Posts Tagged ‘Irish Water Spaniel grooming’

Cooper is dog with tenacious drive mixed with the perpetual motion of a compulsive retriever. But he will always sit calmly in front of my camera and pose with the sparkling demeanor of a show dog at Westminster. It is one of his many charming virtues.

So once again I asked the boy to step in front of the lights for a few shots. But before he jumped up on the table, he snagged his photo buddy, a.k.a. “Rubber Duck”. The duck has been his companion since August of 2007 when he was awarded it as a participant in a Bird Dog Match as a 6-month-old adolescent. (This specific duck is actually the second generation duck, thanks to Ms Tooey.)

Cooper and dear duck friend

Cooper and dear duck friend

Now Ms Tooey doesn’t like to left out of anything. It doesn’t matter if Cooper has to go to the vet, she wants to go first. It is her nature as HBIC (Head Bitch in Charge). And so when Cooper stepped down, Tooey jumped up to stare into lens as well. If Cooper gets this much attention, she wants more.

Ms Tooey

Ms Tooey

The reason for the photo event was quite benign. I was testing a new camera and wanted have some familiar subjects to compare to photos taken with other equipment I use. As both pups had just finished getting a bath and some grooming for the recent dog here in Portland, this shoot was the convergence of having the studio set up and two clean dogs.

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If I were still showing Cooper in the conformation ring, I’d have collapsed on the floor and cried. As it is, I can’t bear to take a picture of what happened.

I had just finished cleaning and oiling my clipper blades, getting ready to give Cooper a trim. I wanted him to look nice for next weekend’s Rally Obedience trial in Salem.

I’d gotten out the grooming table, my combs and brushes, and my scissors. Cooper surprised me by jumping up on the grooming table, so after giving him a piece of homemade chicken jerky, I grabbed the clipper and started to work on his back, just over his shoulders. After a few moments, I thought to myself, “Wow. That blade is much sharper than I remembered.”

And right after that, I thought, “OMG!” and dropped the clipper.

Wrong blade. The blade I use the most, the one that cuts a nice 3/4″ length isn’t the sharpest blade. The sharp blade I actually had on my clipper was a #10. That one cuts about 1/4″. Maybe. If I’m lucky.

Normally I use that blade to clip his muzzle. And too late, I realized that it was the one that was still on my clipper when I finished cleaning and oiling them all. So here is my beautiful Pretty Boy with three clipper-blade-wide, 4″-long divots of really short coat over his whithers.

Well, there’s nothing to do for it except keep clipping him. Not with the #10. It’s still too cold around here for that. I switched to my 3/4″ blade, and clipped against the grain of the coat on his back. That leaves the coat at about 5/8″. Still a lot longer than 1/4″, but I hoped that the 5/8″ cut would make a slightly less obvious contrast with the #10 blade than a 3/4″ cut would.

Wishful thinking and denial combined, but it kept me going. And if I do say so myself, I did a really nice job on his legs — usually the hardest part for me.

But about his back? It’ll just have to grow out so I can clip it again. Hopefully with the right blade.

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That’s what you get when you don’t comb out your Irish Water Spaniel for two weeks: mats and knots.

Especially if that Irish Water Spaniel is Tooey.

Cooper, now, he’s easy. For whatever reason, his coat is not thick. That has its down sides, like not being thick enough to protect the skin between the pads of his feet. But one of the up sides is that he’s easy to comb out.

In his grooming session earlier this week, he was so easy and fast to comb out that I had it done one morning before I went to work. I found one measly little mat between a couple of toes on his front feet. So small that I could work it out with my fingers.

Tooey, the sweet darling, is another story.

Her coat is so thick that if I don’t keep up with her grooming — if I don’t comb her out completely every week — then I pay. And so does she. I end up having to spend at least an hour, or more, combing, brushing, or cutting out the mats and knots, and she has to put up with it. And neither one of us likes it much at all.

Her last brush-out and bath was the day we got home from our last hunting trip. That morning, she’d rolled delightedly in something not visible. It wasn’t poop, but it probably was urine of some kind. Stinky, musky, pervasive, and she loved it.

So without even letting her out of the car, I quickly unpacked the car, whisked her to you-bathe-it place, and got her clean. That was 15 days ago.

I spend the intervening time procrastinating. I should have known I would pay.

So last evening, I spent a good 1-1/2 hours working with the detangling spray, slicker brush, pin brush, poodle comb, and regular comb, working out all the knots and debris.

She had knots behind each ear, more between her front toes, and one or two in each arm pit.

