I’ve tried hard in the previous parts of this little series to keep the product names very general, because people have all kinds of success with products I can’t make work to save my life, and vice versa. And everyone has a different look they like for their dogs.
When I am showing a dog, I want the dog that looks like if a stray sunbeam found its way into the dank confines of the Better Living Building at the Big E, it would magically light upon her, and she would look up, and angels would sing a chorus from one of the better U2 albums, and a unicorn would raise its horn and shoot a rainbow full of giggling fairy butterflies right onto her nose. And then everyone would stand up and clap wildly, and the old ring mat beneath her would slowly rotate in a circle while a wind machine fluffed the hair behind her ears.
In other words, I like a GROOMED dog.
So my goal, of absolutely zero staining and deep, glowing whites, a luxurious ruff and and a coat that looks like mink (but hard, weather-repellent mink), is a very specific one. And I use the products to get me as close to that as possible.
Your goal may be to keep a pet smelling as good as it can for as long as it can, or cutting the grease on an older dog with skin issues, or making a coat lie down or stand straight up. You may want something you can bring to a show so your dog, who last saw water when he got dumped in the stock tank on Wednesday, won’t have that distinctive green tinge. So I don’t want you to think that what I like is the only thing TO like – I just want to share what I’ve found that works best.
If you’re going to try to actually groom your dog, as opposed to get it out of the sink and tell it to go shake off outside (which is not a bad thing, but don’t expect the dog to come in and still be pristine and fluffy), you need a space to do it and a way to get the dog up to your eye level. When we had Danes, they were already AT eye level, so we just put an old blanket on the floor to catch any hair that dropped. When Clue came along, we realized that a grooming table was an absolute must.
A grooming table doesn’t have to be a grooming table – it can be any sturdy surface that either has a non-slip surface or can be made non-slip, and it shouldn’t be something you plan on using for food on a regular basis. Grooming creates all kinds of drips, globs, powdery residue, and of course tons of hair, so you’ll feel less skeeved out if you can keep it away from your kitchen counter or table.
There are folding plastic “banquet” tables that work really well if you put a non-slip bathroom floor or shower mat down, for example. Or you may use a bench or low table that you don’t mind cleaning well. You can put a piece of plywood over a dog crate. Or you may decide to spring for a real grooming table; anything that works is absolutely fine.
Some people always use the grooming arms; I prefer not to. I find them a nuisance as soon as the dog is trained well enough to stand still, because I want to groom without any kind of collar in place. When I figured that out, I decided that rather than using the arm for a while and then getting rid of it, I’d just train the dogs first and never use it at all. Of course, your mileage may vary.
The second thing you will need if you have any breed of dog with any length of hair (and by this I mean ANY undercoat – from a Beagle- or Lab-type coat to a full-coated Maltese) is a DRYER.
High-velocity dryers (for short, I’m going to call them HVs) are one of those things that you think you can get along without until you have a good one, and then you can’t believe that you ever tried to do without. For people who show, the dryer allows you to create the best possible result for your dog. I don’t mean that it’s for “corrective” or fault-hiding grooming (though it certainly is for that); even for a flawless dog the dryer makes sure the dog is having a good hair day, that the coat flatters and does not create illusions of faults that are not there.
For the pet owner, an HV means that the dog is dry in fifteen minutes instead of three hours. No more wet spots on your couch cushions and comforters! The other role of the HV that pet owners will find invaluable is that the HV is the best shedding tool on the face of the earth. A good deshedding in the tub followed by correct HV technique and an undercoat rake will release staggering amounts of hair, keeping it in the trash can and off your furniture and carpet.
The type of HV that most owners and exhibitors want is called a portable dryer. It looks like a tiny air compressor, or a torpedo (or the ChallengAIRs look like blue jugs on their sides) and has a long flexible hose. Portable dryers do NOT warm the air except with their own motors, so you’re blowing an intense stream of room-temperature or lukewarm air on the dog.
Owners with Bichons, Poodles, and full-coated drop-coated dogs (like Shih Tzu) will also want what’s called a fluff dryer; the fluff dryer works more like a human hair dryer in that it sends a less intense stream of heated air into the coat. The heat is what allows brushwork to straighten the kink out of Poodle-type hair so it can be scissored, or to dry the drop-coated dog without tangling it.
But for most owners, if you’re not trying to maintain a specialized scissor-finish coat, the HV is what you want.
By far the most common dryer that I see exhibitors use is the Metro Air Force. I used one once and I am not fond of them, especially for the price you pay. The air stream is not very good, the dryer gets really hot, and I’ve heard stories of them catching on fire. Just my opinion; I know some people LURVE them. But I would recommend the dryer that was recommended to me:
For about the same price ($150), what I owned and will own again is the Double K ChallengAIR 2000. It’s got a plastic housing, not metal, it is easy to store and carry, and it’s quite durable. The air stream allows me to dry a Cardi in about 15-20 minutes. For the two or three times a week I need a dryer, it’s a good compromise between performance and cost.
If you want to go up a step in power and cost, the K9 IIs (about $350) get by far the best buzz as a mid-level professional-quality dryer. They are powerful and last forever.
Top professionals, of course, laugh at my little dryer. The “best” dryers are made by grooming company specialists and are designed to quite literally blow a little dog off the table. They have variable air flow, tremendous force, and they have a price to match; the Romani dryers are somewhere up near a grand. If you are going to need to dry ten Akitas a week, the investment is probably worth it to save your arms and hands from the stress of taking an hour to dry each dog. But otherwise the $150 in a ChallengAIR is probably a very good place to start.
