Whatalotta difference 50 years make. I still try to forget most of what I remember from my first dog show — probably about November of 1962. But there is one thing I can’t forget: the smell that dominated the building at the Winnebago County Fairgrounds at Pecatonica, Ill. And it wasn’t until two or three shows later that somebody finally told me, “Oh that smell? It’s St. Aubrey’s. Everybody uses it.”
Everybody used it in part because there wasn’t much choice. You got it from Bessie who ran the Felz-Own booth, and she was the only vendor at most shows. That’s pretty different from today’s world when even newcomers to the conformation dog show and breeding scene are deluged with catalogs and online providers of dog show supplies. And today vendors are a helpful source of income for the larger shows and circuits. And many of them offer products targeted for exhibitors of the dogs in the conformation ring.
As best I remember, those of us who showed Poodles clipped and bathed dogs at home. Liquid Lux was a favored “shampoo” because it really cleaned, and it rinsed out quickly. Some exhibitors used human or dog shampoos, and I’d guess a few used a cre?me rinse. Tediously slow dryers were on the scene — but not for novices like me. I used a hand dryer for humans. When the dog was dry, you did the clipping and most of the scissoring you were going to do and began packing to leave for the shows.
But as They Say, Nothing Is as Constant as Change
I remember a few years of bare-bones methods of show dog grooming and presentation, but almost from the start the process in Poodles and all of the Toy and Non-Sporting breeds — particularly those with hair — began an almost never-ending evolution of sophistication. I see three major reasons.
1. Bigger is better. First, the concept of finding a better way is almost part of our American heritage, and it becomes most evident when you’re in the middle of a competitive situation. So, in retrospect, it seems logical that Toy and Non-Sporting Group exhibitors were ripe to try new methods of improving the overall presentation of dogs. And I guess I also think there’s a little bit of “Texas” in all of us, so we get into something new and are convinced that bigger is better. If a little bit works, try it in bigger doses. And we did.
2. Need for new grooming products. Second, there had to be a nest of entrepreneurs watching the dog show scene and quickly anticipating the need for new grooming products. Exhibitors invented some of their own, and other manufactured products followed.
On the heels of the dish detergent shampoos came other “home-brew” products. We used liquid laundry starch diluted to give extra puff to the manes and packs on Poodles, and there were at least a half dozen antistatic products tested in the hog barns and armories where dog shows were held. In desperation one day, I soaked the pack of a silver Toy Poodle in Dippity Doo (much like what people use today to spike their hair) and brushed that pack endlessly until it dried. That practice didn’t spread, and I never tried it again or told anyone I had made the attempt (until now).
Along the way, we tried every brand of 98-cent hair spray we could find in grocery and drug stores. One was pretty much like the other, and we instantly knew we wanted something “stiffer” as we tried each one. That led us to beauticians and beauty supply stores, which led to the never-ending game of “I found a new hair spray that you’ve got to try.” A few sophisticated exhibitors with big-name show dogs even tried shellac. And it worked. When those topknots were done up, they wouldn’t move — not even in an Iowa bean field on a windy day. But getting it out of the hair and leaving the hair attached? That was a different problem.
Later, when we entered the mall-shopping era, we had to shop a wider range of stores carrying hair spray (Sally’s is a winner in the Corn Belt), and our sophistication increased. Wal-Mart carried some brands — but their salons carried some good ones not available on the regular shelves.
In more recent years, we learned that environmental concerns had an impact on our choices. A wildly acclaimed brand used by Missouri dog exhibitors turned out to have a different formulation when sold in Illinois because of environmental concerns. That led to smuggling hair spray across the state lines, much as Peggy Hogg and I used to do with Coors beer back in the days when it was only sold west of the Mississippi.
But our success in the many hair spray ventures led us to another problem. How did you get it out of the coat without taking a lot of hair with it? The love of my life (and I still miss it today) was Whispering Mist. When you finished showing the dogs, you went back to your setup and spritzed a light spray of Whispering Mist over the sprayed areas. It wasn’t wet, but if you used it too heavily, those areas were a touch oily by the end of a weekend. And generally during that era a weekend of dog shows was two shows — maybe three at the most.
