Expert groomer Jess Rona has tips on what to look for in the groomer responsible for keeping your pet looking good

By Kelli Bender
April 10, 2018 05:39 PM
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Dogs need to get their hair did too.

Keeping dogs well-groomed is important for their happiness and their health, but setting up a grooming session for your pet can be overwhelming, especially with news stories about grooming visits going terribly wrong.

To help dog owners sort out how to keep their canines safe during a trip to the groomer and what exactly their pet needs from these sessions, PEOPLE talked to Jess Rona, expert dog groomer and the author of the fabulous coffee table book Jess Rona’s Groomed.

Rona spends her days turning scruffy pups into stunning, cover model-worthy superstars, which you can see on her popular Instagram account, so she had quite a bit to say about what groomers should do to keep their clients happy and safe.

Credit: Courtesy Jess Rona

How are your services different from what you would find at grooming a session at a pet store like PetSmart?

I love this question! I am so different than that type of corporate grooming shop. First off, every client gets a blueberry facial and an argan oil face mask. My place is a quiet, cage-free environment. I use top of the line hydrating shampoos and every client gets deep conditioned. There is no cage-drying. Each pup gets a “Happy Hoodie” that protects their ears from the loud dryer. I am text only, so there are no phones ringing to interrupt, each dog gets special attention and we are quality over quantity.

Credit: Courtesy Jess Rona

What safety precautions would do you take before, after and during your grooming sessions? How do you keep dogs comfortable during a grooming session?

We have such a small volume of pups, so it’s easy to keep them safe. There’s not much I do before the grooming, but I encourage owners to avoid “baby talk” and ask them to have a calm demeanor when they drop off their pups (this is key for people who want a calm dog, by the way). This helps set the tone for the day. I have tons of little techniques for handling the dogs gently. I am always considering their joints, skin, and general comfort. I have a light touch with the clippers and scissors. After years of hand scissoring, the shears became an extension of my arm and I can feel the dog through them. I’m also always learning new techniques and focusing on getting better.

Credit: Courtesy Jess Rona

How do you dry the dogs who come to you for grooming?

We have a variable speed dryer with a dial, so it can be very low and quiet, or it can blast off dead coat for de-shedding. For the fluff out, I take the nozzle off the end of the hose and tuck it under my arm while I spray leave in conditioner and brush through. The dogs are boof balls after that. #Boofballs will be my new book title.

What can owners do to help prepare their dogs for a grooming session?

Brush! If you have a dog that gets matted, brush them as often as you can depending on their activity level. I love the Chris Christensen Mark 7 large wooden slicker brush.

What are the biggest safety concerns when it comes to dog grooming?

If groomers use metal blades on dogs (which is for super short haircuts), the blades need to be changed often and quickly as they heat up with these new high-powered clippers on the market. I hear of razor burn on the sanitary area so much with new clients it’s crazy. Groomers should use a light hand and a cordless clipper in those areas for detail work. Cage drying should be avoided for many reasons, if an untrained groomer cage dries a dog with a snub-nose (pugs, bulldogs, etc.) it can be dangerous. Sharp tools used around eyes and tongues and other sensitive areas can be dangerous with someone who hasn’t had the practice or experience.

How often should dogs be groomed?

Depending on the coat/breed and activity level, I usually say about once a month. I have dogs that come over every week, and dogs that come over ever 3 months.

Credit: Courtesy Jess Rona

Are there some breeds or types of dogs where you need to take extra precaution when grooming?

Snub-nosed dogs require a skilled bather who can wash and rinse their face (and apply oils to their folds) gently and cautiously. With smaller breeds like Yorkies and Pomeranians, it’s common for little knee joints to pop out so keeping the leg close to the body is key, older and overweight dogs need special care as well.

Credit: Courtesy Jess Rona

What kind of training did you got through to become the groomer you are today?

I got really lucky in my journey. I started off as a bather when I was a teenager and learned how to handle dogs, different skin/coat types and different products for different needs. I slowly started learning basics like how to trim nails, pads, etc. I would ask senior groomers at various shops I worked at to teach me. I left dog grooming for a bit, and when I decided to get back into it, I dove in hardcore. I studied the AKC book, studied Notes from the Grooming Table, got a subscription to, bought Super Styling Sessions DVDs by Jay Scruggs and Sue Zecco, watched the top level competitors at competitions, took classes and seminars from industry leaders, competed in grooming competitions, and studied grooming Instagrams from all over the world. After all that and 20 years I found my own style.

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What is most important to you when grooming a dog?

Communicating with the dog that I understand them. I want to convey to them, “I know you’d probably rather be chasing a squirrel or laying in a bed chewing on a shoe but we are in this together and I got you.”