Styling Tips & Techniques

Help For Hematomas

A tip for newer groomers:
If you're combing or brushing on a dog's hair and you're pulling at it when you hit a snarl or matting, etc., aside from the damage you're likely doing to the hair, you're also possibly damaging every layer of the skin and also the connective tissue over the muscle which lies beneath the skin.

If you feel a "pop" or a "crack" come from the skin while you're tugging, you're pulling *way* too hard.

I saw on a message board someone mentioned this and I know they just didn't realize what they were doing, but this can be very serious and such an injury is easily avoidable.

Underneath the final layer of muscle there is an layer of tissue called the epimysium and then a thin layer of "fat", nerves and fine capillaries,etc.
Beneath that there is a very thin fascial membrane layer. Beneath that there is bone. If you're a meat eater then you know what the fascia looks like already. It lays in between each bundle of muscle and is translucent and color often giving off a prism effect when viewed under direct light. You will also see multiple layers of this type of tissue occurring around joints, ligaments and tendons in weight-bearing areas, and working as connective tissue.

When groomers tug too hard on matted ears and cause swelling of the ears, edema, or bleeding around the edges of the ears, that's exactly the same thing that happens.

In the photo below you can see just how many veins and capillaries run through that the ear leather of the dog. It's easy to see why extremities such as this bleed so badly when they are cut.

Ear 1

A hematoma and petechial hemorrhaging is what usually develops in the case of hearing that "pop' or 'crack" sound when you're pulling too hard with your tools. It's basically a forceful separation between the fascia and the cartilage layers of the ear which fills with fluid and blood. This is similar to a blood blister. This can happen from pulling on an ear too hard and causing breakage of the cartilage or can happen when the pet shakes its head excessively as well.

The matting around the edges of an ear will slowly pull the skin beneath it tight to where it's not receiving normal blood circulation and even nerve damage can happen.
When you cut back the matted hair, there is a sudden resurgence of blood circulation to the fine capillaries. This causes a tingling, itching or burning, which in turn will often cause the dog to shake its head.

This is when the fascia damage occurs, and when that separation between the layers of tissue is made, it fills with fluid. These hematomas or fluid filled sacks rarely will go down on their own if large enough; they usually have to have a needle aspiration done in order to remove the fluid and sometimes that has to be done repeatedly.


To help lessen the chance of developing a hematoma on a matted ear:
Warn the owner ahead of time that you have found the mats and they must be removed carefully in order to not damage the ear. Let them know that brushing them out if they're too tight is not an option. I have found with some owners if I part the hair and show them the mat, and even actually have them feel it, their buy-in comes quite easily. You may also at this time want them to sign a matted pet release form.
I recommend removing the matting of the ears first, so that you have as much time as possible with the dog in the salon to see what their response will be.
Carefully lay the ear flat in your hand and clip with a shorter blade outward towards the edge of the year in a fanning pattern so that you're working from the center of the ear outward towards the edge and never along it.

Ear 7

You can choose as needed to completely clip down the ear into a lamb style, or you can lift up the matted hair away from the edges of the ear and just shave around the perimeter & the underside of the ear as shown below. This will leave you with a fall of ear tassel hair that will still look pretty nice although it will be thin.

Ear 2

Ear 3

Ear 4

Remember to tell the owners in the case where you leave shorter hair on the ears with longer hair over the top that they must be diligent with brushing as the short hair beneath grows out in length. Shorter hair beneath longer hair in any terms of dematting will usually end up matted again as the shorter hair brushes against the longer strands and catches in it. As well, if you damage the ends of the short hair which is left behind, the damaged ends will be fragmented and very easily grab onto the hair around it; knotting it up. In most cases it is just best to get all the hair off the same length at one time.

~In other cases there can be a solid mat with free flowing hair all around it. In that case I will go to my thinner shear and take a couple of strokes through the mat at the perimeter of the ear as also shown below, and then carefully brush the rest of the ear out~

Ear 5

Once you've carefully clipped off the hair from the topside and the underside of the ear leather, I recommend elevating the ears up and over the back of the head and holding them there with a Happy Hoodie or something of the like that will hold them in place but not squeeze them too hard.
Elevating the ears above the level of the heart, and up over the top of the head will bring them to the highest point. This will help to slow the resurgence of blood flow and hopefully lessen the tingling.

Ear 6

Ear 8



You can also use vet wrap or other rolled guaze to achieve the same type of wrap, but with a bit more steps as shown below.

Ear wrap chart

photo courtesy:

Leave the ears up over the top of the head while you do whatever remaining pre-bath grooming which needs to be done. In the bath carefully remove the Happy Hoodie or wrap and be sure that you're using cool to tepid water to wash the years and do not scrub them too deeply. Remember the idea here is that you're working with irritated tissue and you don't want to exacerbate the problem.

Monitor the dog during the duration of its stay, and be sure to go over the issue with the owner when they return. I recommend showing them what you've done,explaining the precautions, and letting them know to keep an eye out at home for headshaking and scratching. I also recommend if they do find the dog scratching at their ears, that they let me know right away.

Just some insight into what happens on the skin in these situations and why it's so important not to pull too hard just in order to leave a little longer hair. Never cause harm or pain in order to save hair. :)

The Society of Holistic Pet Stylists

A long time ago I began to feel that I was different.

Be nice! LOL

But seriously, I have always been a little different in my thinking, my outlook on most things, and especially I felt different in that I could never force myself to stay at a job for very long if I wasn't happy doing it. I struggled with leaving things at the door, with doing tasks that I felt didn't have lasting result, with feeling lost in a sea of faces, and most of all with just taking my paycheck and writing the rest off.

But luckily, I eventually found grooming.

Gratefully, I have been able to do a job that I love, and for that it rarely feels like work.

When I began grooming, I noticed right away that everyone worked just a bit differently, and that was rooted deeply in their general personality traits.

I groomed over the years with many, MANY different types of people, but I learned most of all about MYSELF.

I learned what I liked, what I couldn't tolerate, my strengths and weaknesses, to challenge myself to always think outside the box, and to never fear trying something different. I learned more about myself from the dogs I groomed each day than any other aspect of my grooming experiences. How I groomed began to define a very large part of who I was as a person. And to this day, it still does.

It is in honor of the time I've spent just pondering and watching the pets I groom, of the previously unimaginable awe of a pet's unconditional love I have come to know, and of all the wonders an animal can bring to your life, that I still find myself so passionate and overflowing with joy that I find in grooming.

