Navigation: Home/Grooming

Grooming The American Cocker Spaniel

By kind permission of Amy English
(This article appeared in Our Dogs November 2010)

An American Cocker that is conditioned and prepared correctly presents a very impressive picture and the way you groom your dog can also be one of your biggest advantages in the show ring and help you stand out from the crowd. However grooming skills are not gained over night and it can take many years of experience to learn the art of grooming an American Cocker to accentuate its strong points and hide its faults. So knowing your dog and what you need to improve is the first thing you need to learn before you reach for a stripping knife or pair of scissors!!!. This is a difficult breed to groom as it requires many different grooming skills however whether you are a seasoned pro or an amateur new to the breed, everyone can always learn something new.

The best way to learn is from a knowledgeable breeder, but sadly many breeders just don't seem to offer the advice and guidance needed to a new exhibitor. So my advice is to watch at shows as many people as you can and if you get a chance to ever travel to The American Spaniel Club shows take it. With showing being a very professional scene over there and the majority of handlers paid to do the job the standards are extremely high and it is a wonderful opportunity to watch handlers preparing dogs from start to finish, as exhibits are bathed and dried at the show also.

I am going to give you an insight into how I prepare my dogs for the ring. It is a complex subject which I could write a book about , so here I will cover the basics.

As far as I am concerned the single most import part of preparing your American for the show ring is, to correctly bath and blow dry the coat. With out a good finish on the hair you will never achieve the trim you are looking for. You must wash the coat twice in a good quality shampoo and follow with conditioner, don't be afraid to use plenty and insure the coat is rinsed thoroughly. Towel dry the coat but leave enough moisture to ensure the coat you are not drying does not dry out to quickly and if it does damp it down again. I use a blaster to dry the backs and a stand dryer for the rest, fluff drying the whole coat. This simply means to brush and dry the coat at the same time. Make sure your dog is completely dry right though as if any moisture is left in the coat any where it will cause the coat to kink and curl over night. We also do not groom in between baths but instead bath every 4 days. This causes less coat breakage and keeps your show coats in first class order.

Now on to the clipper work, the majority of which is done against the grain with a #10 or #15 blade. Clip the top third of the ears inside and out and up into the skull leaving about an inch of hair to blend your top knot into the neck and also the cheeks and muzzle. If you dog is a little narrow in the muzzle then take your back skull and cheeks a little shorter and leave the fore face slightly longer. Yet again know your dog!!. Clip up the throat against the grain starting about an inch above the breast bone and clip down the neck following the line from under the ear, don't be tempted to clip further back into the neck as this gives an unnatural appearance. You ideally do not want to see you clip lines when the dogs ear hangs down naturally. Clip underneath your tail to just below the bottom, even with full tails now I still clip the area that would have been clipped when docked. Blend all your clip lines using thinning shears. I also clip out the pads to give the foot a clean appearance underneath.

Once you have put your clip lines in I then begin to card the coat through with a coarse Classic stripping knife to remove the undercoat, start at the top of the neck and work down towards the tail. Work in small sections and groom through as you go. Card down a few inches into the side coat to blend this area into the back and make it lay smooth on the sides. If you pull the hair to far down the sides you will end up with a tutu effect. Once you have removed all the undercoat you need to work the top coat by hand. This involves pulling the hair out to make the coat lay smooth and flat. Always pull the coat the way you want it to lay as it encourages the hair the sit in the right place and only pull small sections at a time by lifting the coat with one hand and pulling the long hairs out with the other hand. It is so easy to want to cut corners in this area, especially in dogs with very heavy back coats and when first stripping puppies, but trust me it is not worth it in the long run, you may gain instant satisfaction the first few times but the long term effects will mean you will never achieve the correct hand stripped finish called for in the show ring. My advice is learn to do things the hard way before you even attempt any short cuts, we have all seen top breeders thinning away at shows on areas that should be stripped and the dogs look great but they would have put the hard graft in at home and it is because of this that they can get away with a few short cuts. The most import strip is your puppies first ever full hand strip, if you put the work in then you should end up with a back coat that is easy to maintain and that is smooth, flat and shiny.

Now for the scissoring, something which has shown big style changes over the years and it is here you can show a little more artistic flare to show your desired outline. I prefer the feet to flow into each other and to not have such harsh straight lines. I start by pulling all the hair down the leg to the foot and removing the excess hair from underneath the pads and the hair that hangs over them. Then comb the hair down and out so the coat sits as you would want it to in the ring. You need to trim the feet in layers and you should start the first layer of your foot at the top, as this sets the shape for the rest of the foot. Never start at the bottom as your will more than likely end up with your feet looking to small and more like your dog is stood on stilts!!. The feet should be full and round and blended in to the belly coat. You want to see daylight under an American, they should not have coats to the floor. Trim your belly coat up and blend the area in to the front feet and rear legs. If your dog has a sparse belly coat, don't be tempted to leave the hair thin and wispy, it will look thicker and give the illusion of more coat if you trim it up. The top knot should be blended to give the skull and rounded look and should be taken clean either side of the head and blended on the top and into the neck. The amount of top knot you leave depends on your own dogs head shape. The neck should look slightly arched so you may need to leave a little more hair in this area and then blend the stripped and clipped areas on the sides of the neck in to each other. The tail area also needs to be blended in and trimmed. It is completely down to personal preference as to whether you leave feathering on the tail or not. I believe it depends on the dog and tail carriage and what suits the individual, so I leave my puppies with coat on and decide as they get older. Either way if you leave hair a short fan seems to suit most and if you prefer to take the coat off it looks better if the length is thinned off and not clipped as when the tails are clipped all the way to the tip it can make the tail look very thin and whippy.

So don't be afraid to have ago, you only learn through watching and making mistakes and lets face it the hair will always grow back or pray for long grass!!!!!

Navigation: Home/Grooming