Specials coat—the ‘drape coated’

Zulu was Winner's Dog at the Afghan Hound Club of Greater Chicago Specialty in 2010. I groomed him.

I wrote this, which I gave to prospective grooming clients, about five years ago,  People tell me they never  really understood  how to take care of their dog and grow coat—and manage the coat, until they read this.  Feel free to copy this, or to guide your clients to this blog:

Chances are you acquired a long-haired dog (rather than a Boxer or a Labrador Retriever) because you liked the look of the breed, or because it doesn’t shed.

Chances are—also—that nobody showed you how to brush the dog:  how to train the dog to stand or lie down for brushing, or which brush is best for your dog’s type of coat.

Nobody told you how much professional dog grooming would cost, or how frequently it would need to be done, or that if you didn’t brush your dog correctly and consistently, you’d have to get used to having your dog look NOT like you expected.  Shaved.

Well…this is the first day of the rest of your life.  If you really want to have your dog looking like a ‘special’ (a show dog) AND have a better relationship with your dog, you’re in luck.  I am going to tell you how to take care of your dog’s hair.

Maintaining coat on most dogs isn’t really time consuming unless you have more than 1 dog, or you don’t have access to a bathtub with a hose attachment, and a  dog dryer.  That’s maintaining.  Growing coat actually requires a more conscientious effort.  Why?  Essentially, if you let dog hair grow, your dog goes through the puppy-coat-to-adult-coat stage all the time.  As the dog’s coat grows, it weaves together as the dog moves, and can lock (become matted).  Groomers who have experience with drape-coated dogs (Afghans, Maltese, Bearded Collies, etc.) know that once the coat is at it’s full length, its weight prevents matting to a certain extent.

Several dynamics cause matting because hair has a cuticle—an outer layer.  If the cuticle opens or breaks, the hair is prone to lock (matt) around other hairs.  Dry, cottony coats matt more than silky coats.  Three other factors cause matting:

1). Static electricity (caused by friction);

2). Dirt;

3). Moisture.

These need to be avoided. There are anti-static coat conditioners you can buy to use on your dog’s coat, and different brands work on different types of hair—but they must be used on clean coats and will only prevent matting for a week at most.  Then, the coat must be rewashed and brushed.  All dogs matt in the same places:  the ‘moving’ parts. Behind the ears, under the chin, the armpits, where the back legs attach to the groin, and around the tail are where matts start.  If you check a freshly bathed and brushed dog two or three days after being groomed, you will notice clumping starting in these areas.  If the hair isn’t separated with a comb or brush within a week, the hair may lock and form felted matts.  This happens even if you keep your dog off of carpet, which produces static (via friction), and away from dirt.

If you live on Earth, you can’t avoid dirt.  Your house may be spotless, but there’s dust and air pollution. If the cuticle of your dog’s hairs are open (dryness, static), dirt will get in and hasten locking.  People who wear contact lenses know that miniscule specs of dirt can cause irritation.  Shampooing weekly never gets rid of all the dirt, but statistically gets out enough dirt so you don’t break  the coat when you brush it.

Wetness is a problem because it ‘sets’ the cuticle of the hair around other cuticles.  Shampoo acts as an anti-static agent so you can unlock the hairs.  If the dog gets wet, it must immediately be shampooed or you risk extreme matting.

The way people with show dogs grow ‘specials’ (competition quality) coat is by:

1). Teaching the dog to stand or lie for brushing while the dog is young AND the coat is short;

2).  Using the correct method to brush and comb the dog, with the correct tools, and;

3). Shampooing the dog with a product that:

a. does not irritate the skin;

b. cleans the coat, and;

c. enhances the color and/or the texture.

We all use different products which we’ve come to rely on via the scientific method of trial and error (as well as talking with other dog fanciers).

Are you ready for the first day of the rest of your life?

You and your dog have to bond.  You have to trust each other.  You work towards this by being consistent with your dog, by training your dog…and this is why you must obedience train your dog (and not have a trainer do it unless the trainer is coaching you).  Your dog may not need obedience training, or so you think, so think of it as behavior shaping rather than training if you feel better.    Your dog must get used to YOU being in charge.  If your dog struggles (or bites) when you attempt  to brush her, you don’t have the bond you need.

If the coat is short, meaning  recently clipped ( or the dog is still a young pup), and you are not hurting your dog (because you’re using the right tools and techniques) (because you’ve asked a professional groomer to show you how to do this), then your dog is struggling for power.  Dog ownership— stewardship—is not a democracy.  You have to be in control of your dog.  If you choose to not be in control of your dog, you should feel blessed that your dog groomer can groom your dog for any amount of money.  Your  dog’s groomer can not groom your dog without controlling your dog.  Since we are incidental in your dog’s life, respect the relationship that the groomer attempts to foster with your dog.

Once you are confident of your bond…

There are a lot of different kinds of brushes.  Professional groomers use well made brushes that are made for the coats we work on.  The problem may be that you went to a pet shop to save a couple of dollars rather than buy a brush from your groomer,  and someone who doesn’t even know all the breeds of dogs there are, let alone the requirements of each, sold you a brush his boss told him to sell.  That’s unfortunate, but you can donate it to your local humane society.  Get a brush from your groomer, or ask her where to get a proper brush.

