Organizing a Cocker Spaniel Coat or Grooming a House?
by Joanna Avelar Estanislau de Assis
I compare a Cocker Spaniel grooming to cleaning a house. There is no magical formula, all you need is to take time, proper tools, and work very hard. The final results is an organized, beautiful, practical and functional house. Surely all houses are not the same, and it happens the same with dogs. That is why there are so many different products and tools on the market, so you can choose the ones that suit most to the type of dog and coat you are dealing with. And to maintain the house in a good condition, you need to take care of it everyday. (The list of tools I use is at the end of the article.)
I will try to pass in words and pictures some hints that I had learned with my cousin and mentor Flávio Werneck. Of course I developed my own ways, and have my own grooming signature; I also do not have any intention to compare myself to him. Flávio was and will always be a Top Cocker Spaniel handler for all times, even though he was great in many other breeds. I found myself very lucky for being one of his mentees. It is not an easy task to show statically what is done live, but I will try my best.
Before grooming a dog you first need to be familiar with the standard, I mean really study and understand it. After that, you will come up with your own interpretation and what you “see” of the breed. Keep this image in mind, capture it, this is what you will try to reproduce in your dog, while grooming. Nobody can believe it is an easy task! It is imperative that no dog is perfect, and you need to improve the qualities and try to hide the defects. For that, takes years of training, you really need to develop the “eye for a dog”. So, all that is good in one Cocker Spaniel can be a total disaster in another. Practicing a lot, rather with multiple breeds and types of coat will upgrade your skills. You need to make the form becomes functional in a natural way. You probably already heard that form no longer follows the function, so in order to fix that, doubles our responsibility of doing a nice grooming job!
I will separate the Cocker Spaniel Grooming in three parts: Pre-Bath, Bath and After Bath. I believe the correct bathing and drying is at least 85% of the show grooming.
At this moment,place the dog on the table to clean all the teeth with tooth scaler, not only the front ones! Honestly, I have seen some dog’s mouths that I am ashamed of, they are smelling bad and full of tartar. How can someone have the courage to let judges see and touch it? I also trim the nails short, remember to have your “quick-stop” near because you may need it. Our breed requires horny pads, this is impossible with long nails. Long nails can also destroy the dog’s movement.You need to have in mind that they are not supposed to appear when you trim the feet. Clip in between the pads or cut them short with scissors. Take the time also to clean inside the ears with your own choice ear cleaner. After all this, I begin the clipping and trimming that will be detailed below.
Head The head is the “visiting card” of the dog, as well as the “eyes witness the soul”, so you need to value the most. The face is what will capture the judge's heart when examining your dog on the table, and on the move while coming back. You need to have the muzzle width as the same of the head’s. The nose length should measure the half of the length of the skull. That creates a square appearance. Always have in mind that girls need to look feminine, and boys, like boys.
The top-knot is crucial for the design of the head and helps building the expression, it may measure the same of size of the nose length. Flávio taught me we need to visualize a perfect number “8” at the dog’s head.Careful with the length of the ears, Cockers are not Shih-Tzus, they are flushing dogs and do not need extremely long ears to get stuck in the field. Please be reasonable! And it also can unbalance the head and looks like the dog is too heavy in front! I have been seeing this a lot lately, principally in Europe.
Head should be clipped with blades #10, #15, and #30 to create the design you wish. Top-knot is never clipped, it needs to be patiently stripped down or plucked. Only 1/3 of the ear length is clipped in- side and out, without considering the hair length, you should count the skin part of the ear, to measure it properly.
Neck and Shoulders- Almost everybody believes you give neck to a dog by removing the hairs from its neck set and clipping closer to the breast bone. Actually, that creates the opposite if the dog lacks neck length.
And even more careful if the dog has neck, because that will disappear if you shave too down. You give more neck by trimming down the shoulder blades with the stripping stone or knife, and I also use for that the “coat furminator”. Never use stripping stone in blacks, reds and chocolates, that will change the coat color! You shall use it a lot for the buffs, silvers and par- ticolors, principally the roans to get a silver effect. Minimum of thinning shears because it changes the coat texture with time! Some people are shaving the neck side: I believe it is wrong be- cause you remove the guardian hairs. Mrs. Ann Rogers Clark once told me she hated that, and she could tell! So, minimum of clipping as well! And try to minimize the difference of short and long hairs by blending them all. Another important detail that makes the dog look short necked is the length of ears, when they are too long, it gives the impression of a shorter neck. I cut the ears with thinning shears, it gives a more natural effect. Front of the neck should be clipped with #10 blade in the form of a "V", starting two fingers up the breast bone.
Neck-blending Body and Tail Coat-king
Prepare for hours of hand work and very few thinning shears. For this part you can pick the hair with your own fingers, use the stripping stones, stripping knives, “coat king” and “coat furminator”. I prefer to do it before the bath, because with the hair dirty, you have a better friction with the tools and can stick better your fingers on the hair. You may finish the top coat with the thinning shears after the bath; this will work better after the guardian hairs are set in place with the brushing and drying. Docked tails are done as the body, but if you are dealing with long tails, do not shave them! You can shave a little the bottom part of the tail, maybe, but never the top. I like to leave some feathers on the long tail, some- times. But I have all cut down as well, that depends on the dog and the design I have in mind. Since the long tail is not in the standard, you can do as you wish.
This is a very practical and personal subject. I say that because each dog has a different skin type, coat texture and color, as well the kind of water you are using and the weather, so it makes quite impossible to suggest which product you should use. So, try as many as you can, from different brands and see which one fits better to your dog's needs. To dilute shampoos and conditioners use mineral or filtered water. The less chemicals, the better. The more natural shining silky coat look you may get, the better. Wind, cold and too hot weather can dry the coat, humidity makes it heavier, too much sun burns it and changes the color, etc. Some countries, like France where I live, have heavy water, which is terrible for the coat and changes the components of the products. A Cocker Spaniel coat shall never appear oily, heavy or cottony.