In honor of the lessons I have learned, of how "different" I am so happy to be, that I have worked so hard to try to encourage other groomers and animal lovers to NEVER ignore that little voice inside themselves, and to ALWAYS follow your curiousities... that I have worked to form a new and wonderful association for groomers that may have also always felt "a little different".

Of these honors, I am very grateful and happy to announce,

The Society Of Holistic Pet Stylists.


Our new society promises to be like nothing our industry has ever seen, a breath of fresh air, and a place for all stylists to come together to learn and share and forever change our industry through doing great things.

Together with Mary Oquendo, Barbara Bird, Daryl Connor, Lori Gulling, Sue Palmer and Melissa Jepson, we are creating an entirely new learning format and an entirely new opportunity in skill sets for the grooming industry.

Please visit our website for more information, or contact me directly with your interest! or




Those Cuddly Fluffy Terriers!


As I wrote before, don't get bogged down in frustration or being overwhelmed by the amount of work you have to do to get a groom to look its best. Why not instead seize those opportunities and take what you know, and find a way to overcome? Remaining proactive will get you much more accomplished and help you realize that most usually, with a little creativity, anything is possible!

I wanted to share some information that can help stylists and groomers to better achieve great groom outcomes even with less than ideal upkeep or appointment rotations in the salon. Options for us to make our clients happy, and to keep our workload down while maintaining efficiency.

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So, right off the bat, let's tackle how to address one of the hardest types of coat to keep up in the salon atmosphere: the Terrier coat.

Anyone who spends any time grooming dogs knows that any one breed's standard dictates the trimstyle and coat upkeep needed on their breed to bring out its truest type. But, as a steadfast rule, genetics and breed lineage determine the quality of coat and the palette of attributes we as groomers have to work with to create the best possible groom. 

All of those things aside however, the final say is always left up to the wishes and the genuine ability of the pet's owner in terms of their at home upkeep and their devotion in priority, and financial ability of keeping a regular rotation of dedicated grooming visits. In no way can we as a groomer bridge that final gap that sometimes exists between what we know to be correct for the dog and its breed, versus the decisions and methods we have to mold our practices around for the client dog when factoring in the actual care the pet gets from its owner.

It is very important to take proper care of terrier skin and coat in order to keep texture, layers and color visible year round. We all know that if terriers are not kept up depending on their genetic coat growth cycles, that you end up with a lackluster, overgrown, soft coat that is not indicative of a terrier at all. Therein lies the problem; you can't cheat on terrier coats. You can't cut actively growing hair off with a clipper, right along with the dead hair sitting within the same follicle. What happens when you do that, is that you back up the follicle with dead coat and this allows less & less new coat to come in. As less new, actively growing coat doesn't have room to come in, and the dead coat isn't removed from its place in the follicle, you inevitably end up with fluffy, soft, dull, dead coated terriers.

We also know that a lot of times your terrier owners in the pet salon cannot or will not commit to a two, three or four-week regular rotation you need in order to keep coats true. So what can we do his pet groomers that is both time effective and profitable in the grooming salon atmosphere as well as helps to maintain skin and coat on these breeds that grow & shed or "turn coat over" quickly, and keep clients happy?

We need to utilize the next best options as much as we can to get the most out of the coat growth phases while providing the methods of care such hair coat still needs to look its best. Those options come in the form of clearing out all of the dead hair coat, removing built up oils and dander from the skin, flushing out the hair follicles, and then using our hands and tools in a method that mimics the handstripping that these breeds require for upkeep. All the while, doing this within a time frame that keeps us efficient. And as a final measure towards a happy groomer AND a happy client, we need to PRICE our services properly to reflect the fat that we are playing a game of catch up at every visit. This is a skill greatly unrealize by many groomers.

Take it from me, until you decide to charge more for a difficult groom, nothing will make you feel better about having a dog coming in that you know will be a mess. That is, unless you've added tools to your arsenal that help you groom easier, and seal the deal by charging more for your hard work.

Below is an Irish terrier who only comes in every 8 to 10 weeks. Yes, 8-10 weeks. Believe me, you'll see what I'm saying when you see the before photo...

Genetically, I know this terrier needs a dedicated weekly stripping rotation on average to keep the undercoat down, and the harsh guard coat in all its fast shedding glory. This means that weekly, a person should be putting in about an hour or so of solid pulling of dead secondary coat and dead and dying guard coat to keep the skin debrided, and the coat colored, tight, and tailored true to its breed.
I have found that with a lot of salon clients that cannot keep up a tight grooming rotation schedule, or those that say they don't like their dogs short and tight coated or "naked", that these methods below are able to effectively bridge the gap between reality and being a groomer that delivers.

You and I know full well that if we don't give a client what they're asking for, they're just going to get it somewhere else. Obviously we need to educate and take the time to create a repoir with each client in the best interest of the dog that were grooming, but in the end if we don't give them what they want I'll just go elsewhere to get it. That doesn't help the dog and it doesn't help your sales revenue.

At times like that I groom the dog to the best of my ability and knowledge, and I keep a smile on my face the whole time I'm discussing with clients what is that they'd like to have their dog turn out like. Knowing full well that in the end I will do what I have to do to get them what they want as well as best caring for the dogs coat within my own a professional ability, but always without losing my profit margin.

Our first job as a groomer is always to remove dead and un-needed hair and dirt so that the healthy skin and coat can shine through. We are the housekeepers of coat.

To this effect, I always tackle every coat on my terriers with rakes, carding knives, a stone, a stiff bristle brush, and my hands, before even putting them into the tub. Working the coat with its natural oils present helps you to not irritate the skin by working it, and it helps you to be less likely to accidentally break coat when doing your initial raking and carding if you're working with very long tangled coat, or still mastering your terrier skills.

After working thoroughly through the coat in these stages below, the dog goes into the bath and receives a good benzoyl peroxide to or other follicular flushing shampoo. I do not use clarifying shampoo is in the salon on these coats as they are most usually overdrying and will put the skin into overdrive to create an abundance of oils in order to rehydrate. This can cause excesive oiliness at their next visit. I do not use terrier or texturizing shampoos which deposit a sealant on the coat that increases texture. Texturizing shampoos left on the coat for any length of time will most definitely cause breakage. As well I do not apply heavy cream conditioners on most any of my terriers with exception sometimes to long furnishings. Instead I opt for a light spray on conditioner put onto the coat as a final step just to add light moisture but nothing that will attract dirt.

