Archive for August, 2015

The Coat Change…and matting

August 27, 2015
This is a Maltese I groomed in a puppy trim. They do not grow like this .naturally. they need haircuts.

This is a Maltese I groomed in a puppy trim. They do not grow like this .naturally. they need haircuts.

Any groomer who has been grooming for any length of time has seen it.  It is the cute, fluffy  puppy that the owners bought—usually on impulse—because it is cute and fluffy.  I always ask the new owners if the person who sold or gave them this dog showed them how to brush it.  I tell them the coat is very fine now, but when the dog gets to be about  six months old, more or less, they are going to wake up one morning and the dog will be matted.  It’s a given.  They often want me to give the dog a haircut just because they think the dog needs one.

Why  will the dog mat?  COAT CHANGE: the fine puppy coat will start to become stronger, thicker adult coat.  The puppy coat is very dry,and the cuticle of the hair will be open….and that’s how it starts. The static electricity of living, the cuticle of the hair being open, ‘locking’ into other hair cuticles and closing…. With many Afghan Hounds, you could see the adult coat at the roots of the puppy coat:  the puppy fuzz at the ends of a stronger, thicker shaft adult silk coat.  With some dogs, they suddenly lose a lot of hair—almost like a skin disease, and the new coat grows in.   It happens when the dog reaches sexual maturity (so, if the dog was neutered before reaching sexual maturity, you really don’t know what you are going to end up with—-but usually a blend of puppy  and adult coat).

What causes the matting?  Again….dirt, moisture,  and static electricity.  I cover this in my blog on  getting to a ‘specials’ (show ) coat,  People who want their dogs to have dramatic coats are willing to work through this.  unfortunately,  most pet owners try bargaining, anger, and denial before they reach acceptance.

Purebred Bedlington. another breed with such a small gene pool, with genetic health issues, that the puppy mills have generally ignored.

Purebred Bedlington. another breed with such a small gene pool, with genetic health issues, that the puppy mills have generally ignored.

Some breeds, like Bedlington Terriers , Maltese, and Afghan Hounds, have very thin skin.  It is really  easy to cut or tear the skin if mats are too close or tight.  Years ago, I had a large number of Old English Sheepdog clients who rarely ever made it out of the coat change. The breeders in my area would keep the pups in coat as long as they could, and when the coat started changing, shaved the dogs down and didn’t show the dogs until they were over  two-years-old (it takes that long to grow a coat back to it’s full length in a large breed).


So, how do we deal with this?  When puppy owners come in for first grooms, I usually do a sanitary trim and ‘neaten’ the coat, but I also show them how to brush the dog with a slicker, metal comb, and  my curved rake.  I tell them to enjoy the coat while they can, because the dog will change coats and mat overnight. I tell them the mats will start behind and under the ears, under the chin, between the front legs and in the armpits (another  excellent reason to avoid harnesses…which will cause friction against the  hair and static), around the tail, and at the wrists (hocks and pasterns) and spread from these areas.  I tell them if they just brush over the top and don’t get down to the skin—or wash the dog without brushing it, I will definitely have to shave  the dog. Brush layer by layer….from the skin out….  and I show them what I mean.  I advise against using a thinning shears at this stage, because the short hairs weave into the long hairs (also the reason you get  matted ears when you just  neaten the tips), but to  put the dog on a schedule and if they do nothing else, brush and comb through these specific trouble spots…and if the hair flies around  or they need to wash their hands after brushing the dog…the dog needs a bath.  I advise DILUTING the dog shampoo in a shampoo or dishwashing liquid bottle, and brushing the shampoo through the hair—particularly the trouble spots.

I also tell my clients to develop a system, and start brushing the dog in the same place every time. I  do the back of the back leg and work my way up…I do all ‘four sides’ of the dog’s leg, then the body from the belly/chest up, the front leg, then the other side, and the head last.  About 50% of my clients do this, and have also purchased portable grooming tables or taught their dogs to lie down for brushing.  The rest get what I can possibly do to make the dog look good and not hurt the dog…

More and more, however, people are getting Cotons  or designer dogs like ‘Cavashons’  (Cavalier/Bishon mix),  ‘Shipoos’ (shih Tzu/Poodle mix) or Teddy Bears (a Bichon/Shih Tzu mix),  which have mixes of coat textures.  Good luck to us all.  I’ve had dogs mat up immediately after brushing due to the dryness of the coat and static electricity.  The owners  complain if I clip the dog too short, but won’t do what needs to be done, and sometimes keeping the coat mat free is impossible.  This is not YOUR fault…it is the breeder’s fault.  It is a matter of integrity.

