Serenity Pet Salon & Spa: An apprenticeship can turn a passion into a career

MADISON, WI – When one thinks about starting or switching to a new career, the first thing that comes to mind is training. This thought is immediately followed by the question of how much is the training going to cost and how long will it take before you’re ready to land your dream job.

But if you’re passionate about animals and are looking at a career working alongside them, you’re in luck! To become a pet groomer, there’s no schooling, expensive certification, or vast amounts of time wasted in the pursuit of landing a great job. All you have to do is become an apprentice to a professional dog groomer.

“Apprenticeships are an ideal way to get into the world of pet grooming,” says Lis Johnston, owner of both Serenity Pet Salon & Spas in Madison. “It’s hands-on from the get-go, and there’s good money to be made.”

Johnston says people often get the term “apprenticeship” confused with “internship,” but there is a difference.

“An internship is usually an unpaid or low-paid temporary and finite position,” she says. “But an apprenticeship is paid and can last for as long as the mentor and apprentice wish for it to.”

Johnston says that most people who love animals and want a good job working with them are unsure of the process of becoming a groomer. She says the internet has not really helped clarify how simple it actually is to start down the grooming path.

“If you search for how to become a pet groomer, the first thing that pops up are hundreds of ‘schools’ offering years of training and an eventual certificate for a hefty chunk of change,” she says. “I wouldn’t go so far as to say they’re bogus or scams, but I will tell you they’re not necessary.”

Johnston herself is in a position at the time being to take on multiple apprentices. And as the #1 Dog Groomer in the U.S. as ranked by Groom Team USA, she has a lot of experience to impart to those who wish to learn the art of grooming animals. 

“When I was 18, I got my first grooming job,” she says. “I had no professional experience, and on the very first day I was given a dog to groom without the benefit of anyone training me how to do it. I basically made it up as I went!”

She says new hires at Serenity – whether they are experienced or apprentices – are encouraged to learn from her and each other. She notes that most people who want to become groomers have some sort of inherent ability to work with animals, so she nurtures that talent.

“It’s really not so different from, say, becoming a florist or a mechanic,” she says. “People follow a certain career path because they already know they’re good at gardening or tinkering with machinery. It’s a natural progression.”

Johnston says a lot of people are put off by the myth that dog groomers have to become certified, which sounds costly. In reality, there isn’t any additional schooling or certification necessary, although she herself is a “Master Groomer.”

“A Master Groomer is just someone who has a certificate because he or she has demonstrated the ability to groom many types of dogs for the National Dog Grooming Association of America,” she says. “Truly, anyone with a passion for grooming can become a Master Groomer. It just takes a lot of practice, which you can get as an apprentice.”

Johnston says typically she likes to start apprentices off as bathers. That way they get used to introducing themselves to and handling the dogs. They also get to know first-hand about different breeds like the way their coats grow.

“Bathers learn a lot very quickly,” she says. “The salons are very busy, sometimes booked for six weeks out. And we’re looking at adding a third. Each dog that we see is a learning experience because they all have distinct personalities and needs.”

Johnston says a career in animal grooming is extremely rewarding, and she often wonders why more animal people don’t try to pursue it.

“I think people just don’t know how to get started,” she says. “Or maybe they think too routine, like doing the same thing over and over again. I can tell you, though, that it’s a lot of fun and every dog is a new adventure! It’s definitely not boring!”

About Serenity Pet Salon & Spa

Lis Johnston has been grooming dogs since 2004. She opened Serenity Pet Salon & Spa in September of 2015. She is a National Certified Master Groomer, a Groom Team USA Member, a National and International Award-Winning Stylist, and she conducts seminars nationwide. Serenity Pet Salon & Spa’s mission is to give pet owners ease of mind by providing a compassionate grooming experience for their loving animals. They have an open and welcoming environment wherein their professional groomers are better able to provide pets with the best care possible. They consider every client a member of their family and they treat every dog like one of their own. They have two locations in Madison: Westside at 6039 Odana Rd. and Eastside at 5550 Eastpark Blvd. To learn more, visit