Editor’s Note: Participants in creative grooming and design should always use “PET SAFE” color product.
Rebecca Stern grew up surrounded by dogs. But when she found herself in New York City after college with no pets in her life, she started looking for a way to spend more time with animals. At the same time, she was looking to explore new ideas for a documentary film.
From the very beginning, Stern knew she wanted to create a documentary exploring women and women’s art. That’s when she came across creative dog grooming. It was something she had never seen before, and “it was something that hasn’t really hit the zeitgeist quite yet,” she says. She was instantly fascinated.
Shortly after discovering creative grooming, Stern was introduced to Angela Kumpe as a creative groomer for her documentary. Stern was immediately drawn in not just by the technicolor spectacle of the creative grooming world, but by the camaraderie and friendship that the competitors shared.
Four years later, the documentary “Well-Groomed” premiered. “It is a look into our world,” Kumpe says. “You can see the dogs are our beloved family members and that they’re happy and healthy and truly enjoy being part of creative.”
So what exactly is creative grooming? Here’s a look into the captivating and colorful world.
Becoming a Creative Groomer
As a child, Angela Kumpe would help her aunt color her Poodles for the holidays. She remembers putting them in the sink and using food coloring and Kool-Aid to color them. As an adult, she bought out an old grooming shop and started going through a collection of old Groomer to Groomer magazines. One of the magazines featured creative grooming on the cover.
“I was instantly addicted,” Kumpe says. She started flipping through the magazine to find out more about the cover. “Before that [magazine], I didn’t even know about grooming trade shows or competitions. I entered in the very next show that I could find.”
Kumpe also co-owns a Poodle who is shown in Conformation. In Conformation, dyeing of dogs is not allowed.
What is Creative Grooming?
Creative grooming competitions highlight the creativity of individual pet stylists. To compete, groomers transform their dogs into artwork by utilizing creative sculpting, color, character creation, and design. In some competitions, all styling is done within the ring during a time period of around two to two-and-a-half hours. In other competitions, like Intergroom, the competition is pre-trimmed and pre-colored, meaning most work is done prior to judging.
While most dogs in creative grooming are Poodles, any dog – purebred or mixed-breed – can participate. Kumpe says while any breed can have creative touches like accessories and colored highlights, to compete she recommends you have a thick, curly coat you can sculpt such as a Poodle or Bichon Frise. Groomers may scissor, clip, trim, and apply color or decorations to their dog.
Competitors are required to use safe, non-toxic products.
Making Sure Your Dog is Healthy and Happy
Susan Sholar, an AKC delegate who has been grooming dogs for over 40 years, emphasizes that the dog’s happiness and health are important aspects of creative grooming. In fact, Sholar created the AKC S.A.F.E. Grooming Certification Program to emphasize her commitment to grooming safety. “This is a fun, new area of grooming and owners are loving it,” Sholar says. “However, it is very important to avoid a product that could be toxic to pets. Purchase color product that is made for the use on pets.”
Just like with other dog sports, competitive grooming and creative design help build the bond between owner and pet. “Groomers often build this bond with the pets they groom as well, but owners will experience an entirely different bonding session when doing daily or weekly maintenance with their pets with thorough brushing and adding a touch of color.”
Despite how safe and enjoyable creative grooming can be, many people still view the activity negatively. Stern ran into the stigma surrounding creative grooming as she worked on her documentary, but she thinks it all comes from a good place. She says many times, people are animal lovers and they worry when they see something that they might have questions about.
“I think it’s an unfortunate side effect of the internet that people then take those questions and create very intense and negative responses to it without asking the question,” Stern says. “I think that if people were more educated on exactly what the groomers were using on their animals and also the fact that the animals they’re seeing are perfectly well maintained, as loved and healthy, it’d be a good thing.”
As a creative groomer, Kumpe thinks people make a lot of uneducated assumptions. She says most people don’t realize the dyes are completely safe and made specifically for pets. People also assume the dogs stand for long periods of time.
“The fact is, these dogs don’t stay on the table any longer for most dyeing or grooming sessions than any other typical Standard Poodle,” Kumpe says. “Even though some of these designs require 20 to 40 hours of work, it’s not all done at one time. We usually work on one leg or the tail, or maybe the heads set in a session. We don’t do the whole thing in one day.”
Sholar emphasizes that the dogs love the attention that comes with the activity. “None of the professional creative design groomers at the shows could have dogs stand on the table if they were not enjoying the attention,” Sholar says. “That attention not only comes from those doing the creative grooming; when these dogs leave the stage, everyone wants to take pictures, touch them and baby talk to them as long as possible. The dogs absolutely love this.”
Some states ban the dyeing of dog’s coats. However, creative grooming – when done responsibly and correctly – can be a safe and fun activity to do with your dog. AKC’s mission includes working to protect canine health and wellbeing. This includes appropriate training and oversight for professional groomers to ensure that each dog’s safety and well-being is always a primary concern for groomers.
AKC also advocates that professional groomers should pass a course and exam on basic health and safety standards, such as AKC Safety in the Salon or a similar program, prior to being licensed as a professional groomer.
Sholar teaches the AKC Safety in the Salon course as part of the AKC S.A.F.E Grooming Certification Program (Safety, Assurance, Fundamentals, Education) to educate groomers on how to safely work on pets.
Watch Creative Grooming Action
You can join the spectacle of creative grooming by attending Intergroom April 11 – 14 at Meadowlands Exposition Center in Seacacus, New Jersey. The Creative Runway show takes place on Saturday at 7 p.m. The Creative Challenge competition takes place Sunday afternoon and is free to watch for all seminar and trade show attendees.
Susan Sholar will be teaching her AKC Safety in the Salon Course at Intergroom. This is the first step in becoming an AKC S.A.F.E. Certified Groomer or Salon. You can sign up here. If you can’t make it to Intergroom, you can also take the course online.
To see even more of this colorful world, you can watch Angela Kumpe in Rebecca Stern’s Well-Groomed documentary by finding a screening near you. In April, the film will screen in Sarasota, Florida; Denton, Texas; Winston-Salem, North Carolina; San Francisco, California; and Toronto, Canada.