When I started grooming as a teenager, I briefly worked for a hobby breeder, Fredric Mark Alderman, who owned Dynasty Afghan Hounds.  He did not sell an Afghan Hound to a novice owner until they had spent a day grooming with him.  He didn’t want to hear that  you had no idea how long it would take, how much equipment you’d need, or how often it would need to be done.   If, at the end of the day, you decided an Afghan Hound was not for you, no harm, no foul.  His dogs were not going to end up resold, abandoned, or in puppy mills.  From him, I learned it is the responsibility of the breeder to show pet buyers basic coat care.  For some reason (due to the negative marketing by some of the well-intentioned pet rescuers), people think that if they buy a dog from someone who just bred their pet—they didn’t  enrich an evil breeder. I  was  ‘raised’ by fanciers, who led me to believe the owner of the mommy dog—whether that owner  had 1 breedable bitch or 100, was  the BREEDER  and responsible for  screening  puppy buyers and  showing them how to maintain the dog’s coat at home.  They should be held responsible for the dogs they breed, or they are as bad as any  pet store or puppy mill…and I feel the same way about rescues and shelters that don’t address coat care.  I offer to  work with rescue volunteers  placing dog that need  professional grooming.

I realize many of us did not come into the profession  because we  were  fanciers.  I learned techniques and styling from  fanciers, and use what I leaned to  make those  ‘hybrid’ (mixed breed)  ‘designer dogs’ look as good as possible considering their owners  want what they want without putting in the effort.  In doing research, I found 2 national ‘Australian Labradoodle Clubs’ (neither posting coat care information on their websites: , no breed standard or care information),  A Goldendoodle national registry:, No Cavashon club ( well, can you call a commercial website for commercial breeders a club?), and in looking for information on Teddy Bears , I came across the maltipoo website, which mostly addresses behavior issues and had NOTHING about grooming. That said…..The Poodle Club of America says NOTHING about grooming at all on their website, and suggests contacting regional clubs for more info on the breed.  The American Shih Tzu club has  several pages on grooming:  The American Maltese Association  does address grooming, but it is very general information and might not be that helpful: ;  the Bichon Frise Club of America has a very good site, with photos of grooming tools.



Book Review: The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer

August 21, 2015
a colorized version of G.P. Murdock's ethnic map of Africa

a colorized version of G.P. Murdock’s ethnic map of Africa

As many readers of this blog know, I have traveled in Africa several times. I was Peace Corps in Malawi in 1992.  Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world. Even though it has been the recipient of much foreign aid (from USAID, the European Community, and even medical personnel from Egypt), the government policy has been to NOT have it trickle down to the populace.  Who knows where it went. Consultants?    When I served in Peace Corps, literacy hovered around 35%.  Only 15% of households had access to radios. The incident of AIDS was 25–90% depending on how close you lived to a paved road.  Malawi is still very much a country of small holders:  small  farmers.  Many have been encouraged to  plant the cash crop of tobacco (hey—the Chinese still smoke like chimneys, as do the Eastern Europeans and Middle Easterners…), but then, due to quality issues, the  government  parastatal buying the tobacco to resell  will only buy a small portion of what small holders were selling…and you can not eat tobacco.

With access to the internet (via mobile phones, originally brought to Malawi by the Malaysians), more people are getting more information. However, in addition to AIDS, malaria is still a huge  problem, as is TB. So many Malawians do NOT live near paved roads that it is difficult to  get  information (so most of what you get is via rumor) or access to health care.  Primary school is free, but often teachers are merely high school graduates themselves, and don’t own any books for the subjects they are teaching.  You have to pay fees to go to high school.

Knowing this,  this is why  Kamkwamba’s story is so remarkable.  This book was written by  one of those kids who didn’t get to go to high school because his family could not afford school fees.  He feared for his future, of course, but  he was a curious kid, and thankfully, there was a free library in his town.  All the books were donated.

Farming is the type of job  where there are weeks of intense work preparing the soil and planting….and then you wait and hope and pray.  Malawi has  always suffered droughts, made worse in recent decades due to deforestation. This  story takes place  just after the turn of the century.  While Malawi was no longer rules by Kamuzu Banda, it turned out that the devil they didn’t know was worse, as Muluzi, the president at the time, was in total denial about  people starving due to crop failure due to the drought.  Kamkwamba does a brilliant job of describing how bad things were at this time.  It’s humbling.

