The key to getting grooming right is knowing your breed and its coat-type, and the best place to start learning about the breed is the Standard, writes Deborah Ryan.
We all have our favourite breeds and, once we fall for a breed, we usually become obsessed by finding out as much as we can about it.
The first port of call is usually a successful breeder or handler of the breed who can give advice on its grooming needs. You can buy books or search the internet to find out about the breed’s grooming needs, or watch your breed around the show rings.
Most of my skills in grooming my breeds have been learned in a breeder’s kitchen with a cup of tea. I have spent many hours watching, followed by many more hours practising my skills and learning from my mistakes. You can never learn too much about a breed you are grooming.
Know your breed
Grooming needs for pet and show dogs can be quite different; however, the one thing that does not change is that you need to know the breed’s structure, topcoat, undercoat, coat texture and movement.
Understanding what your dog is bred for and what it is supposed to look like is the key to any good groom, so the Breed Standard is a good place to start building this knowledge.
The Breed Standard is a step-by-step guide to what each part of the body needs to look like and what type of coat the dog should have. By keeping this guide in mind when you start to groom an individual dog, you can create a look as close to the ideal as possible.
It is common knowledge that breeds like Poodles, Maltese, Wirehaired Fox Terriers and many others are groomed on a very regular basis – a lot of hours are spent on grooming them.
However most breeds that go into the show ring, even smooth-coated breeds, also require preparation for the show ring to make sure they are looking their best.
Know the coat type
There are many opinions out there about the best way to groom different breeds and the best tools for the job. However, one thing that doesn’t change is that the hair grows a certain way and in a certain cycle, depending on the coat type.
Once you learn how your individual dog’s coat grows you can then start to groom your dog to the breed standard and decide what advice to take in order to achieve your grooming goals.
The coat provides protection for the skin. It can be made up of two kinds of hairs, the primary or guard hairs, which are coarse, protective thick and long, and the secondary or down hairs, which are finer, shorter, insulating and form the undercoat.
Most breeds have more secondary hairs than primary hairs, but there are exceptions. For example, the primary hair dominates in German Shepherd Dogs, while breeds such as the Boxer and Yorkshire Terrier have no secondary hairs.
In the Poodle, the secondary hairs dominate, and the Shi Tzu has a long, dense coat with an undercoat. Hairless breeds such as the Chinese Crested Dog, although seeming bald, have fine secondary hairs on their bodies.
Starting with the breed standard will tell you what coat type your dog has and, therefore, what care it needs.
The silk-coated dogs like the Springer Spaniel or Cocker Spaniel need undercoats. However, by removing the correct amount of undercoat (this is called carding) you can get the silky guard hair to lay flatter, creating a better outline.
The coats of these particular breeds also grow to different lengths depending on which part of the body it grows on. The coat on the body stops growing at a shorter length than the drop coat that forms the furnishings.
A Siberian Husky needs a dense undercoat, and the guard hair then stands up through the abundance of undercoat. The undercoat has to stay on the dog, and a great amount of work is necessary to keep the undercoat in place without the coat matting.
Some dogs are not supposed to have any secondary hair (undercoat), for example the Boxer. However, sometimes there are secondary hairs around the neck, withers and tail. These are easily removed with brushing and carding.
Sometimes a dog’s secondary coat can interfere with the beautiful guard hair. A good example is a Miniature Schnauzer. With this breed, the outer guard hair does not seem to come through well unless the undercoat is regularly removed.
Different breeds’ coats grow in different cycles, and even dogs of the same breed can seem to have a slightly different hair cycle. Once you know the cycle of growth for your dog, you can use it to your advantage to get the length of coat required for the show ring.
Hair growth and loss is a continuous cycle, and is split up into three stages, the Anagen, Catagen and Telogen stage.
The Anagen stage of the hair cycle is when the hair grows to the specific length determined by genetics. This is the stage that our own hair is in most of the time, as are the coats of those breeds that seem to keep growing and need regular trimming, like the Poodle or the Maltese.
