Grooming & Presentation Trends Over the Decades: The Working Group

We asked breeders, judges, professional handlers and owner-exhibitors for their take on the grooming changes they've witnessed in the Working Group.

Whenever conformation judges gather to discuss how dog shows have changed over the decades, it doesn’t take long before the subject of “today’s overgroomed dogs” takes center stage. Flip through the magazines of the 1960s and ’70s, and the show photos speak volumes: Whatever the breed, we see sparser head and leg furnishings, a less tailored look and little evidence of the “P” word (product).

So what’s happened? Are show dog exhibitors and dog handlers feeling less constrained by the individual edicts of breed standards and eager to put their artistry on display? Are judges more accepting of a generic (big coat, big movement, big everything) show dog? Is it the smorgasbord of shampoos, lotions and potions available for purchase at dog-show vendors and online? Probably a combination of all three.

In this series, we ask breeders, judges, professional handlers and owner-exhibitors for their take on the grooming changes they’ve witnessed firsthand. Below are some of the changes that have occurred in the Working Group.


Giant Schnauzers

Looking back over a 30-year history in the breed, noted professional handler and regional director of the Giant Schnauzer Club of America Greg Reyna believes that changes in grooming styles and handling techniques “have been evolving for the good. The general trim has remained the same. Different handlers and owners who groom have basically tightened up the pattern for a more professional-looking package. My first grooming seminar back in the ’80s was great for learning the outline we wanted the breed to have. The jacket wasn’t completely handstripped, which presented problems when the coat began to grow out. After realizing that to keep the show dog in a competitive trim hand stripping was necessary, I think the competition dictated that we do it right. I don’t believe the amount of furnishings left on or taken off has really changed all that much. We groom each dog according to its needs, meaning what will balance it out.”

Reyna explains that the Giant Schnauzer standard “doesn’t tell us how to trim the furnishings. It merely states that the Giant Schnauzer is a blown-up version of the Standard Schnauzer, and their standard calls for the legs to be columns. The difference in the jackets of a Standard and a Giant Schnauzer is pointed out in our standard, and I quote: ‘Very dense, composed of a soft undercoat and a harsh outer coat which, when seen against the grain, stands slightly up off the back, lying neither smooth nor flat.’ The thick, dense undercoat when they have it — as they should — lifts up the harsh outer coat slightly, creating a subtle wave. There was a phase in the early ’90s when people calling themselves ‘purists’ insisted the Giant Schnauzer should have little to no leg furnishings and a hard wiry coat that lacked the proper undercoat because this was the sign of a true ‘hard coat.’ The problem with that theory is our standard doesn’t call for it. And the lack of the soft undercoat is a fault. Again, there is no mention of how profuse the furnishings should or should not be. Balance is key. Some show dogs will grow more furnishings than others; neither should be penalized so long as the trim is balanced. The Standard Schnauzer’s jacket, as we all know, does lie straight on the body. Also until you feel the jacket, judging its texture merely by how much leg hair a dog has or doesn’t have is a terrible assumption. You can get a great jacket on a dog with profuse furnishings, just as I’ve worked on dogs with no leg hair and jackets with little or no texture.

“All in all we have made the trim more competitive by hand stripping Giant Schnauzers and breeding for both the thick, dense, soft undercoat and the hard, wiry outer coat. In the end, furnishings or not, a Giant Schnauzer has true type only if it carries a double coat. I suppose what has changed over the years is people learning that by raking all the undercoat out of their show dogs to make it appear flat or ‘hard’-coated, they were creating a fault the dog didn’t have.”

When it comes to presentation of the Giant Schnauzer in the conformation ring, “our breed has been heavily influenced over the years by Doberman and Boxer handlers,” says Reyna. “This has been for the good. When I first started showing Giant Schnauzers I don’t think the level of trained specials that would turn in a ‘ta dah!’ performance was really out there. I was told that Giant Schnauzers would get bored and not want to do it. At the same time I personally felt that the presentation of Dobermans and Boxers was over the top! I would lose sight of the dog due to the over-theatrical moves some handlers used while showing. I think in order to be a competitive breed in the Group, we had to meet them halfway. Today’s Giant Schnauzer specials are presented more professionally. But I think we have to refer back to the breed standard: “On the whole a bold and valiant figure of a dog … Temperament which combines spirit and alertness, with intelligence and reliability.” That being said, I think you can over-handle the Giant Schnauzer. Too much of the screwing in place and raking them up over the shoulders makes for a pretty picture. But once a judge has seen that, the Giant Schnauzer’s temperament must be evaluated by pulling it out to project a bold and valiant image all on its own.

“Thanks for allowing me to express my views,” concludes Reyna. “I could not have formed my opinions without the guidance and help of my incredible mentors. Having an artist’s eye only means that I can create a sculpture. My show dog mentors had to instill in me what that sculpture should resemble and why.” 



