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January 2011

Applying Breed Standards to Your Grooms

Lost in translation? 


English Cocker Spaniel dog

Can you see the differences in these dogs' outlines and conformation? 

Can you tell which one is more correct?

Do you think its the dog, or the groom?

During the course of mentoring and sharing skills with other groomers, many groomers have said that when learning grooming for dogs, their teachers should discuss more on making the connection between a breed's standards and applying that knowledge to the dog on the table.

Discussing Breed Standards

Each breed of dog has its own breed standard.  These are a set of defining characteristics of each breed of dog. These guidelines cover everything from a piece by piece breakdown of the dog's skeletal and musculature structure, to its coat, to its gait & movement, to its personality and mannerisms.  These guidelines are decided upon through the work of breed clubs associated with each breed, and in each area of the country. These breed standards, once decided upon and written, are then submitted to the regional kennel clubs and to the parent dog club, such as the AKC, and these breed standards do change from time to time. Again, another thing we as groomers have to keep an ear to the ground for.

Here is an excellent article from friend, Eric Salas, that shows how to break down a breed's standard and consider it piece by piece as it applies to the dog, and to our grooming, and to our handling to best represent the dog.

With grooming, showing, and just being a dog enthusiast in general, devloping your technical eye for dogs takes time. Knowing what you are seeing in terms of frame structure, coat, and movement on a short coated dog takes its own course of development, and adding a long coat of hair to a dog makes it even more tricky. 

Developing you eye to pick up typiness, breed faults and breed trueness or correctness with comfortable confidence takes even more time.

People who show and breed dogs spend a lot of time studying the breeds they love.  Studying a specific breed of dog's physical and asthetic traits is a foundational knowledge to both their grooming, handling and showing. 

How Breed Standards Apply to Groomers

We as groomers need to have a wealth of knowledge concerning a huge variety of different breeds' standards for profile, head type, coat patterning, etc., as well as covering up conformational faults or accentuation of attributes on not only "show" quality dogs,,but more so on the pet dogs that make up most of our client lists. 

We as groomers, have a much larger task at hand to attain not only foundational canine statistical knowledge, but also a very attuned eye for correctness across the board on many, many different breeds, as well as all of the mixed breeds out there today. 

How Can We Better Grasp a Breed of Dog

So, what can we do to create a foundational understanding of the canine anatomy so that individual breeds come more naturally to us?  I say, take it layer by layer.  That may sound odd, but consider first that what comprises a dog is an assembly of its parts- of its skeleton or bone, ligaments & tendons, muscles, skin & coat, and more superficial anatomy such as the eyes, ears & tail- which are also comprised of all of these parts as well. So, start at its root- the skeleton. Learn a dog's overall skeletal anatomy first. Study the bone structure, how & where these bones intersect with ligament & tendon.  Then go the next step & study a dog's musculature structure- take solid note of all of the areas of a dog that are covered by different types of muscle mass, even if you don't memorize the muscles themselves, you can still look at major muscle areas such as the thighs, neck, chest & shoulders and see how that makes up a dog per its breed requirements.  Then look at how the coat lays over these muscles and how differences in skin type on certain areas of a dog causes change to the coat in those areas such as the jacket & furnishings on a Sporting dog or Terrier, and you will notice here that one aspect of a dog touches another, and that touches another, etc.  Once you have an understanding of the physiology of a canine, looking objectively at different breeds will come more naturally, and so will grooming them. 

A Dog is a Sum of its Parts

When we look at a dog, one of the most important stances we can take next to being able to see the sum of all of the parts of a dog, is to be able to consider why a dog looks on the inside & the outside as it does per its breed.  Every breed is "designed" to perform a task or fulfill an expected series of requirements set in place by the evolution of its breed. Meaning that Sporting dogs were designed to help hunt, to cover ground with endurance and to be multifaceted in a variety of gaming environments- water work, retrieving, pointing and using their eyes, ears & nose to locate prey.  Terriers were rooted in hardiness- to go to ground with a variety of prey and to be solidly built, formidable and hearty, to have endurance and focus.  Herding dogs were developed to have endurance, solid body structure for fending off predators, focus & attentiveness and drive. Hounds for much the same attributes but add to that a keen sense of smell and sight, and an unbelievable ability for distance endurance and speed. Toy breeds,,, well, they were developed to serve a purpose as well. Not so much for being active in the field, but certainly to be cute and pretty lap dogs and accessories, and as family pets and to be cuddly and well coated to help warm their master's feet, and occasionally to be small vermin hunters.

