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Portuguese Water Dog in a Snap

Bread & Butter Grooming:

By Kathy Rose

The Portuguese Water Dog’s handsome appearance and comically intelligent personality, combined with media coverage of this breed boasting a White House address, are propelling him into increasing popularity. The PWD is joining the ranks of our Bread and Butter clients.

The Portuguese Water Dog sports a thick, hypoallergenic coat that comes in two varieties. The curly coat grows in tight curls without much shine, similar to a Poodle-type coat. The wavy variety is shinier and falls in waves, lacking the compact curls.

There are two AKC acceptable clips: The Lion clip and the Retriever clip. Although the breed profile is the same for both coat types, the techniques used will differ. For this segment, we will discuss the Retriever clip on a curly coat.

As always, prep work is very important. Shampoo and condition with quality products, and then dry the coat against the coat growth direction using a high-velocity dryer. After the clipping and scissor work have been completed, you can then re-curl the body coat by applying a light misting of water. Use caution when doing your prep work, including clipping the pads. The PWD has a webbed foot, and it should not be shaved too closely.

The blade choice for the coat length can vary depending upon the client’s preferences and the dog’s activities. The breed standard calls for “a short blanket of coat no longer than one inch in length.” I find that is fine for a very active water dog. However, a balanced appearance that portrays the illusion of an overall short blanket of coat can be achieved with the use of skimming techniques and longer snap-on combs for the legs.

Fig. 1

With a #1 snap-on comb, begin at the back of the jaw, just under the ear. Follow the coat growth direction down the sides of the neck and over the shoulder. Leave a triangle of coat on the back of the neck to just behind the withers. This coat will be blended later to help make a smooth transition from the back to the withers, then progressively, from neck to head. When clipping down the chest, “fall off” at the breast bone. This coat will also be blended later with scissors or blenders.

Clip down the shoulder to just over the point of shoulder. “Fall off” before clipping down into the leg coat.

Fig. 2

Still following coat growth direction, clip down the back and over the spring of rib, “falling off” before clipping the undercarriage. Do not clip over the point of rump yet.

Fig. 3

Leave a patch of coat at the croup (base of tail), and then clip the entire tail with the exception of the last three to five inches, which is left at full length. This will depend upon the length of the dog’s actual tail, as this should not fall below the hocks. A longer tail structure should have a shorter bottom fringe and vice/versa.

Fig. 4

Place your clippers a couple of inches below the point of rump, and then clip the back portion of the thighs, “falling off” before reaching the hock.

Change to a longer length snap-on comb. I usually recommend three or four lengths longer than the body. In this case, an “E” comb was used. Clip the longer, triangular patch of coat that was left on the back of the neck and withers.

Clip over the rump. Clip the undercarriage, trimming against the coat growth direction. For an overweight dog, the undercarriage can be trimmed the same length as the body. The “tuck up” should not be excessive.

Clip the rear legs, “falling off” at the stifle (knee).

Clip the front legs, “falling off” before clipping the back part of the front leg.

By following these steps, one can “block in” the outline of the trim. This will greatly reduce the amount of scissoring needed for the overall trim. After “blocking in” the trim, blend the areas from short to longer coat, and scissor stray hairs. Keep in mind that it is not necessary to completely re-scissor the entire dog. Tipping the edges on the areas clipped before blending into the “falling off” zones will give a hand-scissored appearance. This technique can be adapted for almost any breed.

Fig. 5

Start at the topline. With long shears, level the topline.

In order to create or enhance the desired powerful rear assembly and strongly muscled buttocks, use curved shears to blend the longer coat left at the rump. The rear is not sharply angulated, and the hipbones should not be apparent.

Fig. 6

Use straight shears to clip the sides of the tail at the croup and bring the tail well up on to the back.

Fig. 7

Use short curved shears to blend the longer coat left in front of the tail at the croup. This will help you to create or enhance a level topline and make a smooth transition from the tail to the back.

Use long curved shears to blend the stray hairs on the back of the upper thigh and to blend the outside of the upper thigh, so that there is a smooth transition onto the rump.

Fig. 8

The rear legs should appear parallel when viewed from the rear. The line should be straight from the inside muscle of the upper thigh to the foot. Use curved shears to shape the coat on the front and back of the hock and to round the feet.

Fig. 9

To blend the coat on the front of the rear legs, lift the leg and scissor the stray hairs, from the foot to the knee, and then subtly turn toward the groin to show a slight bend in stifle and powerful rear angulation.

Next scissor the undercarriage with a very slight tuck-up to show a well held up loin in a graceful line to the elbow.

Fig. 10

Scissor the stray hairs on the front legs to create columns. Use curved shears to round the front feet.

Use straight shears to blend the longer chest coat into the shorter neck coat. Although the slightly longer coat on the chest will enhance the appearance of a deep chest, a “bib” or “apron” is not evident.

When styling the PWD head, keep in mind that the illusion is actually more square than round. The muzzle, which is slightly shorter than the skull, does not have a long beard or mustache. The muzzle coat should blend into the slightly longer coat on the cheeks. The heart-shaped ears are trimmed shorter closer to the tip and then blend without distinction onto the skull.

Trim the eye corners and stop with thinning shears.

Use long curved shears, with the curve toward the eye and tip outward, to trim the front of the eyes. Hold the shears angled outward. With the long curved shears held at a 45-degree angle, trim the front of the eyes.

Use long curved shears to trim the cheeks, blending into the jaw and top-skull.

Fig. 11

With the curved shears, trim from the muzzle to just behind the ear.

Use thinning shears or blenders to shorten the muzzle coat and blend into the slightly longer cheek coat.

Use a #2 snap-on comb or a #4 blade to trim the bottom third of the ear. With small shears, trim the edges of the ear following the heart-shaped leather. Blend the shorter ear coat to the upper ear, blending into the skull.

Trim the top-skull to square it off. It should not look “Bichonish.”

Use large blending shears to blend the cheeks to the ear.

Use large curved shears to blend the transition from the occiput to the neck, and then the neck to the withers, all in an unbroken line.

To polish off the trim and to bring up the curl, use a fine atomizer with water or coat conditioner to slightly dampen the body coat. Leave the legs and head un-dampened. Lightly rub your hands through the dampened coat. Use blenders to smooth out any scissor marks and seal the finish.

The Portuguese Water Dog is fun loving, exuberant and, because of their high intelligence, a sometimes challenging breed. The dilemma that groomers face is to resist the urge to simulate a Poodle, Bichon, or “teddy bear” trim. Strive for a “squarish” rather than a “rounded” overall impression. The PWD is a working dog, and their trims are unique to the breed. ✂

Visit the Portuguese Water Dog Club of America for more information at: