathed a few days before Crufts. As show dogs have special coats that have oils in them, those extra few days help the coat to settle before the big event.
My older dog, Jack, has won his class twice at Crufts, as well as a third and a fifth.
How important is it to pick the right scissors or clippers?
If you don’t have quality equipment, you won’t get a good cut. Like if you go to a pet shop and buy any kind of scissors, you’re asking for a bad cut. What you really want is a pair of Roseline scissors. They’re lightweight. I love mine. However, like all tools, you need to maintain them. Scissors and blades need professional sharpening. You can send them off, but when I go to shows, there’s someone that sharpens my equipment for me before a show. But usually, you’d have to send them off if you didn’t show. Likewise, if you like grooming and/or you get a matted dog and a cheap pair of clippers, you’re not going to get through that coat. You’re going to need a proper, usually a two-speed clipper to get through the coat. Otherwise the clippers would break due to the tangles and knots.
Is there anything you could say to dog owners that would make your job easier?
Brush them! Brush your dogs on a daily, well, a weekly basis, at least. You have to maintain their coats in between coming to the groomers. Especially poodle crosses. Their coats require a good brushing you need to really get the comb through the coat once or twice a week. If not more than that, otherwise you’d just end up with matting, and the whole coat must come off. The dog will have to be shaved down, and nobody wants that! Dogs vary in coat and how you maintain them. For example, pugs require soft bristle brushes and then you have shih tzus with their bushiness… Like I said before, pet trims are easy, but try keeping a show shih tzu with their long coats is a proper challenge.
You have to brush your dogs coat at least weekly between grooming visits.
What is your handiest dog grooming tip for groomers just starting out?
When you’re preparing for your practical assignments, make sure you’ve also volunteered some time at a salon. It’s like driving; you can know all the theory, but until you get out on the road, it’s a whole new world. Learn about different coat types and situations alongside your studies and see how others do it.
Finally, can you name a benefit of studying dog grooming from home?
It’s a good course, you know. You can do it in your own time. You can have a full-time job. You could be looking to move into a new career, but you can still have a job and do this around your job. Obviously, you have to learn how to groom, get dogs and groom them, and do practical assessments, but you can do them in your own time around previous jobs or commitments. If you’ve got children and you need to put it in around childcare, you can do that, too. Dog grooming is booming, and so enrolling with us a fantastic way to get started.
We’d like to say a big thank you to Aimée and Edward for coming into Oxbridge today. It seems the the life of a dog groomer isn’t just a load of fluff. We hope this snippet gave you some insight. If you’re a dog lover, then maybe it’s time you start setting up your own dog grooming room. And if you’re curious about studying with Aimée from the comforts of your home, check out our amazing Level 3 Dog Grooming course. Edward gives it his paw of approval.