What to do with all that hair?
BY: Ileana Nogueras
One time at a dog show while admiring some of the specimens in the ring an exhibitor asked a long time breeder, "What do you do to get such beautiful coats on your dogs?" The breeders response was, "We breed them!"
That cannot be argued. Genetics are a huge part of a healthy, plush, beautiful coat. Likewise, fragile or porous coat can be genetic.
But, it is also true that we can do a lot to improve and maintain a beautiful coat on our dogs, or that we can ruin a good coat by not caring for it properly.
So, what things will impact the condition of your dog's hair?
Parasites (fleas, mites, ticks), skin infections (yeast, ringworm) injuries to the skin from chewing and scratching (hot spots) are some of the health issues that can negatively impact coat condition. These require a coordinated effort from you and your vet to diagnose, treat and correct. As a veteran groomer, I can tell you that one of the first signs of changes in health I notice in my client's dogs is the condition of their coat.
Other health factors that can affect the quality and condition of coat are: abnormal thyroids, hormonal imbalances and low protein levels.
You must evaluate your personal situation, do your homework and decide what the best food and feeding plan is that you can afford to give your dog because what they eat directly affects their coat.
Kibble has come a long way and there are some very good brands including organic brands in the market. A raw diet can be intimidating at first, but it just takes some research, a little discipline and commitment. Once you are comfortable feeding raw it really is very easy to do. However, it is more than just giving your dog a cup of kibble or a couple of chicken necks.
At home, we do both; it really depends on the dog.
And of course there are many supplements to help you boost your dog's metabolism and improve their coat. One of my favorites is Theracoat (DavisMfg). All my poodles are on it. Missing Link worked the best on my Chinese Sharpei. My favorite supplement to improve the changing coat of a German Shepherd Dog is Formula #92 from Isle of Dogs.
We are talking about improving coats on dogs that are going to show and blow their coat, or bitches coming back in coat after their heat. In my experience, healthy dogs that are eating a good, balanced diet need no supplements. Be very careful not to over-supplement your dogs.
Ok, now that we have a healthy dog on a balanced diet, let the fun begin. Let's groom!
Coat management on a German Shepherd Dog
First things first. The GSD standard says, "The ideal dog has a double coat of medium length. The outer coat should be as dense as possible, hair straight, harsh and lying close to the body. A slightly wavy outer coat, often of wiry texture, is permissible. The head, including the inner ear and foreface, and the legs and paws are covered with short hair, and the neck with longer and thicker hair. The rear of the forelegs and hind legs has somewhat longer hair extending to the pastern and hock, respectively. Faults in coat include soft, silky, too long outer coat, woolly, curly and open coat."
Some call German Shepherds "German Shedders" for a good reason. This breed sheds all the time (so do we!) However, there are, generally speaking, two really heavy shedding seasons. Depending on where you live and your weather they are late spring or early summer and late fall or early winter. Oh, and of course the moment you make your entries your bitch decides she is finally coming in heat and there goes all that beautiful hair. The shedding that happens the rest of the year is normal; old hair out, new hair in.
I always recommend that when starting a new grooming regimen you start with a clean slate. Chose a good, clarifying shampoo, bathe your dog a couple of times and get rid of all the buildup left on the coat from previous products. I must confess that when my dogs are not showing I do use a really deep conditioner, or mask, because I love the feel of a soft coat.
When shampooing and/or conditioning, it is very important that you rinse until the entire product has been removed. Rinsing thoroughly prevents build up that could make the dogs itchy, weigh down the coat, and actually make the dog dirtier faster. Build up will sabotage your hard work. Rinse, rinse and rinse again. A cool (not cold) water rinse helps close the hair cuticle and reduces hair porosity. A warm bath and a warm rinse will speed up a change of coat.
Now, evaluate the coat. Does it feel dry? Brittle? Porous? Then it is time to rehydrate and repair that coat. Bathe your dog (I always do two shampoos) and rinse well. Once the shampoo is out, apply a remoisturizing conditioner. Let sit for 5 minutes, while massaging it into the skin, and rinse well.