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This is our terrier; in all her fluffy glory- ready for her initial coat removal before her bath.

First I use my coat rakes to rake through the coat in multiple steps. I begin with my coarse rake going over the entire dog to pull out the last layer of dead, long hair- working in layers- including the furnishings; but working carefully on the legs with any coat removal tool that has sharp tines. Next I move to my fine rake and repeat the thorough going over of the dog from the neck all along the jacket area. I do not fine rake the leg furnishings or the chest or side coat of any terrier as that would be asking for breakage.

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After that I move to my carding knives. I start with my coarse carding knife and then move to my fine carding knife, working in each step completely through the coat of the dog with exception to the head and leg furnishings.

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I work with a flat knife, or laying the knife flat gainst the skin at all times. I never turn my wrist or fingers as that will stand the knive on its teeth and most usually abrade the skin and/or break coat.

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This cycle always results in another pile of dead coat.

Finally, I work through the entire coat- including the furnishings and beard- with a final brushing with either a stiff bristle brush or palm pad, or a very soft flexible style slicker such as Les Poochs or my newest favorite tool- the ActiVet brush pictured below and available from Groomer's Helper.

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This final cycle of fine brushing pulls a little more oils up & out of the skin and gets the last it of hair ready to exit the coat.

Lastly, I do my handstripping work to pull out coat that needs a little direct attention to get out.
The head and leg furnishings I also always pull my hand, because you'll find with breakage of finer hairs that these areas and that since these hairs grow and then shed the fastest, that they also lose their texture and color the fastest, as well as flatwork areas of coat (areas where the hair naturally grows in shorter & must be kept tighter such as the head, cheeks, throat and butterfly or inner thigh areas).

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After a complete cycle of raking followed by a complete cycle of carding knives, I go through the jacket coat and roll it loosely between my fingers pulling out only the longest and most ready to shed hairs within the coat. You can use powder for this step, but it is not necessary.

After the jacket pull, I quickly pull the head & beard hair down as needed by hand including as much of the ear hair as they will allow. It is important regardless of whether or not you're leaving more coat on your pet terrier than what he should by breed standard have, to at least nail the head profile on these dogs so that they still look like a terrier in the end.

After all of the dead coat is removed, we have a dog that's pulled pretty well down.

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Next its into the tub, and a then a thorough HV drying with the growth of coat to set the lay of coat. Setting the lay of coat with your dryer will help create a tighter profile in the end. You cannot allow a dog to kennel dry in order to help *marcelle* or keep natural wave to the coat, but I have found that with these pet dogs actively drying the coat helps to remove every bit of dead hair and is incremental as a part to keeping the coats free of dead coat for a longer grooming rotation.

After the HV drying, I work through the coat again in the same stages repeated over the entire dog, which goes much faster as most all of the hair is already out.  

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From there I do the clippering portion of the groom to tighten everything up. I use a skip tooth blade of my desired length depending on what the owner has asked for. With this dog I chose a #4S (Skip) tooth blade. With this blade I skim loosely over the coat to tighten everything and make sure that there are no moth-eaten (uneveness caused by areas of blown coat) areas in the coat to the best of my ability. After the clipper work on the jacket and neck area of the dog, and doing the sani areas and feet tight with my clipper.

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Terriers are diggers and tight feet will always help with mess!

From there, I tidy up and finish the headpiece on the dog and hand pull anything needed on the leg furnishings and the tail in the sensitive areas. I also will flat re-clipper the throat latch mark outs and the butterfly area on the back of the dog as well as the inner ear of the dog nice and tight and the flu needs to be cleaned up as well.

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If a client says that they want their dog "fluffy",  and some do- I will help reintroduce some curl to the coat as a final step. To do this, I apply a light leave in or terrier coat conditioning spray and lightly dampen the jacket & neck coat with a spritz of distilled water. Then I softly squeeze the coat throughout the length of the dog. This is a technique known as marcelling for breeds like Kerryblue Terriers. It's purpose for pet grooming is to reintroduce the soft curls and a separation to the coat that the owners find appealing to keeping them curly and soft looking. (And yes, some terrier people want a fluffy cuddly looking dog just as much as some Poodle owners are adamant of not having a "poodly-looking" Poodle). From there they go into the crate to finish under a low setting fan to get them completely dry or to air dry depending on their length of visit.

This is the end result, and another reminder photo of what we started out with!

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Here are several other terriers who also get the same method of care!

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The Pet Schnauzer

Augie is a 3 year old, black, Miniature Schauzer.  He was discovered along with 4 litter mates in a box along side of the road, tails & ears docked & dewclaws removed...

Someone had no idea what they'd be missing.  Since grooming him from just a little pup, he has grown into a beautiful and very intelligent young man. 

Augie has a quite hard but thin coat, his furnishings are thin but his coat & skin are quite healthy.

Clippering in the pattern:

Augie Nov 2010




Dipping Your Feet in Color!!

Its all the rage to create nicely flaired legs with pretty colored
cuffs! The colors go from soft and muted and gradiate to a deep and rich
 band of color at the foot- making the foot or leg look as if it was
dipped into some color.

From light and soft 2010114182491

                                                      To bold and bright 20101311944291

This look is not hard to accomplish. And since I am just now getting into some
coloring and creative grooming- this was one of the neatest techniques
that caught my eye. I decided to give it a try. It took less than one
hour even with set up and clean up!

Creating a Beveled Foot

Some readers may say, "What's the big deal?" about knowing how to properly set in bevels on a groom.  So, that's the purpose of this article- not to just show you how, but to explain WHY such a simple procedure is important to every groom and every dog.

Aside from the how to-s of this, I want to explain a little more first on why each great groom is the sum of its parts. Without one thing, other parts may falter, so it is important to have an understanding that each thing touches the next, and so on- akin to the domino effect.


According to breed standards, many breeds of dog are desired to have a nicely round and tight foot, or to be viewed in their profile to be "up on toe".  A well created bevel will make your dog look as if it is "floating" just above the surface of wherever it is standing, and this creates definite "presence" to any groom!

*A dog with healthy foot composition and structural mechanics that relate to the entire conformation of a dog, will be viewed in a more positive light whether you know what to look for when taking in a dog or not.*

So, how does this relate to us in the grooming salon?

