Professional groomers have joined the show circuit, traveling state to state, even abroad, to shows where they compete for cash prizes, prestige and vacations. Groomers are judged on their technical abilities to work on specific breeds. Although you may not be aware of it, a grooming contest takes place somewhere in the United States just about every month.
It’s wonderful to see groomers take such pride in their work and challenge themselves to do their best. Owners, too, can benefit from their competitive efforts by bringing home healthy, good-looking pets from the grooming salon. But grooming hasn’t always been competitive or business-oriented. In fact, it probably started for very practical reasons.
By most accounts, the first dogs to be groomed were Curly-Coated Retrievers, clipped short by their 16th century European hunter-owners. The dense-coated water dogs, believed to be the ancestors of today’s Poodle, were popular with hunters. But they had one drawback: Their thick coats hindered them in the water. To make swimming and dashing in and out of water after quarry easier, hunters clipped the coats shorter. It became standard practice to shave the dog’s hindquarters; small tufts of hair covered the joints to keep them warm. The coat was left long over the neck, shoulders, ribs and chest for warmth and buoyancy. The hair on the head – the topknot – was tied up with brightly colored ribbon to enable the dog to see better. It was a very sensible solution to a problem.
In 1621, Gervase Markham commented on this in Hunger’s Prevention, or The Art of Fowling, his book describing the use and training of water dogs. The water dogs “are ever more laden with hair on the hinder parts and in the summertime by the violence of the heate is very noysome and troublesome, and make him sooner faint and give over his sport. So, likewise, in matter of water, it makes a very heavy burthen to the dogge and maketh him to swim less nimbly. Now for the cutting or shaving from the navell downwards, and backwards, is two ways well to be allowed; that is, for the summer hunting. But for the shaving of a dogge quite all over from foot to nostrill, that I utterly dislike, for it brings such a tendernesse and chillnesse over all his body that the water will grow irksome to him.”
It wasn’t long before “practical” became “style,” French style. The Poodles, which had grown popular with the public throughout Europe, were primped and scissored into elaborate coat patterns by French groomers. During the reign of Louis XVI (1774—92), groomers worked their magic along the banks of the Seine and in Paris streets, according toThe Complete Poodle Clipping and Grooming Bookby Shirlee Kalstone (Howell Book House, 1981). The French public was crazy over the Poodle and trimming its coat into outrageous patterns.
Although grooming initially began with the Poodle, it eventually interested many other canine enthusiasts. In 1861, author John Meyrick (House Dogs and Sporting Dogs) spelled out general bathing advice.The Book of the Dogby Vero Shaw (1879) stresses the importance of a well-kept appearance. In 1891,The American Book of the Dogby G.O. Shields included an illustrated pattern for clipping a Poodle.
Blanche Saunders, trainer, breeder and handler who died in 1964, is credited with popularizing pet grooming in the United States. According toThe Stone Guide to Dog Grooming for All Breedsby Ben and Pearl Stone (Howell Book House, 1981), Saunders worked to popularize Poodle pet trims through writing and personal appearances. She wrote a booklet called “The Poodle Chart.” It is undated but believed to be first published in the 1940s.
Today, grooming is a sophisticated profession keeping an estimated 25,000 groomers busy bathing, fluffing and trimming the nation’s dogs. They style all breeds of dogs precisely and accurately using state-of-the-art technology. You won’t find groomers alongside riverbanks, but you will find them working in private salons, veterinary clinics, pet supply stores and kennels.
It’s amazing to look back at grooming’s history — the changes, fads and advances. But what’s most amazing is that grooming a dog, regardless of its breed, is still as sensible and practical today as it was to 16th century hunters.