Perfecting the Trim
While great scissor work depends on having the right tools and technique, it actually begins before you even pick up a pair of shears.
I have written several articles in the past about shears and using them, but I recently gained a new appreciation for this subject while judging the 2018 Tom Mclaughlin Super Jackpot at this year’s SuperZoo trade show, hosted by the World Pet Association in Las Vegas. This grooming contest can include up to 50 competitors from around the world, who compete at the open level. Competitors can use any AKC-recognized breed, which must be groomed to its standard.
The prize money is incredible. There is a total of $20,000 at stake, with the winner receiving $10,000 and nine other placements splitting the rest. So, as you can imagine, there is a lot of pressure for the judges to select the best-groomed dog. There is so much to consider. Each dog is judged—breed profile, balance and symmetry, structure—and it comes down to the finish. There are so many tools and techniques used to create a great finish, but shears are easily one of the most important tools in your arsenal.
Before you can even use your shears, however, you need a great canvas to scissor on. The right prep work is the foundation that really separates one dog’s finish from another’s in the ring. When judging, I find that the dogs with the best prep are usually the dogs that end up with the best finish and scissor work. It seems you cannot have one without the other—there are no shortcuts.
The dog with the freshest bath, rinsed the best and blow-dried the best normally rises to the top when it comes to scissored breeds like Poodles and Bichons. So, it’s not surprising that most top competitors have found a winning combination. Many use a particular shampoo and never change unless they have tested it first. Some condition the coat, but many don’t do it right before the contest. Then there are a number of products that are used to enhance the volume and texture of the hair.
The other important part of prepping is the type of brushes and combs you use, and how and when you use them to prep your coat. It is not enough just to have one basic slicker brush—you need an arsenal of slickers. I find the slickers I like best for finishing coats are those with a ton of long, fine tines. There are a few brands to choose from. One is Chris Christensen, another is Tuffer than Tangles Slicker Brush. There is also a firmer long tine slicker that Ryan’s Pet Supply and The Groomers Mall carry, which I use the first time over the dog and then follow up by combing through and brushing again with the fine, long tine brush.
These types of brushes really dig deep, stretch and separate the hair, giving the hair a very even fluff. I always check my work by going through the coat several times with my 10-in. Poodle comb to look for any damp spots, patches of dead coat or tangles. The key is to angle the comb slightly and use a long smooth stroke, touching the skin and brushing away, rather then flipping the comb in the coat. This will provide a more consistent finish to the coat. While the long, smooth strokes are key, using a comb with longer, wide tines so as not to overmanipulate the coat is equally important.
But wait there’s more! I also use my favorite finishing spray, which is Crown Royal Magic Touch 3, over diluted. I mist lightly as I am brushing and combing. Then I will do a final comb through with a super-fine comb like the Utsumi. Utilizing all of these different tools during each groom really does make a difference.
Finding the Right Tools
Once the dog is prepared, finding the right tools that fit you can be challenging. For example, there are more scissors made for medium to large hands than for small ones. Some bottom handles are the right length for many hands, but then the thumb handle may be too long, or you may have a short thumb and have to reach for the hole.
Other issues are the weight of the scissors and your individual strength. Also, the length of the shear is important for control and finish work. One thing I can tell you is that if you get the right fit behind the pivot screw, you will get a lot more use out of the shear, as the important ergonomics are addressed in the handles.
The movement of scissors should be natural, or as close to natural as possible. The thumb needs to function with ease because repetitive stress motions should always be in the back of your mind. When you are properly fitted, your thumb gets most of the action. Your hand and fingers are the support and the thumb does the work.
One very important thing to remember is to have your scissors adjusted properly. The shear should open and close with ease. If you need to loosen the pivot screw, you normally only have one or two clicks before you cause the shear to become misaligned. This is one big reason for the overall breakdown of hands—second, of course, to improper fit. When your hands don’t feel good in a shear, it is very hard to put a great finish on a dog.
Using the Right Technique
When working with scissors, remember you should not feel strain in any part of your body. Keep your scissors in a comfortable, secure grip using a smooth up and down thumb motion. Keep your wrist as straight as possible to maintain good circulation in your hand. If you have trouble keeping your wrist straight, you can use a carpal tunnel wristband while working. Don’t make it too tight; instead, use it to remind you of the proper position for your wrist.
When scissoring, you want to always be looking ahead of your shears. Use your whole body to push the shears, not just your arm. Scissor with as much of your body as will allow you to maintain a strong, steady scissoring action. The motion should be a fluid one, working all parts of your body, and your eye should always be about the same distance from the dog wherever you are scissoring.
Remember to keep the shoulder in a normal position, and do not overreach. Allowing your arms to overreach for long periods while scissoring can cause injury to your shoulder, and your arm will not be as stable. Hydraulic tables are helpful here, as they can be set so that overreaching is unnecessary.
All that’s left is to understand is the impact of the direction your scissors point and the angle of the scissor blades when cutting. If you want a straight line, scissor straight up and down. If you want curves or angles, turn your scissor blades to angle accordingly.
Now we can look at blending shears. First, we have the blender with 21 or 26 wide, chunky-looking teeth, which can soften the outer coat of a well-scissored dog. A blender with 44 to 46 fine teeth, on the other hand, is great for finishing close to the skin. Neither is meant to do all your scissor work, but they are great to use on a dog after it has been completely scissored, creating a more finished look.
At the end of the day, that is what is all about. Finding every hair and presenting the uncut hair so it is as straight as possible, so when you use your scissors and blending shears over the coat for the last time, you know you have perfected the trim.
Chris Pawlosky is a Certified Master Groomer, professional handler, breeder, grooming show judge and successful pet store and grooming shop owner (The Pet Connection) since 1985. For 20 years, she served as national training manager for Oster Professional Products, where she developed new initiative educational material to educate at schools and conventions all over the world. Pawlosky is currently working with Judy Hudson to produce the Grooming Professors—a service through which the two industry veterans share their many years of grooming, competing, dog show conditioning and handling with groomers across the country via Facebook and through an interactive website where visitors can access webcasts and videos about everything grooming-related. PB