What It Takes to Start a Dog Grooming Business

Love giving dogs their baths? A career as a dog groomer might be right up your alley. But do you really have what it takes?

By: libbydorazione
You’ll need to be prepared to handle all breeds and personalities. By: libbydorazione

If you’re reading this article, chances are you’re a dog lover.

And as a dog lover, owning your own dog grooming business may sound like the perfect job for you.

Washing and brushing amazing dogs all day? Sign me up!

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However, it’s not all fun, games and dog hair.

Part 1: What It Takes to Start a Dog Grooming Business

To be a dog groomer, you’ve got to make some big decisions — and we don’t just mean the size of the dogs.

With the help of Kathy and Melissa Salzberg’s How to Start a Home Based Pet Grooming Business, let’s take a look at what you’ll need to do.

Be Realistic

It’s easy to get carried away when you have an idea you love. You might be envisioning yourself happily scrubbing down an amiable Golden Retriever while you hum a merry tune — and to be fair, that could happen.

Not often, though.

You’ll be dealing with a variety of dog breeds and individual dog personalities. Some dogs love bath time and will be that “dream dog.” Other dogs will fight you, bite you and struggle the entire time.

As a dog groomer, you have to be prepared to handle all breeds and all personalities. Meet with prospective “clients” before taking on a job if possible to gauge personality. Try to think ahead and foresee any issues that could come up. Remember, as the groomer you’re liable if something goes wrong.

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Finances

Even if you operate out of your home, you still have some major financial considerations. For example: Do you have a safe and secure place in your home to groom dogs, or will you need to add on a room?

Here are some other things to consider when making your budget:

  • Equipment: tubs, showers, brushing tools, combing tools, shampoos and conditioners, extra collars and leashes
  • Licensing: In order to run any business, you need to have a basic business license. You may also need to have other licensing in place to be a dog groomer. Check with your local town or municipality to find out exactly what you need ahead of time and how much it costs.
  • Utilities: You know you’re going to use a lot more water — and likely more electricity and/or gas as well. Be prepared for the hike in your bill.
  • Insurance: Always a must to protect yourself and your clients.

Unfortunately, there’s a lot more to it than just getting a couple of brushes.

Ready for your business to open. By: Tony Alter
Ready for your business to open. By: Tony Alter

Fitness

It may sound strange, but as a dog groomer you want to be physically fit. You’ll spend a lot of time on your feet and carrying dogs. The fitter you are, the easier this will be.

The Salzbergs explain: “Groomers are prone to back problems from lifting heavy dogs and carpal tunnel syndrome from the repetitive motion of scissoring, brushing and hand stripping…. A groomer’s legs can suffer from standing all day over a long period of time. Circulation problems, varicose veins, overstressed tendons and ligaments — these are common ailments in this profession.”

Don’t be caught off guard by all those aches and pains. Plan ahead for them. Train yourself to groom when sitting on a stool, for example, to help with leg problems. Wear a brace on your wrist if you need to, and plan to get plenty of exercise.

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People Skills a Necessity

Yes, you’ll spend a lot of time with dogs. But each and every pet you groom will have a human — and some of those good folks are very particular about how their dog is groomed. According to the Salzbergs, you’ll need to be able to handle criticism with aplomb:

“You will need them to explain why these sometimes obsessive owners should trust you to groom little Fluffy. You will need them to educate your clients about caring for their pet’s coat between visits so that it doesn’t resemble a bramble bush each time it comes in. You will need to tactfully inform these folks that little Benji is sorely in need of an obedience trainer, or that he needs to be neutered, so that he will stop trying to leave his personal marker on every square inch of the world.”

All of these issues and more will crop up in the course of your time as a groomer, so it’s best to develop a thick skin and the people skills necessary to handle them.

So, what do you really need to be a pet groomer?

The Salzbergs say:

“…love for animals, good business skills, sufficient capital to get started and stay in business, physical health, the drive to work hard, people skills, the desire and commitment to master the proper skills, the dedication to keep learning and improving, a thick skin, an open mind and of course — a sense of humor.”

Patience is key when grooming animals. By: KeystonePetPlace

Part 2: The Must-Have Traits of Successful Pet Groomers

As we’ve discussed, pet grooming is a fun and rewarding job that allows you to work with animals and even make them feel better.

It’s also a tough job and not for the faint of heart.