She kind of likes getting her ears brushed and combed. That spot in the back of her head, where the ear is attached to the skull — that’s one of her favorite places to get scratched. So the combing probably feels good to her.

But her feet and armpits? Brushing, and combing especially, appear to be torture. I spray the detangler liberally on those spots, brush it through, and then go on to less sensitive areas while waiting for it to do its job.

But eventually, I have to get the knots out between the toes. That is a battle. At the least pull on a mat, she starts trying her best to get her feet away from me. If I can’t get the mat out quickly, I usually resort quickly to scissoring them out. She’s not a show dog anymore, so it’s okay if the coat on her feet looks slightly misshapen for awhile.

The underarms are almost worse. Last night, I laid her on her side on the grooming table, and had Russ feed her treats while I combed her armpits as gently as I could. When I got all the knots out, I clipped the fur under there with the hope that this will cut down on future mats.

But really, the only cure is to brush her once a week. No excuses. No procrastination. I know better — I just need to follow my own advice. And we’ll both be happier.

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Cooper at 14 weeks

We asked for a pet, and we got Cooper. Like other excited puppy “parents,” we sent lots and lots of pictures to Rosemary. When Cooper was about 14 weeks old, Rosemary sent us an email saying something like, I think we sent you a show dog.

Rosemary told me that Cooper would get his championship easily, Tammy said she would help, and I had a lot of encouragement from other friends and owners of Irish Water Spaniels. So I agreed to Cooper’s being shown and going for it.

It took 3 years, 4 months, and 29 days. If I had known how long getting Cooper’s championship would take or how hard it would be, I wonder — would I have started down that path?

Cooper and Tammy (middle)

Cooper’s first conformation show was the 2007 IWSCOPS Specialty when he was just 6 months old. Tammy groomed and showed him. (His armband number was 13 — that should have told us something.) He did 2nd in his puppy class. That wasn’t so bad. And all Russ and I had to do was watch. (We also had to hide so that Cooper wouldn’t see us and be distracted).

Jayme, Cooper, and Patrice

It took 10 months of showing for him to get any points. He got his first two points, having been groomed by Tammy again and shown by a professional handler, at the Canby dog show in June, 2008.

Since then, Cooper’s record has been mixed. He came in dead last a couple of times and placed reasonably well other times. He even got Reserve Winners Dog at an IWSCOPS Specialty.

But sometimes he behaved like a twit who couldn’t stand still, or jerked his way around the ring. A couple of times he even jumped over the ring gates and out of the ring. Once he broke a borrowed show lead trying to get away. Another time he pissed on my skirt while waiting at ringside. Sometimes his coat was thin and lifeless, or the winning dog had bigger bone, a squarer muzzle, or just presented better.

Patrice and Cooper, photo by Liz Liddle

But other times, he won. His coat wasn’t always long, having been cut down for field work, but when it was curly, lush, and glossy, and he moved beautifully — then he’d be eye catching, showing off all the drive and reach needed by a dog who needs to swim powerfully to do his work as a water retriever.

On the negative side, I discovered new depths of stage fright. When I get into the show ring, I stop breathing, my mouth dries up, my heart pounds, I get tunnel vision. And while I got to be able to groom my Irish Water Spaniels reasonably well, I have never figured out how to bring out Cooper’s best features. The best I could do was to get him pretty close, and then find someone to do the finishing touches. And having to find that someone and ask for that favor was always a source of sleep-destroying stress that kept me awake many a night.

Cooper and Colleen

Cooper and Rebecca

On the plus side, I had a LOT of help. Tammy and Jayme both helped me with advice and training. Tammy, Colleen, Jayme, and Rebecca were often willing to groom Cooper to his best advantage. Tammy always made at least some time for Cooper while she was getting her two IWS ready for the ring. A couple of times, Jayme had Cooper live with her for several weeks so that she could train him, groom him, and then show him for me. Colleen made herself available more times than I can remember. And then when I decided to show him myself, I got a lot of free (and welcome) advice from people who had been doing it a lot longer than I have.

Fortune comes into this, too. Cooper was born within 3 days of the current #1 Irish Water Spaniel in America. Since we live in the same region as that dog, we showed against him many times. Cooper never won those competitions. It’s a hard thing to do, to go into a dog show knowing you’re probably going to lose. But as I’ve discovered, dog shows and dog show judges are not predictable — sometimes you lose when you’re certain yours is the better dog, and sometimes you win when you think you have no chance.