Breed Standards Still Apply to Mixed Breed Dogs

Along the way there have been many accidental and purposely made mixes of any number of breeds.  Most of these early in date crosses helped to originate other purebred dogs, and along the way, many dogs didn't make the cut in terms of what those crosses solidified as. Sad as that is, it still matters in the course of this article to illustrate the fact that those dogs lacked the structural soundness needed for what their breed purpose was intended for, and that this still applies to this day with dogs that we have in for grooming where we  need to compensate cosmetically for those faults. 

We all know that more & more pet dogs are overproduced of lesser quality, and we as groomers still need to make those dogs just as loved by their families as any show dog both stylish and pretty or cute.  We also know that any purebred dog does have its agreed upon set of guidelines, so if we have a mixed breed of dog on our table, we can see the attributes of those intermingling breeds that make up that dog- or even so, their shortcomings as well. We also know the fundamental structure of a dog and how a dog should be mechanically put together to make it pleasing to the eye, and sound in appearance. So if we bring this knowledge to the grooming table, we can use our eye to see what we need to do to compensae as much as possible with what we have to work with- hair.

My friend Kim West wrote an excellent article on fault grooming- I reference it here and encourage you to read it as well.

Competition Groomers & Show Grooming vs. Daily Grooming in Our Salons

In our salons, we know that we pass our hands over any number of conformational faults. We also see many beautiful pet dogs that are of great quality, kept in shorter maintenance trims to make them easier to care for at home.  We know that our styles & clips must be lower maintenance and requiring less time to produce during the grooming visit. 

In the show ring, every dog there is an example of trueness to its breed.  Show ring grooming can be a lot of smoke & mirrors sometimes. But that in its own right still takes great skill and knowledge.  These dogs are all expected to exemplify their breed when they walk in the ring.  Judges go over them to feel the structure beneath their coat, watch them move around the ring to look at things such as gait, stance, presence and personality.  What dog show competiors have on their side is that they have already done the foundational work to produce, or be handling for another breeder, a dog of composite quality and example. So they know how to groom and/or present that dog to the judges to best bring that dog into its light.  For us,,with a dog walking into the grooming salon, we never know just what we are going to get, and we have to compensate for that on the fly. 

For grooming competitors it can be a little taste of both worlds. Sometimes competitors will own their own dogs or be close with a breeder who lends them their dogs.  So they study those breeds, handle those dogs every day or as much as possible prior to their class, and have a good chance to best anticipate what they will need to do in the ring for their class. Other times competitors will choose a dog from their salon clients and can have some time to work with the dog towards covering up any faults they may have. Other times still, competitors will have to borrow dogs that they recieve at the show sight. These times they never know for sure what issues they will have to address, and if the dog they get will even be the actual dog they were offered or promised.  So, in these instances, those competitors not only have to work on the fly, but to produce the BEST POSSIBLE end product and example of their chosen breed, no exceptions-- or they don't place.

So imagine how utterly necessary foundational canine physiology and breed standard knowledge is at those times!  Another reason all competitors deserve a bow of appreciation for their work and skill. 

In the grooming competition ring, we see a cornucopia of breeds of dogs that range from pet quality to some of the top showing dogs in our country. Some dogs need only a bit of tweaking, and others are a plethora of issues to style around--so here, in a way, they are doing the work that we do in our daily salons, and then some. And they are doing it by the same standard knowledge that we must have even if we never set a foot in the competition ring. 

What Breed Standards Mean to Us For Pet Dogs

To us in the daily grooming salons, breeds standards help to form the set of criteria that we groom for on any given breed of dog.  Whether the dog is pet quality or not, we will need to stand back and take the dog in when asessing how to groom it.  If there is matted coat to be removed, if there is coat lacking in spots, how do we compensate?  Even if a dog is kept a half inch all over, we can use our structural knowledge to complete a pleasing and flattering groom.  We can say to ourselves, "this dog should have a nicely arching neck, a flat topline, be squarely built, have straight legs, be well let down in hock, and should always be proportionately built, with balance & symmetry (a sense of harmonious or aesthetically pleasing proportionality and balance)".  We can say, "the owners want a shorter clip, but I can still give them a cute face, ears & tail.  And I can put a groom on them that lends itself to being lower maintenance, but still is flashy & flattering".  And you can do this by using your knowledge of a breed to create a modified clip or style that melds their characteristics and lifestyle with their breed. 

Consider a Poodle's Breed Standard:

Poodle Breed Standard

Non-Sporting Group
Toy Group

The Standard for the Poodle (Toy variety) is the same as for the Standard and Miniature varieties except as regards heights.

General Appearance, Carriage and Condition
That of a very active, intelligent and elegant-appearing dog, squarely built, well proportioned, moving soundly and carrying himself proudly. Properly clipped in the traditional fashion and carefully groomed, the Poodle has about him an air of distinction and dignity peculiar to himself.