“Excessive trimming of the Newfoundland dog is often discussed at judges’ education seminars, in online discussion forums and among fanciers at dog shows,” say Newfoundland exhibitor Karen Steinrock and breeder/owner-handler Cindy Flowers of Old Bay Newfoundlands, a member of the parent club Judges Education Committee. The standard states that “excess hair may be trimmed for neatness,” and the outer coat is “either straight or with a wave” with a “tinge of bronze” typical on a black coat. “Comparing photos of show Newfoundlands from past decades, it’s clear that today’s winners look far neater, with waves in the coat being unusual,” Steinrock and Flowers say. “The top-winning show dogs rarely have any tinge in their coats, and the border between white and black on Landseers is incredibly sharp.”

“When asked why a particular Newfoundland did not make the cut at a recent specialty, the conformation judge commented that the dog did not fit in with the rest of his lineup. Judges have very little time to evaluate a heavily coated breed in the ring. Exhibitors use tools and products to either enhance correctness or hide faults,” Flowers explains. “It is the judge’s responsibility to take the time to feel for structure and not be distracted by coat when watching movement.”

The breed standard calls for “good reach, strong drive” with the “impression of effortless power. Sometimes it appears as though the fastest Newfoundland in the show ring wins the day. I’m as guilty as they come for moving my Newfoundlands too fast on the go around,” says Flowers. “However, I appreciate the judges who request a moderate pace.”

“Times have changed,” note Cindy Flowers and Karen Steinrock. “The fancy has learned that to win you must do more to prepare your show dog than in the past. The controversy about excessive trimming and grooming will continue. The real question is what effect, if any, these trends will have on breeding better Newfoundlands.”


The Nordic Breeds

Joan Luna is an AKC multi-Group judge, a Samoyed breeder-exhibitor and familiar with the Nordic dog breeds. Luna believes that “over the past several decades, grooming, scissoring and coat sculpting have increased. This is a mystery because correct coat texture, length of leg, ear shape and size are key elements to surviving the harsh arctic climates.

“In my own breed, Samoyeds, I have seen an increased trimming of ears, shoulders, tails and belly fur. When I first started showing in the late 1970s, trimming of feet, hocks and whiskers was common. The Samoyed breed standard calls for a hare foot, but today we often see cat feet and toenails so short the pads of the feet are visible. Frequently I will see the underbelly trimmed and can confirm this with my hands. Occasionally I will see a sculpted mane and trimmed pants. Whenever I see such trimming, I think to myself, ‘What are they trying to hide?'”

Luna just returned from judging abroad where “one Sammy girl was completely sculpted or ‘body clipped,’ as we say in the equine world. Her silhouette was square, but she actually had very correct proportions and was ultimately chosen Winners Bitch for a major. I judged ‘Down Under’ last Easter and saw minimal trimming.

“I do see excessive trimming in the Siberian Husky world, particularly the underbelly, neck and shoulder. Perhaps this is to give the illusion of a tuck up or correct length of leg on the Siberian. Coat is an important breed characteristic for the Siberian who carries a light load for a long distance. Correct coat goes along with good shoulders and correct leg length and is essential for survival. A wooly or incorrect coat texture is detrimental to surviving the harsh climates they live in.”

As for the Alaskan Malamute, Luna does not see much body sculpting. “Yes, I have seen the occasional trimmed ‘wooly’ in the show ring but not over the past five years. The grooming overall is very good, and I have not experienced much trimming. Occasionally I find too much product in their coat and sometimes a sparsely furred tail.”


Portuguese Water Dogs

Noted breeder-exhibitors Cathy and Mike Dugan of Aviator Kennels say “the world of Portuguese Water Dogs has changed dramatically over the last two decades in many respects, including grooming. Once a rare breed, Portuguese Water Dogs have become much better known and highly sought after. President Obama’s Portuguese Water Dog ‘Bo’ has elevated awareness of the breed as a great family dog.

“For many years Portuguese Water Dogs were almost always in a retriever clip, with hair trimmed all over the body. It was rare for a Portuguese Water Dog to place in Group competition and even more rare to achieve Best in Show. Ironically, the only grooming style accepted in Europe was the lion cut with long shaggy hair. By the mid-2000s in the US the preference for cut changed as more breeders were successful with their dogs in a lion cut. Champion show dogs such as ‘Spencer’ and ‘Rascal’ were great examples of Portuguese Water Dogs in the lion cut. After them, ‘Ladybug’ and ‘Asta’ not only became No. 1 Portuguese Water Dogs for five years in a row, but they won many Group placements. Ladybug alone won 20 Best in Shows and the Working Group at AKC/Eukanuba and Westminster. Breeders got the message.”

The Dugans observe that by the late 2000s, “it was the dogs in a lion cut that dominated the show ring, as they do today. Not only is this the original cut, but it can show off the strength and structure of a dog that moves well in the conformation ring. The changes in the winners also influenced the role of professional handlers in the breed. Over the last 10 years, more and more Portuguese Water Dogs have been groomed and shown by professional handlers. This has led to more precision grooming. Today it’s rare to see a Portuguese Water Dog beyond class competition handled by an amateur or owner. As with many breeds that grow in popularity and show success, the professional groomers gravitate to winning breeds. Current show dog grooming is much more stylized than in the past, pushing the limits of the breed standard. Breeders look for judges who understand that they must go over the exhibits and find the dog under the hair that meets the requirements of the breed standard.”



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

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