| Grooming | Breed Specific Grooming | Mars Coat King Guide |
| Clipper Care | List of Blades | Breeds Blades Chart | Using Clipper Combs |
| Top Knots | Wrapping Coats | Tear Stains | Growing Coat | Pet/Puppy Clips | 
| Ears | Eyes | Canine Skin | Handy Hints | Pre-Conditioning Oil Recipe |
| Nail Conditions | Trimming Nails | Grooming Tools I Use |
Australian Dog Show Equipment |

Caring for and conditioning drop-coated breeds takes an ongoing commitment to mastering and maintaining proper grooming skills.

President Calvin Coolidge wrote, "Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Persistence, determination and hard work makes the difference." While it is unlikely he had dogs in mind when he wrote it, his words can easily reflect the commitment required to groom and exhibit drop-coated breeds at a national level.

To successfully compete at the group or Best-in-Show level, experts say owners and handlers can develop their own winning edge by understanding the prerequisites involved with grooming, maintaining and conditioning these demanding and delicate coats. It isn't difficult, but it does require some basic knowledge, patience, commitment and, above all, persistence.

While the origin of the term "drop coated" is unknown, most owners and handlers say it refers to those breeds - including the Bearded Collie, Skye Terrier, Maltese, Shih Tzu, Yorkshire Terrier, Lhasa Apso and Silky Terrier - on which the coat falls over the sides of the body to the ground or, if not entirely, almost to the ground.

Keeping Up Appearances

What makes drop-coated breeds difficult to groom is that their hair is highly susceptible to damage and breakage caused by harsh shampoos, excessive blow-drying and exposure to environmental elements. A damaged coat, say the experts, can take anywhere from a month to a year to repair - a discouraging prospect for those competing at a national level. Therefore, every aspect - from brushing and bathing to housing and kennel conditions - requires special attention in order to maintain these sensitive yet exquisite coats.

The most important aspect of grooming drop-coated breeds, according to multigroup judge and 35-year veteran of the sport Peggy Hogg, is to establish a daily routine and stick to it. When competing at a national level, you must set aside enough time every day to groom and check for mats. "The Maltese standard," says Hogg, "calls for a mantle of long, silky white hair. That's their trademark. You don't get that unless you really work at it. It must be a labor of love. Otherwise, grooming would be sheer torture."

Luke Ehricht, a professional handler with over 200 Best-in-Show wins, concurs. "If you want them in top condition," says Ehricht, "there are absolutely no shortcuts and no slacking off. These are not dogs you can groom perfectly and then say, 'I'm not going to groom this week and then pick it up the following week.' The damage that can be done by not doing it regularly is very noticeable." If you decide not to brush your dog for two weeks and it mats up, depending on the damage, you may be looking at an entire year to grow out a new coat.

Effective brushing begins with using the proper tools. Both Hogg and Ehricht prefer a soft, metal-pin brush on a rubber-cushioned base, one in which the pins will give and not break the hair. Depending on the dog, soft, natural bristle brushes and Greyhound combs also work well. Neither recommend a slicker brush, as it can break the hair.

Regular brushing stimulates circulation and aids in the distribution of natural oils, bringing out the natural shine and luster of a coat. However, Ehricht stresses there is most definitely a right and wrong way to brush a drop-coated breed. To keep the damage to a minimum, Ehricht suggests following strict guidelines that include brushing only a clean, well-misted coat, brushing only in the direction of the hair growth, brushing in sectioned layers, and brushing the entire length of hair without flicking the brush at the end.

Secrets of Proper Shampooing

Shampoos and conditioners can either enhance and compliment individual coats or detract and depreciate them by stripping them of natural oils, weighing them down or gumming them up. Selecting the right products involves much trial and error, coupled with personal preference. Some owners and handlers use a diluted mixture of shampoos and conditioners designed for humans. Others, including professional handler David Fitzpatrick, prefer shampoos and conditioners designed specifically for the pH levels of dog coats. 

Fitzpatrick, a 28-year veteran of dogs with over 150 Best-in-Show wins, uses a super-cleaning shampoo, as well as a product designed for whitening, to keep his Maltese coats flat. For some of his other dogs, however, he prefers a very mild shampoo that won't strip the natural oils and will keep the coat looking alive.

In addition, experts note there are specific coat textures each breed should have - yet not all dogs have them. The right conditioner can help keep the dog's coat looking and feeling like it should according to the standard. "You can't just say, 'For this breed you use this shampoo and for that breed you use that conditioner.' It's very individual to the dog," says Ehricht.

For instance, if you have a Yorkie with a silky coat, Ehricht suggests a minimal amount of conditioner, otherwise you'll end up with a dog that is very greasy-looking, since Yorkies tend to have a lot of natural oils in their coat. However, if you have a woolly-coated Yorkie, your goal would be a conditioner that makes the coat look silkier. On the other hand, a Lhasa Apso that has a heavy, textured undercoat and a coarse outercoat would require a conditioner for some shine and to eliminate static, yet not so much as to soften the coat. 