When Whispering Mist vanished from the scene, there was no problem. It happened, as I remember, about the time the burst of new product lines came on the scene, and Crown Royal (No. 3) took over the task of removing or loosening hair spray. That company had an entire line of products, and was quickly followed by product lines such as Pure Paws, Davis (and we loved their fluff-out product) and No. 1 All Systems. More recently we’ve welcomed Isle of the Dog and the Chris Christensen System lines. The Christensen packs are color-specific, so you really need a “white dog” box and a “black dog” box when you travel, but that one company really covers all the bases. Each company has its strong following, and some handlers and exhibitors pick and choose from the various lines to meet their preferences.
That same kind of evolution has taken place with scissors. When I started, we all had Double Ducks. That’s what you had. Then Paul Edwards offered a scissor line that many of us used. But today all sizes and shapes are available in a variety of price ranges. You can get them online or from vendors at shows and try before you buy.
3. Equipment at dog shows. The third and final reason is that while all that was going on, we’ve also seen an evolution and explosion of equipment appear at dog shows that enable exhibitors and handlers to enhance the presentation of the dogs they show. Portable generators (fairly lightweight) were available at outside shows, and, accompanied by 500 feet of extension cord, they made dryer use a possibility in almost any show situation. And if lightweight generators were available, lightweight dryers had to follow, and they did. Stand dryers were immensely lighter, quieter and more powerful than what we used earlier, and hand-held and tabletop dryers come in various shapes and colors. Professional handler Daryl Martin has one of the finest, but it is not replaceable, and I had to promise the family farm if anything happened when I borrowed it.
Blasters — generally reserved for at-home drying — sped up the drying process and also produced a marvelous finish. And one of the most recent innovations is what I call the “ear fryer.” It doesn’t really fry ears … it flattens them. I think their use started in the Poodle setups, but it has spread. A nice Chinese Crested dog that couldn’t win a point finished quickly when his breeder showed his new owner how to straighten and give a little lift to the hair. I see it in use in the Shih Tzu and Maltese camps, and just recently at a local dog show. A Poodle exhibitor was asked to show an Australian Shepherd; she got the dog in her setup and instantly turned to the iron to straighten and lift the hair, give a bit more bulk and make it “pretty.”
So as new equipment and technology come on the scene, people find ways to use it, and one use moves to another. You just know that the Havanese and Tibetan Terrier people are employing similar tactics — whether we know about it or not.
People: From Those who Started it to What’s Happening Today
As I’ve studied Poodle history, I have a sense that the likes of Henry Stoecker, Howard Tyler and Hayes Blake Hoyt’s husband, Sherman (he did all the trimming), really didn’t worry a lot about the cosmetic aspects of presenting the Poodle. Instead, it was the next generation of Poodle handlers that began the tussle of making them pretty that led us to where we are today. And that brings us face to face with the formidable gang of three out in the East who put a new spin on everything about presenting Poodles at dog shows.
I’m talking about Annie Rogers (later Rogers Clark) and Janie Kamp, who later married the third member, Bob, who made her Jane Forsyth. The three of them had a system that enabled them to come on strong and stay strong throughout the entirety of their handling careers. They traveled together, worked together and plotted strategies that helped ensure they got more than their share of the wins. And in addition, they laid the foundation for effective trimming that made dogs appear more correct than they really were, and gave them a degree of prettiness and elegance that Henry and Howard had never considered.
They laid the foundation that future dog handlers and other exhibitors built upon. My one regret in dogs is that I never had an opportunity to work with them during the years the three were on a roll. I would have loved to have been in Richard Bauer’s position then because he had all the inside information and was part of the scene as Annie’s assistant.