He also describes the culture of the Chewa people very well.  The gist of the story is that he had a lot of time on his hands, as he wasn’t in school, so he borrowed books and taught himself physics.  He  found scrap parts, and built a windmill so his family could have electricity.  He becomes  famous in his village (one reason is that he charges villagers cell phones!),  Malawian journalists write about him, one thing leads to another, and  his education (having been interrupted for five years) is sponsored and he is asked to give a TED talk.  Very happy ending.

This is a marvelous book, available on Amazon (I’ve included a link), and I’d recommend it to anyone who wants to learn about Africa, resilience, perseverance, or who wants to make a difference and help others like Kamkwamba.  When I first became curious about Africa, the classic, “The African Child,” by Camara Laye, was recommended, and that is  a sort of idealized view of African childhood.  This book is better.  It would make a great gift for any child, and be a great addition to any school library.

I’ve included links for the African Library Project and Zambian Children’s Fund.  In the last century, I used to send books via ‘M’ bag, to schools in Malawi.  I sent several tons of books, but the U S Postal Service stopped this as it was too expensive (they had to pay to store containers until they were full). It you send books to  either organization, they  will send them in containers and make sure they are delivered.  I send the books UPS, because I know from experience that the USPS often is rough with boxes and empty boxes have been delivered.  The Africans  really need books on science, business, public health, first aid,  and teachers editions.  They can also use maps.

Who knows how many kids like Kamkwamba there are, who are curious, but don’t have access to books?

Why ‘They’ Can’t Find Dog Groomers

August 14, 2015
Me doing a grooming demonstration for the North Central maltese Rescue annual gathering in  southern Wisconsin. This is the largest gathering of Maltese fanciers in the country!

Me doing a grooming demonstration for the North Central maltese Rescue annual gathering in southern Wisconsin. This is the largest gathering of Maltese fanciers in the country!

I have  several friends who work as consultants in the pet industry.  They network, they market.  One has extensive experience training dogs. Another has worked in dog businesses, but she has never trained a dog,

They both see the posts on Craigslist another sites where business owners post for dogs groomers.  They are wondering why these businesses can’t find  groomers.  Here are the reasons:

1.  The most competent dog groomers may or may not have learned at dog grooming schools, but  they keep up their skills or learn new skills by  networking with other fanciers and going to dog shows.  YOU want them to work weekends, when most dog shows take place.  They can make just as much money working out of their homes;

2.  You don’t offer a living wage. The average dog groomer makes about $30,000 a year: .   This all depends on demographics, the macro economy, weather, location relative to competition, etc.  You can see from the chart that some groomers do better, but many don’t.  You can go to a community college and become a pharmacy technician and make much more with a lot less stress. So, knowing this (most people who decide to become dog groomers do NOT know this, nor do they do any research…), why are people becoming dog groomers?  They think of them selves as  unique, artistic, independent, and want to work with dogs.  The schools will ‘teach’ you,  whether you have any common sense or talent.  These are private, for profit schools.  Nobody will know until you do a ‘test’ dog for them.  The big box stores will teach you themselves.  Do you  know what a living wage is in your area, or are you living with a parent or partner who pays all your bills?

3.  The employers, especially the ‘big box’ chains, think 1 groomer is just like the next. They  know a certain  number of employees won’t show up on time,  will not follow their rules,  may not thoroughly rinse a dog , clean the dog, or dematt the dog. Some will accidentally injure a dog.  All these employers care about  are profits per square foot or per hour.  Their business model is to  be cheaper and more available than a skilled artisan, and they are banking on the average pet owner not really caring about anything else.  If you dare question a fellow worker  or their store polices  regarding being safe or inhumane, you are out.

4.  These non-grooming employers have a ‘vision’ of how they want their businesses to  appear: business like. This has nothing to do with being safe or humane,because they  know most pet owners aren’t looking that closely.

5.  Working conditions are poor.  often there is no place to park. Lighting might be bad. There is no dehumidifier, and often not enough dog dryers.  Some shops  allow dogs to run around, so the dogs are underfoot, pooping, and that is stressful.  People run in and out of your space and distract dogs.

6..  The experienced groomers know this and won’t be fooled again. they either leave the industry or groom our of their homes, getting clients by word-of-mouth.  Until the  managers and decision makers learn to respect groomers and treat groomers as skilled workers—or people stop spending money on getting dogs haircuts, there will be a mismatch.

