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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.
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.”
Becoming a Creative Groomer
As a child, Angela Kumpe would help her aunt color her Poodles for the holidays. 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 that is shown in Conformation. In Conformation, the 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 – whether 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 dog with a thick, curly coat that you can sculpt, such as a Poodle or Bichon Frise.
Groomers may scissor, clip, trim, and apply color or decorations to their dogs. Competitors are required to use safe, non-toxic products. Participants in creative grooming and design should always use pet-safe color products.
Making Sure Your Dog Is Healthy and Happy
Susan Sholar, an AKC delegate who has been grooming dogs for over 40 years, notes 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 use on pets.”
Competitive grooming and creative design can 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.”
Stern has dealt with criticism and curiosity when people ask about creative grooming, but she thinks it all comes from a good place. Many times, people are animal lovers and they worry when they see something that they might have questions about. “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,” she says.
Kumpe says most people don’t realize the dyes are completely safe and made specifically for pets. People also assume that 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 for as long as possible. The dogs absolutely love this.”
Some states ban the dyeing of dogs’ 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 well-being. This includes appropriate training and oversight for professional groomers to ensure that canine safety and well-being are 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.