Chance did come into it again, and changed everything. With such historically mixed results, I had just about decided to quit. But then Colleen asked if I’d send Cooper down to California to create a major.

I knew that Mowgli, Cooper’s littermate, was going and needed a major. Tammy had been such a help to me that I wanted to return the favor. But if Cooper was going to California, I wasn’t going to send him down — I thought I’d go for a fun road trip with my friends, take Cooper and Tooey, and show them myself. Cooper’s coat was in a very short field clip, but a “point fodder” dog doesn’t need to look good. He just has to be there. So we went, and Mowgli did indeed take the major the first two days.

Cooper, after his first major win, photo by Holloway

And then it happened. Cooper took the 3rd day’s major. I was so shocked my mouth fell open. Literally. I was completely unprepared for this development. Because, damn. With one major and 11 points, we had to keep going. All he needed was one more major and 4 more points.

Saturday, when Cooper won Winners Dog and Best of Winners, winning the 2nd major he needed to get his championship, I started to cry. The judge even asked me if was OK. I could hardly wait to call Russ and Rosemary and hug Tammy. The honor his win gives to Cooper’s dam (Rosemary’s Nova) and his sire (Tammy’s Balloo) pleases me very much. Cooper has always been my Pretty Boy, a dog with great reach and drive, and I am so happy that he had the title that recognizes that: Champion.

At the same time, I feel like a heavy burden has been lifted off my shoulders. Standing at ringside on Sunday, watching the other Irish Water Spaniels compete, I told Colleen, “I’m never going to do this again.”

She laughed. “Famous last words,” she said.

So, if I had known in the beginning that it would take this long, but that it would feel this good at the end, would I have started down that path? I still don’t know.

And will I do this again? I’d like to think not.

But I have discovered that what I think I will do and what I actually do are often not the same thing. So, who knows? (And as my friend Alan used to say, “Who is not telling.”)

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Seeds too numerous to count in number and kind, thistle leaves, stems, burrs, grass tails, stickery flowers petals, blackberry brambles, etc. All of them stick to grown-out, Irish Water Spaniel show coat curls like velcro.

Did Cooper care? Nope — got to get the bumper. There are double marks to practice, and blind retrieves to work out. Plant debris in the show coat is beneath notice.

Until, that is, we get him up on the grooming table to get all the crap out. Then he pouts.

I should know what I’m getting into — it’s not like we haven’t gone through this before:

And it’ll probably happen again.

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If you looked at the last post, you already saw Cooper fresh from the field, in all his untrimmed glory. Here’s that photo again.

Cooper the Barbarian

This morning, Jayme gave Cooper a thorough going over in preparation for the Greater Clark County Kennel Club show. He looks much more refined now — clean-shaven face, shaped topknot, combed out ears.

Cooper ready for show

Not that it did him a whole lot of good in the ring. He did get Reserve Winner’s Dog. Basically, it’s second place with no points. Second place sounds pretty good, yes? But consider this: when there are only two dogs, second place is also last place.

The dog who beat him has a better coat — one that hasn’t been beat up from running through the fields. But when it comes down to it, Cooper would much rather run through the fields and hunt ducks. That at least uses some skill and thought. By comparison, running around in circles in the show ring seems (and often is, unfortunately) pointless.

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Tooey and I went into the ring at the Vancouver Kennel Club show today, and did amazingly well. In fact, this 10 month old puppy won Best of Breed. (With a little help from me and my very generous friends.)

Having won Best of Breed, Tooey and I also competed for a placement in the Sporting Group. We had no expectations, except to get some experience and hopefully have a good time.

Patrice and Tooey in the Sporting Group ring

Patrice and Tooey in the Sporting Group ring

And that was good — because that’s exactly what we got — I got experience and Tooey had a good time. She even nuzzled up to the handler of the German Wirehaired Pointer behind us, asked for a cookie, and got one.

So, thank you to Colleen for amazing grooming help, to Tammy for grooming and showing tips and moral support, to Tom and Jill for bringing some other IWS to compete with, and to Colleen and Judith for letting us have this delightful little girl.

Tooey and I got to thank each other a bit more personally after we got home. Take a look:


Thank you, Tooey

Thank you, Trice

Thank you, Trice

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When I was so sad about missing Cooper while he’s off to hunt school, Colleen suggested that I might want to have another dog in the house. She said, “I have a young girl (IWS) that would love to come and visit while Cooper is gone! She likes going on adventures.”

At first we discounted the idea, but then, the lonelier we got, the better the idea sounded. A few emails went back and forth, and we agreed to go see the pup at Colleen’s later this month.


