Spanish Water Dog Style

Grooming Matters

By Daryl Conner

Medium sized, curly dynamos pets of this breed, with their unique grooming requirements, are becoming more frequently seen on grooming tables across the country.

Accepted by the American Kennel Club in 2015, the Spanish Water Dog is appreciated by its fanciers for its intelligence, athleticism, and ability to excel at many competitive canine activities. Historically used to gather and drive small hoof stock such as sheep and goats, they were also known to assist fishermen and can be strong swimmers. They make excellent watch dogs, and are loyal to their humans. But what about grooming those coats on the pet dogs we see?

This breed sports a curly, low shedding coat which may cord if left long. It is also very prone to matting. The parent club has this to say, “The coat should never be brushed or combed.” They recommend that once or twice a year the coat is evenly clipped, “similar to shearing a sheep.” The final word from the breed club is this; “No aesthetic haircuts are permitted—the dog should remain rustic in appearance.” (www.swdclub.org/index.php?page=breed-information)

What this means to groomers is that we should toss every single thing we know about dealing with curly coats (like those our more common friends the poodle and bichon wear) and do things that totally go against the way we were taught to groom. But it can be fun to mix things up and learn new methods.

I got the straight scoop from Sheryl Gaines (New Jersey) who breeds and shows Spanish Water Dogs. “Less is more,” she said. “This breed has a single coat, somewhat like a poodle, but you will find different degrees of curl and texture from dog to dog. The coat can be described as wooly.”

Gaines keeps her show dogs in corded coats, but for pet groomers the instructions are simple. “Take everything off, one length all over,” she said. “If the dog is matted, use a 7F blade, nose to tail. If it is not matted and the owner wants a bit of length you can use a 4 or 5F blade.” Many groomers see the cute faces on this breed, and the luxurious locks, and want to style them. Gaines takes a firm stand, “No poufs. No long ears, no sculpted head, no brushing, no combing, no drying.”

When a SWD comes to visit at my grooming studio here is what I do:

  • Pre-clip the dog with a 4, 5 or 7F blade. Even SWD’s that are clipped several times a year are almost always matted to some degree. Remember that “no brushing” thing? I rarely pre-clip, but make an exception for this breed.
  • I try to make my pre-clip as even and careful as possible. This means working slowly and methodically, not the swift pre-bath shave I would give other dogs that are being groomed this way.
  • Bathe the dog. They often require more than one bath to get the coat completely clean.
  • Use a light conditioner.
  • Use towels to “blot” the coat. Avoid rubbing the coat. Patting dry will help set and maintain the curl.
  • If you have the ability to air or cage dry the pet, do that.
  • If, like me, you work on one animal at a time, use a dryer but don’t brush as you go. (I know, I know, that feels so wrong.) You might consider putting your brush and comb out of reach to remove temptation.
  • Once the dog is dry, use a clipper or trimmer to clean up paw pads, sanitary area, eye corners and under ears if necessary.
  • Go over the dog again with your clipper to even the coat out.
  • Use scissors to tidy up ear edges, and trim around the feet and tail.
  • Pay special attention to the hair around the lips. Curls may hide damply up under the lips. Trim closely so that curls don’t remain to get in the dog’s mouth. (You might sneakily comb against the grain here to make sure you’ve got everything. Shhh. Don’t tell!)

And that’s it. A perfectly simple style that is not all that simple to do because it is different from how we normally work. I try to appreciate the ease of care this clip offers, and how it shows off the breed’s trim, athletic physique. Secretly I am desperate to brush, fluff and sculpt, but I am stern with myself and try to follow the rules. People who know, love and appreciate the breed will be very grateful that you have taken the time to learn how to style their dog appropriately.

If you have never groomed a Spanish Water Dog, or other “rustic” breeds such as the Lagotto Romagnolo or Pumi, take heart. Each breed club will offer you specific grooming instructions. Just do a little research and expand your knowledge base as you work.  ✂

Comments

  1. Suzanne says:

    At last, definitive (and correct) instructions to share with our groomer!! Thanks!!

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