From the standard:
Skull--Rounded but not exaggerated with no tendency toward flatness; the eyebrows are clearly defined with a pronounced stop. The bony structure beneath the eyes is well chiseled with no prominence in the cheeks. The muzzle is broad and deep, with square even jaws. To be in correct balance, the distance from the stop to the tip of the nose is one half the distance from the stop up over the crown to the base of the skull.
The photos of Austin (left) show you how to block out a proper head. You can see that the proportions match pretty closely the suggestions from the standard.
Most pet cockers (and many show lines) are producing heads which are not ideal and that appear flat and short. Leaving a crown can make the head appear more correct and more attractive at the same time. As you can see from the picture below, a flat head on a cocker is not that appealing and a little hair left on his head would have made him appear to be closer to the standard. A flat head also makes the ears appear incorrectly set and the muzzle to appear longer than it should be for a “correct” cocker head.
This cocker gets a shaved head, not a crown. As a result his head appears flatter and his muzzle appears longer. By laving a crown, he would appear more rounded and his muzzle would look shorter.
Grooming is about optical illusion. Leaving hair on his head would give the illusion of a much better bred dog.
We will discuss each part of the cocker spaniels head and how it is groomed separately from the other parts. It is easier to teach you to do a correct head if it is broken down into steps.
Ears are the first step on the road to a perfectly groomed cocker head. Like dogs there are a million ways to do ears and each will be correct if it makes the owner of the dog happy. There are, however, things that will apply to every ear for it to be done well.
Notice the lines on his ears. The straight lines denote thirds of the ear and the slight V at the bottom of the second line shows the shape his ears were clippered into. NOTICE that the lip line is right in line with the outermost part of that second line. That is where your clipper line should be on most cocker spaniels.
The basic lines are easy even though some dispute them. ONE THIRD of the length of the entire ear should be shaved, but the line should not extend below the lip line.
Many people clipper a straight line, but I prefer a V shape clipped into the ear. It will give a longer appearance to the ear and will allow you to make an improper ear set appear more normal. It works on ears that are too short naturally or a head that is lacking in top skull as well. To do this you hold the ear in your hand and beginning in the middle of the ear, go towards the outside of the ear clipping against the grain, towards the skull. It doesn’t have to be a deep V, it can be shallow, just make it fit the dog’s conformation.
I almost always use a 40 blade on the inside of the ear to remove hair and keep the ear healthy. You can use a ten blade backwards if you like, but there is a flap of skin on the ear that will catch and you can cut a dog if you aren’t careful. I prefer to use a 30 or 40 and go with the grain, floating off the edge of the ear and then following up with shears along the edge to give a nice tight appearance. I prefer to trim the ends of my ears when I am finished with the dog, but to do it, you use thinning shears and trim any rough edges and straggly ends to make the ear appear neater and keep the length under control.
After the ears I move onto the stop. The stop is the area in between the eyes and should be cleaned out pretty well. I usually use a 30 blade backwards to give it a deeper, cleaner appearance. I use a reverse “v” shape to remove hair from the stop.
Tyler (left) has a shallow stop and I can make it appear much deeper by using a tight blade and cleaning out as much hair as possible. Austin ( right)
has a nice deep stop that requires no extra chiseling.
I still go tight to help show off the eyes. Also, removing the hair from the top will make the hair stay out of the dog’s eyes longer.
Then I move onto the cheeks and muzzle and using a ten or fifteen blade (depending on the dog’s skin sensitivity and color) I go backwards from the ear to the muzzle line just behind the lip line. On dogs with a very full muzzle you can go the rest of the way down the muzzle with the same blade, but if the dog is snipey (thin) or just needs more appearance of bone then you can use a 7F or thinning shears to make it look more plush and full. If you look again to the photos of Tyler and Austin, Tyler is a bit less full in the muzzle area and he is done with thinners on the muzzle, whereas I am able to take a ten blade backwards on Austin’s face and get a nice plush face.
I take a 30 blade to the lip if the dogs face is longer than it should be and to the under jaw as well to tighten that area up and leave the rest more plush. Make sure when clipping the jaw line you pull the lip back and get the hair out from the flews. This will make the face appear more clean and will help keep the mouth area cleaner as well when the dog eats or drinks.
Follow the lines on the drawing to get your face lines in the right place. If you are changing blades between the different parts of the face, use the lines as a guide and then blend using thinning shears to make it smooth.
