Mastering the Right Touch
Not only do groomers need to have the best clipper for the job, they need to know how to use it for great results, as well as optimal comfort.
Groomers are always on a quest for the best clipper—after all, it is a central, indispensable tool for groomers. Fortunately, there is a great deal of information out there for groomers looking for the right clipper. Having the best clippers for the job, however, is only the first step in achieving a great end result while also maintaining the groomer’s comfort.
Groomers spend a great deal of time holding their clippers each day. Using clippers is one of the repetitive motions that can cause injury over a period of time. How a clipper is used has a significant impact on the user’s body, as well as on the clipping results.
So, is there anything you can do to optimize the use of the clipper, both to ensure good results and to reduce the chance of sustaining an injury? You bet there is.
Back to Basics
Clippers are supposed to remove dog hair, leaving a smooth, even finish. When they don’t perform the way they should, the problem could be the clipper, the blade, the dog’s coat or operator error.
Operator error is easy to correct. The hard part is being aware of what you are doing. Most of us are functioning on autopilot, and it takes a conscious effort to be aware of how we are holding tools. It’s an effort worth making.
How you hold your clipper will affect the results. I used to tell students to hold it like a pencil, not like a weapon, which made them laugh but got the point across. Holding clippers clenched in a white-knuckled grip as though ready to do battle with the dog’s coat is not a recipe for success. It also encourages us to use too much pressure, a sure way to cause clipper irritation (clipper burn).
The weight of the clipper is all that should power it along the animal. And don’t try to clip faster than the clipper cuts hair. That also leads to using too much force, an easy habit to fall into, especially when you are under stress. Check every now and then to ensure that an annoying customer or tight time schedule hasn’t got you doing it.
The angle at which the blade is held against the coat will affect the finish, too. Lay your blade flat on the coat, full contact. Now lift the clipper so the teeth are touching and the back of the blade is about a half-inch away—that works best most of the time. Lifting too much can lead to unevenness or even bald spots.
We can’t do much about the dog’s coat, but we can be sure we are using the best tool to achieve the results we want. It is best to use a high-speed clipper on a very thick coat, as the clipper will tend to leave less clipper tracks—springers and cockers are notoriously victims of this. It may help to go a blade shorter, or go a tad longer, using a plastic blade guide, especially when using a clipper vacuum system. Check the angle at which you are holding your blade. Trying raising and lowering it to see if one angle or the other will reduce the tracks. If all else fails, try carding the coat to remove some of the undercoat after you’ve clipped.
If the clipper itself is the cause of a less-than-satisfactory result, the clipper may need maintenance. An adjustment as simple as oiling the blades can improve performance. Of course, they must also be kept sharp. Clippers need maintenance, too—under full-time use, the average clipper needs to have its blade drive changed at least quarterly. Mark it on your calendar, do it regularly and you won’t have to worry about whether that’s the cause of slow, poor or raggedy clipper work.
Keep your body in mind when selecting clippers and get one that’s comfortable to hold, and make sure you have two. It’s vital to have two sets of clippers—if one breaks down in the middle of a busy grooming day, you won’t want to be left trying to work without them. There’s another reason as well. Instead of keeping the spare clipper in the box, use two all day long; just make sure they are different. Swapping between a heavier clipper to do matted clips and a lighter one to do regular grooming, or using an A5 style on bodies and a lighter trimmer for faces, sanitary trims, and pads/feet can keep your hands, wrists and arms feeling better.
Find the comfortable balance point on the clipper, where most of the weight is behind your grip—this is easier on your hand and wrist, and keeps your grip soft. Most groomers habitually hold all clippers in the same place, but the best grip for a groomer may differ by brand or model. Take a moment to try holding the clipper in slightly different spots.
If working with the same clipper for a long time, change your hand position occasionally. That can be enough to slow down harmful effects. Taking a minute after each dog to shake your hand out or massaging it for 30 seconds doesn’t hurt, either.
As with anything else in grooming, if you don’t have a well-prepped dog, the finish won’t be good, and that applies to clipping as well as scissoring. Just as an artist prefers a well-prepared, clean canvas to paint on, practice your art on a clean, perfectly fluff-dried coat for best results.
Carol Visser is a Nationally Certified Master Groomer and Certified Pet Dog Trainer. Formerly a pet product expert for PetEdge, she and her husband Glenn now own Two Canines Pet Services in Montville, Maine, which provides grooming, boarding, training and day care services to Waldo County.