Don’t Make Her Look Like Anything (or, the ‘Puppy Trim’)


Jennie, a Soft-coated Wheaten Terrier, needed more than a bath.

When I learned to groom dogs, in the late 1960’s, virtually every dog that came into a grooming shop was a Poodle.  Most of the other breeds that were popular at the time (Miniature Schnauzers, Cocker Spaniels, Yorkies) went back to their breeders for grooming.  Or, if the shop was owned by a hobby breeder or dog show handler, we saw those breeds.

It was so rare to see a badly matted dog when I started grooming, because  the breeders made it very clear to pet lovers  what they had to do, how often the dog would need professional grooming, and there  was  no other option, You  did what you had to do.

When did things change?  Well,  hobby breeders assumed that everyone buying a pet had integrity, and, if you  sold a dog as a pet, it would not be bred.  It just took a few unethical people who wanted to ‘make their investment back’, and  that’s how it started.  These pet breeders did not consider themselves breeders ( they still don’t) and did not pay any of that knowledge forward.  They did not give  housebreaking, feeding, or grooming instructions.

It took  probably another 20 years or so before ethical hobby breeders started selling pets either on co-ownership of with a contract stipulating that the pet was to be neutered–or at least not bred.  This is why you don’t see the  more rare breeds in shelters or  pet shops:  the breeders hold them close.  With many breeds, you will never see an ad for puppies for sale anywhere. So, how do you find them?  Through the  breed parent clubs.  You have to network.  & this is why, after the Obamas got Bo, their Portuguese Water Dog, the market wasn’t inundated with Porties.  The breeders made sure that nobody who wasn’t concerned about the future of the breed got a breedable dog.

When I started grooming, there were no  Soft-coated Wheaten Terriers, Bichons, or Shih Tzu.  No Cavalier King Charles Spaniels , no cockapoos, no Doodles.  By the time I had been grooming over 20 years, these were the dominant dogs in my grooming shop…and it got to the point that I rarely saw a purebred Poodle.  I bought a client base from a groomer who had a reputation for  grooming  drape coated dogs and Wheatens, and at  one time, I had over 40  clients with Wheatens.  I had maybe  two clients who wanted their Wheatens to look like Wheatens, but most didn’t like the forelock.  They didn’t want  their  dogs to look like the breed they were.

Why did these people get Wheatens?  They didn’t want a poodle, because they heard they were too high strung.  However, they didn’t know enough about dogs, and to  think that a Wheaten would be less high strung  (meaning nervous, hyper active, noisy), was, to me, just  bizarre.  The  the other factors were that Wheaton were  not too big, not too small, and didn’t shed.

Jennie, after a hair vut. Sh's a Soft-coated Wheaten, would yu know it?

Jennie, after a hair cut. She’s a Soft-coated Wheaten, would you know it?

Dog groomers  know that the only official  puppy trim is for the Poodle. Everything else is basically cut off hair.  No style…unless the groomer decides to make it a style.    This (photo on the left)  is my default puppy trim.  Depending on how large the dog is (as I want to keep everything in proportion), and what kind of shape the dog’s hair is in (because  people ask for this haircut because they don’t want to brush the dog), I will  use a #4 on the body, and a #0 on the legs.  I always try to make the legs a bit longer so the dog does not look shaved.  When it comes to the head, I will set the length with an ‘A’ attachment, and scissor it shorter, often using a thinning shears to blend and make the  dog look more natural.  I  generally only lightly scissor the tail,and I never leave a skirt.  When we groomers started out,  every  dog that was not a poodle got a sort of  cocker spaniel trim, with the  ‘saddle’ (most of the body) trimmed short, with a long skirt.  I can’t think of any trim more impractical than leaving a skirt on a dog that is not going to be brushed until the next time we see it. But….as an apprentice groomer,  I dematted a lot of dogs with skirts. Why?  The grooming shop owners—the main groomers, weren’t doing the dematting. WE were.  Then, their clients got used to it, and of course they liked it. Then, when dogs were to badly matted, many groomers started leaving ‘false skirts’—where the chest was hollowed out, and there was long hair on the sides.  Another  stupid idea….because the short hairs  wove into the long hairs. That skirt, no matter how ‘false’, was always a mess.  Your client wants the skirt? Fine. Tell them to either brush the dog, or the dog has to come in once a week for bath & brush out.  I used to let them go for 2 weeks, but I found that the dog was  too messed up and matted after that long an interval. Would Jennie (on the left) look better with  longer hair on her legs?  Yes, she would.  However, her owner has  MS, and  he has to hire a dog walker to help him, as he is mostly paralyzed. So, I did the practical thing, and at least she’s not shaved.

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