You’d think someone who has owned Shelties for 30 years would be able to groom a dog. And you’d be right – if by ‘dog’ you meant ‘Sheltie or any breed of lesser coat.’ My Shelties were often rumpled, disheveled, and happily unkempt, but I could and did bathe and brush them regularly. It wasn’t until I got a Finnish Lapphund that I met my Waterloo in that area.
A lot of people tell me that they enjoy brushing their dogs. They say it’s relaxing, for them and for the dogs. They say things like ‘Oh, I just watch tv for an hour or two and brush Fido at the same time’ – they make it sound like knitting, or some other pastime that engages the hands and produces beautiful results.
I’m not one of those people. I don’t like brushing my dogs and I never have. I like to have my dogs clean, with their coats in good order, but if it requires more than minimal effort, I’m not the person to call on for that effort. I wondered about this, recently … I have done plenty of things that were time-consuming, that required patience and precision, and I enjoyed doing them. Years ago, I would spend hours with a dear friend (now deceased) and the two of us would smoke cigarettes, drink iced tea, and work on counted cross-stitch projects. Finicking and precise work, but I loved it.
So why can’t I bring that mind-set to dog grooming? After all, I mocked myself, it’s not like you ever had a bad grooming experience! And then I realized that yeah, I had. I developed my aversion to this form of personal hygiene through my childhood experience of my own grooming!
Until I was in the third or fourth grade, I had long hair. Waist-length long hair. My mother wasn’t about to let a 7-year old child run around with hair that long blowing in the breeze, and so every morning she would corral me, stand me in the dining room, and brush out my long hair and plait it into two braids. My kindergarten picture (Kohn School, fall of 1960), which thankfully has been lost in the mists of time, shows an apple-cheeked little Dutch girl with glossy dark hair in two braids, which have been looped up and tied with colored ribbons near the ears. The stern, uncompromising line of bangs across my forehead speaks wordlessly to the intention of the hairdresser to be done with this chore and on to others. That was exactly how my mom approached our daily ordeal. She had a husband to get off to work and three daughters to get off to school, and all she wanted was to get my hair in order and get me out the door with my schoolbooks and signed field-trip slip. All I wanted was to be able to cut my hair.
This is why I don’t believe my dogs enjoy being brushed. How can they – I hated it!
When I adopted a Finnish Lapphund in 2009, his coat was unlike any Sheltie coat I’d ever encountered. I found a groomer nearby and three time a year, Heikki (Mike) would spend the afternoon with Rose. Mike had ehrlichiosis, and he was 10+, so he tired easily and Rose, the groomer, would work on him for a bit, then put him in a kennel in the drying room, and work on him again a bit later. Mikey never seemed unsettled by his visits to Rose, and he came home looking and smelling wonderful. When I let his coat go and didn’t get him to Rose in time, he looked like a lumpy quilt. But when he spent the afternoon with Rose, he looked lovely!
But when Mikey passed on, and Alex joined my family, I had a heck of a time getting his grooming needs in hand. I assumed Mikey’s groomer would now be Alex’s groomer, and that would have been the case but for an unfortunate wiggle incident at one appointment that resulted in Alex’s scrotum being nicked by the clippers. Any thought that he would willingly return to the scene of THAT crime was soon banished, and I started the search for another groomer. One very nice woman was an hour’s drive from me; that got old pretty quickly. The next salon was caught up in a kerfuffle on social media when a day-care customer alleged that the salon owners had put a shock collar on her dog, to curb its barking. Ugh. I didn’t schedule further appointments there. I found a very local groomer who did a great job, but who also made me feel that my neglect of Alex’s coat should be reported to PETA, or maybe DCFS, and all my dogs rehomed to more caring owners. Not up for a serving of guilt with my grooming bill, thanks.
Then I went into the “I Can Do This Myself” phase, which lasted about 18 months. I assembled the tools, even buying a very nice dryer, and dedicated a space in the house to the project, and declared that I would get Alex’s coat into the condition it should be in. It was rather like a person with $150K in credit-card debt announcing that NOW she can live on $10 a day, just you watch! In other words, delusional. The tools are the right tools, but I don’t wield them.
Thank goodness, a friend responded to my kvetching about this recently by calling her groomer, and making an introduction, and I then made a grooming date at that shop in a nearby suburb. The groomer, who is around my age, had definitely seen and done a thing or two, and she introduced herself to Alex, sweet-talked him for a bit, and then plunged her hands into his coat. “What you have here,” she said, “is a year – more than a year, maybe two years – of old coat. It has to come out. And then he has to come in once a season so it doesn’t get like this again!”
And come out it did. I returned to collect Alex that afternoon, and when I saw his back end, I said “ack!”, or something along those lines. The groomer shrugged. “Had to come out,” she said, “but it will grow back.” I made a return date for 3 months in the future and took my clipped Lapphund home.
Since then, I have not only made my peace with Alex’s abbreviated coat, I have grown to love it. I doubt I want to keep it quite this short, but I know I want some form of a clip done on him at least twice a year, and I know I want to keep the hair on his belly and underside clipped very close. It’s so much easier! When he goes tearing through the high grass at the nature preserve, and digs under the leaf mold in the woods there, and wades into the mud-bottom lakes, it’s so much easier to remove the evidence of that from his reduced coat. We’re both happier. I’ve reconciled myself to the fact that I am not able to groom my dogs, and I’m glad to know that there are people who will do it for me. And to those lovely people I say, don’t spare the clippers! It will always grow back!