Illawarra dogs got ready for the limelight as a pet grooming competition unfolded for the students end-of-year assignment at Yallah TAFE.
Schnauzers, cavoodles, Pomeranians, border collies and other breeds patiently sat for their pampering session with 18 students.
Albion Park teenager Indiana Robinson was among the students competing on the last day of her certificate three in pet grooming.
"I take a lot of pride in doing what I do because it's not just for looks, you get to help the animal," Indiana said.
The 16-year-old said she had always wanted to work with animals and has six dogs of her own.
Her new skills have helped her start her own business Bubble Pups Grooming.
"A lot of people were saying that I wouldn't be able to do it but I'm here," she said.
"Eventually when I'm older if I can have enough money I want to offer free grooms to dogs in shelters to help them get adopted."
Pet groomer shortage
According to TAFE teacher Bonnie Anderson, the students graduation comes at the perfect time as the industry is experiencing a "dog boom" and is in desperate need for more groomers.
"[With] the demand of dogs that have built up in the last two to three years, there is nowhere near enough groomers," she said.
Research by Animal Medicines Australia, a peak body representing animal health companies, found 37 per cent of dogs in Australia have been acquired since the start of the pandemic.
Wollongong loves its oodles
The demand is exacerbated by the type of dogs Illawarra residents are buying: low-shedding dogs with higher grooming needs.
"The most popular breed seems to be anything crossed with a poodle, so you've got all these oodle breeds coming out and they all require grooming," Ms Anderson said.
Cavoodles, a cross between cavalier King Charles spaniels and poodles, are the fourth most popular dog in Wollongong, with 1964 cavoodles registered in the Local Government Area in June 2023, according to the Office of Local Government.
Ms Anderson said her own grooming appointments were fully booked, with most Illawarra pet groomers experiencing the same thing.
Judge Sharon Hall, who has worked in the industry for 25 years, agreed groomers were struggling to keep up with the demand.
"Unfortunately, the industry just doesn't have enough groomers out there to meet the needs of everyone that's having lovely new family members," she said.
The Nowra woman was judging students on their symmetry, how they use their equipment, cleanliness, pet handling, and - most importantly - that they met the brief from pet owners.
"We see a dog that's an empty canvas, and we may have ideas for what we would like to do [but] ideally we need to make sure that the customer is going to be satisfied"