Size, Proportion, Substance
The Standard Poodle is over 15 inches at the highest point of the shoulders. Any Poodle which is 15 inches or less in height shall be disqualified from competition as a Standard Poodle.

Poodle (Miniature)

The Miniature Poodle is 15 inches or under at the highest point of the shoulders, with a minimum height in excess of 10 inches. Any Poodle which is over 15 inches or is 10 inches or less at the highest point of the shoulders shall be disqualified from competition as a Miniature Poodle.

The Toy Poodle is 10 inches or under at the highest point of the shoulders. Any Poodle which is more than 10 inches at the highest point of the shoulders shall be disqualified from competition as a Toy Poodle.

As long as the Toy Poodle is definitely a Toy Poodle, and the Miniature Poodle a Miniature Poodle, both in balance and proportion for the Variety, diminutiveness shall be the deciding factor when all other points are equal.

Proportion - To insure the desirable squarely built appearance, the length of body measured from the breastbone to the point of the rump approximates the height from the highest point of the shoulders to the ground.

Poodle (Toy)

Substance - Bone and muscle of both forelegs and hindlegs are in proportion to size of dog.

Head and Expression
(a) Eyes-- very dark, oval in shape and set far enough apart and positioned to create an alert intelligent expression. Major fault: eyes round, protruding, large or very light.

(b) Ears-- hanging close to the head, set at or slightly below eye level. The ear leather is long, wide and thickly feathered; however, the ear fringe should not be of excessive length.

(c) Skull-- moderately rounded, with a slight but definite stop. Cheekbones and muscles flat. Length from occiput to stop about the same as length of muzzle.

(d) Muzzle-- long, straight and fine, with slight chiseling under the eyes. Strong without lippiness. The chin definite enough to preclude snipiness. Major fault: lack of chin. Teeth-- white, strong and with a scissors bite. Major fault: undershot, overshot, wry mouth.

Neck, Topline, Body
Neck well proportioned, strong and long enough to permit the head to be carried high and with dignity. Skin snug at throat. The neck rises from strong, smoothly muscled shoulders. Major fault: ewe neck.

The topline is level, neither sloping nor roached, from the highest point of the shoulder blade to the base of the tail, with the exception of a slight hollow just behind the shoulder.

(a) Chest deep and moderately wide with well sprung ribs. (b) The loin is short, broad and muscular. (c) Tail straight, set on high and carried up, docked of sufficient length to insure a balanced outline. Major fault: set low, curled, or carried over the back.

Strong, smoothly muscled shoulders. The shoulder blade is well laid back and approximately the same length as the upper foreleg. Major fault: steep shoulder.

(a) Forelegs - Straight and parallel when viewed from the front. When viewed from the side the elbow is directly below the highest point of the shoulder. The pasterns are strong. Dewclaws may be removed.

Feet - The feet are rather small, oval in shape with toes well arched and cushioned on thick firm pads. Nails short but not excessively shortened. The feet turn neither in nor out. Major fault: paper or splay foot.

The angulation of the hindquarters balances that of the forequarters.

(a) Hind legs straight and parallel when viewed from the rear. Muscular with width in the region of the stifles which are well bent; femur and tibia are about equal in length; hock to heel short and perpendicular to the ground. When standing, the rear toes are only slightly behind the point of the rump. Major fault: cow-hocks.

(a) Quality--(1) Curly: of naturally harsh texture, dense throughout. (2) Corded: hanging in tight even cords of varying length; longer on mane or body coat, head, and ears; shorter on puffs, bracelets, and pompons.

(b) Clip-- A Poodle under 12 months may be shown in the "Puppy" clip. In all regular classes, Poodles 12 months or over must be shown in the "English Saddle" or "Continental" clip. In the Stud Dog and Brood Bitch classes and in a non-competitive Parade of Champions, Poodles may be shown in the "Sporting" clip. A Poodle shown in any other type of clip shall be disqualified.

