Grooming Deerhounds for the Show Ring

In many breeds, there is a right way to groom, and any dog who is not groomed exactly that way is unlikely to be seriously considered in the show ring.  Think poodles, terriers, spaniels, ...  maybe most breeds!  Deerhounds are not like that.  Take a look at the websites of Deerhound breeders, at the win photos in various magazines, and it is clear that Deerhounds are groomed ... idiosyncratically.

In grooming a Deerhound, the main variables are

  • the groomer's vision of what the dog ought to look like
  • the groomer's ability
  • the raw material - the dog

This last ingredient includes not only the coat of the dog in question, but also his assets and his faults.

Another HUGE variable is location.  Dogs in the UK are generally presented clean.  Ears might be stripped, but relatively little else is done to most of the dogs.  

In the US and Canada, the show ring expectations are different.  We may lament that fact, but it is something that we live with.  I think that part of the issue is that dog shows (in the US at least; I haven't shown enough in Canada to make any statements about it) have gotten away from their original purpose of comparing breeding stock, and the lack of breeder-judges means that Deerhounds are being judged by a lot of people who picked up their Deerhound license as part of the "balance of the hound group" and not because it was a breed that was studied and admired for years.  The process of becoming a judge is very different in the US than it is in the UK, with a much greater emphasis on filling squares and jumping through hoops than earning the respect of the breed community.

When I start grooming a dog for the show ring, I usually begin with an undercoat rake.  I rake the neck and throat, the brisket (gently; most Deerhounds seem to feel that theiir white hairs are more tender than the dark ones), the shoulders, back and sides, and thighs.  Then I switch to a Greyhound comb, and comb the entire dog.  The third step is to strip the ears, and thence to the bath.  I usually simply allow my dogs to air dry, but if a dog has worn a collar, I will sometimes blow-dry the neck to minimize the collar mark.

Once the dog is dry, I do the "finish" grooming, which varies depending on the dog.

First, I re-rake and re-comb, and trim the hair on the sheath.  Then I clean up the head (hand-plucking or using a terrier knife), which usually entails

  • removing the "bozo" hair that fluffs out in front of the ears.  Typically this is the top of the ridge of hair that runs from the ears to the breastbone, and it causes the head to look wider and blockier than it is.  In general, anything that is visually distracting has to go.
  • cleaning up the area where the leash will go.  Typically, this means thinning out some hair on the skull (behind the eyebrows - I never touch the eyebrows unless they are wildly uneven) to avoid having a bubble of hair forming in front of the leash, and also cleaning up the cheeks and throatlatch a little so that the leash doesn't cause a visual distraction there.
  • thinning out the throat.  I do very little of this, but sometimes it is necessary.  A little bit is often required if you had to do a lot under the previous bullet.  Some people strip down virtually all the hair inside the ridge that runs from the ears to the breastbone, but I don't like that heavily sculpted look.  I will be a bit more aggressive with a dog who might appear at first glance to lack elegance.  I sometimes use a "coat king" on this area only.

Next step is cleaning up the underline.  This is a pet peeve of mine.  This should be done by hand-plucking, although I have been known to cut some of the belly hair.  But never ever ever cut guard hairs!  When I see a dog whose underline has been created with scissors, I want to cringe.

Finally, I clean up the feet.  Nail trimming is done on a regular basis, but I will cut nails back (never making the quick bleed) just before a show, and may also grind them if the dog doesn't mind.  To neaten the coat on the feet, I lift the foot as if I were picking out a horse's hoof, and cut off, flush with the pads, any hair that sticks out between the pads.  Then, still working from the underside, I cut off any hair that sticks out around the foot.  Then I set the foot back on the ground and neaten things up from the top.

Over the next month or so, I will post some before and after pictures of my dogs.