SECOND: TOOLS (with blades)
Whether or not you need scissors, and whether or not those scissors can be of the $12 variety or should be the $200 variety, depends on your breed. I can’t get into the specific needs for every dog, though I’m happy to discuss them further if someone asks, but for Cardigans you’ll need at least one pair of small, sharp hair shears.
These small sharp scissors are used to trim the hair between the pads of the feet and, if needed, to CAREFULLY trim a little around the nails to make sure that extra hair isn’t making the foot look hare-like instead of cat-like.
Plenty of people also invest in a good pair of thinning shears to knock out excess coat that is unflattering to the dog, but that’s beyond my scope. I think the vast majority of owners and most exhibitors are fine with just the single straight pair.
Along with scissors, your other tools with blades may include stripping knives and mat-breakers. They’re cheap, so most of us have them in our tack boxes even if we don’t use them all that often. Some breeds require relatively constant attention to tangles, or need to be hand-stripped on a regular basis, so those tools are their main ones.
3) EQUIPMENT: TOOLS: COMBS AND BRUSHES
AHA, now we are finally to where people get terribly passionate and dedicated to particular tools. The number of times I’ve seen an exhibitor running around a grooming setup saying “Where is that brush? WHERE! That one, the good one, you know, the purple and silver one that I got in Topeka four years ago, that Willie chewed on. The company doesn’t even MAKE that brush anymore! If I lose it I’m going to go jump off a bridge!” is a little too high to willingly admit. And I am one of them; if there is a hint that the t-brush I’m going to mention below is going to be discontinued, I will buy ten of them and keep them in a fire safe and pass them along to my children in my will.
Personal obsessions aside, combs and brushes do one or more of three jobs: They get out tangles, they make the hair all go one way, and they push air into the coat to puff it out.
Combs and brushes should ALWAYS be used in the order from coarsest teeth to finest teeth. MOST PEOPLE DO THIS WRONG. They’ll pick up a slicker brush to attack a totally uncombed coat and then wonder why, six months down the road, their dog’s coat looks like crap.
Do the tasks in order. Get out tangles, get the hair all going one way, push air in. (And you owners of drop-coated dogs are going to skip this last step entirely, so if you’ve got a slicker in your box you should take it out and give it to your dog to chew.)
The tools I personally cannot live without are (in order of use):
Greyhound Comb. I use a Chris Christensen comb but of course there are plenty of cheaper ones. You use the coarsest side, then the finer (which is still medium) side, over the entire body until there is not a single tangle in the coat.
T-Brush. Again, this is a C. Christensen product. I bought mine from him personally in Hershey (he is a super nice guy and his wife is lovely) but I’ve also ordered his products from Cherrybrook. The t-brush is like a small pinbrush in a slicker frame; it’s incredibly easy to use and I find it more natural to “aim” than when I am twisting my arm around trying to get a regular pin brush into a small area. I own both sizes; the smaller size is perfect for behind the ears and between the legs. The t-brush is what I use while I’m HVing the dogs, or as the second step after the greyhound comb.
Slicker Brush. I use my slicker brushes ONLY right before I am going in the show ring. The t-brush does a great job of getting air into the coat, but the slicker almost whips the coat up. There’s nothing better for getting the highest, smoothest finish on a double coat. However, BE WARNED. Regular use of a slicker DOES damage coat. It’s not, in my opinion, an everyday or even every-bath tool.
I’ve used a bunch of slicker brands and am currently lusting after the Mars Flexi King.
4) EQUIPMENT: TOOLS: SPECIAL NEEDS
There are a few tools that I should mention because they may or will be needed occasionally (and when you need them you NEED them) but don’t get put in the normal grooming bucket.
Show groomers know that you will need a very, very soft bristle brush for applying chalk (which is almost never chalk; it’s typically corn starch and white pigment) and then taking it out again. Mine is by Chris Christensen (what can I say; he makes a great product and I typically dink around with cheap stuff until I finally buckle and buy one of his and then wonder why on earth I didn’t just buy his to begin with) but before I bought one from him I used a very soft cat brush and also a shoeshine brush (the one you buff with, not the one you apply polish with).
For coats that are inclined to mat, the repair tool that everyone says is the best is the Les Pooches line of specialized slickers. Yes, they’re slickers, and yes, I told you to never use a slicker on a mat, but these are renowned for getting mats to let go. They are NOT normal slickers; the pin arrangement is different and the matrix they’re imbedded in is flexible. They would still damage coat after extended use, but for a tough job everybody says there’s nothing better. Les Pooches brishes are OBSCENELY expensive. Like “If you have to ask, they’re too much” expensive. If you think you might be inclined to buy one and the $100 will actually hurt you (and if it won’t, would you like to adopt me?), ask your groomer or any friends who are groomers to order one for you at the pro price. You’ll still pay a ton, but it won’t have the retail markup attached.
When the dog is blowing coat, an undercoat rake is a must. I’ll tell you how to use it in the next post.
The clipper-blade deshedding tools (the Furminator and its cousins) get a lot of TV time. They are very definitely NOT for frequent use. Groomers have been using their 40-blades, taken off their clippers, to “card” a shedding coat and remove the loose hair FOR YEARS. Furminator just added a handle. These tools are quite wonderful to get out shedding hair during the coat blow when you don’t have time to do a deshedding treatment, but they are clipper blades and they DO cut topcoat. Remember, the dog keeps the same topcoat for years. If you use blade-type tools frequently, the coat starts to look like you took a razor to it; it’s frizzled and burnt and odd. So use these tools infreqently and only when really needed.
Well, it’s way too late and I haven’t even gotten to specific shampoos and conditioners yet. So they’ll wait until tomorrow, and then we’ll try to put everything together and actually get a clean dog at the end of it.