I grab some milkbone treats, tell my dog he’s a good boy, and give him a makeover. Through necessity, I learn how to groom my cockapoo, Waffle, and learn about dog grooming. I learn about the controversial world of creative dog grooming and its competitions. And finally, I try to figure out what dogs think about all of this.
My Cockapoo and Grooming
Full disclosure: I don’t have a dog anymore. For 12 years, I had a cocker spaniel, poodle mix, or cockapoo, named Waffle. He wasn’t the nicest dog or calmest dog or active dog, but he was definitely a dog.
Waffle had an exciting life coming from Montreal, moving around Ottawa, and even lived in Winnipeg for a while. The last 8 years of his life, he was my dog and kept me company when I bought a house and moved out, got married, moved to a bigger house, and had my first kid.
In that time, he grew a reputation of being loyal to me and barely tolerating everyone else. There are a few dozen of us in the “Waffle bit me club.” We did take him to an aggressive dog specialist and we were told that training would only do so much and this was a typical temperament for a cocker spaniel.
It’s because of that temperament and his history that I took up grooming him myself. According to the Cockapoo Club of Great Britain, Cockapoos have three types of coats, all of which are low shedding and low allergen. Waffle had what’s called “Loose Waxy Coat”.
Often after petting him, you’d find your hand a bit greasy and you’d leave finger prints everywhere. Besides the waxy feel, his coat was also prone to matting.
He had been professionally groomed before many times so I knew the look – short, even coat with a miniature schnauzer look. I went to Walmart and bought the second cheapest grooming kit.
I’ll be honest – the first few times I groomed him, I was nervous and my hands shook. It was partly like defusing a bomb and trying to hold an egg using a vice – he could bite me at any second and it felt like I was always one snip away from hurting him.
So every 4-6 weeks, I grabbed a handful of treats and my grooming kit and suffered through 2 hours of shearing and snipping, sometimes with my wife’s help to groom the areas he hated, just so he wouldn’t get matted.
Both Waffle and I would end up exhausted and I drenched in sweat from the tension. The best feeling was right after I cleaned up, I knew I had at least a month before having to go through the experience again.
If I’ve been too subtle this far, I’ll be clear: grooming wasn’t something I enjoyed or looked forward to.
Types of Grooming
Besides preventing the matting and the general comfort, grooming has other benefits, like:
- It’s like a checkup – I looked for bumps, cuts, and scratches. Eventually when he got arthritis, I could tell because he didn’t like me holding his paws.
- It did lead to us bonding and I think it was one of the reasons he trusted me more than everyone else.
- It kept him clean. With his coat, it was very easy to get dirty and, eventually, parasites.
Because of grooming’s fast growth, some people are calling for its regulation. Technically, anyone can call themselves a groomer.
Looking at how breeding is regulated where certain breeds are created for looks rather than health, I’m doubtful about regulations having any sort of positive effect here.
Creative Dog Grooming
Alright so those are the health benefits. Let’s get to the world of aesthet grooming that ranges from breed-specific styling to owner-specific looks to the world of creative grooming.
A few times, I did try to get creative and managed to give him a beard like a miniature schnauzer, but it was another roll-of-the-dice because he’d often move leaving a huge dent on one side of his face.
Art and fashion has a way of becoming a part of every aspect of our lives, including dog grooming, and like most forms of art, it’s controversial.
Pets have also become more and more humanized and seen as a replacement for children in some cases. There is the famous news story about a person requesting family leave to take care of their dog. Combine art, fashion, and money and you get creative dog grooming.
It’s not hard to see why given that animals, especially pets, have a lot of passionate protectors and activists.
So where is the line between healthy dog grooming and harmful? To answer that, let’s look at some of the things being done to dogs as part of creative grooming
We’re all used to dogs wearing clothes and even wearing matching clothes with their owners, but what about matching nail polish? Pawdicures have become so popular, nail polish brands have capitalized on it by creating dog-specific polish that’s odor free and quick drying, which leads me to wonder why human nail polish isn’t odor free and quick drying.
This one doesn’t bother me too much, I had to trim Waffle’s nails and don’t think nail polish would have harmed him more than the 5 milk bones it took to get through doing all four paws.
It seems there are enough Rufio from the movie Hook fans that adding feathers to dog’s ears has become a thing. Feathers of all colours are attached to small bits of dog hair with beads. I can see this one annoying and possibly hurting dogs but I also know that if they don’t want them on, dogs are pretty great at scratching their ears and can knock them off.
With fur dying, it feels like we’re getting into harmful territory. I don’t even think human hair dying is entirely safe, but that’s another issue. There is only so much you can do by attaching things to dogs.
Fur dying can range from ear and tail tips to the whole body. The classic poodle is often groomed and dyed this way. Dying can also be done to create patterns like stripes or be used to make dogs looks like other animals, like Pandas.
It’s recommended that human dyes not be used and that dog dyes be used sporadically.
There are a lot more types of creative grooming accessories but I stopped reading after I found “booty bling”.
Competitive Dog Grooming
Like any hobby or skill, it is inevitable that competitions will arise.
Combine the three examples I gave you, add more accessories and a creative direction and you get dogs that are groomed and dyed to look like skeletons, adorned with hair extensions and a saddle to look like a pony, and made into full works of art depicting under the sea with fish.
The Groom Expo is the largest dog grooming competition and the majority of competing dogs are standard poodles. Poodles are the best breed since they have white fur – a perfect canvas, grow fur quickly, and need constant grooming. Over 5,000 people attend from across North America.
The competition itself is actually interesting – contestants have under 3 hours to product the most creative grooming. Judges look for clean cuts, dyes, and, obviously, creativity.
It can cost up to $25,000 to practice, prepare, and travel and the grand prize is typically 1/5 that. Why do the groomers do this? The typical reasons of bragging rights and garnering business apply, although the majority of these groomers are very busy already, but the main reason is simple: exercising their creativity and competition.
Classic Dog Grooming
There is also the classic dog grooming competitions that focus more on traditional looks and techniques.
The World Grooming Competition is held around the world with teams attending from different countries.
Teams compete in four categories:
- hand stripping – pulling out fur by hand from the root,
- Spaniels/Setters, and
Three judges score and rank each category from 1 to 20. The team with the highest collective score wins.
What do dogs think?
Some of the defences of creative dog grooming are:
- All the dyes are safe, temporary, and wash or grow out
- The dogs “have a choice” or else they wouldn’t put up with the grooming – you wouldn’t be able to get the straight or precise cuts
- The dogs are happy if you see them in person instead of just making assumptions from seeing pictures online
I don’t think dogs don’t care what they look like. What they care about is getting attention, so if the creative or competitive grooming gets them positive attention from their owners and strangers, they’ll react positively.
I can see these dogs being happy – they get a lot of attention and care from their owners. In that way, they’re happier than typical dogs. They’re most likely much better trained as well.
It’s still difficult not to think we’re over-humanizing dogs and crossing some sort of line of turning these living things that we know have the consciousness of two year olds into chia pets. But again, that is even projecting our own feelings of being dressed up and groomed.
I respect these groomers’ ability to train and groom their dogs. I don’t think I got 50 grooming under my belt over the years and I definitely didn’t get 50 times better than my first time.
It takes a lot of time, commitment, practice, and most likely, boxes of milkbone treats.