HELPFUL HINTS ON GROOMING THE OLD ENGLISH SHEEPDOG.

Bob Martin
kennel ARANCEE (UK)

 

These notes are provided as an aid, particularly for novice groomers. There are many ways of grooming the OES and clearly everyone adopts their own style as they gain experience over the years. I have indeed been fortunate to learn from several fellow exhibitors over my 18 years of experience with the breed, which I now hope to share with you through the following hints/tips. For convenience I have divided the notes in to 3 main sections covering:

 

1) pet grooming

2) show grooming

3) ring presentation

 

Hopefully by dividing the notes in this way you will be able to extract the relevant section to suit your needs. Diagrams have been included to help illustrate the techniques described, and I am grateful to Bertie Pennie for drawing them.

 

GENERAL COMMENTS:

Dogs should be taught from an early age to lay down whilst being groomed, both for their own comfort and that of the groomer. In preference a grooming table should be used, although any table top with a non-slip surface or cover would suffice. Alternatively, if this is neither practical nor convenient the dog should be taught to lay on a blanket on the floor whilst being groomed. Grooming sessions are better if they are shorter and perhaps more frequent rather than too prolonged, in order to prevent frustrations and rising tempers if a lot of grooming is required.

 

PET GROOMING:

Many people who own Old English Sheepdogs as pets, often end up clipping them off because they are unable to maintain the level of grooming required. Clipping is not necessary under these circumstances and hopefully the following tips will help to maintain an apparent fully coated dog. Basically by using a comb to strip the undercoat from the dog, the coat can be maintained at full length or part length if trimmed periodically rather than stripped. For this purpose I personally find a smaller sized medium toothed comb with a handle being the best for the job. The technique is quite simple, and as explained in the general comments above, it is more convenient if the dog is laying down preferably on a grooming table or alternatively on a blanket on the floor.
Referring to 'Diagram 1', starting with the outside edge of the rear leg, lift the coat to expose the lower 1-2 inches of coat just above the pads, now begin to gently comb through the hairs to ensure that this section of coat is free of tangles.
 

DIAGRAM 1

 If the coat is heavily knotted then this should be eased before combing by gently using both thumbs and forefingers to tease the knot apart so that the comb will not pull too heavily against the knotted coat (remember how you feel when you get a small tangle in your own hair and try to comb it). From this starting point, gradually work your way up the outside edge of this leg and around the rear quarter of that side. Then following the same process, recommence from the inside edge of the other rear leg, gently lifting or moving forwards/backwards the other rear leg to enable you to comb the coat up to the underside of the dogs body.

Having worked so far with the legs you should then commence with the main body of the dog starting from just in front of the rear leg and working in convenient strips upwards and along the body to the front legs and shawl. By this point if you have not dealt with the underside of the dog between the front and rear legs then it should be done at this stage.

Next you will need to start to work on the outside edge of the front leg, remembering that most dogs in this breed have a great deal of sensitivity along their front legs, particularly up the front edge - so take extra care and be gentle. In the same way as you worked up the back legs, start again with the front working from the bottom up, and then repeat on the inner edge of the other front leg. Care should be taken to ensure that the chest area between the front legs is also gently dealt with to clear any knots from this area which tends to be prone to severe knotting.

From here you should work upwards through the shoulders and chest to the neck, until only the head remains on this side.

Sometimes for personal convenience at this point, I start the other side of the body leaving the head to be dealt with completely at the end. However, for the purpose of these notes I will deal with the side of the head at this stage.

The head itself is not particularly easy to comb and also includes many sensitive areas. It is probably easier to start from the neck and chest working from the lowest point upwards towards the mouth and ear. Leaving the ear flap for now, continue to work upwards around the head to the top gently working around the side and top of the nose and then carefully around the eyes, being particularly gentle at this point. Now for the ear flap, starting at the top of the ear on one edge, very carefully work your way around the edges of the ear flap, you must be very gentle at this point and tease out as much as possible before using the comb, as bleeding can easily occur from these areas if you are too heavy handed. You can then work upwards across the outside edge of the ear flap, then turning it over to carefully deal with the inner edges. Whilst the ear flap is turned over, it is a useful opportunity to check the ear making sure that it is clean, and that any soft brown hairs are gently plucked from the ear.

