Groom your Show Dog

August 3rd, 2008

West Highland White Terrier, Emma, playfully strolled into Wagging Tails Professional Stylists, a pet grooming salon in Sydney, where she comes regularly for one hour of pampering to be clipped, bathed and brushed to perfection! And that’s how you groom your show dog.

Emma isn’t a showdog, but she would look like one in no time, announced Angela Christou, professional stylist and owner of Wagging Tails. Besides doing grooming rehabilitation, Christou specialises in traditional and stylised clip styles for all types of breeds. Dogs Life spoke with Christou about grooming show dogs and the role it plays in winning Best in Show.

On first glance, a beautifully groomed dog will catch the judges eye so the dog starts off at the top of the list, she said. Pet grooming is where the dog is groomed as quickly as possible to make the animal feel comfortable, but show dog grooming is about getting it right so the dog comes out perfect. It takes a lot more effort and time.

It takes years to build the skills to groom show dogs, Christou said, and if the groomer isnt experienced enough, it should be left to the individual breeders. They should teach the next generation how to groom the show puppies that they sell.

I think breeders should give lessons on how to groom their puppies when sold, she said.

According to Christou, most breeders normally groom their own dogs because they can’t risk a new groomer ruining the dogs coat and affecting their chances of winning. Breeders usually strip the coat (using a stripping knife blade) during certain times of the year and this retains the hard texture of the coat. It is very time consuming and most groomers do not have the time, she said.

Grooming standard

The most important thing in grooming your dog for a dog show is to be able to follow instructions and know your breed standard and what is required, explained Christou.

The standard for the West Highland White show dog is that the coat must be double-coated. The outer coat must consist of harsh hair, about 5cm long and free from any curl with an undercoat, which resembles fur. The coat should be shorter around the neck and shoulders and properly blended and trimmed to blend the shorter bits into the furnishings (longer on stomach and legs).

The ideal show coat is hard, straight and white, said Christou. Second best to the ideal is the hard straight coat which may have some wheaten tippings, and the least desirable is a fluffy, soft coat.

Faults include a soft coat, silkiness or tendency to curl, and any open or single coat. Also, any coat colour other than white. The furnishings are softer and longer but should never give the appearance of fluff, she said.

So when grooming, we want to disguise minor faults. We want to get rid of any curl and we want to enhance the harsh white coat, she said.

Pampering Emma

Every breed has different grooming requirements. The Westy needs regular brushing, clipping and trimming every few months to keep its rough coat free of mats. Emma is obviously a beautiful dog charming and elegant looking but it seems she is not show dog quality due to certain characteristics that do not meet the breed standard.

For instance, a Westy in show must be about 28cm (11 inches) at withers, have a tail length of about 12cm to 15cm (five to six inches) and be covered with harsh hair, Christou related. Emmas tail, coat and size do not meet those requirements.

Christou put Emma on the grooming table and brought out her tools to begin the pampering session. She began with Emmas head, clipping the top one-third of the ear tip (outside and inside the ear) and finished off the trimming around the outside edge of the ear tip with detailing shears.

The ears are hygienically cleaned prior to bathing. This means if there was any hair within the ear canal it would have been gently removed, she said. Ears are swabbed with a mild ear cleaning solution so they will have no odour or greasiness after the bath.

After trimming the ear tips, Christou began clipping Emmas hind. We want to make sure that the pattern line from the body to the undercarriage furnishings are well blended and invisible, she said.

Christou then brushed out the canines curls for any dirt or knots before the bath to avoid her coat knotting up and possibly getting worse after the bath.

Making sure you have a knot-free coat before bathing means you will have a knot-free coat after bathing, she said. Christou then began working on the eyes. She combed Emmas hair forward around her eye area and with curved scissors in reverse she trimmed a frame around the eye and softened the area with thinning shears. She then gently cleaned the eye area to remove any dirt.

Finally, time for a bath! Emma was shampooed and rinsed thoroughly with warm water. We want to always use high-quality products and we used a whitening shampoo with Emma that also adds body and lustre to her coat, she said. Christou also used a whitening conditioner, which she wouldn’t use on Emma if she was attending a dog show because the conditioner makes the coat softer.

However, we are going to use a coat texturising spray when drying so this will balance out, she said.

Emma went back onto the grooming table and waited patiently to be towel-dried. After vigorously towel-drying her client, Christou brushed out Emmas coat and then pulled out a superjet dryer, which blows out gentle, warm air not a high-velocity dryer that tends to blast the coat and scare the poor dog.

The head coat must be dried in all forward-only directions and the aim is for the head to look like a chrysanthemum, she said. Also, we don’t want to see any gap between the ears. We want to make the coat stand up to shape the face.

Christou completely dried Emmas undercarriage and leg furnishings straight without any curl. She said groomers who groom for effect use lots of the texturising spray, which hardens, straightens and adds thickness and body to this area. Most groomers will not use any texturising sprays because they are only offering and have time for a standard grooming service, she said.

Now that Emma has taken a bath, her nails are softer to cut. Christou cuts the nails just above the quick so when Emma walks her nails are clear off the floor. If you hear clcicking, nails usually need trimming,” she said. The front feet should appear larger than the rear, with thick pads and strong nails. The feet should point straight ahead.

Christou said she trims the feet by first cutting the fur to create a box around the pad. While Emma stood in a natural position, Christou removed the hard corners and round them off to create perfectly trimmed foot.

The groin area and under the tail.

Trim or strip the coat (if needed) prior to bathing but definitely not on the day of show.

Check the pad and feet area and trim any fur between the pads.

Fifteen minutes before a bath, lather pads and in between

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