Grooming and Presentation Trends Over the Decades: The Terrier Group

Subtle might be the operative word to describe the evolution over the decades of the basic silhouettes of our Terrier breeds, excluding the smooth-coated varieties, those having remained virtually unchanged down through the centuries.

Subtle might be the operative word to describe the evolution over the decades of the basic silhouettes of our Terrier breeds, excluding the smooth-coated varieties, those having remained virtually unchanged down through the centuries. When comparing current silhouettes to those of the more distant past, one can’t help but notice “more seems to be better.” And this “more” is, more often than not, a result of the myriad products available that were not on the market or otherwise accessible until the mid- to late ’70s. These products have contributed not only to the look of more coat but also to the look of more color.

Whereas the silhouettes of our hard-coated Terriers, primarily the long-legged varieties, have remained fairly static, the approach to arriving at the finished product and the methods used in trimming and/or stripping has changed considerably. Terrier purists would be quick to tell us that these days few seem willing to take the time required to do the job properly, especially the flat work. Instead of hand-pulling hair, clippers seem to be the mode du jour with all but the purist. Leg coat is often scissored rather than pulled. Until the late 1980s, hard-coated show dogs were up on the grooming table every single day, and each little hair, even those inside the earflap, was pulled, either with fingers or with the use of specific tools. Rolling these jackets in such a manner allows the dog to remain in perfect show condition for months on end, even years if done properly. The time-consuming nature of this preparation is not for the faint of heart, however, and may explain why entries in the Terrier Group have waned considerably at shows other than the highly regarded Terrier specialty shows such as Montgomery County.

Without doubt, grooming and presentation has been inexorably altered over the past few decades in most Groups as various products either came on the market or were developed. Prior to the ’70s, dogs were bathed, dried, groomed and otherwise prepared for exhibition before arriving on the show grounds. Electricity was unheard of, which meant no hair driers; nor, for that matter, were bathing facilities available. Exhibitors arrived with little more than their dog(s), a comb and a brush. But it has slowly evolved into a different ball game. Much has changed, with products playing a significant role in the presentation of most Terriers today. Sometimes used a bit too blatantly, products have become de rigueur, and one is hard pressed to find an exhibit prepared for the ring without them. As one fellow judge quipped recently after judging a few Terrier breeds, “It takes at least four ‘wipies’ and a paper towel these days to remove all the color from my hands!” Indeed “foreign substance” is alive and well in the US and generally, even if frowned upon, tends to be disregarded.

It is an age wherein many of our Welsh Terriers and Airedales are blacker than black and redder than red … where, sadly, the exhibit entering the ring au naturel appears woefully out of place. “Daffy,” as the red powder has become known, was, I understand, developed by the late great Terrier man Ric Chashoudian. As the story goes, there was a brick and stone quarry in Southern California, and Ric devised a method of taking the leftover brick and stone and grinding it into a powder which he then applied to his dogs in much the same manner as chalk was used to make white dogs whiter. Prior to this, handlers had already discovered the Wella product Kolestral (cholesterol), and it, combined with chalk, worked wonders to build coat bulk, especially on furnishings.

This Wella product also helped bind daffy to the dog’s hard-coated legs, which, in addition to providing the look of more coat, could also hide the sins of poorly constructed legs. Hair spray, developed for us ladies to keep our coiffures in check, became a staple in tack boxes because it not only kept cholesterol, daffy and chalk in place, but it kept teased-up hair in place as well. All of this preparation before entering the ring meant work afterward, too, because these products had to come out ASAP, otherwise irreparable damage to the coat might result. It meant bathing, conditioning and drying before a dog could be put back in its box.

There are tales of “painting” Terriers as well. When we say that a handler is a true artist, it may not be simply a figure of speech. Recently shared with me was the story of a Wire Fox Terrier with a pure white body that was felt to be a little too long cast. Consequently, its handler had the brilliant idea to paint a black spot over the dog’s rib cage on the judges’ side, giving said dog the illusion of a shorter back. These days, peeking into many a Terrier man’s tack box, one should not be surprised to find all sorts of lotions and potions, hair-coloring products and moustache dyes, makeup brushes and the like.


Changes in Individual Breeds

The Kerry Blue Terrier silhouette has changed little over the years. However, it is not unheard of to find those that appear to be color “enhanced.” A few years ago when judging in Florida, I was blown away by a divinely blue Kerry … so blown away, in fact, that I raved to the dog’s owner-handler about it not just once but several times. Only after noting that the owner began to squirm and appear uncomfortable did it occur to me that my compliments were perhaps being taken as sarcasm and that she assumed I was being accusatory! I have learned that bluer-than-blue is often suspect. The best of our Wheatens are presented these days in a tighter jacket than was the norm in previous decades. Too often judges take to heart the wording in the breed’s standard that says, “Dogs that are overly trimmed shall be severely penalized.” To the knowledgeable Wheaten fancier, the overly trimmed Wheaten would look like a blond Kerry, which to the discerning eye is rarely, if ever, the case.

The change in Bedlington presentation is primarily due to the fact that in the 1980s and ’90s they carried more hair. During the period between the ’50s and ’70s, the breed was not at its best. When Bedlington breeder David Ramsey came on the scene in the ’80s, he brought the breed into its own. An artist in the truest sense, David’s trimming turned the breed into a real showstopper. Currently, they seem more tightly trimmed and with sharp angles rather than the lovely gentle “S” curves we saw in the Willow Wind dogs. Since the Tenure dog (Willow Wind Tenure) at the end of the century, the trim has tended to become more extreme.

