Grooming

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The first dog groomers – or, more correctly, “shearers” – started appearing in France in the mid 19th century, when Poodles were all the fashion among the middle classes. This is when the various clips that are still around today started to be developed. In those days however, the lion or continental clip was given to dogs used in duck hunting so as to protect them from the cold and provide greater buoyancy. These shearers were later to set themselves up in the street with a wooden box, providing rather superficial grooming services which we would nowadays describe as general care.

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They would gradually evolve into professional groomers with specialised equipment. Nowadays, they are no longer even regarded as a luxury, bearing in mind that some breeds cannot do without proper grooming.

The coat is the first thing anyone notices about a dog. The state of the coat is a reflection of its general health, so it needs to be taken care of. However, everyday grooming – which is what the owner does to keep the dog clean – should not be confused with beauty grooming – the purpose of which is to bring out the best of the dog’s morphology and character while also hiding any faults to produce a perfect profile. For professionals, good grooming is inconspicuous and respectful of the animal.

Companion dogs seldom require grooming, except for a few selected breeds such as the Poodle. Most grooming is for the simple pleasure of the owner. The story is very different when it comes to show dogs though, which are assessed by experts. In a show, the dog represents an entire breed, so it has to be perfect.

Le matériel

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Clearly, only healthy dogs can be groomed. Dogs suffering from a contagious disease or skin problems should not be groomed. The same goes for dogs that lack up-to-date vaccinations. (In some countries, dogs must have current anti-rabies vaccinations).

Equipment

Specialist grooming requires a high table with a strap that attaches to the collar and possibly a second one securing the thighs and attached around the abdomen to prevent the dog from making sudden movements when scissors are being used. Other equipment includes clippers with various combs, essential for Poodles; a large-tooth comb for long or curly hair; several pairs of scissors (straight, curved, trimmers); a hand comb to puff up the hair; and a stripping knife.

Technique

Equipment is not everything of course; you also need to know how to use it. Grooming has come on leaps and bounds down the centuries. Today it is split into three stages:

- First a mild shampoo, adapted to the dog’s hair, is applied to remove dirt and dead skin that can tarnish the coat. It may also boost the colour.

- The hair is trimmed in several steps:

• Clipping, which is often reserved for Poodles, requires great care to ensure no comb marks are left and the hair grows back evenly everywhere.

• Stripping, which is the removal of hairs by hand or with a stripping knife; this is especially useful for coarse-haired dogs.

• Trimming, or styling, which is part of general grooming.

- Other care tasks regularly performed by the owner include keeping the eyes clean, removing excessive hair from the ears (to minimise the risk of grass seeds in summer and make it easier to keep the ears clean), cleaning teeth, clipping the nails if needed and checking the footpads.

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This is the normal grooming procedure, although different dogs obviously require a different approach.

For example, dematting is unnecessary in shorthaired dogs (such as Dalmatians and Labradors) and coarse-haired dogs (Beagles, Short-haired Pointers). At a pinch, a simple stiff bristle brush will suffice during moulting. A leather glove followed by a chamois can be used to add the characteristic sheen to the coat.

In dog with long and semi-long hair (German Shepherd, Spitz, Spaniel), it is important not to remove living hairs or to break them with too hard a brush. A currycomb is much more appropriate.

Dematting is essential in dogs with straight or curly long hair (Afghan Hound, Chow-Chow, Bichon Frise) to remove dead hairs. In the Chow-Chow, the coat should be brushed up the wrong way to add volume; in the Fox Terrier, the beard should be trimmed to produce a square head.

Finally, the Poodle is a much more complicated story. Several clips are acceptable, although the Lion or Continental clip (topknot, leg bracelets, pompom), the English Saddle clip (combed back hair in a ribbon, shaved muzzle) and the Modern clip are the three official ones. The Lamb clip (shaved feet and body, fluffy head, shaved muzzle and ears) is rather commercial.

Because of the huge range of clips and grooming styles, groomers need to be very knowledgeable about the morphology and general character of the various breeds so they can select the right approach for a particular dog. They can pick up the theory at college, but they will learn most things during the job. Part of the groomer’s job is to hide any defects. If a dog is too tall, the hairs on the legs will be left longer to give the impression that the dog is shorter than it is while if the limbs are curved, the groomer will cut more from one side than the other to even things up for the eye.

Groomers must have a good technique and good knowledge of the breed standards, but they also need more intangible qualities, such as patience, tact, a good touch and a good understanding of psychology.

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Groomers must have a good technique and good knowledge of the breed standards, but they also need more intangible qualities, such as patience, tact, a good touch and a good understanding of psychology.

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