Rustic-Coated Breeds: “Natural” vs Matted

Ask the Grooming Tutor

By Michell Evans

“Hi Michell.  I have several new customers with Logotto Romagnolos.  They tell me not to brush them.  They want them to look messy.  They have mountains of information (or misinformation), pictures, videos and print-outs galore.  They don’t understand matts. They don’t understand that what they want is impossible!  What should I do?” –Connie

Hey there Connie. Many rustic–coated breeds are gaining popularity, with Logotti Romagnoli (plural of Logotto Romagnolo) being at the top of the list. As pet groomers, we are faced with some challenges in how to keep these coats looking rustic while still grooming them as pets. Often owners misinterpret the language in the breed standard. When a breed standard states that the coat should not be brushed or combed, it may simply mean that when exhibiting the dog it should not have the appearance of being brushed. Not that you should never brush the coat.

As well as Logotti, Spanish Water Dogs, Barbets, Pulik (plural of Puli), Pumik (plural of Pumi), Komondorok (plural of Komondor), Bergamaschi (plural of Bergamasco), Portuguese Water Dogs, Kerry Blue Terriers, Irish water Spaniels and even Labradoodles are all breeds that require showing a wave, curl, flock or cord of the coat in order to maintain the essence of their breed. Even though Labradoodles are not accepted by the American Kennel Club as a breed, most experts agree that showing a wave or curl in their coat is the preferred look. I am sure I have left out a few breeds here.

There are actually several different ways to describe these coats, depending on breed, including rustic, curly, wavy, marceled, corded, in flocks, brushed and more. The true rustic–coated breeds would be allowed to pelt and then be shaved from the nose to tip–of–tail just to start the whole process over again. The second half of this cycle offers exactly the desired look.

First, let’s discuss some important differences between a dog that is being “kept in coat” and a pet. Dogs that are being kept in coat are typically being shown on a regular basis. They are being kept fairly clean and well maintained. When they do get a bath, it will likely be just the legs, underbelly and face that get washed. The jacket or body coat will most likely not be bathed unless it seems too grungy to show. In some cases, the exhibitor may use corn starch, rubbing alcohol, baby wipes or dry shampoo, among other things, to maintain a clean coat. This allows the wave, curl, cord or flock to remain unaffected on the body. The portions that may need more regular bathing often require more grooming in general. These dogs are groomed each day of the show; in some cases, four or more days per week. This very regular trimming, bathing and grooming keeps them clean and in shape.

In the case of pets with these types of coats, we usually see them once every 4–12 weeks, or sometimes six months or a year. They are far from clean, overgrown and often matted or pelted. Plus, the spaying and neutering of pets vs show dogs changes their coats, often for the worse, making it more difficult to maintain. This is not at all the same as working with a dog that is being kept in coat. The reason that this is important is because when we read a breed standard or a breed club’s recommendation for how the coat should be presented, it is meant for show dogs and often not realistic for pets. We see this in many breeds. A good example is a Yorkshire Terrier. If you read the breed standard, it calls for a fine, silky, floor–length coat. Not many Yorkie owners actually want, or can maintain, this coat so they opt for a shorter pet trim. The same can apply in the case of rustic–coated breeds.

Even though the breed standard might call for the dog’s coat to look a certain way as a working or show dog, it is our job to keep the pets clean, healthy and comfortable enough to sleep in someone’s bed. Groomers have two choices when working with one of these overgrown, matted, filthy pets. 1) Shave them down two to four times per year. 2) De–matt, bath, blow–out, fluff, trim the coat to the desired length, re–wet and air dry to bring the curls back to the coat.

Explain to your customers what de–matting actually involves. Explain the costs of de–matting. Consider de–matting the dog in four sessions on four different days to really drive home the degree of difficulty and labor involved for both you and the dog. This puts an inconvenience on the customer so that they have some of the burden as well. De–matting can be a pain free and lucrative service if you know what you’re doing.

You may have a few customers who actually want to keep their dog in the correct coat style. They may really want you to keep their Bergamasco in flocks or their Spanish Water Dog in rustic cords. How fun is that!? Do your research. Ask a lot of questions. Be honest with the owner about what you know and what you don’t. Go slow and have fun! Often in these situations you can discount your rate in exchange for the opportunity to learn.

I hope this helps.
–Michell ✂

I am a multi-Best-In-Show and Best-All-Around groomer. I am the recipient of many Barkleigh Honors Awards including journalist of the year. I am a Silver and Gold medalist for GroomTeam USA. I am the winner of Show Dog Groomer of the Year 2015. I am a (VIG) Very Important Groomer-Ambassador for Purina and I have been teaching as The Grooming Tutor since 2000. And I groom to make a living, just like you. Please send questions to [email protected]