I’ve spent enough hours in Annie’s Sealark trimming room (after she retired from handling) and on my belly in her gravel driveway where she gave very precise trimming lessons. “Delsie,” she asked one morning, “Is it your intent to show the world that your Miniature bitch has a very short neck? Or would you like to learn to trim her so that it doesn’t seem apparent?” And on another day she said, “The front leg is directly under the withers — according to the breed standard. Your dog’s front legs aren’t even close. Would you like to adjust his bib and accompanying trim so it appears that they are where the standard asks for them to be?”
And the gravel driveway? “Anybody can trim a dog to stand on a table,” she said. “Now I want you to learn to trim it to move.” And there I was in the gravel, desperately trying to see what was wrong and what I needed to do to correct it. And she was on the lead during that hot July afternoon doing the down and backs and desperately seeking a way to make me a quick learner. When I finally saw it, it was a lesson I never forgot and a skill I’ve used ever since.
That trio of handlers — and Wendell Sammet and Maxine Beam were right there with them — were the first to teach show dogs to lay on their side while being brushed — to the skin. They tried the earliest potions and conditioners to avoid hair breakage and also got us into the business of putting dogs “in oil” to manage coats still in the growing process.
They broke the “one rubber band” barrier as they found ways to frame faces in a pretty manner (and hide “skulliness”) and give the appearance of a bit more neck. It was that group of handlers that declared hair spray was not a foreign substance if it was manufactured in New Jersey.
I entered the grooming scene when I worked with Peggy Hogg, a new handler in the Midwest. By that time, Frank Sabella was doing top winning with attractively trimmed Poodles in California, Barbara Humphries was winning from her Michigan base, and the East Coast area was filled with Poodle handlers who were keeping pace as the presentation evolution continued. And I should mention that while handlers set the pace, some breeders were quick to adopt new approaches to trimming, and Luis and Mary Jo Aizcorbe were two breeders who put down their Poodles in a most fashionable manner.
In my opinion, the early use of the Continental trim (the English Saddle dominated in the early years) was the turning point that started the trend of eliminating the gross, heavy-coated presentations that hid almost everything — both faults and virtues. Once the rears were cleaned up, the heavy manes had to go, and Frank Sabella’s presentation of Ch. Frederick of Rencroft was one of the first with a fair amount of bare front leg showing. Shortly after that he brought Ch. Tedwin’s Top Billing out of retirement and back to the Westminster dog show where he won the variety the only time he was shown in the Continental trim.
When I started working with Peggy, we were using shampoos and conditioners, jackets were more tightly scissored than in the early years, and hair spray was in the tack box for every show. When we had dogs come in with excessive topknots, we were quick to use two rubber bands and a double on the front one. That gave some control of the hair mass and also added some length of neck — if you were only relying on what your eyes saw. Puppies and dogs with minimal topknot hair often got a third rubber band put in that tied behind a section of hair to hold it up and forward.
More than three rubber bands? Almost never. But switches my mother could find in a heartbeat when I was a kid — and she used them.
Frank Oberstar and others had begun the moves to pretty-up the Maltese, but Peggy was the one who really got things going. She conditioned hair every time she bathed one, and Ch. Joanne Chenn’s Maya Dancer was bathed every morning before he was shown — and sometimes again before the Groups. Our van included a tack box for Maltese — and a plumbing box for Holiday Inns. Holiday Inn and Howard Johnson were about the only chain motels at that time, and Holiday Inn rooms were about $12 per night.
We carried a dryer — a very big dryer. And after we unloaded at the building, we’d go to the hotel, unload the dryer and the Maltese box, and my job was to find the fuse box at the hotel and figure out what adapters we needed to use in the shower. In the morning, Peggy Hogg went into action, and I slept in the other room until she called me.
She often spent more time than I thought we could afford putting his face together. He was never Poodle enough to stay on the table, so he was most often last-minute work. The goal was to create a soft, sweet expression that framed the face and blended in to the overall outline of the dog. That kind of look is still prevalent in the rings today, but in efforts to do something different, one of my historical and hysterical Maltese associates points out that some Maltese in the ring today have a unicorn or flying saucer look that does not frame the face and does not have the soft, sweet look she wanted. Understanding what they’re doing requires a different frame of reference than I have. But then Poodle people may have said the same thing when Ch. Dunwalke Black Tulip came to the ring in a Continental or when Frank showed a little front leg on Frederick.