The dog should now be turned over and the whole process repeated for the other side.

By now the whole body of the dog has been groomed and some final finishing points can be carried out. The hair between the pads should either be combed carefully and trimmed flush with the pads, or carefully clipped away altogether, depending upon personal preference. The genital areas of the dog/bitch should also be trimmed carefully around the edges to reduce the opportunities for knotting and infection. The hair around the anus should be trimmed away back to the skin for approximately one inch all around it. Finally, the opportunity should be taken to check that the claws are not in need of cutting, if they do, then in preference use guillotine type nail cutters to trim them back, cutting small amounts regularly and not cutting back to the 'quick'.

Having taken the trouble to clear the dogs coat in this way, weekly brushing with a stiff brush will help to maintain the appearance between these major grooming sessions. On average if you comb the coat once a month, with a good brush each week, you will probably find that it will be alright. However, you should remember that all dogs are different and you will need to learn and respond to what is right for your dog.

 

SHOW GROOMING:

Again taking note of the earlier general comments, lay the dog down. The tools for grooming and maintaining a 'show' coat are somewhat different. I personally find that a 'Mason & Pearson' type of 'bristle & nylon' brush is the main item, supplemented with combs of fine, medium and coarse teeth and additionally a good pair of scissors.

For the purpose of grooming a dog to be presented in the show ring, I personally believe they should be totally free of knots. To achieve this depth of grooming without excessive and unacceptable loss of either undercoat or length of top coat, considerable care and time must be taken.

This time referring to 'Diagram 2', starting from a point just above the anus, begin to separate the coat in to small sections, brushing carefully from the roots away from the dog. This method allows each section to be brushed over previously brushed coat thereby ensuring that all knots are found and brushed during the grooming session. From this starting point, work gradually around the rear quarter and down the outside edge of the rear leg, and repeating for the inside edge of the other rear leg although at the top you will not be able to brush the coat 'away', therefore you should take extra care to ensure that all of the coat in this area has been brushed. Then working in sections along the side of the body, starting at the top of the back and working down to the underside, this should be repeated until the neck, shoulders and chest have been included. The front legs should then be groomed starting from the top outside edge and working downwards to the bottom, then repeating for the inner edge of the other front leg. The same difficulty will be found between the front legs as the back in as much as the coat cannot be brushed 'away' 

DIAGRAM 2

and should be carefully brushed in this potentially knotty area. Now the side of the head can be groomed, starting from the top point just above the neck and working down and around the ear flap to include the nose and lower jaw. Finally the ear flap can be dealt with by continuing the process of brushing 'away', starting at the top of the ear flap and working down to the tip, and then turning over to brush around the inner edges. At this point the ear should be checked for cleanliness and any soft brown hairs plucked out.

The dog should now be turned over and the whole process repeated for the other side.

Once the main grooming has been completed, as with 'pet dogs', the hair between the pads should be attended to, the claws checked and the hair trimmed around the genital and anal areas.

After the main grooming has been carried out, a certain amount of preparation can be carried out that will enhance the presentation in the ring. Many people will debate the use of scissors or whether the ends of the coat should be 'trimmed' by breaking the coat between thumbs and forefingers. However, I personally find scissors helpful and acceptable, but do not like to see a 'scissored' finish to a presented dog. Bearing in mind the desired 'shape' that is dealt with in the next section, it is often helpful to lightly trim and shape the ears and head as well as around the back and feet, this should not be excessive or appear scissored, and will take years of practice to achieve but often the breeder or fellow exhibitors will help you if you ask.

