By Robyn Michaels
Cute! Cute! Cute! Isn’t this why we became groomers? To cuddle the cute fluffy ones? Now that we’ve disabused ourselves of the notion that they are all going to be cute fluff balls ….what do we do?
I am so happy when the owner of a young pup brings the dog in for a first grooming. Everything is new to a puppy; I can do the sanitary trim, ears and nails, and neaten the dog up. Sometimes, the owner wants the pup cut down because (they fear) there is too much hair. Too much hair for what? I always try to convince them to enjoy it while they can – because the dog WILL matt up, and they will have to get the hair cut off….and Fluffy won’t be so fluffy.
Why will the dog matt? Coat change! The fine puppy coat hairs will start to become stronger, thicker adult coat. The puppy coat is very dry, and the cuticle of the hair will be open. And that’s how it starts; the static electricity of living, the cuticle of the hair being open, ‘locking’ into other hair cuticles and closing. And once it’s locked, it’s locked. I use several detangling products, but we still break a lot of hair in the process.
With many Afghan Hounds, you can see the adult coat at the roots of the puppy coat; the puppy fuzz at the ends of a stronger, thicker, less dry shaft adult silk coat. With some dogs, they will suddenly lose a lot of hair—almost like a skin disease, and the new coat grows in. This is true of a lot of double coated dogs, like Shetland Sheepdogs. It happens when the dog reaches sexual maturity (so, if the dog was neutered before reaching sexual maturity, you really don’t know what you are going to end up with—-but usually a blend of puppy and adult coat).
Years ago, I had a large number of Old English Sheepdog clients who rarely ever made it out of the coat change. The breeders in my area would keep the pups in coat as long as they could, and when the coat started changing, shaved the dogs down and didn’t show the dogs until they were over two-years-old (it takes that long to grow a coat back to its full length in a large breed).
Some people manage to stay on track, put the dog on a grooming schedule, gain control, and work through the coat change. Often, they tell me that once the coat is at its full length, they can brush the dog every two or three weeks! I found this was true of my Afghan Hounds, as long as I kept them clean, and, you are less likely to break coat off if you brush it while it is wet. Most owners will want something in between, and here’s where we get into trouble, as the dog stays at the coat change stage perpetually.
So, how do we deal with this? When puppy owners come in for first grooms, I show them how to brush the dog with a slicker, metal comb, and my curved rake. I tell them to enjoy the coat while they can, because the dog will change coats and matt overnight. The matts will start behind and under the ears, under the chin, between the front legs and in the armpits (another excellent reason to avoid harnesses…which will cause friction and static against the hair), around the tail, and at the wrists (hocks and pasterns) and spread from these areas.
I tell them if they just brush over the top and don’t get down to the skin—or wash the dog without brushing it, I will definitely have to shave the dog. I show them how to brush layer by layer, from the skin out. I advise against using thinning shears at this stage, because the short hairs weave into the long hairs (also the reason you get matted ears when you just neaten the tips, and that false skirt on cockers and short legged terriers is always matted).
I seriously urge them to put the dog on a grooming schedule and if they do nothing else, brush and comb through these specific trouble spots. They might need to do the trouble spots every day, every other day, or once a week. Although, too much brushing will also cause static. If the hair flies around or they need to wash their hands after brushing the dog…the dog needs a bath. I advise DILUTING the dog shampoo in a shampoo or dishwashing liquid bottle, and brushing the shampoo through the hair—particularly the trouble spots.
I also tell my clients to develop a system, and start brushing the dog in the same place every time. I do the back of the back leg and work my way up; I do all ‘four sides’ of the dog’s leg, then the body from the belly/chest up, the front leg, then the other side, and the head last. About 50% of my clients do this, and have also purchased portable grooming tables or taught their dogs to lie down for brushing.
More and more, however, people are getting Cotons or designer dogs like ‘Cavachons’ (Cavalier/Bichon mix), ‘Shipoos’ (Shih Tzu/Poodle mix), or Teddy Bears (Bichon/Shih Tzu mix), which have mixes of coat textures. Good luck to us all! I’ve had dogs matt up immediately after brushing due to the dryness of the coat and static electricity. The owners complain if I clip the dog too short, but won’t do what needs to be done, and sometimes keeping the coat matt free is impossible. But it’s not our fault.
If we don’t help pet owners maintain their dogs, they will become unhappy with their dogs. When they lose their dogs, they will not replace the dog with a dog requiring grooming. It is happening now. More and more pet owners are choosing Pit Bulls, Boxers, French Bulldogs, and Boston Terriers If we want to have grooming clients, we have to reach out to them and spend time with them.