And the trimming trends continue. Handlers and aggressive breeders generally have a dryer available. They get to shows and frequently blow out the puffs and bibs of dogs. Toy Poodles and Miniature Poodles are washed, towel-dried and sprayed with a volumizer like the one Davis makes. On young Toys and some Miniatures, the hind legs and front puffs are also moussed, and then dried while being brushed with a slicker brush. The result is a very full, good-bodied coat in those areas that can be combed out and scissored and will hold together fairly well until the dogs get in the ring.
And if you look around the ring, you’ll see similar happenings with Bichons Frises, Tibetan Terriers, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels and several other breeds. Legs are getting attention with products like a mousse or Thick and Thicker, which works in a similar manner. The electric straighteners are used on Poodle ears and the body coats of a number of Toy and Non-Sporting breeds whose presentation values straight hair.
What about “switches” or “wiggies,” as they’re called in some camps? Certainly one of the morning chores in many Poodle setups is washing, conditioning and drying the hairpieces that are used in topknots for a variety of reasons. I suppose their nearest equivalent in other breeds would be the use of cotton balls to create the expression desired on a couple of Toy Group breeds, but “wiggies” are almost a Poodles-only technique.
So How Does it Shake out Today?
We’ve taken dog shows from the high school auditoriums, the hog barns and the armories across the nation and put them on national television. They’ve become part of Thanksgiving celebrations, nighttime viewing and high-class annual happenings.
Dallas and J.R. weren’t set on a 250-acre working farm in southern Illinois. Television comes to us at home with glamour added. So it is really logical (though not necessarily a cause and effect happening) that we’ve seen an overall trend that has made our entries more glamorous than ever before. If Henry, Percy and Howard could just see us now.
I have tremendous respect (and sometimes even more envy) for the ability of dog handlers and assistants — and breeders, too — who can bring an entire string of dogs to the ring just put down marvelously. In Poodles it seems as if almost everybody has been to barber college and can scissor dogs to a finished look that is almost unbelievable. And the top end, those dogs are trained to do their job well, and they do.
I can be at a dog show, online or looking at a show dog magazine and be stopped in my tracks by the gorgeous presentation that comes to the ring and goes before the camera.
Does all that mean I think absolutely everything is rosy when it comes to grooming and presenting our Toy and Non-Sporting breeds? Well, it’s pretty rosy, but we’re at a point where I think our Americanism with a touch of Texasitis is beginning to get in the way.
A little bit is good, a little bit more might be better, but way too much is just what it is: way too much. We have all determined that we can get away with using hairpieces. They’re used at every dog show every weekend. And if used for a good reason, it doesn’t really offend me. But when I look at the profile of a Standard Poodle, and the bottom third of the Poodle extends from the floor to the dog’s elbow, the middle third goes from the elbow up to the dog’s eye, and the top third goes from the dog’s eye to someplace up in the wild blue yonder … just sayin’.
Where does our breed standard say “a third of the Poodle’s height should be above its eye”? It doesn’t. And that look totally destroys the concept of balance in my mind. To wear that kind of topknot well, you really need a Poodle with a long ewe neck. And read what the breed standard says about that.
But have we made progress? Yes. Is most of it good? Yes. Are our Toy and Non-Sporting show dogs glamorous? You bet. Put them on television and see for yourself. The skill of our handlers and their staff — and many of our breeders — is almost beyond belief. And the big, long topknots? Blame it on Americanism with a touch of Texasitis and get on with it. My dog goes in the ring in seven minutes, and I’m still settin’ rubber bands.
From the May 2013 issue of Dogs In Review magazine. Purchase the May 2013 digital back issue or subscribe receive 12 months of Dogs In Review magazine.