More often than not, we as skilled stylists have the ability to create that nice tight foot, correct foot placement and most importantly- a foundational element of a balanced groom just by using the coat our client has to work with and our capable eye. And, more often than not, the pets that come to us for grooming can benefit greatly from our ability to perform fault grooming and to really have a knack for the tricks that create a beautiful signature groom.

The Foot is the Foundation of a Groom

When standing back and looking over a freshly groomed dog, where does it all begin?

Our eye should be drawn toward the center of the pet's profile. However, anything that is out of proportion or unbalanced will pull our eye away from the overall symmetry of a dog and detract from the fluidity that we view the entire animal. This creates a less than desirable look for the dog, and a less than pleasing groom as well.  Sometimes, we cannot quite put our finger on what it is, other times when standing back, we can easily see where the groom fell apart.

Almost always- it has to do with one of three things- proportion, balance (or symmetry) and angulation.

These are three incredibly important words, for every single groomer. From a new groomer in school, to a groomer working every day in a salon, to a competition groomer, to the top competing show dog groomer. 


Angulation: The precise measurement of angles.

Balance: A harmonious or satisfying arrangement or proportion of parts or elements, as in a design.


Symmetry: Correct or pleasing proportion of the parts of a thing.

Proportion: A relationship between quantities such that if one varies then another varies in a manner dependent on the first...Agreeable or harmonious relation of parts within a whole; balance or symmetry.


Fundamentally every groom and breed profile relies on each of those attributes to define itself as aesthetically pleasing and mechanically sound. 

So always think about those things each and every time that critique your grooms. 

A Solid Foundation

The groom begins, where the dog begins,,, at the feet.

By starting your groom correctly from the ground up, you are setting yourself up for a better outcome.

If a dog's feet are too full, too large or they look like a pancake, that will travel right on up the leg, across the entire groom, and leave you with a dog that looks chubby, frumpy, and needs to be shorter all over.  This means that by setting the length of a foot, you are also setting the length of the entire groom as much as you are with any other length of clip you do on the other parts of the dog.

Normally, The very FIRST thing I do is to set in the front (chest and neck) and the back (point of rump to bend of stifle) on every groom that  I do. This allows me to see the overall length of the dog that I am working with so that I can correctly judge the center of the dog where the eye should be drawn to- typically this sets just behind the last, (or 13th or floating) rib of a dog. And this allows me to adjust every other piece of the groom in accordance with that central point based on all that I have to work with per the conformation and coat of the dog.

So what does this have to do with the feet?

Well, what do I do next on every groom?

I set in the feet.

Prepwork is POWER.

I have said it so many times that it sounds like a self help guru's slogan, but it is the truth. No one can create a beautiful groom on a dog that is not properly prepped.

Properly cleaned and dried and conditioned coat, properly trimmed nails, cleanly trimmed pads and well trimmed sanitary area are all foundational to a good groom- even a shave down!

~But let's stay on course & stick to the feet. Be sure that your pet's nails are trimmed as close as they safely can be. This will help keep the circumference of the foot as small and compact as possible. Also be sure that the pads are cleanly trimmed without cutting into the coat around the paw so that you have all of that to work with for creating your bevel. Another reason that I trim the pads first is so that I can clearly view the foot shape in case there is a missing, misshapen or superfluous digit that needs to be hidden with more hair.


Camera Nov23 2011 002

Hind leg first:

 Next you will want to comb all of the hair on the foot so that it is tangle free and well lofted or standing well up from the skin.

Camera Nov23 2011 001
  Now trim all of the hair that falls past the bottom of the foot-

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 So that is looks similar to this-

Camera Nov23 2011 004 Next stand the dog as squarely on the table as possible as you will be setting in the hock angle and it is important that from this step on they are standing in a comfortable and square position.

Feb 12 2011 019

While they stand, lift the back leg up carefully so that it is perpendicular with the table top. As so:

Camera Nov23 2011 001

With the leg lifted, now trim the hair off the back of the foot and straight up the hock. When you reset the foot, this will most easily set the hock angulation needed for the hind leg in one easy step.

From there, now you can set in the front of the foot. I always do the back, then front, then pull the sides together, but that is up to your preference.

One easy way to set in the front of the foot and to find the tips of the nails- so that you do NOT cut into the needed hair to cover the nails up- is to take up your shears, and with the dog standing, pull the blades of the shear (closed) across the top of the foot, and down against the toenails. This way you will quickly see how much hair you can safely cut away and still keep the foot tight, but not expose nail. Camera Nov23 2011 005

Once you have that, just open the shears and cut off the hair straight across the front of the foot and upward at about a 30 degree angle from the table as so:

Camera Nov23 2011 010

~A note- this can be done with straight shears, but is much easier with curved shears.

From there, you can cut in the outside angle of the outer edge of the foot a the same angle, and then lift the leg inward and slightly outward to set in the remaining inner edge of the foot.

**Please remember something important:  The front assembly of a dog is held together by joints and ligaments, and the rear assembly of a dog is held together by a ball & socket- so lift the legs always very carefully. Never over the level of the dog's back, the front leg should not be over extended either forward or backward any further than its normal length of stride, and always push the hind leg in towards the body to create the most safe leg lift in case the dog is old, stiff, or slips.**

Next the Front Leg:

Again, fluff out the dog's leg hair, combing the foot hair well, lift the paw slightly so that you can view the underside of the pad and trim the hair which falls past the bottom of the foot.

Reset the foot squarely under the dog. 

Locate the dog's nail tips with your shears, and cut in the front of the foot. Then cut in the sides at the same angle, and the inner edge of the foot as well. Once the foot is shaped, now you can set in the slight curve at the back of the foot across the stopper pad so that the back of the leg is tidy and the dog will look up on toe- as so:


Feb 12 2011 035

 Once your bevels are all set in, you can soften the edges of each foot if you prefer a less crisp edge. This looks most nice on a dog with straight furnishings such as the American Cocker.

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And this applies to your Terriers with full leg furnishings also. Except that toenails can be exposed.







 Thanks for reading!


Session with Chris Sertzel on GroomerTALK LIVE!

Bio pic

Hello everyone!

Be sure to listen and call in for my LIVE session for's GroomerTALK!

This session will be on August 12th, 7PM EST.

