Form & Function in Coat Care Tools
When selecting the brushes and combs they use in the salon, it is important that groomers focus on elements such as safety, ergonomics and suitability to the job at hand.
How many brushes, combs, deshedders and dematting tools do we professional groomers really need? And how do we know if we have the right ones?
I know stylists that use one or two items the majority of the time, and others that have dozens of different tools to suit every conceivable need. So, what are the important considerations we should take into account when selecting the coat care tools we use?
As with so many of our tools, personal preference is the guiding factor, and ergonomics come into play, too. It doesn’t matter how well-designed and made a brush is—if it isn’t comfortable to use, it isn’t worth using.
With that in mind, ask for recommendations from friends and colleagues, and try a variety of options to find just the right fit.
“A lot of selection is just trial and error,” says Keili Somerlot, sales manager at Pet-Agree Grooming Supplies. “My best advice is to go to as much continuing education and competitions as you can, see what people are using and what they are using it for, and try what you think you’ll like. Always be willing to try new things and new brands.”
Choosing a quality product can be as important as picking the right tool for the job at hand. However, it is important to avoid equating price with quality or suitability. “Brushes vary hugely in cost, but you may find that the right one for your needs is the less expensive one,” explains Somerlot.
Joel Weinstein, vice president of sales and marketing for Bass Brushes, points out that one way to look for quality is the appearance of the product.
“They say don’t judge a book by its cover, but a manufacturer who cares about design will want to communicate with you through the appearance of the product—clean finishes, striking materials and elegant shapes,” he says. “Function is important, and manufacturers should offer tools that meet or exceed the needs of the job, but both aspects are what lead to a good reputation for the brand.”
To Nicole Kallish, animal education manager at Andis Company, quality goes hand in hand with ergonomic design. “A quality tool is one that not only feels comfortable and secure in your hand, but also has a balanced weight. Investing in these types of tools will add efficiency, versatility and even income to your shop,” she says, using Andis’ Premium Firm Slicker brush as an example.
According to Kallish, this brush not only works well on all coat types and will help eliminate tangles or matting while also loosening hair from the undercoat and topcoat, its soft-grip design and ergonomic handle is comfortable and will keep hands from becoming fatigued.
Swees America is another company that believes quality is important, as is safety. “When evaluating a professional grooming tool, it makes sense to investigate how the tool is constructed,” says CEO Eddy Cathaud. “Besides checking the fit and finish, spend some time hefting and handling the tool to confirm that it won’t be fatiguing with frequent use. The handle on our Eazee deshedder, for example, has been ergonomically balanced for accuracy and ease of use.
“Another indication of quality is that the manufacturer has taken steps to ensure the product is reasonably safe. Unlike ordinary metal deshedding tools, our composite plastic comb has smooth, rounded teeth that can’t scratch the pet’s skin or snag sensitive living hair. Attesting to its popularity, the Eazee is currently used by groomers in more than 60 countries worldwide.”
As the inventor of the Groomers Helper safety and positioning system, Chuck Simons knows a thing or two about keeping groomers and their canine clients safe in the salon. That is why he chose to sign on as a distributor of ActiVet brushes, a company that utilizes design and quality manufacturing to provide the safest, most comfortable experience possible for both pets and pros.
“ActiVet designed a brush face of the highest-quality, milled (meaning the tips are blunted, not sharp cut wire) German stainless steel in a pattern where more tips of the tines embed themselves in the micro-knots of mats at different angles,” he explains. “So, when you ‘tap and pull’ with the brush—the proper way to use it—you explode more of those micro-knots each time, effectively unraveling the mat in half the time.”
Those safer, blunt tipped pins are not, in fact, really pins—they are u-shaped staples that, if bent, can be pulled out, straightened with a hemostat and put back in. This design also means that they don’t come loose or break off.
The Right Tool for the Job
While quality, safety and ergonomics are important elements, groomers need to know that they are using the right tool for the job in front of them, and that depends on what kinds of pets you groom. Exactly what is it you are asking the tool to do?
You need to have the right tool on hand for every animal you will work on, and that may mean dozens of brushes for some groomers—but not all. For example, differing brush sizes can make working on various sizes of dog easier, but some groomers are quite content with a one-size-fits-all approach.
Generally, short-coated dogs will benefit from a rubber curry—perhaps even used in the tub while soaped up—or a good bristle brush. Many groomers find that natural bristles do a great job of distributing natural oils to provide shine and removing shed hair, so they can work surprisingly well to finish longer coats.
Combs, various rakes and carding tools work on short to medium coats, and only time will tell which ones you prefer for particular jobs. Wahl offers a line of tools with a double-sided shedding blade (a tool originally used by equine enthusiasts). One side features triangular teeth and works as a carding tool to remove excess shed coat, while the other side is smooth, making it great for sluicing water off an animal before toweling or force drying.
Most groomers find that their go-to brush is a slicker, but we shouldn’t neglect pin brushes. Slickers can—and often do—damage coat. Ask any show breeder of coated dogs and most will tell you they use pin brushes and combs for the most part, reserving soft, gentle slickers for matted areas.
Of course, most show dogs are brushed as often as is needed to keep their coats in the pristine shape, which doesn’t call for much dematting. Unfortunately, most of us professional groomers are not in that position very often, as most of our clients come in on a schedule that suits their budget more than their dogs’ needs.
When dogs become matted, we can use product to help slickers glide through coat and brush only clean coats as often as possible. Both techniques reduce split ends that cause new matting, but it’s also a good idea to keep a couple of pin brushes on hand for any dog with medium to long coat that isn’t horribly matted. Pin brushes can do more detangling than I would have thought before I’d worked with them much. My sister shows Old English Sheepdogs, so whenever I visit, I get the chance to hone my pinbrush skills, as I’m not allowed to pick up a slicker. The less damage we can do to coats, the less matting we’ll have to deal with next time the dog comes in.
Debi Hilley, popular blogger and owner/stylist at A Cut Above in Albany, Ga., uses slicker brushes almost exclusively—a regular Tuffer than Tangles for nearly every dog and a PawPrint Extra Large Hard Pin slicker with one-inch pins from Groomers Mall for thick, long or matted coats. “I replace them every six months, or if the pins become bent or fall out,” she says.
Keeping our brushes and combs in better condition is something that many of us could be doing better. Just as clippers need regular maintenance of moving parts to stay in top shape, or most dryers need their brushes replaced from time to time, our hand tools may show wear as well.
In order to reduce the risk of brush burn, groomers should not only be aware of using the right “pat and pull” technique, but also of the rigidity of the pins on a particular brush. When brush pins lose their resiliency through normal use, it makes it easier to cause brush irritation, so the brush should be tossed and replaced at that point. I keep a new brush in its packaging on hand not only to have a new one ready to use, but to compare my current brush against, so I can see if the pins are getting too malleable to use safely.
“Replace brushes or combs as soon as you see signs of wear like pins or tines bending and falling out, or if the cushioning on a brush starts to fail,” recommends Kallish. “Alongside clippers and trimmers, combs and brushes are just as important when grooming pets.” PB