In the meantime, Colleen has been sending us pictures. This one was taken today while she was on the grooming table. How nice — I won’t have to train a puppy to tolerate being on the table. And she’s been through the AOCB‘s training program — another plus.

The pup’s registered name is Stanegate Second Thoughts. When we see her, she’ll be about 8.5 months old, still a puppy, but just in time for adolescence!


You can see she looks a lot different than Cooper — broader nose and a tendency to bleach blond from being in the sun. And Tammy says that she’s very sweet, more like the companion dog we were looking for in the first place.

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When we got Cooper, the plan was to have a pet, a companion, someone to hike and boat with. Well, he is all that, but he’s also been a show dog. There’s a lot of grooming for dog shows — Irish Water Spaniels have to have long, eye-hiding topknots and long leg fur, about which I’ve whined many times before. And then there’s the seemingly pointless running around in circles in the ring.

Cooper hasn’t done too badly in the shows, so it hasn’t been totally “pointless” — he has 6 points after all (a dog needs 15 to be titled a Champion). And we’ve formed some important relationships.

But we’re tired of it, at least for awhile. And Cooper doesn’t love it like some dogs do. You can tell who they are — the divas and princes of the ring. They strut their stuff, reveling in the crowd’s attention.

So about an hour after we got home from the Specialty today, I clipped his fur down to what we call the Sportman’s Cut — 3/4″ all around, except for the topknot. And even that has been shortened around the eyes so he can see, and so other dogs can see his eyes. He’ll be cool and easy to comb.

Before and After

Before and After

And we can still do all the things we love — flyball and dock diving, running in the park, hiking along the river, and soon, if we’re lucky, boating.

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Tammy came all the way down from Bothell, Washington to groom Cooper before the Clackamas KC dog show in Canby, Oregon (about 45 minutes south of Portland). His fur had grown out some since the Puyallup show a couple of weeks ago, so it’s closer to the “ideal” long leg fur. Closer, but not long enough yet. Maybe by August…

She did a great job (again — as always), so Russ took these pictures in our backyard after the Clackamas show to help us remember what Cooper’s topknot, ears, flanks, tail, chest, and face should look like. (Of course, he “needs” longer leg fur.) In the picture at the top, I’m brushing the leg fur up to get more of that columnar look.


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Tammy is doing her best to make Cooper pretty. (Well, he already is pretty — and he knows it. Apparently, he informed a local pet psychic that he knows we call him Cooper, but his real name is Pretty Boy.)

Anyway, just a month ago, thinking that we weren’t going to show Cooper until the IWSCOPS specialty in August, I asked Colleen to help me clip him to about 3/4” length. Colleen kept asking me, “Are you sure?”

Well, sure. I figured he’s not showing until August, and his fur grows fast. (He takes after his dad that way.) So we clipped him to his sportsman cut, very handsome, very sporty, and very EASY for me.

So a couple of weeks later, Tammy emailed and wants to know, do we want to show Cooper at Puyallup? OK, I said, but he’s short. That’s OK, she said.

So here’s Tammy doing her best with what he fur he has. Based on what wins conformation dog shows, his leg fur is way too short. The winning dogs have these columns of fur on the legs, blown straight out.

I still don’t get that — these are hunting dogs, for heaven’s sake. Long leg fur just collects every known bit of debris, seed, grass, twig, bramble, thorn, and sticker. I think the 3/4” length sportsman cut is perfect.

But what do I know? I still think Cooper is a companion pet. I just haven’t gotten it into my head that he’s a show dog.

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This whole grooming thing is intimidating. My past dogs, a malamute, a german shepherd, and a chow-mix, all had to be brushed (a lot), but you can’t really mess that up so long as you do it thoroughly and regularly.

But Cooper requires hair cuts. As I was informed by a well-meaning fellow Irish Water Spaniel owner, I have a “coated dog,” and there are certain responsibilities that go along with that. Including hair cuts to meet the “breed standard.” Oddly, this includes shaving off the whiskers — I mean, the whiskers grow there naturally. Why aren’t they considered part of the breed standard?

If Cooper weren’t going to be shown again in January, I’d just clip all the extra fur off in what another IWS owner, Colleen, calls a “retirement cut.” This is the cut she uses on her girl who has retired from the show ring. It’s basically a trim with clippers, not complicated shaping with scissors. But Colleen has been very generous, and has groomed Cooper once herself to show me what to do, and has been ready with advice and offers of more help.

The really fun part comes afterwards: vocal dueling with the vacuum cleaner.

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