You will need also lots of clean towels, a natural hair brush (cas- tor ones are the best), a nice anti-static pin brush, a slicker and a greyhound comb. I prepare two or three bottles of diluted sham- poo, good ones you can dilute one part to ten (1:10) of water and one of conditioner. You can warm the water of the conditioner a little, it helps to achieve the coat deeply. Just use conditioner on the long hairs, never in top-knot, top coat and clipped areas. I leave the conditioner to act on coat from three to five minutes, and after I rinse it completely. I am talking about a show bath, not a maintenance bath. If you leave conditioner or oil in the coat for show, the appearance will not be natural, also it will be heavy and oily when touched. To trim the skirt and feet (explained below) is better to have the coat on its natural state, as it will be in the day of the dog show. You can place your dog in the top of those wire floors for crate in case of your bath tub does not have one. It helps a lot to remove the products from the coat while rinsing.
After the bath, you can rub the coat to remove as much water as you can inside the bath tub, and then bring it on to the grooming table, already with the arm and grooming noose ready. The drying part is not easy and if it is done wrongly or badly they result of the trimming will be a chaos. This is why I say bathing is 85% of the grooming. You need to be very patient and dry the hairs level by level, fixing them in the right place in the body of the dog. You need to educate the hairs to be where you want and need them. You do that by brushing all the time slowly, while drying with the hand dryer in medium temperature. Sorry, but stand dryers have not the same effect. I only use stand dryers for maintenance, never for show baths. Never use dryers in the maximum heat because the coat will be totally damaged. The cold temperature, in the other hand, will not give you the straightening effect intended, but can be very helpful for removing mats. The picture bellow shows the direction of brushing and drying with the dog standing up on the table.
First you dry the dog standing up, beginning from behind to front. I begin with the top coat, with the natural hair brush and go to the top-knot with the same brush. Then, I take the pin brush to do the long hairs of the body. Later, you lay down the dog and dry carefully each side, layer by layer holding the wet hairs, and brushing them from root to the end. I begin in the belly from top to bottom, then I choose one leg and do the same from top to feet, later the other leg in the same way. Never lay the dog in a wet towel, change it before laying the dog and before switching sides.
Another useful tool, principally for beginners, is to wrap the body of the dog with a towel, held by safety pins. By using and removing the towel slowly after the hair is dry, you are sure you can brush in totality where the hot air goes. Never leave wet hair without brushing when the dryer is on, because that makes it wavy and curly, and surely nobody wants that. I do most of the job with the pin brush, because the slicker is too strong for the hair and breaks them, but surely it is a great straightening tool. So, I use it for details like ears and feet. After all is dry, the dog needs to be very well combed, to make sure all is really dry and not a single little mat left behind.
The ears, skirt and feet are cut after the dog is completely brushed, combed and dry. If it is well done and if the dog has a correct coat texture, you will not need to use the flat straightener iron to have it nice and straight. This is an art, and really needs lots of training because you can change a lot of the dog while trimming the skirt. They can appear longer, shorter, taller and, lower. In other words, you can attribute effects and defects he has, or not. Remember that not all judges are breeders or specialists and they will really and only see what you are showing. It is necessary to use grooming for the sake of the dog and not against it. Again, frame that image you have in mind of the standard, it is very good also to have a mirror in the grooming area, so you can see what you are doing and visualize both sides. Almost impos- sible to do one side the same way of the other, also the dog coat is not in equal state on both sides, so try your best. I generally begin by the left side, also called judge’s side, because I am less tired on the beginning. Other people believe that the side you do last is always better. You can choose as you wish, but please remember a dog needs balance and both sides need to be done to perfection. You will not clean just one side of your house, right?
I use my long straight scissors for that, and never used curved. I turn the scis- sors and hold them with my hand to create the angle I wish. But it is up to you the brand, sizes and types of scissors. Our breed is a flushing Spaniel and needs to have excess of hair removed to work properly on the field.
They are not Lhasa Apsos and Shi-Tzus. Breeder, judge and mentor Mrs. Olga k. Evelyn told me in her “Cocker College” webinar that American judges want to see day light under the dog, and not a grooming that hides the natural outline, in other words that the "hair should not be groomed to the floor because you need to see daylight under the dog". Careful to not separate the front from the back, while trimming the long hairs down the belly.
The curves need to flow naturally from back of the dog to front. You cannot have the feeling that the dog is cut in pieces. I normally turn the scissors in a 45° angle to do the feet, from table to coat. Remember to comb the hair in place all the time. I love those big wide teeth anti-static stainless combs for the finishing job.
After all you can wrap the ears and place the 'show jacket” till the moment of the ring.
hope it was nice and clean now as a house should be and you all enjoyed the reading. Good luck at the shows and I hope to meet you soon, someday. Please feel free to ask any questions you may - have, I will look forward to hearing from you.
- Hand dryer
- Grooming table with arm and noose
- Protein Rich shampoo and conditioner
- Clipper and #10, #15 and #30 blades
- Stripping knives and stone
- “Coat King©” and “Furminator”
- Thinning shears and long straight scissors
- Natural hair brush, slicker and anti-static pin brush and metal comb
- 2 Big safety pins
- Many towels
- CH Design Show Jackets (because you are sure they have Thai silk inside, not normal silk or the effect is the opposite) for keeping the coat in condition after the show bath till the moment of the ring.
- Flat straightening iron to fix the waves after bath, if needed
- “Bandaging tape for the ears
Pictures: Mrs Jane Vilas Boas and Joanna de Assis — Mr. Mrs Marco Flávio and Yann Grousset.