Please call in with any questions you can come up with about things like skin and coat issues, offering supportive and spa type services, questions about competition grooming, or anything you can think of that might help you out! Its sure to be a fun and interesting broadcast!

Preparing and Scheduling for Competition Groomers

The following article is an excerpt from my Competition Grooming Guideboook!


Chapter Two: Preparing Yourself

There is much preparation that goes into competitive grooming.  Most of all, you will want to be preparing yourself emotionally for your journey.  Now is the time to confirm with yourself that you will happily do what it takes to get into the ring with all you’ve got.  Months ahead you will be looking at how to get dogs together to compete with, talking with your clients or breeders, allocating funds to travel, looking at hotels and air fair or driving itineraries, making arrangements for your clients to be cared for while you are away, practicing on at least a couple of dogs each week at your workplace (to check your pace, your thoroughness, and to critique your skills as if you were in the ring), possibly working with an experienced mentor to help you along, and most of all- you’ll be making lists and more lists!  But it is all in the name of something great.              One of the greatest attributes of our industry for all of those groomers and stylists who are looking to climb the ladder of knowledge and ability is that all of our industry icons, our “A” list members, and our top stylists from around the country are always available and willing to help you with your questions.  Now is the time to possibly also locate a mentor or an active or seasoned competitor to pose your questions to for their advice.  I have never had another competitor turn their back on me when I have asked them a question on what to do with my competition dogs, and I know from experience that you should feel confident enough to approach and question those with the knowledge you want to gain.  Actually, what better way to learn that from someone who has already been there?  You can ask in person at the industry trade shows or you can arrange for one on one learning and hands-on sessions or you can email pictures of your finished grooms, stacked and presented for the camera, so that they can do an outline or shoot back with the changes they see need to be made and what they see is right on.  Photos, though, are never the best way to get guidance with a dog, but they are better than getting no help if that is all you can do for now.  The best way is to bring your dog to someone with the experience to assist you and let them see the dog and your groom from every angle.  They may not always be available to offer their help for free at a trade show because they have their own itinerary and responsibilities to get to, so scheduling one on one is the most ideal learning opportunity for you, and next in line is by attending learning seminars where you can ask all of your questions directly to the speaker.

It is a lot of planning and devotion, and money, and time- but the preparations are what make the journey exciting and fun.  If you choose to just do a show or two a year for the fun of it, that is up to you, but if you get hooked unexpectedly by the competition bug, oyu will want to go big and do all oyu can to not waste your time or mnoney.  Poor planning can make the journey a little more bumpy, but it will only take these mistakes one time around to prove their avoidance for the next time!  There are many points to remember and it can be helpful to get an idea ahead of time at what all you will want to go over and remember when preparing.  Here is a general timeline and the duties that will fall into place as competition time draws near.




10-12 weeks and longer:  

  • Make contact with a possible mentor if you want to work with someone to give you tips and critiques in preparation for the ring.  Mentors could be stylist friends that you know, dog show conformation class exhibitors with your local kennel club, members of your area’s grooming association or club, or simply approach groomers that you have seen place in competitions and ask them for some tips.  Always check the pet grooming websites online to post a “need ad” for a mentor if you are coming up empty handed. Be sure to check your mentors credentials and experience just to be clear that you are getting quality advice, especially if you are paying for their time.
  • Start surveying your client list for possible competition worthy dogs. 
  • If you are employed by another, and haven’t yet, now is the best talk with them about what you want to do and be sure to get their agreement on allowing certain clients to be involved in your plans.  Be sure that you have a signed contractual agreement between you to state clearly that you are responsible for the fees accrued in their free or discounted grooming so the business owner will loose no sales.
  • Go to local dog shows and make business card contacts with breeders.
  • Begin to decide which breeds you are comfortable with or are personally interested in learning about.  You will groom a breed better if you have a personal interest in that breed.
  • Talk with groomer friends to see if they have dogs or clients that would be interested.
  • Visit all of the learning sites listed in this book to gather as much knowledge and make as many contacts as possible.
  • Decide on what competitions and classes at these competitions you would like to enter.
  • Begin to allocate funds to cover expenses.
  • Start mentioning to your clients that you are planning this trip and why, and try to schedule their grooming around the date so they are still cared for.
  • Start making your organizational show lists.
  • If you have dogs on hand for competing with as of now- start practicing your grooming start to finish on them. Time the groom.  Work on properly presenting the dog on the table.  Take your time to do a thorough job, notice conformational attributes and flaws, address coat issues such as density or texture by trying products or working the coat with only scissors to harden it. 


        8-10 weeks:

  • Choose which dogs will work for your eligible classes.  Meet with the owners and go over your lending contracts again, sign them mutually and have them notarized.  Personally deliver a copy to each of the dog owners.
  • Whether working on client dogs, breeder dogs, or your own personal dogs, now begin a weekly maintenance grooming schedule for these dogs. Take your time with each of the dogs that you are planning to utilize for competing when you groom them. Watch the clock to see how much time the groom takes you.  Time how long you spend on each task like the sanitary work or markouts and even drying so you know how long that takes you, and try different techniques to cut off some time. 

Remember that when you are in the ring, you will want to get a great outline first and then perfect your scissor finish work.    ~Bathing and conditioning the coat for maximum healthy growth, trimming in markouts, feet & sanitary until 6 weeks from the show date.

  • Study your breeds!  Practice your stacking, you presenting and your smiling!
  • If needed, take on a few extra hours to groom your competition dogs and still get all clients taken care of.  You do not want to disturb your business work day or clients as they are not only your income, but they are going to help pay for your new endeavor!  You may want to groom all competition dogs on a separate day (my personal choice) or take one less dog a day to have ample time to care for each competition dog’s coat to get it up to par in time for the show.   It is extremely important to not impact your business income and clients’ grooming quality and schedules in any way while you are competing.  there are a few salons that have been lost to the competition bug because of mismanagement of time and income while away at competitions.  This is avoidable with just a little extra time and planning on your part.
  • If you are employed by another, talk with them and get your dates available now.

6-8 weeks

  • Continue weekly grooming visits.  If using a coat builder or volumizer such as Jazzing (a clear hair colorant that binds to the hair and produces a more dense coat in thin or sparse, problem areas- available at Sally’s or other salon supply stores) or experimenting with products such as Thick & Thicker, do it starting now so that you will know ahead the results that you get on that coat with these products, how to properly apply them and to fine tune the outcome.
  • Book your flight if needed.  Book your dog’s flight arrangements if needed.  Be sure to shop around different airlines and on discount sites like Expedia and Travelocity.  Double check if you are an NDGAA or NASE, etc. member as this membership can get you discounts on hotels and rental cars.  And be sure to double check on your luggage fees. Most airlines now charge fees per bag if it goes in cargo.

