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From sporting dogs to toy breeds, show dogs must look the part.
“Miss America does not just sit on the couch eating potato chips before a pageant,” says Susan Hamil, a veteran of the dog show world. “It’s the same for show dogs.” Hamil, a judge and fancier of Bloodhounds, is one of the four dog show experts that shared their tips and dog care regimen leading up to a show.
The perfectly-coiffed dogs may make it look effortless, but groomers are doing consistent work behind the scenes to prepare for the ring. While your dog may not be strutting their stuff at a Conformation event, we know they’ll always be Best in Show in your heart. These dog grooming tips will help your pup look and feel their best.
1. Let’s Talk Exercise
“The thing about show dogs is that they learn to enjoy all of the attention, which makes them feel good about themselves. Just like people, dogs feel their best when they’re in great condition, so they need exercise. For example, a show Bloodhound will do 45 minutes of swimming with a weighted vest on a regular basis to stay in shape.” –Susan Hamil, Bloodhound judge and breeder
2. Research Your Dog Food
“The most important advice I give to owners of West Highland White Terriers is to research your dog food. A lot of Westies are prone to skin issues, and people want a formulaic answer to solve what’s going on, but it’s not that easy. I think some dog foods promote yeast growth, and yeast is a bad thing for Westies. It gets in their armpits, in their pads, and it just grows — I have a couple of friends that have Westies, and they chew themselves raw. It’s really sad. People assume it’s allergies, but it may not be. It may be something like too much sugar in the food or too many carbohydrates, which produces sugar, which fuels yeast. Always research their food and talk to your vet about what is appropriate.” –Vanessa Skou, West Highland White Terrier breeder and fancier
3. Teach Your Dog to Love Grooming
“Dog owners need to be willing to put in the time to teach dogs to accept grooming. If you can put the dog up on a countertop, touch their feet, and run a brush through their coat, it helps them to get used to being handled, and they learn to enjoy it. My dogs will jump up on the grooming tables themselves and hang out. They’ll look at me like, ‘Hey, it’s my turn! Brush me.’ If you make it enjoyable, it can be very relaxing for the dog.” –Lindsey Dicken, Master Groomer, Bichon Frise fancier
4. Get to Know Your Dog’s Coat Type
“Understanding what your dog’s coat needs is very helpful. For example, Shih Tzus are known for their long, flowing coats. Sometimes the stronger shampoos that are used to get Shih Tzus clean can dry their skin, so they typically need a conditioner after a bath to put the moisture back in. Keep in mind, it’s essential to use shampoo products that are made for dogs and not people because of the differences in pH balance.” –Michelle Jones, Shih Tzu breeder and fancier
“Bloodhounds have an all-weather coat. They secrete sebum that naturally waterproofs their coats, so water doesn’t penetrate the hair, and they can shake it off. When washing your dog, you do not want to remove the natural oils. Use a gentle shampoo on a routine basis. I also use a conditioner or a crème rinse. Before bath time, I brush out the dog’s coat to get the dead hair out. I prefer a rubber brush with individual bristles.” –Susan Hamil, Bloodhound expert
5. Never Skimp on Dental Hygiene
“It’s crucial for large dogs to get used to being handled right at the beginning. You should be able to lift their lip to massage their gums and clean their teeth. For massaging their gums, you can use a finger brush or a toothbrush with soft, rubber bristles. Always make sure you brush the gum line, too. Dogs can get all of the dental issues humans do — except they cannot brush their teeth after a meal.” –Susan Hamil, Bloodhound expert
“In addition to brushing, I give my dogs a chew that is a hardened cheese to help keep their teeth clean. I like them because they’re easy for the little dogs to hold between their paws. They don’t make a big mess or leave residue on their coat. I’ve also recently been turned on to dried duck feet. My dogs only get them twice a week. They love them, and for some reason, their teeth are spotless.” –Michelle Jones, Shih Tzu expert
6. Keep Nails and Foot Hair Trimmed
“My dogs’ nails are checked with every single bath. Because breeds like Shih Tzus and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels have a lot of foot hair, people forget about trimming their nails. But they shouldn’t. When nails are overgrown, it affects their feet and their ability to walk and move.”
“On Shih Tzus and other toy breeds, you need to trim the hair that’s between the pads of their feet on the bottom side. Keeping that area trimmed and clean can reduce their chances of getting irritation between the pads of the feet. It also helps with traction so they can use the pads of their feet when they’re on different surfaces.” –Michelle Jones, Shih Tzu expert
7. Keep Up With Grooming
Brush Between Grooming Appointments
“I’m a pet groomer by trade, and I think the biggest thing that we tell our owners is brushing out the coat. It’s the biggest favor you can do for your dog because they have to learn, first of all, that it’s not a bad thing. Then, when they get to a groomer, they won’t have to brush out four to eight weeks of knots. That’s not fun for the groomer or the dog. When an owner brushes their dog at home, it not only keeps the coat in good shape, it also gets the dog used to being handled and brushed. It makes the groomer’s job a lot easier, and it’s more comfortable for the dog.” –Lindsey Dicken, Master Groomer and Bichon Frise expert
“There are many cute puppy cuts out there for Shih Tzus, but owners need to make sure that the cuts are maintained. It is important to trim the hair over the nose on a regular basis. People don’t always realize that as the hair grows, it can poke the dog in the eye and give them eye irritation.” –Michelle Jones, Shih Tzu expert
8. Quick Health Check
“I’m always touching my dogs. I carry them in my arms. I’m grooming them often, and I’m always looking at them. This way, I can find out: Do they have a growth? Do they have something going on? I’m always aware of what’s going on with my dogs’ bodies. You can catch many issues before they become bad by being observant.” –Vanessa Skou, West Highland White Terrier expert
9. Special Care for Certain Features
“Get your vet to recommend a gentle ear cleaner and clean their ears according to how much wax build-up or debris there is. Keep their ear tips clean and dry. If you live in a city, their ears will pick up a lot of dirt from the sidewalk.”
“Make sure the eyes are clear of any matter or discharge. The breed has droopy eyes so that you can see lower lids and they may be a little pink. They should never be fiery red or angry-looking. There should not be persistent tearing or discharge. If this is the case, consult your vet.” –Susan Hamil, Bloodhound expert
10. Specially Treat White Coats
“I bathe my dogs that are showing once a week, and I make sure they’re dried well. I wash them in a clear shampoo — no color. Westie hair absorbs color. So if you use a purple shampoo, then eventually they’ll become purple.
“Clean and dry is the name of the game. And it’s hard when you have a pet. Even if you use a hand towel to wipe their feet every time they come inside, it will help a lot.” –Vanessa Skou, West Highland White Terrier Expert
“I mix it up, depending on each dog because if they have a dry coat, you don’t want to use one that has a lot of bluing in it because it will make them purple. I sometimes use the brand Artero. They have a booster called ‘Blanc,’ that you can mix into other shampoos. It makes it like an optical brightener. I like that one because it’s not so obvious and not so purple or blue.” –Lindsey Dicken, Master Groomer and Bichon Frise expert