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Grooming Your Dog for Field and Show

Can the show dog be a hunter? Can the field dog be a showdog? The answers are yes, and grooming lies at the heart of it all. Most dogs enjoy working for their owners, especially if it includes performing the function they were originally bred for. The dog, a multifaceted animal, is capable of performing many tasks. Yet owners often categorize their dogs, and their single-minded thinking can deprive both the dogs of opportunities to work, and owners of many enjoyable hours of fun and companionship with their dogs. Perhaps these owners are not aware of the fact that sporting dogs can earn up to 11 different AKC titles, as well as many breed-specific titles offered by individual breed parent clubs. Many of these titles are aimed at proving a dog's worth as a working companion. One of the reasons many owners become single-minded is because of the grooming "problems" associated with competing in both the breed ring and performance events. Grooming is not an insurmountable problem, it just takes knowledge and know-how. There are some tricks of the trade, but dual-purpose grooming is mostly a good, commonsense approach to the total dog.


Work Inside Out: All good grooming starts on the inside. What you do to the surface - clipping, brushing and scissoring - only enhances the appearance of a healthy, well conditioned animal. Breeders and owners of dual champion dogs, and AKC breed judges, all stress the importance of maintaining a well-balanced, nutritious diet along with a specific internal and external parasite control program. Suggested worming programs vary, and any worm control program should be monitored by your veterinarian. By keeping a dog free of parasites, the hair loss that inevitably occurs when running in the field recoups quicker and is less noticeable. It is just as important to keep fleas and ticks under control - the damage they cause to the coat and skin is worse than that caused by working afield. With the current rise and spread of Lyme disease, tick control is especially important. Dogs that are exposed to this threat should he carefully monitored. After every training session, hunting test or field trial, dogs should be checked thoroughly for ticks, and treated promptly if any problems occur. Dogs working in the field also need regular bathing. Dirt and grime that accumulates on the coat, if left unwashed, will cause damage to the hair shaft, leaving the coat looking dull and eventually causing the hair ends to break off. It's not necessary to bathe the dog every time it comes in from the field, but once every other week will help keep its coat looking healthy. This goes for short-coated as well as long-coated breeds. Brisk brushing in between baths will remove excess dirt and stimulate the hair follicles.


All Dogs Need Grooming: Some field people feel their dogs don't need grooming. They're wrong. While overall performance of specific criteria is paramount to a field dog's success, there is a lot of room for personal interpretation of its performance. The field judge, judge a dog's style on point and run just as the breed judge judges its style and way of going in the ring. A judge's overall impression of your dog can become an important factor in his evaluation. A dog standing on point that is neatly groomed can give the impression of being more "stylish." I groom a lot of field-bred English Setters, as well as Irish Setters, Gordon Setters and Brittanys, which compete in the ring and the field. While the dogs are in training or running in field competitions, we keep them in a maintenance clip. The setters are done by clippering the upper third of the ears, under the ears, and under the neck and throat. Clip some of the hair under the tail away, defining the tail from the body. This gives the dog a more stylish look on point. Brittanys are clippered under the neck, and excess hair is removed from the tail to give a clean appearance. Excess hair on the ears is thinned when necessary. Clippering is for maintenance purposes only; field dogs should not be stripped down to the skin, as they need some coat to protect them from the cover. Nails are kept short to prevent tearing, and hair in the pads is clippered or scissored away to keep debris such as mud and snow balls from building up. You will find that by keeping the dog maintained this way, it is much easier to go from field competition back to the show ring. You will not have weeks of grooming to catch up on. (Of course, all the grooming in the world will not make up for a poor performance or lack of training,nor will it fix a badly structured dog. But why not give yourself an edge and present a dog you can be proud of at all times?) All dogs that run in field competitions or are personal hunting dogs will require maintenance from their owners. Short-coated breeds may not pick up burdocks, but their lack of coat leaves them prone to skin damage from thorny bushes, thistles and multiflora hedgerows. They sometimes don't hold up as well in cold, icy weather, either. Long-coated breeds coats require attention after a hunt to remove stickweeds and cockleburs. In your tack box, along with a slicker brush, be sure to carry an Oster mat splitter or pair of scissors to split burrs for easy removal. Never cut across the hair; cut from the skin side down through the matt or burr, then pull hair away from the burr starting at the bottom and working up. For very difficult mats, cut crosswise with a pair of thinning shears, then pull the hair apart, again starting at the bottom. When loosened, use a slicker brush to fully remove. While brushing, be sure to hold the hair close to the body with your other hand to prevent excessive pulling on the skin. While cold weather usually doesn't bother long-coated breeds, warm weather often takes its toll on them. Wirehaired, coated breeds seem to have the least problems with grooming and working in hot or cold weather.


Getting the Crud Out: Owners of dual purpose dogs cite the following as common grooming problems, and offer these helpful, preventative remedies to combat them. For cockleburs and : stickweeds, use products which coat the hair shaft, preventing adhesion of burrs and repelling dirt, like Absorbine Show Sheen (available in horse supply stores); The Stuff (similar to Show Sheen, found in dog supply stores); Alpho Kerry Oil (1/2- capful in one pint of water); baby oil; and Pam cooking spray. For faded, suburned coats, apply a coat-conditioning product which contains sunscreen (available in dog supply stores). Mink oil acts as a sunscreen. To avoid collar marks, use 1"-wide, leather hunting collars, which leave less of a mark. Never use a choke chain in the field. For abrasions, antiseptic ointments prevent infection and keep skin soft. Two popular ones are Corona salve and Bag Balm. Prevent snowballs from forming in feet by applying Vaseline petroleum jelly. It will keep the snow from sticking, but be sure to remove long, excess hair first. And help avoid eye injuries by not clipping field dogs whiskers, which they use as feelers to signal them when to blink. If you set your goal to compete in both show and field events, prevention will become an integral part of your grooming and maintenance program. Be religious with your regime, tailor it to your and the dog's personal needs, and you'll and the dog's personal needs, and your efforts will be rewarded. The bond between you and your dog will grow, and you'll enjoy many hours of companionship.