You will have to have all current medical info and the owner present at this time.  It is best to book your dog’s flight arrangements yourself and not leave it in the owner’s hands.  Not only are you responsible for fees, but the airline needs to know the situation and that you are caring for the dog in the owner’s absence.  Certain states have laws governing owner-absent care and temporary ownership/parent ship of a dog, so just be sure to clue in the airline now to avoid any hiccups. 

  • If your car is making a long trip, be sure that it has a current tune up and care so it is running smoothly.
  • If you are relying on a ride with a friend, be sure to get these commitments laid out now for minimal last minute surprises.  It is always best to not wait to make travel arrangements, not only for the peace of mind at having this done ahead of time as you will have a lot on your plate, but also remember that the closer to your trip date, sometimes hotel rates and surely flight rates will go up in cost.  It simply doesn’t pay to wait!
  • Study your breeds and practice your presentation skills!

4-6 weeks:

  • Continue with weekly maintenance grooming visits.
  • Double check and try to rebook with all clients at the time they leave so that everyone is accounted for as much as possible.
  • Change your answering machine message to mention your upcoming trip (be sure it is an upbeat and excited manner!) and remind clients of your short absence.
  • If you are leaving family behind, get together a list of contact info for where you are staying.  If leaving a pet behind, make these arrangements now as well. 
  • Arrange with a pet sitter if needed.
  • Study your breeds and practice your presentation skills!

2-4 weeks:

  • Start seeing competition dogs 2 times a week; once for a complete brushout and the second visit for a bath/coat treatment from now until the day before the show, or as needed per their breed requirements. 
  • Study your breeds and hone your grooming skills!
  • Have needed shears and tools sharpened if needed.
  • If you are reliant on any personal medications, be sure they are filled & ready for your trip.

               1 week prior:

  • Confirm any travel plans the owner has if they are coming along and driving themselves. Go back over the times you need them there.  If they are riding with you, be sure that they are all set to go. 
  • See the dogs every other day if needed to assure the coat is in optimal condition.
  • If the breeder or owner is allowing you to home the dog until after competition, now is the closest safe time to take the dog in.
  • Double check that the dog is current on all needed vaccines and acquire the Vet info to have for your crate tags.  Be sure that you have them in hand when you leave whether the dog is coming with you or the owner as you will usually need them in order to be issued final registry of your ring number. 
  • Do a final sweep of grooming clients to be sure everyone is taken care of over your leave.

             The day before:

  • Clean your tools.
  • Pack you tool bag or box (see packing checklist!)
  • Pack your personal suitcases and toiletries.
  • Load your car with all supplies if driving.
  • Pack your carry on bag if flying.
  • Gas up your car if driving.
  • Pack your cooler if driving.
  • Print off online directions, print off airline itinerary, print off show attendance confirmation and show addendum if you haven’t already.
  • Call and touch base with breeder or dog owners about when bring dogs by in time for your timely departure. *Be sure to give them a time cushion!  And when they arrive, take the time to send them off well and secure with the leave.  If they are going with but not riding with you- be sure to impress upon them exactly what time you will need them there by if you are leaving the same day of the competition, where to meet you at, exchange contact numbers and let them know the weather forecast if there is any adverse weather you will be travelling through, and be sure to remember to ask if there’s any anxiety on the pet’s behalf as this could put a serious kink in how they feel for their full day ahead. 
  • Take your pet to the boarder if needed.  Remember to leave with them clear and thorough contact info to avoid a catastrophe in your absence!
  • If you are leaving you home empty, take out your trash, clear perishables from refrigerator, etc.
  • For safety, change your business answering machine so it does not say that you are going to be out of town.
  • Double check with pet sitter if you will have one visiting.
  • Get to bed early and (try to) get a full night’s sleep! 

The day of:

  • Finish last minute packing of personals if driving.
  • Finish packing the car if driving.
  • Eat a good breakfast.
  • Give the dog(s) time to run & play a bit before you leave. 
  • Settle your dog into their crate calmly.
  • If flying, get to the airport with plenty of extra time to get your crate(s) into baggage safely, to get your baggage checked and get to your terminal on time.  Allow for traffic and remember that when you rush, this is when things get forgotten.


~I realize that all of this information may be overkill!  But in the interest of educating readers at every level, all of the possible outcomes and requirements are being overviewed here. When you actually start making preparations for competing, things will likely flow smoothly and with less effort once you know all of your information ahead of time.~



What to discuss with prospective dog lenders:


* Talk in depth with your clients about how competitions work:

They can travel with you or you can take the dog alone- (if the show is close, them coming along will ALWAYS make things easier for you as you now have an assistant to watch & care for their dog while you are in the ring. Which may allow you to compete in more classes!), the length of the day at the competition, show them pictures of the show winners from years past & the show itinerary, go over what grooming schedule and maintenance is involved to keep up with on their part, and relay to them how excited you are- they will most likely be excited, too! And if you are a first timer, this will be a bond between you both as you are learning together!

*Explain why you are competing:

You are continuing your education which brings them a higher quality of grooming services and promoting your career.  

*State the benefits they will receive by working with you:

They are receiving free grooming and upkeep on their dog for the next 6-8 weeks!  And, their dog will be the center of attention!  

* Be clear, genuine, and up front with your dogs’ owner as to how important it is that they allow you to do your grooming work without disrupting the schedule of grooming care. 

*Discuss any vacations or times when they will be absent during the time you are conditioning their pet.  If needed, see if you can sit their pet in their absence or personally  make grooming arrangements with their boarder.  There have been those who’ve had a client go on vacation, board their dog, and have it returned for their next grooming with a short clippered, or hacked-up, or matted coat!  Yikes!

*Go over the actual contract agreements slowly with them.  Explain what you are giving to them concerning the grooming and its monetary value, what they would owe should they breach the contract and how it would have to be repaying to you.  Give then time to look it over and decide if it will work for them.  But do not proceed until the signed and notarized contract is in both of your hands!