Apart from shaping/trimming, the shoulders and neck should be stripped out by using a coarse toothed comb to ease out some of the undercoat, leaving the shoulders slim rather than thick with dense coat. The fine toothed comb should be used very carefully so as not to break the coat or remove too much undercoat, working around the mouth and chin, around the edge of the ears and around the feet. Finally, using either the medium or coarse toothed comb, the undercoat should be eased by carefully combing below the anus to the top of the rear legs to enable the coat in this area to lay a little flatter to the body.

 

RING PRESENTATION:

This particular section of these notes will enter in to areas of controversy and debate. Currently there is tremendous effort to achieve a high level of finish to the ring presentation of Old English Sheepdogs. However, it should be remembered that in previous years this was not the case, and many people hold differing views regarding the style of presentation, and it is up to each person to develop their own style and to suit the particular judge under whom they are showing. Personally, I feel very strongly that it is up to the judge to examine the dog for its qualities and not necessarily its presentation, only perhaps using this factor in the unlikely situation that they can not differentiate between the qualities of two dogs. The presentation aspect to me reflects the fact that dog shows are also spectator/public events, and for that purpose are in effect almost beauty competitions. There may be many people who disagree with these particular views, but they are personal and reflect my own views and beliefs.

Overall in presenting the dog for the show ring, the intent is to create a pear shape appearance to the body and emphasise the size of the head, retaining slim shoulders and good neck with the front legs fluffed out, whilst the rear legs, hocks and feet are also groomed to advantage.


DIAGRAM 3

DIAGRAM 4

Referring to 'Diagrams 3 & 4', with the dog stood, commence by shaping the rear body of the dog, brushing the coat upwards and outwards to increase the base of the pear shape, this extending down the rear legs to just above the hocks. The shoulders, chest and neck should be brushed as close as possible to the body perhaps using a fine water spray to stop the coat 'flying'. The front legs should be brushed upwards and outwards , whilst the hocks should be groomed to emphasise their shape and size as indicated in diagrams 3/4. Finally the head, ears and muzzle should also be brushed upwards and outwards to emphasise the overall size of the head. Clearly notes are no substitute for actual practice and it may take a considerable time before you are satisfied with your efforts.

Having described the basic idea, this can be supplemented, if desired, by an element of 'backbrushing'. This technique is no substitute for quality of coat, but I feel that it does allow for an enhancement of the final finish in relation to the appearance of the dog perhaps in the 'beauty competition' element, and a judge should never be deceived by an exhibitors clever brushwork. By using light backbrushing around the rear quarters of the dog along with its head, a more professional finish can be achieved. I am sure that many of us have stood at the ring-side before and admired dogs in the ring, occasionally being deceived by good presentation rather than a quality dog. I am sure that this is often the reason why we see a well presented dog which does not win and who is beaten by one who is not so well presented, a totally correct decision.

It should also be noted that there are some judges who do not allow brushes to be used within the ring, and this in itself is a statement that they will not be deceived by presentation and care more about the quality of the dog itself. Often in these situations backbrushing is inappropriate, but your hands can be used to good effect, again achieving the basic desired shape as described earlier in this section.

There are many techniques that can be used in ring presentation, and only a few examples have been indicated here. You should be prepared to look and listen in order to learn and extend your knowledge, you will never know it all, so always be prepared to learn more, consider other methods, and last but not least respect other peoples views and opinions - it takes all sorts and styles in showing.

 

GROOMING PREPARATIONS:

In giving a couple of tips here, you should always be familiar with the Kennel Club Rules on this issue, which basically do not allow for any preparation to be used which will change either the colour, texture or body of a dogs coat.

A fine spray of water to aid their preparation for the show ring is all that is currently allowed by the Kennel Club. Trade stands and pet shops are full of products to tempt you - just beware of the K.C. rules.

In concluding these notes, I hope that they will be of help to you, and would encourage you to copy them and pass them on to others who may benefit from them. As I have previously said, I do not consider myself to be an expert, just rather fortunate to have had the opportunity to learn from fellow exhibitors, and I am indebted to them for their tuition, help and support over the last 15 years.

March 1992 (updated April 1996)

graphics by Bertie Pennie

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