Creative Canines: How Moore Became the Center of the Creative Grooming WorldMay 04, 2019
Photos provided by Lori Craig and Melissa Wallin
Painters often talk about bringing a “canvas to life” as they try to describe the process of bringing their artistic vision to life. For Moore resident Lori Craig, it doesn’t hurt that the canvas she works on is actually alive. And breathing. And ready to play at any given moment.
Craig, who owns Doggie Styles Pet Groomers in Moore, is a well-known name in the world of creative grooming, the only artistic genre which produces jaw-dropping works of art that will potentially play fetch with you.
“I entered my first competition in 2007,” said Craig. “I put a lot of time and effort into a design that was Marlon, the father fish from Finding Nemo…and I ended up losing to a cocker spaniel wearing a t-shirt.”
But another creative groomer loved Craig’s Marlon design and encouraged her to stick with it. So she came back and won the competition the following year. Craig went on to become a two-time world champion in the creative grooming category. She became friends with the girl who had beaten her the previous year. Her success in the competitions has taken her and her friend around the world.
“I’ve been across the U.S., Scotland, London, and so many other places,” said Craig, “We began an organization called ‘Creative Groomers’ and we travel, teach, and compete.”
The seeds of this life were planted by Craig’s grandmother, who was a dog groomer. Craig idolized her, but her parents wouldn’t allow her to have a dog of her own. So when she was 18, she got her first dog, a border collie. A couple of bad experiences with groomers led her to the decision to become a groomer herself.
“I went to a local school that was just amazing,” said Craig. “It was a 400-hour course and the lady that ran it was into show grooming, so she taught me to do more than just shave a dog. I learned to do clips and styles the right way.”
Craig’s entrance into the world of creative grooming came back in the early 2000s when she took her border collie to a Frisbee Dog competition in Dallas. The hotel she stayed in was also hosting a creative grooming competition.
“I had never seen anything like that before I walked in,” said Craig. “I was amazed at all of the colors and styles. I came back from Dallas and went out that weekend and bought my first standard poodle.”
Standard poodles are the (pardon the pun) gold standard when it comes to creative grooming. It’s almost as if the poodles were created to be creative with.
“The coats absorb the color and hold shape perfectly,” said Craig. “you can carve and mold and sculpt and color. And it sucks in the color like a sponge, so it works out really well.”
It also helps that standard poodles, a breed known for being quite intelligent, absolutely love the attention that comes with creative grooming.
“First of all, they are clown dogs,” said Craig. “They love showing off, and they love getting attention.”
And according to Craig, they also love the attention that goes along with grooming.
“I can't keep my dogs off the grooming table,” said Craig “I just look at my grooming table, and they jump on it. The attention that they get out in the public setting is just unbelievable. The dogs actually get a little mopey if they're not colored up because they don't get the attention they do as when they're colored up.”
Melissa Wallin, co-owner of Central Bark Pet Grooming in Moore, is another creative groomer who works with standard poodles. Wallin says that dogs thrive on the attention.
“It’s true that some dogs don’t really like grooming,” said Wallin, “But that’s not true of poodles. Poodles are used to being groomed every 4 weeks anyway, and they love the attention they get.”
But for Craig and Wallin, the most important message they want everyone to know about creative grooming is that it in no way harms the dogs, physically or emotionally.
“My dogs (3 standard poodles) are like family to me,” said Craig. “They are with me at work and home. We go to the dog park all of the time. I love them, and I would never mistreat them in any way.”
Craig also uses a product called ‘O Paws,’ which is created specifically for dog fur.
“It’s a semi-permanent stain and completely safe in every way,” said Craig. “People kind of freak out when they hear the word “semi-permanent” but you need to keep in mind that dog hair grows quickly. It will be shaved off and go back to normal.”
Wallin says people who worry about a negative impact on a dog’s emotions can rest easy.
“If a dog doesn’t want to be groomed, they let you know pretty quickly,” said Wallin. “Creative grooming isn’t in any way harmful, painful, or embarrassing for dogs. The truly love the attention they get.”
Wallin has been working with dogs since she was 13 years old. Back then she washed dogs in her grandmother’s grooming business. After high school, she thought about other careers, but her love for dogs and grooming brought her back to that business.
“I can’t imagine doing anything else,” said Wallin. “I went to school to be a teacher and realized, ‘I can’t do that.’ So I came back to grooming because I love it.”
Over the past five years, she has found herself getting more involved in the world of creative grooming.
“Watching Lori Craig is what inspired me to get into carving and coloring,” said Wallin. “She’s so well-known in the world of creative grooming, and I remember thinking, ‘I want to learn to do that.’”
Craig is a past champion at the World’s Grooming Competition at the Groom Expo in Hershey, Pennsylvania. It’s the world’s largest creative grooming industry event. You might also call it “The Wonderful World of Colorful Poodles.” It’s a place where you’re likely to see poodles with tribal designs walking past another dog whose hair is dyed in the shape of a Looney Toons character. Thousands of groomers travel from all over the world each year for the event to display their living canvases.
Craig has won the highly competitive show twice. But her favorite years were the four years she won “The People’s Choice” competition.
“This is where they allow the crowd to choose a favorite,” said Craig. “I’ve won that four times, and it’s really a lot of fun because it means so much that people appreciate your doggies and your work. Your doggies get a cover story and photo session, so that’s fun as well.”
This will be Craig’s last year to compete. She and a few other friends are stepping out of the ring this year and plan to get into judging. They hope to improve the world of creative grooming in the years to come.
“The rules of creative grooming haven't changed over the last 20 years,” said Craig. “There’s a real need to update things and make changes that will help this continue to be a healthy and popular competition for the dogs.”
Wallin hopes to continue to compete. She still relishes her first competition in 2013 with her standard poodle, named “Dexter.”
“He was Hairy Potter,” said Wallin. “And then the next one I did with Dexter was with him as a dinosaur.”
Wallin says she hasn’t been able to compete as much as she’d like, but she hopes to do so more in the future as the world of creative grooming continues to grow.”
“I wish there were more grooming competitions closer to Oklahoma,” said Wallin. “I'm so busy it's hard to get out and travel, and you really do have to travel to go to some of these competitions. I’m thinking of going to Atlanta in 2020 to compete in the big pet fair there.”
As top-level groomers, Craig and Wallin both stay busy with dog-grooming clients, most of whom just have regular sessions for their dogs. But they both say they perform the occasional creative grooming assignments for clients.
“Oh, it’s nothing like the competition grooming,” said Wallin. “It takes multiple sessions to groom a poodle for completion, so what we do for clients is things like coloring jobs and adding a little bling to their pets.”
Craig said, “OU logos can be trendy…and fun things like a doggie Mohawk.”
Both groomers say the most important thing about their work is that they love dogs and want them to be happy and healthy. Craig said the bulk of her business is regular grooming and that while her clients love the creative designs she comes up with for her standard poodles, they prefer something a little more grounded for their own pups. Craig likes to jokingly use that as leverage to make sure they take great care of their canine friends.
“I have a lot of customers come in and bring their dogs, and they look at my dogs, and they say that is just amazing but please do not do that to my dog,” said Craig. “These days, when people bring their dogs in, and they aren't well-cared-for, I warn them, ‘If you don't start taking care of your dog I'm going to send it home with something really amazing.’”