NOTE: some dishonest people may ride the contract in order to get free grooming and then try in many different ways to find a loophole.  If they try this once, remind then that you do have a binding contract that you need to follow through on or you will have to hold them accountable.  Proceed from their normally and let them make the final decision.  Either way, it is always best to have a back up or reserve dog that can take their place, should something happen.  This dog gets all of the same treatment (and flattery!) and their owner would be explained to what part their dog is playing. 


*NURTURE your relationship with these dog owners!!  You will be seeing a lot of them, and they of you.  They need to know how grateful you are, how important they are, and that this is a mutual favor situation to which you will both benefit.  You can remain in the driver’s seat and still show gratitude and flattery to them!  Remember to set aside the little annoyances that may surface in light of the bigger picture as long as they are following through on their end. If they are totally disrespectful to your work, don’t “fire” them unless you have a back up dog in the wings or you might kick yourself later!  And if you do “fire” them, let them know that they will still owe you for the grooming given thus far- as should have been stated in your contract.








What are “breed standards” and how do I know which dogs are up to breed standards?

Breed standards are usually created and laid down by the various parent clubs of individual breeds.  It is a set of descriptions that outline in depth the qualities that an individual dog in the breed should conform to. Breed Standards are then accepted by international bodies such as the AKC or CKC. 




For example:


Golden Retriever Breed Standard



Sporting Group

General Appearance
“A symmetrical, powerful, active dog, sound and well put together, not clumsy nor long in the leg, displaying a kindly expression and possessing a personality that is eager, alert and self-confident. Primarily a hunting dog, he should be shown in hard working condition. Overall appearance, balance, gait and purpose to be given more emphasis than any of his component parts. Faults--Any departure from the described ideal shall be considered faulty to the degree to which it interferes with the breed’s purpose or is contrary to breed character.

Size, Proportion, Substance
Males 23-24 inches in height at withers; females 21½-22½ inches. Dogs up to one inch above or below standard size should be proportionately penalized. Deviation in height of more than one inch from the standard shall disqualify. Length from breastbone to point of buttocks slightly greater than height at withers in ratio of 12:11. Weight for dogs 65-75 pounds; bitches 55-65 pounds.

Broad in skull, slightly arched laterally and longitudinally without prominence of frontal bones (forehead) or occipital bones. Stop well defined but not abrupt. Foreface deep and wide, nearly as long as skull. Muzzle straight in profile, blending smooth and strongly into skull; when viewed in profile or from above, slightly deeper and wider at stop than at tip. No heaviness in flews. Removal of whiskers is permitted but not preferred. Eyes friendly and intelligent in expression, medium large with dark, close-fitting rims, set well apart and reasonably deep in sockets. Color preferably dark brown; medium brown acceptable. Slant eyes and narrow, triangular eyes detract from correct expression and are to be faulted. No white or haw visible when looking straight ahead. Dogs showing evidence of functional abnormality of eyelids or eyelashes (such as, but not limited to, trichiasis, entropion, ectropion, or distichiasis) are to be excused from the ring. Ears rather short with front edge attached well behind and just above the eye and falling close to cheek. When pulled forward, tip of ear should just cover the eye. Low, hound-like ear set to be faulted. Nose black or brownish black, though fading to a lighter shade in cold weather not serious. Pink nose or one seriously lacking in pigmentation to be faulted. Teeth scissors bite, in which the outer side of the lower incisors touches the inner side of the upper incisors. Undershot or overshot bite is a disqualification. Misalignment of teeth (irregular placement of incisors) or a level bite (incisors meet each other edge to edge) is undesirable, but not to be confused with undershot or overshot. Full dentition. Obvious gaps are serious faults.

Neck, Topline, Body
Neck medium long, merging gradually into well laid back shoulders, giving sturdy, muscular appearance. No throatiness. Backline strong and level from withers to slightly sloping croup, whether standing or moving. Sloping backline, roach or sway back, flat or steep croup to be faulted. Body well balanced, short coupled, deep through the chest. Chest between forelegs at least as wide as a man’s closed hand including thumb, with well developed forechest. Brisket extends to elbow. Ribs long and well sprung but not barrel shaped, extending well towards hindquarters. Loin short, muscular, wide and deep, with very little tuck-up. Slab-sidedness, narrow chest, lack of depth in brisket, excessive tuck-up to be faulted. Tail well set on, thick and muscular at the base, following the natural line of the croup. Tail bones extend to, but not below, the point of hock. Carried with merry action, level or with some moderate upward curve; never curled over back nor between legs.

Muscular, well coordinated with hindquarters and capable of free movement. Shoulder blades long and well laid back with upper tips fairly close together at withers. Upper arms appear about the same length as the blades, setting the elbows back beneath the upper tip of the blades, close to the ribs without looseness. Legs, viewed from the front, straight with good bone, but not to the point of coarseness. Pasterns short and strong, sloping slightly with no suggestion of weakness. Dewclaws on forelegs may be removed, but are normally left on. Feet medium size, round, compact, and well knuckled, with thick pads. Excess hair may be trimmed to show natural size and contour. Splayed or hare feet to be faulted.

Broad and strongly muscled. Profile of croup slopes slightly; the pelvic bone slopes at a slightly greater angle (approximately 30 degrees from horizontal). In a natural stance, the femur joins the pelvis at approximately a 90-degree angle; stifles well bent; hocks well let down with short, strong rear pasterns. Feet as in front. Legs straight when viewed from rear. Cow-hocks, spread hocks, and sickle hocks to be faulted.

Dense and water-repellent with good undercoat. Outer coat firm and resilient, neither coarse nor silky, lying close to body; may be straight or wavy. Untrimmed natural ruff; moderate feathering on back of forelegs and on underbody; heavier feathering on front of neck, back of thighs and underside of tail. Coat on head, paws, and front of legs is short and even. Excessive length, open coats, and limp, soft coats are very undesirable. Feet may be trimmed and stray hairs neatened, but the natural appearance of coat or outline should not be altered by cutting or clipping.

Rich, lustrous golden of various shades. Feathering may be lighter than rest of coat. With the exception of graying or whitening of face or body due to age, any white marking, other than a few white hairs on the chest, should be penalized according to its extent. Allowable light shadings are not to be confused with white markings. Predominant body color which is either extremely pale or extremely dark is undesirable. Some latitude should be given to the light puppy whose coloring shows promise of deepening with maturity. Any noticeable area of black or other off-color hair is a serious fault.