The lines on the face are as follows:
The top line is from the ear edge to the inner eye corner. Then the muzzle is angled from the inner eye corner to the outer lip corner. Under the jaw you come forward from the neck line towards the lip. If you want to depth you can go with a longer blade, but I usually use a ten blade there and build my “bone” with the muzzle. Remember to stretch the lip line to avoid nicking and to remove the hair in the flew.
Now we will go on to the rest of the head.
Many pet owners and pet groomers think that if they leave hair on the top of the head like a show cocker would have, that the hair will fall forward and cause the hair to be in the eyes really soon after grooming, but the truth is a properly done crown leaves the rounded appearance called for in the standard but DOES NOT fall forward over the eyes. Annie (buff, left) and Cheslea (parti, right) show you that the crown can be shorter, layered and still show a nice rounded appearance without hair falling forward into the eyes.
For show the head should be done in a manner that is slightly different from the pet world. The top of the head is done with thinners to help it maintain height and shape and to blend better into the crown. On pets, we tend to use a blade on the back skull making it harder to blend well into the neckline and the crown, but it can be done.
The line behind the crown should be a line which is roughly from ear to ear. I tend to do a more rounded line when clipping or thinning to make the midpoint of the crown back further than the rest of the crown. I usually use a 7F backwards or a 9 with the grain on my back skulls.
You can see by looking at Abbey’s head that the line starts at the front corner of each ear and comes across in a slight arch. If you take that lone straight across it will look less natural and the goal of this is to enhance the dogs appearance, not make it look carved or harsh or in the least way unnatural.
There are shortcuts you can use to make a pet crown faster and easier in the salon. Here is Tess and how I do her head.
Take a ten blade and take off the hair right over the eyes, across the eyebrow ridge. This will open up the eyes and give the head a tad more height. It also helps you begin the crown with the eyes open, so you know where you need to work on the top of the skull.
The next step is to take a snap on comb and take some of the length off, while still maintaining the shape of the head which can be tricky. The hair will be layered when you are finished and then you only need to touch it up with thinning shears.
Her tan markings make it really easy to see the brow line I was referring to above. You can see now that the hair will not fall into her eyes and she has nice, defined eyes.
I am using a Laube Speed Feed trimmer on her face and the snap on comb is part of that clipper set. Notice I am going both forward and backwards, with and against, the lay of the hair. The backwards motion will layer the hair and the clipping with the lay will give you more control over length.
THIS TECHNIQUE IS RECCOMENDED FOR PETS ONLY! Show dogs should be done with thinning shears, not done with a clipper.
After the bulk of the shaping and hair removal is done, you need to finish the crown off with thinning shears. If you pull the shear backwards toward the occiput as you scissor it will help the hair lay down better. You can also take the thinner from the back and under the hair to remove bulk if needed.
I take a stripping knife and card the top of the crown after I am through to assist it in laying flat without losing hair. It will pull out the softer hair from underneath and leave the harder hair on top, laying nicely.
Use thinners to blend the Crown into the back skull.
By pulling the shears backwards as you thin it will make the hair layer easier and more naturally.
There are other ways to do crowns and not one way is better than the other. It’s all in what works and the type of hair the dog has. The dog below, Max, has a different hair and head type than Tess has. She is from a show line and he is from a pet line.His hair is thinner and straighter than hers and that poses some interesting problems on its own. We begin with the clipping of the back skull and then comb the hair forward over his eyes, trim it with curved shears like you are setting a visor on a shih-tzu then blend using thinning shears to make it lay the way we want it to.
Notice that the hair lies flat and tight, but still gives a rounded appearance in his head. It will not fall into his eyes no matter what he does. It is short enough to stay out of his face and still gives him a correct cocker appearance. He has a lot of wrinkles on his muzzle and it is hard to get it smooth, but by going backwards with a ten blade it can be done.
If you follow the above directions and use the photos as a guidebook you can create a beautiful American Cocker head easily and quickly in the salon environment. The above is geared towards pet trims more than show trims, but the same basic guidelines apply to show dogs as pets. You want to head to be nice and neat and BLENDED so as to look as if the hair actually grew this way naturally.
If you have any further questions, please feel free to email me at Particentral@aol.com and I will try to address any problems or questions as quickly as possible.
Happy grooming, and remember, GROOM SMARTER! Not harder!