THE HISTORY OF PROFESSIONAL PET GROOMING
(AND THE IPPGA)
By Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins, ICMG
Dog grooming is an ancient art – and necessity – that began in some form thousands of years ago in an era where humans and wolf/”proto-dogs” co-evolved into the two closest companion species on Earth. Recent fascinating archaeological and scientific information documents how close early humans and early dogs have always been, and how they shaped not only each other’s cultures and economies, but how their relationship likely secured each other’s very survival.
We know from observing primates today that grooming each other is a bonding experience, one that denotes caring and closeness. Very possibly early primitive humans as they gradually began a domesticated relationship with early proto-wolf/dogs may have “groomed” these “dogs” somewhat as gratitude for the protection that they provided to their family. The proto-dogs in turn got better food from the cast-off human trash.
And while dogs were seen as unclean by early human writings, such as the Bible, which led to expressions like, “you dog you” as an insult, or “lying with the dogs” as denoting filth, gradually dogs became more and more valued in human society globally for their economic functionality.
The earliest historical records of actual dog groomers as a job or profession comes from the Middle Ages where full time “professional” “kennel boys” worked on feudal estates in Europe maintaining the hunting and herding stock for the noble Lord. These young men would live with the dogs, caring for them in every way. They would even brush their teeth and had the first grooming tools – brushes and combs and scissors – to take care of these dogs who served a very real purpose to the benefit of all in that state. The dogs made any hunt much more successful. They aided agriculture with their herding and working abilities. They rid the lands of vermin that would threaten to destroy crops and spread disease. Dogs were economically valuable, and so were, therefore, their caretakers. Early dog “groomers” were primarily serving a practical need.
It appears that grooming first began to evolve into an art form in and of itself once we began to see the curly coats, the early Poodles in 16th century France emerge. There are lithographs and art centuries old in which women are seen to design more aesthetic cuts. But even those early haircuts had a practical origin.
Take, for example, the familiar “Continental Cut” of the Poodle – shaved legs with ankle “bracelets” and “rosettes” on the hips, a pom-pon on the tail, and longer hair on the “jacket” covering the front part of the chest and torso. This cut was not as highly stylized as it is today, but there are pictures of it from hundreds of years ago that show it in the same pattern, much more scruffy looking than today, because it protected the joints and vital organs. Less hair on a poodle meant less matting and tangling. But the dog needed the protection of its coat, especially on the hips, ankles, tail, and chest where the vital organs are located, and so hair was left there. The poodle was a water retriever – this cut was eminently practical. Today it has become the standard of art in our profession.
Throughout most of history, and still in many parts of the world today, the dog was primarily a tool and useful colleague in life’s work. The evolution into “pet” also began in the Middle Ages as an expression of “Upper Class” status in social hierarchy. The wealthy, the elite, would keep these wonderful dogs also as pets – a real status symbol. To breed a dog that was primarily a companion, smaller to live inside, or to sit on the Lady’s lap, or with longer, less practical hair, that needed to be coiffed as the Lady that owned her. These were signs of wealth that were often envied as many other forms of conspicuous consumption.
It took centuries of social and political evolution for that kind of “status dog” ownership that served little practical purpose, except to provide love and friendship, to reach the masses. But pet ownership today is now widespread and not reserved for the elite. And once again, our two species continue co-evolving to canine-human mutual benefit.
Dog grooming made great strides with the advancement of the tools, such as clippers in the 20th Century, that raised the bar in terms what we groomers are capable of achieving. With the increasing demand of widespread ownership of dogs as pets in homes, the professional opportunities for groomers, as well as our status, grew in recent decades. In the post World War II modern era, where dog and cat pet population equals and even exceeds the human population in the United States, grooming has grown into a high demand, generally adequately well-paying profession requiring significant skill, talent, and training. Which explains why there are far more job openings for groomers than there are people to fill them.
Vocational educational grooming schools in the United States began to appear as early as the 1960’s. Early leaders in our industry include the great Sam Kohl who wrote the first grooming text books, and who started leading grooming vocational schools, along with the legendary John Nash. Later, videos, such as a series by John Stazco, allowed groomers, no matter where they lived and worked, to learn from industry leaders. Sally Liddick and Gwen Shelly founded Barkleigh publications which bound our industry together through its wonderful communications: magazines, conferences, websites, social media, etc.
