Grooming part one bazillion: Finishing sprays and leave-in conditioners and how to dry your dog

I think Cathy Santarsiero and I are living in parallel universes, because I just saw how to dry a corgi on her blog. 

If you can stand the dueling banjos posting, I’m going to finish this series even though she’s got good info there.

Believe it or not, we haven’t even talked about how to bathe your dog yet; I was saving that until the end because, I dunno, I’m weird or something. It IS coming. But meanwhile I wanted to finish the product discussion and go over finishing/drying.

Whether or not you’ve used a conditioner on your dog after the shampoo, you may want to consider a finishing spray. Unlike the oil- or wax-based conditioners, finishing sprays generally do not soften the coat, so they’re a good choice if you have a coat that needs to stay weather-protective.

The finishing sprays I’ve used are Show Sheen (we used this on the Danes all the time) Best Shot UltraVitalizing (this is what Ginny gets and the texture is wonderful) and Chris Christensen Ice on Ice. ALL of them are silicone-based. Silicone is a great ingredient to finish a coat because it forms a very thin but flexible layer over each individual hair. It basically makes the hair behave as though it has a perfectly healthy cuticle with no roughness or dryness. 

When the cuticle of the hair is very slick, dirt doesn’t tend to stick to the hair and the pigment from mud can’t find its way into the interior of the hair and stay there. So silicone products help the coat act the way it should; it drops dirt as the mud dries, and it helps to prevent staining. In addition, slick hair slides past the neighboring hairs instead of catching and “felting” into a mat. So finishing sprays can really be a miracle in terms of maintaining longer furnishings; Ginny’s ear fringes are twice as long as they were when we got her and she never mats behind her ears or elbows if we do a quick spritz of spray as she’s drying.

The way I use silicone sprays during normal grooms is that when I am just about done with the drying stage I will stop and mist a finishing spray over the lower half of the dog, ruffle the coat thoroughly to help the spray get down to the roots, then finish drying. That leaves me with a dog who sheds dirt and resists staining.

When I am prepping for a show, the finishing spray goes only where I want the hair to look flat, hard, and glossy – on the back and sides of the dog. I don’t use it on the chest or legs because I’m going to be using product and chalking those areas, and silicone will prevent the chalk from sticking. What I usually do is finish the entire groom, then right before I take the dog off the table I mist a VERY thin and fine layer of Ice on Ice over the topline and smooth it with a soft cloth. I do not want the hair to feel slick, and I don’t want any kind of artificial texture or behavior of the coat. I just want it to catch the lights and look healthy and shiny. 

A specialized finishing spray called Crown Royale (you buy #1, 2, or 3 depending on your dog’s coat texture) is what I use every time I am grooming but the dog is not wet from the bath. You should NEVER brush a completely dry dog; you just get frizz and static and the tangles tend to break instead of stretching and unsnarling. You want to add a little water to the coat while you’re brushing. Misting with plain water is just fine, but I like to dilute a very small amount of Crown Royale #3 in the spray bottle of spring water (I use spring water because our tap water is very full of lime, and I don’t want the dog turning green or brown if the water oxidizes while in the coat). I spray the Crown Royale solution over the whole coat before I comb it, and I’ll add more as necessary. 


Once you’ve got your fabulous dryer, how do you use it?

Always towel the dog off first; blot and squeeze but do not rub with the towel. Switching to a dry towel after saturating the first one can get out a shocking amount of additional water and cut your drying time by a lot.

Now carry your dog over to the table and confine it using the method of your choice. Some people use grooming arms, some install two grooming arms, one on each end of the table, to hold the head and the abdomen simultaneously (if you have a really naughty dog, I’d certainly try this); some put on a show lead; I usually just keep the dog on the table through the sheer force of my bossiness. 

If the dog is at all long-coated, comb through the entire coat NOW, before you dry. Begin with the coarse comb and go through every inch of the dog, including belly and pants.

Next (and this is important), if the dryer is on the floor next to the table STEP ON THE HOSE before you turn it on. It will whip around and cause great havoc and terrify your dog if you don’t. 