Furthermore, a Shih Tzu with a 50/50 coat (half undercoat, half outercoat) would need a conditioner to keep the coat manageable and straight but not gummy, a conditioner that will work with the two different coat textures involved. For a Shih Tzu with very little undercoat, you would use less conditioner because your goal is to make the coat look fuller. For the Shih Tzu with a really big coat, you use more conditioner to make it lay better. 

As with brushing, blow-drying can enhance or diminish the final result. The goal, according to Hogg, is to get the hair to lay flat against the body. "To prevent the hair from air drying," explains Hogg, "I like to wrap my dog in a towel to keep damp those sections of hair I'm not working on." To achieve the flat coat that lays properly, Hogg says it is important to blow-dry the hair in the direction you want it to lay.

No Place Like Home

In addition to consistent grooming, dogs need plenty of exercise, fresh air and natural light to maintain their mental health as well as their muscle tone. However, some dogs naturally excel at getting into mischief by tugging their topknots and stepping on, running off or breaking off their coats. To minimize damage to drop coats, the correct setup of house and kennel is essential, say the experts.

According to Ehricht, the nylon in carpet breaks the ends of the hair, as do some types of concretes, pavements, grasses and gravel flooring. Therefore, vinyl, tile or wood floors are popular with breeders, owners and handlers of drop-coated breeds. For those wanting house dogs plus mature show coats, a lifestyle change more conducive to the dogs might be in order.

Such was the case with Ehricht and his wife, Diane, also a professional handler. The couple remodeled their house, installing wood, tile and linoleum floors for the dogs. "We do have some carpeted areas," explains Ehricht, "but those areas are off limits to the dogs."

Several years ago, Ehricht happened upon a pigpen on an old farm where he found the ideal flooring for his outdoor kennels. "It's a rubber-coated quarter-inch meshing," says Ehricht. "It is very soft and the meshing is small enough to prevent the dogs' feet from falling through it. Yet, it is open and airy and, when installed in a raised kennel situation, it prevents the water and moisture from pooling so the dogs are never in wetness."

When his dogs are in show coat, Ehricht tries to exhibit them for two days on one bathing. However, he notes that some showgrounds are not conducive to showing drop-coated breeds. For instance, one show was held in a recently mowed hay field. The result after one pass around the ring was a dog that resembled a haystack. Another show, Ehricht recalls, was held in an old factory. His dogs' coats absorbed the grease and motor oil from the concrete floor and it took three washings to make the dogs presentable.

"With the amount of time it takes to prepare a dog and the amount of damage that type of environment can do to the coat - it's really not worth it," says Ehricht. "If it's going to take a month to repair the damage that will happen over the period of one weekend at a show that is in a bad location, that's not worth it to me. There are enough shows to choose from that you shouldn't have to show in those conditions."

Wrapping It Up

Body wrapping techniques are frequently employed as a preventative measure on some breeds, such as the Maltese and Yorkie, and as an alternative to home remodeling. "Wrapping," says Fitzpatrick, "basically involves sectioning parts of the dog's hair and banding it with paper and rubber bands. Wrapping is done both for hygienic reasons - to keep urine and feces, as well as food, away from the hair - and as a form of prevention to protect the ends of the coat from breaking off on harsh flooring. 

"Generally," Fitzpatrick continues, "the Maltese and the Yorkshire Terrier are the two drop-coated breeds that are body-wrapped, while the Lhasa Apso and Shih Tzu typically have just a topknot and their faces wrapped." Fitzpatrick notes, however, there are always exceptions depending on the dog and the owner or handler. 

Fitzpatrick keeps his dogs wrapped from three to five days at a time. "Most dogs," he says, "can go three days and some can go five days. But we check the faces every day to make sure the hair hasn't come loose from the wrap and become twisted around the wrapping band." In addition, Fitzpatrick checks the face wraps to make sure there is no hair poking in the dogs eyes and to prevent mats from forming inside the wrap. "Checking the face daily," says Fitzpatrick, "is really an observation program where you're trying to prevent something from happening before it starts."

The most important thing, of course, is to get started. Hogg encourages newcomers to buy dogs from responsible breeders, as they are the people most likely to pass on grooming techniques and trade secrets, as well as the history of grooming; experienced exhibitors should look to their own grooming gurus, their mentors. Even if you have to pay a professional handler to show you the ins and outs of grooming, says Hogg, it is money well spent.

Written by Tracy Libby who is a free-lance writer from Sunriver, Ore. She competes in conformation and obedience with her Australian Shepherds.  Reprinted from the AKC Gazette.


If you are an owner-handler, you must learn about the art of making your dog look its best and the craft of presenting it to its best advantage.

If you show dogs, the answer to the question in the title of this column is definitely yes. Beautifully groomed dogs in a show ring are works of art. The art required to get them to that point entails the grooming of an exhibit so that its best qualities are revealed. The craft is the work of the trainer and the handler, whether they are professionals or amateurs, who are image-builders and the presenters of art and beauty.