When trotting, gait is free, smooth, powerful and well coordinated, showing good reach. Viewed from any position, legs turn neither in nor out, nor do feet cross or interfere with each other. As speed increases, feet tend to converge toward center line of balance. It is recommended that dogs be shown on a loose lead to reflect true gait.

Friendly, reliable, and trustworthy. Quarrelsomeness or hostility towards other dogs or people in normal situations, or an unwarranted show of timidity or nervousness, is not in keeping with Golden Retriever character. Such actions should be penalized according to their significance.”

 *courtesy of the American Kennel Club

So you can see that these guidelines cover all aspects of not only the dog’s physical makeup, but their personality and movement as well. 

Developing your eye to notice the melding of these characteristics in a particular dog comes with time and study.  Properly choosing a dog closest to breed standard will make less work for you on the grooming table and help you overall style outcome. The best thing you can do is get your hands on the many current breed magazines, grooming DVDs and books available to you.  Log onto sites like and or and read the posts and look through all of the breeds that interest you.  Sites like list the breed standards for each breed and printing these off or purchasing “the AKC All Breed Dog Book” to study is very necessary.  Magazines like “Dogs In Review” are priceless for they afford you the luxury of seeing all of the world’s top dogs at your fingertips.   Get out to local dog shows and bring a notebook.  Sitting at these shows lets you take all of the best dogs from each breed and look at how they move, how they act, and how to bring out or accentuate these characteristics in their grooming.  This will eventually help you get your head around making your hands do what you see in your mind on how that dog should look when it is groomed (and making contacts at these shows with breeders can be a wonderful source for acquiring dogs to use in the competition ring, but we’ll get to that in a bit).  You can also learn volumes of grooming techniques by watching the competitors as they groom ringside.  Some of their tricks differ from what we do for our grooming, but what we are both trying to achieve with our skills is the same.  To accentuate the breed characteristic for that dog and to cover up any existing flaws so as to bring that dog as near to “perfect” a breed standard as possible. 





You will know ahead of time which breeds are those that you really enjoy grooming and feel a connection with.  This connection will help you develop your eye and to excel in your proficiency and skills and this in turn will help give you an edge on those styles in the competition ring.  However, it is also important to grow by challenging yourself with dogs that you are not as familiar with in order to learn while you compete.  There will be others in the ring with you that are trying new breeds and learning as they go, so do not be afraid to go into  territory in front of others.  They are in the same boat as you and are too concerned with their own tasks at hand to pass judgment on your grooming!





Just a note- one of the most common and yet overlooked flaws in pet dogs is weight.  Even a couple of extra pounds will throw that dog’s balance off and therefore make your grooming harder.  Weight affects the dog’s underline most obviously, but when compared side by side with a dog of same type but a couple less pounds, you will see that the weight affects the dog’s entire profile, and you will have to try to compensate for this.  -Giving competitors with a leaner dog the upper hand.  So, if you are choosing a dog that has some extra weight aboard, talk with the owner about nutrition and diet. 
















Healthy Dematting

This is Oliver- a Bichon and Lhasa mix- Ollie has a drop coat with just enuf soft undercoat beneath long coarse guard coat that he matts up very easily with pretty dense cottony matts.


I washed him with ShowSeason’s Soothe shampoo at a 3:1 dilution rate. You can choose your favorite gentle shampoo that is not clarifying or stripping to do the cleansing work any time the dog’s skin and coat needs cleaning but is in danger of over-drying. If the dog has dry or flakey skin, you may want to go with either an oatmeal shampoo (except in the case of allergies where oatmeal can aggravate this and actually feed yeast cultures on the dog’s skin), or another alpha-hydroxy shampoo to bubble up and off dead skin cells and stale skin oil build up. Whenever there is excess dirt or oil or skin irritation, always try to rinse thru the coat with a good tepid water rinse to break up those oils and open the skin pores prior to the cleansing of both the skin and hair coat. Water which is too warm can be uncomfortable or irritate already upset skin as in the case of hot spots and allergies. You can use a tepid to cooler rinse water if there is any question of unhealthy or irritated skin, but if the skin looks good and the hair coat just needs some work, a warmer rinse will loosen packed undercoat, lift up dead skin cellular matter, break up built up skin oils, and open the skin pores to let go of dead hair partially submerged within the hair follicle which the coat will be healthier without.



Water is often overlooked as both the most gentle and most safe means of exfoliation and of moisturizing. However, as with us, prolonged exposure to water can actually over-dry the skin, so I personally never rinse during any cycle of the bath for more than 2-3 minutes, so the skin is wet for no longer than 10 minutes unless I am addressing a certain skin issue which requires an active soak.

After a thorough hand wash, I used a warmer rinse to remove all the shampoo from the coat, and squeezed the water from the coat. Next here I used ShowSeason’s Hypo Conditioner (cream consistency) at full strength. You can use any thicker cream consistency moisturizer of your choice, but you want something that works well for drop coats without causing long term coat buildup. After a while, some lower quality conditioners will actually build up on the coat and can attract dirt and cause waxiness, limpness and lackluster color. If you are seeing limp or scraggly coat after grooming, try a clarifying shampoo to first strip off any wax build up. I worked this by hand from the skin surface to the tips of all of the coat and then left this on for 5 minutes while Ollie was wrapped in a very warm wet towel to keep the skin and hair follicles open for moisture absorption and help fill in the gaps in the hair shaft structure of any damaged coat. I then followed this moisture wrap- similar to a hot oil treatment- with a long cool rinse to close the skin and hair follicles and help seal in moisture. Once towel dried, I applied a liberal amount of DeTangle spray to the areas where he was most tightly matted. I then HVed on low until he was completely dried before doing any brushing.

Combing and brushing of wet hair- especially in order to dematt- is often the culprit of causing more matting as it mechanically stretches each hair shaft at a time when it is wet and there for at its lowest tensile strength. This stretching usually causes the shaft to crack and splinter and twist similar to a spring. This in turn causes the fragmented shaft to snag on other hairs around it. This helps to create friction- a major element of a matt, and also since a damaged hair shaft holds dirt- another ingredient in most matts, this makes this a great recipe for tangles- which is a common building block of any matt. Then what was left I combed out. This was the outcome.






No severe breakage, and amazingly soft, supple, glossy coat. Pink and healthy plump skin with no more flakes, and a happy, unstressed, beautiful pup.