Turn on the HV and let it run ON LOW for a few seconds while your dog gets used to the sound and realizes that it will not kill him. Then reach down with one hand and bring the hose to the dog. I usually begin on the dog’s chest, because pressure on the chest makes the dog lean into the pressure and not jump away. Be prepared for a dog who tries to leap or shrink, and handle it with your restraint of choice. He will realize sooner that the bad noise and weird feeling is not terrible, and will relax. 

One of the things that a lot of people, including groomers, do a little bit wrong is to play with the air stream coming out of the hose. It tends to bounce off the skin and it can make you feel like the natural way to dry is to point the nozzle directly at the dog’s hair and then jiggle or flip it back and forth or make big fast circles over the dog. Resist this temptation. It’s not going to hurt a short-haired dog (though it doesn’t really get the coat dry) but on a long-haired dog this will whip the hair around and make tangles. 

Instead, hold the nozzle (and you may use a sheeting concentrator on the end of the nozzle if you want) at an angle to the skin and slowly and methodically sheet the water off the hair. You know you’re doing it right when the water comes off the hair in what will seem like startling amounts.

Here’s BBird (I puffy heart her) doing this on a Bichon.

Once you’ve taken the majority of the water off (in other words, when you think you’re done and the dog is dry), stop and remove the flat concentrator from the dryer and either leave it with the round nozzle or add a fluff (round) concentrator. Now’s the time that you add the finishing spray of your choice and work it through the hair with your hands.

If you’ve been drying a double-coated dog, you will notice on your fingers that there’s still quite a bit of water in the coat. This is a great lesson in the fact that just because the outside of the dog looks dry it doesn’t mean the undercoat is. 

Now you will begin to use your t-brush or greyhound comb to line-brush the dog. I went looking for a video of this and can’t find one, so I’m going to try to explain it. Hopefully you can bear with me. 

You’ll be repeating the movement of the dryer from front to back and ears to tail and top to bottom, this time using the round fluff concentrator or the nozzle. NOW you can point the nozzle right at the skin, especially on the chest, neck, and legs. You may still want to keep it at an angle along the back, unless you like the look of a very startled Corgi who may have stuck her tail in a light socket. 

When you point the HV at the skin, you’ll open up a rosette of hair and you can see to the skin. Hold the nozzle with one hand and the comb or t-brush with the other, and use that rosette as a starting point. Brush with the lie of the hair just over the hair you can see completely exposed. Now move the dryer an inch or so and again brush with the lie of the hair. Continue to move the HV to open the coat and continue to brush the exposed hair until you’ve done the dog’s entire body. If you do it this way (in “lines”), you know for sure you’ve brushed every single hair on the dog from the skin out. You aren’t just slicking down the top hairs and hiding problems below. Be sure to look at the skin too – the dryer is a great way to check for bites or irritation or scabs that could indicate that the vet should get involved.

Don’t forget the cheeks; cup your hands over eyes and ears when you’re drying near them. Puffing out those Cardigan muttonchops can change the whole look of the dog; it’s suddenly “show dog!”

When you think you’re done AGAIN, turn off the dryer and baby-talk the dog for a minute while the hair cools down. Then put your hands in the coat again; if you can feel ANY moisture you need to keep going until the coat is bone-dry. 

If this is a normal groom, you’re now done. The dog is brushed from the skin out and is dry. If I want a little extra oomph in the chest and neck, but am not doing a full show groom, I’ll turn the dryer back on for a minute and just do the chest and neck and front legs AGAINST the lie of the hair. This is also the only time you can do lots of little circles with the nozzle; I’ll use that technique to whip up the hair so it’s really puffy. I’ll also use a slicker brush at this point, JUST on the chest and throat and cheeks, against the lie to get everything as volumized as possible. 

Now turn everything off, congratulate yourself on a gorgeous dog, and give an extra special treat to the dog. Now lift her down and see how quickly she can make herself look flat again! 

The just-HVed look only lasts a few minutes unless you use product in the hair, but the benefits to the skin and coat (and your eg0) that are associated with a thorough groom, brush, and HV make the time very much worth it. 


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