The sport of dogs requires time, consuming weeks, months, years and, for some, a lifetime. All this is geared toward capturing the attention of a judge for two fleeting minutes. If all handlers, professional and amateur, are to compete on an equal basis, they all must know how to properly prepare an exhibit, and that takes work and accountability. You must become a specialist in presenting your exhibit to best represent the breed standard. Learn the art of your breed's grooming and how to move your dog at the proper speed and to use a loose lead so that the dog's front legs actually touch the ground. Know if your exhibit has the correct outline on the free stack and learn how to show that. Be clever at concealing your dog's faults.

The secret is don't be obvious. A well-known retired professional handler once said, "The perfect handler is invisible." Do not wait until the judge is watching to nudge the dog with your finger to straighten a sagging topline. Be smooth! It is amazing to see handlers show a slightly cowhocked dog standing with its hindquarters toward the inside of the ring so that the judge gets to notice it time and again. Even in a relaxed stack, have the best features of your exhibit facing the inside of the ring so the judge can see them. The stronger the competition, the more important your presentation. Fine points make the difference. Utilize the artistic point of view!

In the Ring

Breeders, judges and professional handlers are often thought to be the backbone of the sport of dog showing. They are intelligent people who care about the sport. They are the players, not the audience. Let's ignore charges of "politics" and study some facts. Professional handlers are competitive individuals. A professional walks into the ring with one assignment: to win. There is no other objective. In most cases, the dog was bred and is owned by other people. When professional handlers lose, they usually do not suffer the same degree of injury to the ego that owner-handlers do. Why? Because professional handlers know their art and their craft. Because they usually do not have an emotional investment in the dog, they can go into the ring concentrating on the task at hand: winning. In fact, because of this detachment and objectivity, the dogs usually respond to them very well.

Handlers must learn how to do what I call "craft handling." Craft handling is being an image-builder. As an owner-handler, you should learn to leave emotions outside the ring. When in the ring, it is business. Put on a business "suit" to have the best probability of getting the most out of your dog. Be ready to present the dog whenever there is even a slight chance of the judge looking your way. This includes when you enter the ring, as well as when the judge is scanning and looking back after individual examination and gaiting. A judge has approximately two minutes to focus on an individual dog. Consequently, you must do your best to create and present an image, an impression of beauty, in other words, art. 

Think of cause and effect. Any movement made by a judge or a handler creates a cause-and-effect situation. Anticipate a judge's motions. Know when a judge will glance back at your dog. This is all part of the craft. Learn to be an image-builder and a presenter of art.

The majority of judges' decisions are correct and are accurate assessments of an animal's quality on a given day compared to the competition on that day. Often there are handlers who do not place and who let the ringside know how unhappy they are. Most ringside complaints on the qualification of judges and the correctness of their placements can be attributed to the human talent for "scapedogging." It is easier to blame the judge for a low placement than to put the cause of negative results where it belongs: not having learned the craft. You must be prepared to accept defeat. You do not have to like it, but you must be able to accept it. If there were more honesty among exhibitors, the judge's position would be better understood.

A Few Suggestions

Here are some suggestions for retooling the art and the craft of the sport.

1. Reconnect with your passion. Remember what first excited you about the dog game. Perhaps it was the art and the craft of the sport.

2. Turn off all the "negative tapes" - both your own and anyone else's.

3. Seek a mentor in your breed, someone with integrity and values similar to your own. If your mentor expresses negative thinking on a regular basis, excuse yourself and look for help elsewhere. There are so many nice people in the sport; do not waste time with someone who does not bring a good attitude to the sport.

4. Does your dog represent the breed well, as far as grooming is concerned? Be accountable. Learn your craft. Learn to be an image-builder and a presenter of art. 

5. Connect with others; join a breed club, a group club or an all-breed club. Then, take an active role in the club's activities.

6. Search out classes on handling techniques, grooming ideas, conditioning and toning (for both the dog and yourself). All will provide greater visibility in the show ring.

7. Set goals clearly, and continue to improve while learning your craft. Put a systematic procedure in place to move forward and achieve your dreams.

Being an owner-handler can actually have an advantage if you continue to develop your skills and learn all you can about the sport, your breed and your particular dog. Professional handlers usually present many dogs at every show. You can focus all your knowledge on the one or two dogs you are showing. Learn the craft. Do it and win! 

Written by Ann Katona who judges all the sporting breeds and all the terrier breeds, seven toy breeds, Junior Showmanship and Best in Show. 
Printed in the AKC Gazette

Grooming for Success!

| Grooming | Breed Specific Grooming | Mars Coat King Guide |
| Clipper Care | List of Blades | Breeds Blades Chart | Using Clipper Combs |
| Top Knots | Wrapping Coats | Tear Stains | Growing Coat | Pet/Puppy Clips | 
| Ears | Eyes | Canine Skin | Handy Hints | Pre-Conditioning Oil Recipe |
| Nail Conditions | Trimming Nails | Grooming Tools I Use |
Australian Dog Show Equipment |


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