Tips for grooming working dogs

August 26, 2003

For months, possibly years, I have encouraged dog owners to get their dogs out of the yard and doing something - playing, performing, working, anything.

Audrey Pavia has a good article in the October issue of Dog World magazine on specifics of grooming working, performing or active dogs. Working dogs (those that perform as hunters, or as herders, or in agility competitions) require different grooming considerations that those dogs that are shown in conformation breed rings.

Pavia points out that "show dogs" are groomed according to the written standards for the breed. Therefore, some breeds need long hair on their feet, or hair hanging over their eyes, whereas in activity competitions the long hair places the dog at a distinct disadvantage.

The herding dogs working for titles in their ability to herd, need the hair trimmed away from their eyes or at least gently pulled back and banded if the dog is also being shown in conformation. Pavia writes that working dogs that practice out in the field do better with a trimmed coat that can be brushed and combed regularly to eliminate burrs, grass lawns and mats.


The feet should have the hair trimmed away from the pads to give the dog more traction in slippery conditions. Hunting dogs need the same kind of grooming, but most of the breeds in the sporting and hound groups do not have the facial hair to contend with.

Still, the feet are of the greatest importance since the dogs are timed when they compete in the field. If the animal's feet hurt, he will not perform his best. Pavia insists that foot care is most important for any working dog. That means weekly nail trims and checking for cracked or split nails. It also means trimming the hair from between the pads which helps prevent mud balls from forming as well as ice balls in cold weather.

While doing the routine foot care, check for cracks or abrasions on the pads as well as reddened areas between the pads. I discovered a small acorn wedged between the pads of one of my dogs once. If I hadn't noticed and removed it, I am sure the animal would have chewed and licked the area and eventually removed it, possibly leaving a raw place.

Agility competitors also need careful grooming to protect the animal. Nail care is essential since too long nails can get caught in the slats of the agility obstacles, whereas too short nails won't allow the dog the necessary grip for the take-offs on the jumps, or to stop, or turn on the course. Check with your veterinarian to learn the proper length if you are not sure.

Pavia feels that safety is the goal to performance grooming. Even pets that are trained and certified as therapy dogs that go visiting nursing homes or help children learn to read need regular grooming. Although these dogs are not as active, their work requires clean, parasite free coats, clear eyes and, yes, I'm not kidding, brushed teeth and fresh breath.|None***

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