(1) "Puppy"--A Poodle under a year old may be shown in the "Puppy" clip with the coat long. The face, throat, feet and base of the tail are shaved. The entire shaven foot is visible. There is a pompon on the end of the tail. In order to give a neat appearance and a smooth unbroken line, shaping of the coat is permissible. (2) "English Saddle"--In the "English Saddle" clip the face, throat, feet, forelegs and base of the tail are shaved, leaving puffs on the forelegs and a pompon on the end of the tail. The hindquarters are covered with a short blanket of hair except for a curved shaved area on each flank and two shaved bands on each hindleg. The entire shaven foot and a portion of the shaven leg above the puff are visible. The rest of the body is left in full coat but may be shaped in order to insure overall balance. (3) "Continental"--In the "Continental" clip, the face, throat, feet, and base of the tail are shaved. The hindquarters are shaved with pompons (optional) on the hips. The legs are shaved, leaving bracelets on the hindlegs and puffs on the forelegs. There is a pompon on the end of the tail. The entire shaven foot and a portion of the shaven foreleg above the puff are visible. The rest of the body is left in full coat but may be shaped in order to insure overall balance. (4) "Sporting"--In the "Sporting" clip, a Poodle shall be shown with face, feet, throat, and base of tail shaved, leaving a scissored cap on the top of the head and a pompon on the end of the tail. The rest of the body, and legs are clipped or scissored to follow the outline of the dog leaving a short blanket of coat no longer than one inch in length. The hair on the legs may be slightly longer than that on the body.

In all clips the hair of the topknot may be left free or held in place by elastic bands. The hair is only of sufficient length to present a smooth outline. "Topknot" refers only to hair on the skull, from stop to occiput. This is the only area where elastic bands may be used.

The coat is an even and solid color at the skin. In blues, grays, silvers, browns, cafe-au-laits, apricots and creams the coat may show varying shades of the same color. This is frequently present in the somewhat darker feathering of the ears and in the tipping of the ruff. While clear colors are definitely preferred, such natural variation in the shading of the coat is not to be considered a fault. Brown and cafe-au-lait Poodles have liver-colored noses, eye-rims and lips, dark toenails and dark amber eyes. Black, blue, gray, silver, cream and white Poodles have black noses, eye-rims and lips, black or self colored toenails and very dark eyes. In the apricots while the foregoing coloring is preferred, liver-colored noses, eye-rims and lips, and amber eyes are permitted but are not desirable. Major fault: color of nose, lips and eye-rims incomplete, or of wrong color for color of dog.

Parti-colored dogs shall be disqualified. The coat of a parti-colored dog is not an even solid color at the skin but is of two or more colors.

A straightforward trot with light springy action and strong hindquarters drive. Head and tail carried up. Sound effortless movement is essential.

Carrying himself proudly, very active, intelligent, the Poodle has about him an air of distinction and dignity peculiar to himself. Major fault: shyness or sharpness.

Major Faults
Any distinct deviation from the desired characteristics described in the Breed Standard.

Size-- A dog over or under the height limits specified shall be disqualified. Clip-- A dog in any type of clip other than those listed under coat shall be disqualified. Parti-colors-- The coat of a parti-colored dog is not an even solid color at the skin but of two or more colors. Parti-colored dogs shall be disqualified.


Ok, so after that mound of information. What do we take away from it? 

We need to take away that this dog, as every other purebred dog, has ideal traits, and that many, many dogs fall into subcategories for these traits--and all of them still need to hold as true as possible to the defining characteristics of a Poodle. 
So, this dog:

Diane Hopper's Danny

Versus this dog:


 ~Still should have the same accentuated attributes because they are both Poodles.

Coat Type & Style Per Breed Standard

Think of other breeds, say the English Springer Spaniel.  Think of not only this dog's physical composition as it was designed to serve its purpose in the work it does, but also of its coat type and pattern per its work habits as well.  This dog has a shorter, tighter jacket and longer furnishings covering its legs, chest & ears. Why?

The shorter tighter coat is designed to bead off water, to shed out easily, to show the dog's musculature and bone, and the longer hair is designed to cover & protect the working area of the dog that come in contact with the harsh elements- such as cold water, dirt & mud, or snow. 

So, think of this as you are styling it. Which areas of the dog are clippered, carded or stripped short to show off muscles, to accentuate the headset, earset, topline, tailset or barrel of the dog?  Which areas are to be kept long to accentuate its sloping underline, good bone of the leg, strong thighs, good rear angulation, prominate chest or a well laid back shoulder?  So, time & time again, with each breed of dog, you can run this through your mind as you style it. 

Following Through On the Table

Having studied ahead of time your most often seen breeds of dog in your salon, keeping your breed profiles on hand, and refering to them whenever you need will help develop your eye and your memory, and therefor teach your hands what to do. Often, having them next to the dog as you are grooming a few times, and stopping to stand back & look at and touch the dog to feel its structure, will help to meld what you have read with what your eye is seeing.

So again- in closing, how do breed standards or profiles pertain to daily grooming of our pet dog clients?

They help us to identify asthetically pleasing attributes and to address conformation and coat faults to best embody a finish product for a groomed dog no matter what breed or mix of breeds it is. 

They help us to adhere to these traits when grooming them by setting guidelines that designate an overall outline which has a purpose for which their groom and coat type is designed.

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