I show my clients how to ‘line’ or layer brush their dogs while the dog’s coat is short.  I tell them to develop a system and start at the same place every time.  You start at the very tips of the toes and hold up the hair above the hair you’re brushing.  You brush the hair from the skin to the tips of the coat.  You’ll get a feel for how hard you have to brush as you gain experience.  If you have a drape coated dog, once it’s at its full length, you may  be able to go from a slicker (bent wire) to a pin brush. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Initially, I tell my clients to brush their dogs every day (if I had to cut the dog’s hair to an inch or shorter in length….get a ruler or tape measure to measure the hair).  You brush every day to develop a system (I start at the rear left foot, move up, do the whole left side, then I go to the right side starting at the rear, and I do the head & neck last), and ‘shape’ the dog to become accustomed to letting me touch him all over.  All over means in between the legs, armpits, under the chin, behind the ears—-the total dog— having his feet picked up, under the tail. This will take less than five minutes.  After about a month, you can go down to every other day, and after three to six months, twice a week should be sufficient if the coat isn’t too dry.  If your hands feel dirty or sticky after brushing your dog, your dog needs to be shampooed.  This may be once a week.

This isn’t the 1950’s.  There are now shampoos that are mild enough to use every day.  Show dogs usually get shampooed once a week.  People with show dogs know that they have to spend money.  They own a grooming table, buy shampoo by the gallon, and make the time (about 1/2 hour to 2 hours once a week) to keep their dog looking beautiful.  There are self-service dog bathing facilities, and some groomers will let you use their facilities for a fee (I do).  If you don’t have time to do it yourself, you will have to pay a professional groomer


Q.  The groomer had to shave my dog because it was too matted.  How long will it take to grow back?

A.  “Long” is relative.  In three to six months, if you’ve followed the above instructions, you’ll have grown a puppy length coat on a Maltese, and in eight months a showable coat.  To get the same proportional length on an Afghan Hound will take six to nine months, 18 months to 2 years to a ‘specials’ coat.  This is if you’re brushing your dog, of course.  If you’re not, matting will start in about a month.

Q.  My dog loves jumping in the pond and I can’t afford to wash him once a week.

A.  There is no magic.  Dirt and moisture will matt hair.  Get used to him being cut short.  If your groomer is not shaving your dog, s/he is either putting your dog through torture every time, or possibly not getting out all the matting (but what do you care?).

Q.  So what if my dog is matted?  What did they do when they were wild?

A.  Afghan Hounds date back, as a recognizable breed 5000 years, but the modern coats we know are only about 60 years in the breeding.  Coats on all the breeds, as we know them, are the results of groups of fanciers all breeding for more dramatic coats.  These dogs were never wild.  If your dog stays matted, and his skin can’t dry, it can be prone to mold and staph infections that can be spread to humans.  It is also easier for him to become infested with parasites.  Allowing a dog to live like this is inhumane, as well as a public health hazard.

Q.  OK,  but I can’t afford to have my dog professionally groomed once a month.

A.  Then let the groomer put your dog in a ‘kennel’ cut—the same short length all over.  If you keep your dog dry, your dog shouldn’t be too uncomfortable after  three months.  If you don’t brush your dog, however, how will you know whether your dog has a skin problem?

Q.  I want my dog in a ‘puppy’ clip—not totally long, sort of half and half.  How often does my dog need professional grooming?

A.  The only breed for which there is an official puppy clip is the Poodle, and that is because of the unique nature of their coat.  Most Bichon Frise, Portuguese Water Dogs, and even Pulik can be kept in this ‘in between’ clip, but for most of the other breeds, you’re really not saving any money or brushing time because of the nature of their coats.  The full coat actually matts less than a puppy trim.

As for poodle mixes, as they don’t ‘breed true’, each dog is different.  The ‘in-between’  you want your groomer to do actually takes more time to execute than the full coat, because it takes more time to scissor your dog’s coat to make it even.  Many of us charge less for a dog in full coat because of this.

Q.  If this is so, why does my groomer not leave my dog’s hair long?

A.  Because you have demonstrated that you can’t or won’t take care of it.  The compromise is the haircut, and what her time costs as a groomer.  You probably have to have this grooming every four to eight weeks.

Q.  Well, I really do want it long, so how often does it need touching up by a groomer  if I am not a good brusher?

A.  At a minimum, the dog needs to be bathed every two weeks.  I suggest every week for clients who can afford it.  For the small breeds, it’s about the price of a carton of cigarettes, or what you can’t account for in your budget every week.  I touch up the coat as needed:  the hair in the pads of the feet, private parts, perhaps rounding the feet and cleaning ears and cutting toenails.  Still, I instruct my clients to NOT let the coat get wet unless they can shampoo their dog immediately.

Responsible dog breeders instruct their puppy buyers on how to groom the puppies they buy,  This is indigenous knowledge:  something we learn from others, like folklore, that is not usually written in books.  This is why you should get a dog directly from a breeder or breed rescue.  If you get a dog from a shelter or an owner who neglected the dog, you will need to find an experienced professional groomer to coach you along.

Be realistic.  Caring for a coated dog often requires a lifestyle change.  Many of us groomers, after being ‘married to the hair’, opted for lower maintenance breeds as the high maintenance breeds died.  A long haired dog in specials coat can be a work of art, but there is no magic. It’s deciding you will do what you need to do.


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