The Anagen stage can be very short in short-haired dogs, up to one year, or longer as in the Maltese Terrier or Shih Tzu.
The Catagen stage begins once the hair gets to the specific length determined by genetics and stops growing. It then enters a temporary transition stage just before the coat is ready to fall out or, in the wire breeds, ready to be pulled out.
The hair of Wire breeds gets to its genetic length and the hair becomes loose in the hair follicle. In their natural environment, these dogs would create a natural stripping to gain their new coat. For example a Wire breed out in the bush and scrub in England may create a natural stripping by moving through brambles.
However, for our pet or show dogs, we usually prevent this natural process happening, so we have to hand strip the coats.
The Telogen stage is when the hair enters into the final resting, or non-growing phase, and sheds. Some dogs seem to shed all the time – they have a Telogen-predominant cycle, which means their Anagen stage is short, just long enough to get the genetically desired length.
The hair then cycles into Telogen stage and remains there for a longer period of time. It is thought that the Telogen stage may last for years in the Nordic breeds. At some point the Telogen hair falls out and the cycle continues with the Anagen stage.
It is a myth that certain breeds of dogs do not shed their coats. Those breeds known as ‘non-shedding’ simply have a slower-growing coat. Only a few hairs are shed at a time, giving the impression that the dog does not shed. Nevertheless, decreased shedding can still minimise the affect of the dog on allergy-sufferers.
Shedding is influenced by the amount of sunlight and temperature fluctuation. Outdoor dogs usually shed in spring and warmer weather, while indoor dogs shed all year long, but in smaller amounts because they are exposed to more constant temperatures and light.
Caring inside & out
When grooming, remember to look after that coat not only with good products, but from the inside as well. Good basic nutrition is necessary to keep the coat and skin healthy and, with so many products and diets on the market for coats and skin, just try them and see what works for your particular dog.
Dr Alister Webster’s top grooming tips
With spring now upon us, it is important to maintain good grooming habits to care for your dog’s coat and skin. Grooming not only keeps them smelling and looking great; it is also crucial for their health and hygiene.
Regular washing and daily grooming is particularly important for dogs that have sensitive skin or are susceptible to skin problems. Washing your dog helps remove dirt, debris and allergens from the coat and skin, while daily grooming helps to prevent matting of the coat, remove excess hair or winter coats, and increases ventilation to the skin.
International research on Canine Atopic Dermatitis has indicated that dogs with skin allergies often have a moisture and oil imbalance in the top layers of the skin which can lead to irritated, dry and itchy skin.
Long-term use of harsh pet shampoos and some medicated shampoos that are drying to the skin can actually exacerbate this condition, so careful grooming product selection is critical for these pets.
If your pet has skin sensitivities, use a mild shampoo, preferably free from sulphates, to gently clean without further stripping moisture and oils from the coat and skin. Always use a conditioner after washing to help re-moisturise, rebalance and hydrate the skin.
Supplementing the diet with oral omega fatty acid supplements (omega 3 and 6 fatty acids) or using topical omega spot-ons can also help to maintain coat and skin health.
Finally, daily brushing helps keep the coat clean and free of knots, improves ventilation to the skin and gives you quality time with your dog each day.
A. O. Inman, T. Olivry, S. M. Dunston, N. A. Monteiro-riviere, and H. Gatto. Electron Microscopic Observations of Stratum Corneum Intercellular Lipids in Normal and Atopic Dogs. Vet Pathol 38:720–723 (2001)
F. Bateman. Review of the Skin Barrier: Species Difference & Role in Atopic Dermatitis. Australian Dermatology Chapter Science Week Lecture 2009.
Deborah Ryan is the Director of Dog Grooming Australia. She has been an English Qualified Professional Stylist since 1990, has a City and Guilds Licentiateship Diploma in dog grooming (LCGI) from the London Institute, and has taught grooming for the past 12 years. W:www.doggroomingaustralia.com.au
Dr Alister Webster is a vet with a special interest in preventative medicine, and founder of Pure Animal Wellbeing, or PAW, a range of health supplements and grooming products. W:www.paw4pets.com