Early visionary groomers, such as Pam Lauritzen, in the 1970’s and 80’s began to encourage professional organizing and training for the industry as a whole. Companies that manufactured tools and products groomers were using helped in organizing and promoting educational opportunities for groomers. Some of the greatest advances for groomers, such as the series of competitions that results in the selection of Groom Team USA that represents us in international competition, have been made possible by not only hard-working volunteer groomers, but also by significant support from manufacturers of grooming equipment and supplies. A history of these early leaders has been published by industry leaders Teri DiMarino and Shirlee Kalstone who are also working to build a collective Professional Groomers History Project.
Since pet groomers were not, and are largely still not, regulated, industry leaders led with the idea that we would develop our own certification standards, much as the Bar Association regulates attorneys or the AMA credentials doctors. Pam Lauritzen helped found the PPGC – the Professional Pet Groomers Certification. The idea of a not-for-profit grassroots groomer-led certification organization evolved into the IPG – International Professional Groomers, Incorporated, under the leadership of Chicago-area based Judy Kurpiel. Now IPG is a private for profit corporations, as are the NDGAA and ISCC. IPG is under the leadership of Linda Easton Warner and Dr. Jim Warner. NDGAA, the National Dog Groomers Association of America was founded by the father of its current Executive Director Jeff Reynolds in 1969, who continues the legacy of training and certification. And Pam Lauritzen, whose leadership early in certification was key, still runs the ISCC, the International Society of Canine Cosmetologists, with a respected and elite curriculum.
In the early 1980’s the first ever grooming conference was held in Chicago, which I had the great privilege to attend – more later on this. One of the nation’s first Certified Master Groomers, credited with contributing to the invention of the important high velocity dryer, Romaine Michelle, owner of Chicago’s Master Grooming, won that first conference level grooming competition. Jerry had also invented Creative Grooming with the use of color and non-breed cuts, which has become a huge industry and professional association in its own right. The idea of conferences for groomers was greeted with gratitude and excitement by groomers everywhere. Gwen Shelley and Sally Liddick of Barkleigh Productions, to whom our industry owes much, began to offer over a dozen conferences in different regions of the USA each year. At these conferences groomers can attend workshops led by industry experts, grooming competitions, and trade shows help us learn more and access the best in tools of the trade.
Most people in the public are not aware that the pet grooming profession in the USA is almost entirely unregulated. No required training or monitoring of skill or conditions, such as exists with, for example, the cosmetology field. No state at this time requires groomers to be licensed. We have heard grooming clients react with concern, even shock and some fear, to hear that this is the case. Currently, the public operates with the pet grooming industry under the caveat emptor principle – let the buyer beware. There is no standardization and no requirements for anyone to hire themselves out as a professional groomer. For example, if a customer asks, “do you know how to groom a Soft-Coated Wheaton Terrier?” that the groomer says “yes, I do!” actually there is no law and no guarantee that groomer has to know anything about what cut is standard for that breed.
While currently no groomer licensing exists and there are no requirements nationally or in any states in order to be able to charge for one’s services as a pet groomer, this may change in the near future. One county in New York recently adopted groomer registration (not licensing) where at least groomers have to identify themselves and be on a list. No other requirement. Other states, California and New Jersey, have seen recent legislative efforts around some form of state licensing for groomers, but none have been yet finalized or have become law. Rhode Island may be leading the way with a groomer licensing bill that is actually based on industry standards, not one of the hostile bills such as the California model that would have put veterinarians and dog catchers in charge of a grooming industry they knew little about. Still it appears that licensing and regulation, which many of us believe could be a good thing if done correctly, is coming – not “if” but only “when”. Groomers in every state are being urged by pet industry professionals such as PIJAC and WPA to plan to make sure our voices are heard in policy discussions that affect our work.
In the absence of governmental regulation, Grooming Industry leaders have begun to encourage us to “regulate” ourselves inside states. Several important national and international organizations now test and certify the competence and skill of groomers, and professional associations for groomers like ours here in Illinois, the IPPGA, now exist to help groomers learn best practices in the industry. These certifications are entirely voluntary credentials that many good groomers now seek in order to improve themselves – and without state law mandates.
Groomers that are certified with IPG, NDGAA, or ISCC, the major grooming certifying organizations, will proudly display their certifications that they earned through rigorous voluntary testing and training in their businesses. The public is urged to ask for, look for, and insist upon, certified groomers and groomers who belong to professional associations committed to continuing education and the highest standards of ethics and safety, when deciding to hire to care for their pets.