Planning a Trip to Africa for Winter 2016

August 7, 2015
a colorized version of G.P. Murdock's ethnic map of Africa

a colorized version of G.P. Murdock’s ethnic map of Africa

My first trip to Africa was Tanzania,  in 1985.  I found a guy who  booked camping safaris, and he suggested  Tanzania because (he said) “Nobody goes there.”  One reason  people didn’t go was because infrastructure was so bad…and I am told, 30 years later, it still is.  And I’ve learned there are many places in Africa where nobody goes.  I wanted to see the last Eden, which I was told would be gone by now…and it is.  It’s gone because of war, drought, poaching, and rapid population growth.

We Americans  think we know it all, and we think Africa has not developed because of tribalism.  That’s not the reason. The reason  Africa stays without infrastructure is elitism that is fostered by western donors.

There  has never been much material culture in Africa except for the coasts, where land was rich enough to support agriculture and social stratification, and trade was easy.  Go inland, and people are so poor due to  non-arable land, it’s all they can do to eek out a living.   Not much time  is left to pursue the arts.  On the coasts, you’ll find metal working (particularly West Africa), carving, even  bark cloth.  More inland, there is more performance and dancing.

What Americans tend to not understand is that women are the farmers in Africa, but the aid has gone to the men:  men who’ve frittered it away, gambled, drank and  wasted it….  with our help.  Women  do the framing, house keeping, and child rearing.  Men sit around and bullshit.

My 2nd  trip to Africa, to volunteer in Kajiado, Kenya, in Maasailand.  We were at a school run by the African Inland Church (Scottish Protestants), and in our enclave, there was a school for blind boys, a school for  physically disabled girls,and our boarding school for girls.  We went into town  to get some provisions.  I was waiting with a government official (an educated Maasai guy), and we were sitting in a restaurant drinking Fantas.  An older Maasai woman weaved over to the table and started talking to me.  Of course, I couldn’t understand her, and my friend said, “She’s quite drunk, actually.”  It wasn’t even 11 in the morning.  She couldn’t have been older  than 40, but it’s hard to tell.  In her younger days, she might have been the  mtoto sweeping out her boma or tending a fire, but she has kids…maybe even grandkids…to do that now. She had nothing to do but drink.  Where did these pastoralists get money to drink? Selling jewelry to tourists.

After graduate school, I joined Peace Corps, and was assigned to be a town planner in Malawi. At first, it looked like I was going to be sent to Mzuzu in the north, but when I got to training, I was told I was going to Blantyre.  BT was the industrial capital of the country.  It was a relatively old city, with a population  of  about 400,000 at the time, and it was essentially ‘planned out’ by the  Scottish/British. Due to a racist dynamic,  there were areas zoned where Indians could not  buy land.  However, they were clever, and due to their political organization, they ended up with the best infrastructure.  I had just gotten my masters degree in urban planning, and what a great place to see how things actually turn out.

AIDS was a huge problem in the  early 1990s. Due to government policy, less than 35% of the population of Malawi was literate, and fewer than 15% of households had  radios.  All information was via rumor. There was a 25 to 90% incidence of HIV, depending on how close you lived to a paved road.  There were many factors  causing this, but the main one was poverty.  It wasn’t like the USA and Europeans were not sending  development aid.  It was  just not  monitored and it was mis spent.

I was able to make a brief visit about  two years after my Peace Corps service, after there had been a multi-party election.  It looked like the economy had improved.  Many more women were having their hair relaxed (a large expense in households making under $4000 a year), and more people were wearing shoes.  However, the U N had moved in Somali refugees, and they walked around with rifles.

I have not been back in  over 20 years.  I have been supporting Malawi Children’s Village, the Zambian Children’s Fund (in Lusaka, Zambia), and there were  things I never got to see while I lived in Malawi.

I plan to fly into Lusaka, take a bus to Lilongwe (visit the Lilongwe  SPCA while there), get transport to Mua Mission to see their pottery works, get transport to Dedza to see Dedza pottery…then get transport  down to Mangochi to visit the Malawi Children’s Village.  From Mangochi, I hope to  spend a day in Blantyre & see what the Chinese are doing, Then catch a bus —I hope to Lusaka….but I may have to  go back up to Lilongwe and  go back around.  Then, back in Lusaka, I plan to make it down to Victoria Falls.

The roundtrip airfare with taxes is in the $1500 range.  $100 per day should be more than enough for expenses.  I am not going on a safari, but if anyone wants to join me, there will be an opportunity in Zambia.