Surviving the Sporting Shortage

Ask the Grooming Tutor

By Michell Evans

“Hi there Michell. I have been trying to find a sporting dog to use as a model for my certification exam. We have lots of Labs and Goldens but hardly any Springers, Setters or Cockers. The few sporting breeds we have ask us to shave the whole darn dog with a #10 blade. I want to talk a few of my customers into letting their dogs grow out but I don’t know where to start. Any suggestions?” –Mable S.

Hi Mable. The breeds that are accepted by most certification organizations are the Cocker Spaniel, English Cocker Spaniel, Irish Setter, Gordon Setter, English Setter and English Springer Spaniel.

It is true that sporting breeds like Springers, Setters and Cockers do not make up a very large percentage of the average grooming clientele. Although, like with any breed of dog, if there are active local breeders, there might be a higher concentration in your area. Also, there might be a higher concentration in an area where bird hunting is more prevalent.

Consider reaching out to local breeders of sporting breeds and letting them know that you are willing and able to groom their breed in the correct techniques and ask them to send their puppy buyers your way with their new puppies. Many breeders are frustrated that pet groomers are not knowledgeable in the correct techniques to groom their breed and are desperate to find a local groomer to refer people to.

Often novice groomers are unaware that the back and body coat of the sporting breeds accepted for certification is supposed to be “worked”, not shaved. This area is referred to as the jacket. The jacket is the back of the neck from the occiput down the entire topline, thighs, ribs and top of tail. The jacket is to be mostly carded but does require some hand stripping.

Carding, simply put, is removing some or most of the undercoat with multiple techniques, similar to de-shedding. Carding is a term used to describe removing undercoat. Hand stripping is a term used to describe removing the hard coat/outer coat/top coat. These two techniques are often used in tandem. In groomer speak you will hear them applied loosely to both techniques under the term “working the coat”.

When the jacket of a sporting dog has been shaved too short, too often and/or too many times it may be permanently altered. It often causes the coat to grow back with a different texture. The coat may get thick and soft, the color may fade and the coat may look dull. In many cases, if you stop shaving the jacket and start working it, the damaged coat will return to its natural state, or close to it.

To rehabilitate the damaged coat, remove as much of the undercoat as you can by raking and carding. Dry the coat as flat as you can, then trim and/or strip the remaining top coat of the jacket. If you are not comfortable trimming the top coat/outer coat with thinning shears you can clip it with an attachment comb that is longer than the undercoat was before you removed it. In many cases a #2 or #1 attachment comb will leave a nice length. The key to choosing your blade length is to be sure that the blade will only cut the outer coat and not cut so deep as to cut into the undercoat. If you keep the coat less than about three-quarters of an inch long, raking and carding become less effective. Since the coat of a sporting dog needs to be regularly worked, it needs to be kept a bit longer.

If you get in an older dog that has been shaved for years, rehabilitating the coat may be more trouble than it’s worth. The dog may not be up to the additional time in the grooming salon and the coat may be too far gone to rehabilitate anyway. Plus, the owner may not be willing to pay the additional cost to rehabilitate the coat of their sporting dog. It would not be uncommon for it to take an extra thirty minutes to one hour for the carding time alone when rehabilitating a coat, and this will need to be done at each visit from now on.

Try showing your clients photos of properly groomed show dogs so that they can see that the back coat is not supposed to be shaved off entirely and that the furnishings are what makes them look elegant and glamorous. If they are opposed to a traditional groom, explain to them that you can modify the groom to make it more livable without shaving it. Trimming the furnishings does not cause as much harm to the coat as shaving the jacket. Typically, it is the furnishings that owners find the most annoying, not the jacket.

It is ok to shave the cheeks, muzzle, throat, ear patterns, shoulders, underside of tail (if applicable) and rear pattern pretty short. It is not uncommon for those areas to be as short as a #10 or #7. It is best to card and strip the top of the head in most cases. Trimming of the sanitary area in such a way as to affect the furnishings or pattern is not desirable.

Be sure to study photographs of well-groomed specimens to see where the coat is to be left longer and where it is to be taken shorter. One of the best ways to search for a groom that you know is done well is to type “Westminster English Springer Spaniel” or “Champion English Cocker Spaniel” into your browser.

Good luck with your exams. I am sure you will do a great job. ✂