Before drying spray a leave in conditioner on the coat. This will prevent friction and porosity on the hair shaft and will make brushing your dog a lot easier. Realize that a quality leave in conditioner is made not to leave residue or build up on the dog. This is where doing your homework starts to pay off.
Never brush a dog's coat dry. Before reaching for the brush grab that bottle of leave in conditioner and spray the entire coat with a light mist. This will reduce static while brushing and your dog will love you for it.
Evaluate your tools. That comb and brush you have been lugging around for twenty years (you know, those that you cannot find anymore because the company went out of business nineteen years ago?) well, maybe it is time to replace them. A comb with three teeth and a brush with five bristles are not going to help you get your dog groomed well. There are hundreds, yes, hundreds of options, so go shopping! And do not forget the towels.
When grooming the long, plush dog, or the short, tight coated dog, you will benefit from different products. The needs of an oily coat are different than those of a dry coat. You can even improve the texture of your dog's hair with the right product. By now you are working on a shopping list that is not necessarily extravagant or expensive, but effective.
You should have a clean dog whose coat has been conditioned and that has a light mist of leave in conditioner on their coat. You have your apron on and a good brush and comb handy. Let the hair flying begin!
Normally, you want to dry your dog with cool air. Too much heat is damaging to the hair. Be aware of the temperature. Living in Texas we had temperature challenges; it was either hot or hotter. I arranged a grooming area in my air conditioned garage and kept a fan circulating air towards the back of my dryer. This prevented the air coming from the dryer from becoming too hot. If you have allergies or asthma, you may want to wear a mask.
Now, think about what you have and what you want. My TJ had enough hair for three dogs. When he was in full coat I would bathe him two days before shows to avoid that "overdone" look when freshly groomed. However, my Buster had a nice tight coat, and could be groomed the very morning of the show. Maddie had a lot of waves on her coat, and she was one of the few dogs that could afford a little more heat from the dryer to improve the appearance of her coat.
If you keep a little humidity on the skin and root of the hair, the coat will fluff out and the dog will look like it has more volume. You can also try volumizing products. The most intelligent thing you can do is experiment way before the show day. Try different things during your weekly grooming routine and you will feel a lot more confident when it really matters.
One more thing: stick to products made for dogs. Human products are made with human, not canine, PH in mind, and they are harsher on the dogs. In an emergency you could use your shampoo on your dog, but I would not.
And if it is raining, do not worry, your wet dogs will show off their very correct structure!
The Final Product
You are almost finished. So what should you look for? A show dog!
The comb should glide through the entire coat. There should be no matting or clumps. It should lay in the direction it grows, nice and natural. Have a helper hold your dog in a show stack, and take a critical look. Is everything looking the way it should? Granted, dogs do not win on hair, but they do stand out when they look their best. Dogs do know when they look good. Judges are only human, and a well groomed dog usually has that attitude that says, "Look at me."
A Final Word on Grooming your GSD
A well groomed dog has more than beautiful hair. Their nails are short. Their teeth are clean. Their ears are clean. The best way to get your dog to get used to the entire grooming process is to do it often. Dogs are creatures of habit.
If you get your dog used to the idea that once a week he is going to have a wonderful "spa time" (that is what we call it at home), they know they are going to look good and be fussed over. They walk around like they are special, which of course they are, and their entire attitude changes.
Work at it - you will both be winners.
See you around the ring!
The author has been grooming for over 25 years. She is an AKC licensed judge for German Shepherd Dogs and Junior Showmanship. Together with her husband and daughter, she owns "Lather Up Pups," a mobile grooming company. They have titled German Shepherd Dogs in the Breed, Obedience, and Herding rings and also own a few Poodles, Poodle Mixes, Sharpeis, Golden Retrievers and Norwegian Elkhounds.
Have questions? You can reach her at her website