Presentation of Mini Schnauzers echoes that of the other long-legged, hard-coated Terriers, but with the softer leg furnishings fluffed out and held in place with product. Note the comparison included here. Eyebrows today are sometimes so stiffened with hair spray that they are immovable. Breeders of Parsons and Russells are ever aware of a tendency on the part of handlers to turn these breeds into what I call generic Terriers by teasing out leg furnishings and beards, which destroys the correct silhouette of these charming breeds. Occasionally this can be seen on Borders as well, especially with face hair.

On to our shorter-legged Terriers. The Australian Terrier has made incredible inroads since the breed’s recognition in 1960 when silhouettes were marred by poor toplines and fiddle fronts were a common structural flaw. Today’s Aussie definitely looks the part as described in its standard. Furthermore, exhibitors have held their ground and haven’t given in to over-tidying, obviously preferring that the breed maintain its attractive but rugged appearance.

The short-legged Terriers are, in general, hard-coated, and their presentation for the most part has changed only to the degree that product plays a role, though some now sport a tighter jacket and are probably a bit more tidied than the original old hardcore breeders had intended. Many Scotties lack a rear shelf and often are lacking any semblance of forechest, both so critical to its silhouette. For whatever reason, black has become the preferred color in this breed, and I have been told that some of our highly campaigned brindle Scotties have been dyed black in order to become more competitive. The Westie certainly can lay claim to the wonders of chalk and cholesterol. These products have joined forces to create a headpiece that has almost taken on the look of a caricature, hair often so ratted and stiff that it is impossible to assess head structure through its overstylized “chrysanthemum” head.

Certainly today’s Cairn is a far cry from Dorothy’s little dog Toto, and even from the early Cairndania and Wolfpit dogs. Still, the standard makes no mention of presentation other than to say, “clean, combed, brushed and tidied up on ears, tail, feet and general outline,” and they generally are just that. In contrast, the Dandie Dinmont standard is quite explicit; describing the number of inches the hair should be on all parts of its head, body and legs; and stating that presentation is to appear natural and that exaggerated styling is objectionable. I remember a few years ago hearing complaints about the most exceptional Dandie I had ever laid my eyes on, being faulted because his jacket was too short. Skye Terrier grooming and presentation has not changed one iota, although I understand that a Skye with other than an absolutely straight jacket just might benefit from the “flat iron,” a hair-straightening tool that became available sometime in the early ’90s. The Glen of Imaal, new to AKC in this decade, is a breed upon which it is too early to comment except to say that I have noticed a tendency for them to look over-tidied, and it seems that some are losing the distinctive reverse topline called for in the standard.

Critical to the story here is that Terrier people, as a group, are noted for being a rather fastidious lot, and it is only natural that they (we) tend to want our dogs to appear more than perfect! This “more” often might mean stripping or scissoring away until we have removed more coat than intended, or adding more and more color until suddenly the color is overdone. And this is often without our even realizing it.


Handling Trends

Presentation is not limited to the various grooming techniques but to how our dogs are handled in the ring as well. Professional handlers in this country have set the bar high for all exhibitors. In order to make a splash, the Terrier is now expected to pose, posture and hold a stack at the end of a lead on its own. Certainly, nothing is more eye-catching than a dog standing “on the tiptoe of expectation,” as the Fox Terrier standard suggests. Dogs that have been trained to do this are a sight to behold, no matter the breed. The Terrier, particularly, with tail aquiver, standing at the end of a lead can easily take one’s breath away. Many dogs shown by our professional Terrier handlers excel at this. A few decades ago, the playing field was more level. It was a time when there were not so many professional handlers and when good owner-handlers could hold their own against them. But times have changed. The chasm that exists between the professional handler and the amateur seems to have widened, probably due to the slow demise of match shows and handling classes.

Finally, the ever-increasing trend to not simply bait a dog, but to constantly stuff food in its mouth has reached outlandish proportions. This unpleasant practice was unheard of a decade or so ago. It seems to have grown out of the owner-handler’s desire to emulate those professional handlers they see doing it. One esteemed judge unashamedly demands of her exhibitors, “Please feed your dogs at home!” The overuse of bait has also taken its toll on the custom of sparring, a practice Terrier people love to see implemented. Often these days, when dogs are called into the center of a ring to display that up-on-their-toes Terrier spark and intense piercing expression directed toward each other, they hardly look at one another anymore. Instead, they choose to stare up at their handlers, waiting for a food handout. It’s a shame.

I am particularly offended by close-up shots on TV during dog-show broadcasts as food is shoved into a dog’s mouth and it dribbles down into its beard, all while being examined by the judge. What happened to the idea of training our dogs to stand for exam? What is wrong with allowing the dog to do what he is supposed to do because he wants to please you rather than because he is going to have food stuck in his face? This is no longer “baiting.” It is out-and-out feeding, sometimes carried so far that it resembles the frenzied feeding of a starving dog!

Perhaps we should take a cold, hard look at some of our practices and put a few of them into reverse. We need to see ourselves for what we are: mentors and role models. We should be setting a more positive example for the new breeders and exhibitors as they strive to play this game by encouraging them to play it the way we really, in our heart of hearts, would prefer that it be played.



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From the September 2013 issue of Dogs in Review magazine. Purchase the September 2013 digital back issue or subscribe to receive 12 months of Dogs in Review magazine.

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