Back to Basics
Groomers can benefit from a refresher course every now and then, even on skills they practice day in and day out.

Clippers and shears are the most used tools in a finish groomer’s arsenal. As such, it can’t hurt to periodically review the basics on handling them as effectively and correctly as possible.

It seems simple–just pick up the clippers, turn them on, apply to the animal, and presto, a neatly groomed pet. Sometimes it really does work that way, but here are a few reminders to help on those days that it doesn’t:

Take a look at how you are holding your clippers. They should be comfortable in your hand, not held too tightly or loosely enough to drop. Position your hand where the balance feels best, not too close to the blade. Are you clutching them in a fist? That’s an invitation to use more muscle than needed, increasing the chance of clipper irritation. Instead, hold them as you would a pencil, between your first two fingers and thumb, lightly.

Be aware of the angle at which you hold your clippers, as this can affect how close the blade cuts. The blade should normally be at about a 45-degree angle to the skin. This allows the smoothest cut. Keep it at the same approximate angle all the time, as changing it to a smaller angle will leave the hair longer, and tilting the blade to a steeper angle can make it shorter, potentially leaving bald spots on very thin, fine coats.

What about those annoying clipper tracks? I call it the “corduroy effect” and hate to see it on my dogs. It’s easy to do, especially on a soft, thick coat. What causes it? It is inherent in the fact that one of the clipper blades moves back and forth. This is no problem on most hair types, but soft coats show the movement of the blade, which is unsightly.

Clipper tracks also happen when the blade is not making its full “swing” as it goes back and forth. This can be caused by a dull blade, an insufficiently powered clipper or, most likely, a blade drive that needs to be replaced–all easy enough to check and correct. Sometimes just oiling your blade can reduce or remove that corduroy effect, which may also be caused by someone forcing a clipper through the coat, not letting the clipper do its work. You may also be able to fix it by pausing, brushing the coat and reclipping the area.

Sometimes, clipper tracks are simply a result of  the coat you are clipping. Try going against the grain of the coat for the finish. Remember that since your blade is now lifting the hair as it’s being clipped, instead of pushing it down a bit, the length will be shorter. You’ll have to go up a couple of blades to get the same length. For example, if you are clipping in nose-to-tail direction with a #7 blade, you will need to use a #4 when going against the coat’s grain. If a #10 is being used with the grain, a #7F will give about the same length clipping in reverse.

One of my favorite fixes for this is to get a clipper vacuum system. Since the hair is being pulled up by the vacuum effect, it tends to leave a nicer finish in the first place.

Most clipping is done in the direction that the coat naturally grows, as it is faster and less likely to cause clipper irritation. However, it is really a matter of personal preference. Some groomers habitually clip against the grain on faces like those of poodles and cocker spaniels, because it creates such a smooth, even, close finish.

Shears, like clippers, should be held securely but not tightly. Using the thumb and ring finger allows you the widest opening shear, which leads to a smoother finish. It’s also the hold that puts the least strain on fingers and hands. A common error is to put fingers too far into the rings, causing an awkward hold. The finger pads should rest inside the rings, not up to the knuckle. While scissoring, your hand should be in a comfortable position with your wrist relaxed and fairly straight and your elbow at your side. Don’t reach with your hand or twist with your wrist more than absolutely necessary; instead, move your whole body to keep your hand and arm in that comfort zone. Keep your hand still–no moving it in and out toward the dog, “patting” each time you close the shear.

Watch the entire length of your shear. Many accidents are caused by the portion you are not using to cut hair.  Most stylists use the center of the blades, and if you are using a long shear, it’s easy to lose track of where the tips are unless you make a conscious effort to be aware.

Probably the easiest poor habit to fall into, and the one that sparked this article when I caught myself doing it, is to lose sight of organization while scissoring. Always scissor in the same pattern, moving smoothly from one area to the next. Don’t bounce from one spot to another and back again.

Many top stylists will tell you to start at the back and go forward, and at the bottom and go up. Whatever you choose, move along from beginning to end. Once done, you can go back and correct any little unevenness.

Although basic, these tips may help keep your most important tool, your hands, in shape to keep grooming longer, make it more comfortable to do so, and maybe even help keep your work at its best.

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.