New ways to certify groomers and the safety of their salons are even begin explored by the American Kennel Club, the AKC, which is the largest dog organization in the world. Dog lovers everywhere will be excited to see what improvements the AKC’s expertise in dogs brings to our industry.
The public is encouraged to ask questions of their groomers about our training, protocols, etc. Interview us as you would anyone you might hire to take care of members of your own family.
THE IMPORTANCE OF CONTINUING EDUCATION
Like all other professions, the grooming industry is constantly growing and changing. New discoveries, new science, new products, innovative techniques can make us even better at what we do. We in IPPGA welcome this and get very excited to learn new things, even those of us with decades of experience and mastery.
Here’s one example of why continuing education for groomers can be very important. For decades, squeezing and draining a dog’s anal glands during the bath has been standard procedure for most groomers. Many do it still. But recent longitudinal studies that many veterinarians are now telling professional groomers about revealed that routinely squeezing these delicate glands were actually causing two major problems down the road for the dog – they were breaking down the rectal wall muscles so that in later life, the dog may begin to have problems with normal rectal functioning. And second, they found that draining a gland actually in many cases caused it to over produce more of the smelly stuff, actually creating more problems than if we just let nature take its course. Veterinary leaders began to tell groomers at conferences and through professional recommendations that we stop doing this routine procedure. Owners often ask for it when they see their dog “scooting”. But this scooting is normal behavior that helps dogs expel from their glands naturally. Dogs will usually also be able to expel what they need as they defecate. Too much scooting, redness, discomfort, etc., – any problems in the anal glands should be treated by a veterinarian anyway, not a groomer. Good groomers who stay up on best practices are no longer routinely squeezing your dog’s anal glands, unless they are working under direct partnership with the family veterinarian. And this has meant that many of us have to spend time – repeatedly – telling our clients about this change in best practices in our industry. Change happens slowly and requires education of all veterinarians, pet owners, and groomers.
Ear cleaning protocols are also evolving rapidly. We used to be taught to pluck ears with hair in them bald, to keep them “clean”. But good science discovered that was actually causing more problems than it was solving, including allowing bacteria and other toxins directly into the bloodstream via the tiny capillary bleeding that such plucking of live hair was causing. Today groomers, who stay up on the most recent information, know that while dogs are highly prone to ear problems in their lifetimes because of the L-shaped design of a canine ear canal, the ear is a natural self-cleaning mechanism. If a dog ear is pink, clean and health, groomers are told to leave it alone. Professional ear cleaners can be drying and can even create conditions leading to infection where none existed before. Groomers can clean the outside of a dirty ear, but the inside must be left to the veterinarian. Groomers can finger-pluck dead ear hair ready to come out, and can trim the rest so that the blockage of the important ear canal, which needs to breathe, allows maximum air flow. But we are not supposed to do anything more than, as with anal glands, refer them to the family veterinarian.
I have found that both the grooming industry and the veterinary profession are, shall we say, diverse in their member education about such new trends based on better science. Even some vets don’t know these new protocols in ears and anals, much less all groomers. Hence the importance of continuing education. The pet owner is, once again, encouraged to read up, ask around, check credentials, and challenge assumptions.
This is just one of the many reasons why organizations like IPPGA are formed – so that we can all help educate each other about what is best for your pet.
The real beginning of groomers gathering in a conference setting and having competitive grooming, happened right here in Chicago. The All American Grooming Conference was begun in the early 1980’s by a visionary and legendary Des Plaines area groomer, Jerry Schinberg, on whose shoulders we all now stand. One of Jerry’s last conversations with me was about the importance of resurrecting a state association in Illinois to help groomers to better themselves and the possible impacts of movements in other states to better regulate and possibly even license groomers.
There had been a previous incarnation of a professional association for groomers in Illinois in the 1990’s that gave us a good start, but it did not survive into the 21st century. All organizations require time and effort from passionate volunteers and money to help the organization function. Subsequently Illinois has not had a professional grooming association in decades.
In 2014, after inspiring conversations with the beloved late great grooming icon Jerry Schinberg, who was then suffering from terminal cancer, about the importance of professionalism for Illinois groomers, I began a Facebook group in 2015 for an Illinois Professional Pet Groomers Association, allowing Illinois groomers to more easily exchange ideas. I had been one of the nation’s first few dozen Certified Master Groomers in the mid-1980’s, although I did not groom full time all these years as I was a full time high school history teacher.