But fear not — here’s an overview of what you’ll need to become a great pet groomer.

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Here are the 7 must-have traits of successful groomers:

1. Dedication

This is not usually a 9-to-5 job.

You’ll find yourself going in early and working late when you have animals who need your help, especially if you choose to work in a shelter or kennel.

Some animals who’ve been badly neglected may end up on your table, and those animals will need a great deal of time and attention — even if it puts you behind schedule.

2. Patience

Going to the groomer can be an intimidating experience for pets and their humans.

“To be a successful pet groomer you need to be able to work with both animals and people,” advises Jane Hurwitz in Choosing a Career in Animal Care.

“Remember, many people think of their pets as children, so they might feel anxious leaving them with you. Also, keep in mind that dogs and cats can be very noisy, especially if they are frightened.”

Some animals will need a lot of calming down before they are settled enough for their spa day. You may also have to spend time reassuring people that you won’t harm their pet during their time with you.

A love of animals is an absolute must if you want to be a pet groomer. By: KeystonePetPlace

3. Attention to Detail

Like humans, pets can have all manner of health issues that affect their coat, skin, eyes and other areas of the body.

As a groomer, you’ll need to be able to accommodate skin eruptions, sensitivities and other medical issues while taking care to give the best groom possible.

A good rule of thumb when dealing with a pet you haven’t seen before is to give them the “once over” with your hands to search for any abnormalities.

“It is advisable to check thick and matted coats for warts and cysts — a groomer’s worst headache,” say Eileen Geeson, Barbara Vetter, and Lia Whitmore in Ultimate Dog Grooming.

Once you’ve detected any issues, you’ll need to be careful to clip, shave or clean around those areas.

4. Physical Fitness

You certainly don’t need to be a marathon runner to be a groomer, but you do need to be reasonably fit.

You will need to lift and assist pets of all sizes on and off the tables as well as in and out of crates, and you’ll have to carry a bunch of tools on your person. You may also need to restrain out-of-control animals.

Know that you’ll spend a great deal of time on your feet and bent over tables and tubs, so you want to make sure your body can handle the demand.

5. Strong Stomach

Animals who are overexcited or frightened sometimes lose a little bit of that house-training, if you catch my drift.

Many dogs suffer from submissive urination, where they urinate when they’re stressed or afraid. Some will (unfortunately) not have had their needs attended to by their parents before being dropped off and defecate.

Other animals react strongly to stress and can vomit or have diarrhea. In The Dog Aggression Workbook, author James O’Heare warns, “Stress wreaks havoc on the body, and the digestive system is usually the first system to react poorly.”

Get a dog’s-eye view of a day in the life of a groomer:

6. Love of Animals

This one seems obvious, but you really do need to love animals and understand them.

Because animals can’t talk, it’s our responsibility to read their body language and listen to what they’re saying.

Dogs, cats and other animals who require grooming will let you know when they’re overstimulated. If you’re not “listening,” it makes it much tougher on them.

If there are some animals you simply cannot handle, speak to other groomers in your building to see if they mind taking those on. If you work solo, have other groomers’ names on hand to refer these people to.

It helps to establish a great network between groomers for you and makes you look much more professional.

7. A Firm Backbone

Sometimes people need help understanding what the limits of a groomer are. It will be your responsibility to say no when needed for the sake of the animal.

Some reasons you may need to politely but firmly stand up for yourself include:

  • Pets who are overly aggressive and cannot be safely groomed.
  • Pets whose humans have a history of leaving them at the groomer’s long past the agreed-upon pickup time.
  • People who are no-shows on multiple occasions.
  • People who have been rude, abusive or disrespectful to you or your staff.

Confrontation is difficult, but you have to consider your safety, the safety of your staff and, above all, the safety and well-being of the animals.

Pet grooming is an amazing career and offers you the opportunity to work with animals and help make a difference in their lives. But it sure isn’t a job just anyone can do.

If you’ve got the dedication, patience, attention to detail, physical capability and backbone — plus the iron stomach and a love for animals — you’re well on your way to success.

So let us know — do you think you have what it takes to start a dog grooming business?

Additional Resources

Melissa Smith

View posts by Melissa Smith
Melissa Smith, discussions manager for Petful, has been researching and writing about pet behaviors for several years. A longtime animal lover, Melissa is a professional pet sitter on Cape Cod through her company, Fresh Start Services.

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