Show Dog Grooming

Grooming show dogs is much different than grooming pet dogs that do not enter the conformation competition ring. Read on to find out more about grooming your show dog.

By DIR Editors | April 26, 2013

Show Dog Grooming

Before a conformation competition, grooming may take hours. Some breeds take longer than others to get ready. Photo Isabelle Francais.

Grooming show dogs is much different than grooming pet dogs that never enter the conformation competition ring. Pet dogs just need a clip that will keep them clean and easy to maintain. Show dogs, on the other hand, need special grooming in order to represent their breed to the best of their abilities. If you’ve ever been to a conformation dog show, you’ve seen dogs on tables being groomed by their handlers. Most short-haired breeds just need a bath, nail clip and a teeth cleaning, but some breeds (such as Poodles, which are notorious for their grooming needs) will need a lot more attention and time devoted to grooming.

Depending on the dog breed you show (see more information about grooming by coat type), you may need to devote hours of time to prepare the dog for the conformation ring. You will need to trim, shape and sculpt using products and tools for breeds such as Poodles and Bichons Frises. Pekingese and Shih Tzu breeds need extensive brushing and coat care. Many dog breeds, on the other hand, fault trimming and styling and need to be shown in their "natural state.” But even those breeds that are supposed to be shown in a "natural state” do need some grooming.

No matter what the breed is, all show dogs must be clean and free of smells. Time the show dog’s bath just right so that the dog is clean for the show but does not have an affected coat due to the bath (hard-coated breeds may have softened hair due to bath, for example). Most show dogs will need some brushing, as well, to keep tangles and mats out of the coat, and some will need excess fur to be removed. Dogs that must be shown in a natural state must not look like they have been groomed.


Overgrooming and Dishonest Grooming

Your show dog can actually be disqualified because you or your professional handler groomed in a way that is deceiving to the judge and not according to the breed standard. According to Chapter 11, Section 8 of the American Kennel Club’s Rules Applying to Dog Shows, "a dog is considered changed in appearance by artificial means if it has been subjected to any type of procedure, substance or drugs that have the effect of obscuring, disguising or eliminating any congenital or hereditary abnormality or any undesirable characteristic, or that does anything to improve a dog’s natural appearance, temperament, bite or gait.” This means that you cannot use "any type of procedure that has the effect of obscuring, disguising or eliminating any congenital or hereditary abnormality or any undesirable characteristic, etc.,” and this includes grooming to hide any faults, such as an undesirable color or a less-than-perfect muscular structure under the coat. It may not work to style the show dog’s fur to hide an underlying fault. In the Rules, Policies and Guidelines for Conformation Dog Show Judges, judges are encouraged to "feel for breed-specific traits or reference points to determine actual structure especially beneath a highly groomed coat.” And remember that a dog that has been artificially altered (except as specified in the breed standard) cannot compete and will be disqualified.

The lesson is that when grooming your dog, follow the breed standard and don’t try to fool a dog show judge. But what if a breed standard is vague or can be interpreted in different ways? Several breed standards use phrases like "Dogs whose coat has been altered by excessive grooming, sculpting, clipping, or by artificial means shall be so severely penalized as to be effectively eliminated from competition” (Petit Basset Griffon Vendeen), or "Dogs that are overly trimmed shall be severely penalized” (Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier). In these breed standards there is much room for interpretation because what constitutes "excessive” or "overly trimmed” can vary from judge to judge. In cases like these, enlist a mentor who has groomed and shown winning dogs in your breed, and you can be sure that this person can help you groom to the breed standard that is acceptable for most judges.


Poodle Grooming

Poodle Continental Clip

When it comes to grooming Poodles for conformation dog shows, there are four acceptable types of clips. Your poodle may only be able to compete in one of two types of clips, including this Continental clip. Photo Isabelle Francais.

Show Poodles are very special dogs when it comes to grooming because they can have four different clips in conformation competitions (a Poodle shown in any other type of clip shall be disqualified). In all four clip types, the topknot (the hair on the skull) can be left free or secured with elastic bands. According to the AKC breed standard, show Poodles can have the following clips:

The Puppy Clip.  Only poodles under 12 months of age can compete in the Puppy clip with the coat long. Shaved areas include the face, throat, feet and the base of the tail (a pompon is left at the end of the tail). Coat shaping is permissible in the Puppy clip.

The English Saddle Clip. In this clip, the shaved areas include the face, throat, feet, forelegs and base of the tail, with puffs on the forelegs and a pompon at the end of the tail. The hindquarters are left covered with a short blanket of hair, except for several shaved areas on the flanks and hindlegs. The rest of the body is left in full coat but may be shaped. In all regular classes, Poodles older than 1 year must be shown in the English Saddle or Continental clip.

The Continental Clip. Poodles in the Continental clip have their faces, throats, feet, and bases of their tails shaved (except the pompon on the end of the tail). The hindquarters and legs are shaved, with pompons on the hips (optional), bracelets on the hind legs and puffs on the forelegs. The rest of the body is left in full coat, which may be shaped. In all regular classes, Poodles older than 1 year must be shown in the English Saddle or Continental clip.

The Sporting Clip. Poodles in the Sporting clip have shaved faces, feet, throats and tails (except for a pompon on the end of the tail). There is a cap on the top of the head, and there is a 1-inch or shorter blanket of coat on the rest of the body and and legs clipped to follow the outline of the dog. In the Stud Dog and Brood Bitch classes and in a non-competitive Parade of Champions, Poodles may be shown in the "Sporting" clip.

See more Poodle grooming styles>>


Grooming Trends Over the Years

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 exhibitors and 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 ring.

Read about grooming trends in the Herding Group>>

Read about grooming trends in the Working Group>>


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