After conversations with industry leaders in the state such as Dan Vaughn, Certified Master Groomer, who runs groomer education programs in Chicago, my grooming business Love Fur Dogs decided to donate the necessary legal fees and incorporated IPPGA in 2016. We consulted with national leaders who ran similar state groups elsewhere in the USA. With deepest thanks to the inspiring example of our colleagues in the California Professional Pet Groomers Association, whom we have modeled ourselves after, and helpful advice from Teri DiMarino, their President, we have adopted their excellent Code of Ethics and Mission statement as our own model.
IPPGA’s current Board of Directors includes Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins, Dan Vaughn, Sheryl Woods, and Jessica Lynn Pendergrass.
IPPGA members are required to work currently or formerly in the grooming profession or in some aspect of grooming businesses. They must live or work in Illinois or in a bordering community such as NW Indiana, the Quad Cities, or the St. Louis area. And they must sign a pledge to uphold our Code of Ethics and to abide by the national PPGSA Standards of Safety, Care, and Sanitation.
Illinois is now one of a handful of states that has now formed a state association devoted to promoting safety and care, ethical practices, and education of ourselves and the public about the importance of grooming your pets. Of all the states that border Illinois only Wisconsin has a state association of Groomers currently.
YOUR FAMILY, YOUR PET, AND YOUR PROFESSIONAL GROOMER
We leaders in the professional pet grooming industry throughout the United States now organize ourselves and set standards for ourselves, much as lawyers and doctors do. Groomers should proudly display in their businesses the training and certification, testing and memberships that they participate in to demonstrate their commitment to excellence in working with these precious live dogs and cats who are so well loved by their families that they bring them to us for care.
We believe that the public is best served by groomers who work to educate themselves and demonstrate a level of skill and commitment to best practices.
While many good groomers can and do learn to do excellent work through the more traditional route of interning and apprenticing with more experienced groomers, some groomers are self-taught or grew up in the industry. Professional groomers should proudly and happily answer questions from prospective clients about their training, their protocols, their experience, their philosophy, their continuing education, etc.
The public can ask to tour the facility or even stay to watch the groom of their pets. Most groomers welcome client interest and are proud of the hard work they do on these pet family members, and are happy to educate the public about what we do.
Especially when discussing price for services, many pet owners in the public seeking “bargain prices” are amazed when they actually observe the groom just how incredibly hard groomers work to earn their wage. Pet grooming is both physically and psychologically demanding. The groomer must control a living animal while bathing, drying, brushing, dematting, and cutting its hair and toenails. Pets often resist grooming, especially if they have not been trained to accept these procedures from their youth. And most pet owners have learned that they are not able to adequately groom their own pets at home – it is simply too hard to do. Professional pet groomer perform vital services to the health and well-being of your pet, and therefore, your family. Paying your groomer a living wage is money well spent.
Professional groomers truly study very hard to learn their craft, care deeply about the pets you entrust to them, and work far harder each day than most pet owners know. “Bargain-priced groomers” may not be insured if your dog gets injured in the grooming process, and they may not have any education at all about what kinds of products, tools and techniques are best for your pet. Professional pet groomers earn every penny they are paid – and then some.
And given the fact that there are hundreds of millions of dogs and cats in the USA, and only tens of thousands of groomers, clients do come to see the value of finding a good professional groomer, booking their appointments well in advance, and then keeping those appointments on time, paying the groomer a fair wage for the work asked of them, and then seeing the benefit in terms of a happier, healthier pet that feels better and is easier to manage at home. Good groomers are in short supply not just in the USA but all over the world. Demand always exceed supply.
IPPGA is building a state-wide directory of professional pet groomers who are publicly acknowledging their commitment to the highest professional standards in our industry. Clients in the public are encouraged to seek these groomers out and interview them when searching for a professional pet groomer.
Your pets are living, feeling, wonderful creatures who are beloved members of your family. You can feel good about choosing a pet groomer who has publicly pledged to abide by our IPPGA Code of Ethics, which includes continuing education. If your pet groomer is not a member of IPPGA, ask them about it, and encourage them to join. There is no dues – only a pledge to excellence in care.
Contact us at IPPGA@aol.com for more information.
Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins, ICMG, was one of the first few Certified Master Groomers in the nation, certified in 1985, who has groomed full or part time for over 30 years. Jennifer owns Love Fur Dogs in Glencoe, Illinois, and was recently named the Best Groomer in Chicagoland by the Chicago Tribune. She is also a retired high school and college History Teacher with 25 years in the classroom as a professional educator. Jennifer believes that she is the only CMG in the nation who is also a professional trained Historian, but she stands ready to be proven wrong.