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Can I groom my spaniel myself?

(Q) I have a 10-month-old working Cocker Spaniel, Minstrel, who always comes back from our walks looking like she’s been through a hedge backwards. I check her and groom her every day with a fine-toothed comb but I was wondering which grooming tools are best for her breed, and the correct way to groom her? I’d love to know how to do the job properly myself to keep her coat in top condition, rather than take her to a grooming parlour.

(A) Grooming expert Diana North says: The fine-toothed comb would be fine to groom your dog’s shorter back coat, but to keep the longer furnishings free of dead hair and knots you will require a wide, long-toothed metal comb and a slicker brush — these would be your basic daily maintenance tools. If you wish to trim the coat yourself then you will have to add:

  • Electric clipper with a fine blade and an interchangeable medium blade. If the coat can be hand-stripped you will save on this cost.
  • Short-length bladed scissors.
  • Medium-length bladed scissors or single-sided thinning scissors, or both.
  • Nail trimmers.
  • Shampoo and conditioner, if you wish. If you keep up with your daily grooming then your maintenance trim will be much easier to execute. This will need to be carried out every six to 10 weeks and will depend on your dog’s coat growth and the length of coat you wish to keep.

The main trimming routine is:

  • A quick visual check for knots and dead undercoat.
  • Check the nails, and trim if too long.
  • Check the ears for any signs of problems: this may be by smell or dirty waxy deposits around the ear canal. Any waxy deposit on the ear leather can be cleaned, but don’t clean down into the ear canal.
  • Bath in a suitable shampoo. Remember to ensure all the shampoo is out of the coat. A conditioner may be used if you think necessary.
  • Mop the excess water from the coat and blow dry. This will take some time and will depend on the air velocity of your dryer. Here a second pair of hands can be a help. Secure your dog on a wobble-free, nonslip table. As your helper holds the dryer, use the slicker brush through the coat where the warm air is blowing. As you work, any knots can be teased out with your brush and comb.
  • Now you have a nice clean coat to work on, clip the head with the fine blade on your clipper, and the body with the medium blade. This will leave you with a smooth head and longer hair on the body.
  • Your next task is to trim the hair under the foot pads to avoid these collecting mud and stones. The hair around the feet should be shortened to the length of the nails and finished to look like a neat cat's paw.
  • Trim the furnishing on the legs and rear end to a length you feel you can cope with.
  • As a guide to trimming find a good picture of a Cocker you can follow.
  • You will need to leave yourself plenty of time to achieve the bathing and trimming — at first it may take all day but do give yourself and Minstrel lots of breaks.

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