online main art for pooch story
online main art for pooch story

Dog eat dog world in search of best pooch pamperers

DOG grooming is one of the most fiercely competitive arenas in the "sporting" world, but it wasn't that long ago that the profession was one carried out by "ex-cons out the back of a pet shop", according to one of the judges on Channel 7's new reality TV show Pooch Perfect.

The show, which starts this week and is hosted by Rebel Wilson (and her canine offsider Russell), will see 10 professional grooming pairs fight it out with the blow-dryer and scissors as they work their magic on a parade of adorable pets.

It's basically Project Runway for dogs.

International styling experts Amber Lewin and Colin Taylor are the show's two judges, who will cast a critical eye over the final makeovers as the dogs take to the catwalk after each round.

Pooch Perfect judges Colin Taylor and Amber Lewin.
Pooch Perfect judges Colin Taylor and Amber Lewin.

NewsCorp Australia this week launched - your one-stop shop for everything dog related. There's the Bark About directory which lists everything from groomers, to dog-friendly cafes and parks in your area, plus an exclusive four-part video training series by animal behavioural experts Ryan and Jen Tate.

Grooming is big business across the globe and the industry enjoys a solid reputation, but Southern California-based Lewin, who has represented the US in competitive grooming, says it wasn't glamorous when she started out.

"Back in the day grooming was dirty, it was a dirty little hole in the back of a pet store," she says.

"It was not a desirable, glamorous job. It was for ex-cons basically. They had a hard time associating with people so they put 'em in the back with the dogs."

Lewin's mum owned a pet shop in Riverside, east of Los Angeles, and the only help they could get with the grooming side of the business came from former inmates at the local prison where grooming had been taught.

"My mum being a single mum, that was our only income and they'd come in and show up super-late, they had drug problems, they'd do a line in the bathroom, it was bad," she says.

Lewin, who was just a teenager at the time, had to step up and fill in for often-absent groomers and was soon a dab hand at it.

Rebel Wilson is the host of Pooch Perfect on Channel 7.
Rebel Wilson is the host of Pooch Perfect on Channel 7.

"By the time I was 14 I could groom any dog," she says.

"By 17, having learned all the skills, I opened my first shop, I was out on my own."

Lewin soon realised the value of taking such a service on the road and custom-built a mobile grooming salon. She says clients were shocked there was legitimate player in such a "flaky" market.

"I'd show up to people's houses and they were like 'wow, you have all your teeth, you're not going to steal my lawn jockey, you look like you're it'," she laughs.

"It was such a good thing for me, it was so easy to make money. All you had to do
was brush your teeth, comb your hair and show up, they were ecstatic."

The industry has evolved dramatically over the past few decades and Amber has been heavily involved in both the business and competition sides.

Viewers of Pooch Perfect will soon find Lewin isn't going to be a soft judge - and she issued a warning to those who might come up against some harsh feedback.

"When a judge tells you something you just take it, you don't fire back," she says.

"And if you fire back with me, I'm like dynamite."