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From The CC Vault: Bad Haircuts

By Amy Fernandez

Originally published: August 2013

Bad haircuts aren’t fatal, but they’re guaranteed to ruin your day. I often wonder if dogs share this sentiment when one of the neighbors suddenly appears with an antwacky summer trim. This is the time of year that includes a riveting procession of bald Poms and Chows, buzzcut Cockers and Yorkies, and most outrageously, the Bouvier stylin’ as a giant Bichon. 

I’m somewhat familiar with this ordeal thanks to years of updates from my friend Brenda. She generally owns two or three pet Cresteds, and they all go to the groomer. And after all this time, Brenda concedes that “groomers still don’t know how Cresteds should be trimmed. When I got my first one, Barney, I also had my Bulldog, Harley. Back then, you never saw many Bulldogs, much less a Chinese Crested in Lake Jackson, Texas. I brought Barney along one day to pick up Harley at the groomer. While I was waiting, this guy came in to pick up his Poodle. It was his first time there, so he asked if I liked the groomer. I said, ‘Hhmm …not sure. Look what they did to my dog’ and held Barney up. His eyes popped out.” After a good laugh, she gave him a little intro on hairless dogs. Brenda’s sense of humor has come in handy because this experience has amounted to 20 years of bad haircuts.

Next she tried some larger grooming establishments in Houston. Although it’s one of America’s biggest cities, full of dog lovers, that didn’t help much. The first groomer refused to touch her hairless dog. The next one, “trimmed Molly to look like a Lhasa Apso.” Third time’s the charm. According to Brenda, that groomer, “was awesome. But she trimmed them like Shih Tzu! What does a Crested have in common with a Shih Tzu? Last year, I finally found a groomer who knows how to do Chinese Cresteds here in Chandler, Arizona.” Incidentally, this one happens to be a Crested breeder.

I realize that unusual breeds may present a challenge for groomers. But Chinese Cresteds have been AKC-recognized since 1991. Today, they barely qualify as a rare breed. Moreover, the absolute worst grooming crimes are perpetrated on wirehaired breeds, and they’ve been around for centuries. Around my neighborhood we’ve got a few Kerry Blues, Wheatens, and Scotties, but Miniature Schnauzers rule. Over the years, I’ve grown accustomed to their limp, fluffy, faded coats and assumed that their owners were fine with it. That’s until the day one of these Schnauzer owners stopped me while I was walking my mini wire Dachshund. Obviously impressed, he wanted to know my secret for getting my dog’s coat to look that way.

Then I realized something was seriously amiss in the pet grooming business. First of all, I am the worst sort of bumbling novice at coat stripping. Mind you, I’m Chinese Crested person whose first venture into mini wire presentation included stripping every hint of hair off the legs and fluffing the feet to the max. Even more alarming – when did Dachshund grooming become a reference point for Schnauzer style tips? Since then, I’ve talked to a few of these owners. They are convinced that coat stripping is on par with brain surgery and a naturally water and dirt repellent coat is some kind of mythical property. There must be a reason for this widespread belief.

Despite the fact that grooming is a fairly expensive aspect of routine care, most pet owners utilize this service regardless of their dog’s coat type. The business has managed to survive and prosper in this rough economy and some shops can get very busy. So, I never disputed the contention that coat stripping was simply too complicated and time consuming to offer as a regular service.

However, the business has changed a lot thanks to innovative products and equipment. Many routine aspects of the job now require half the time and effort. Shops also offer an abundance of specialty services that require considerable time and skill. For example, in May The Daily News featured groomer Jorge Bendersky, described as a celebrity stylist for dogs belonging to the likes of P Diddy and Ralph Lauren. Bendersky’s temporary tattoos ignited a trend among upper East Side dog owners. In this news story he was adorning a German Shepherd’s butt with a pair of sparkly red lips, balancing the look with a bindi forehead jewel.

Done with glue, glitter, and stencils, these dazzly touches go for $100 a pop. They are supposed to last up to a month, but I don’t need to tell you about dogs. Some owners admitted to getting a day or week of mileage for their money. Even so, business is brisk and Bendersky predicts it will be the trendiest look of the summer. He’s probably right.

This epidemic of bad haircuts cannot be blamed on inadequate technical training. Today, professional groomers have access to countless classes, books, videos, internet sites, and trade shows to improve their skills and learn new ones. Grooming competitions have become another major incentive. They have always showcased speed and technical prowess, but Creative Dog Grooming has taken it to a whole new level. The incredibly complex process utilizes temporary dyes, chalks, colored hairspray, glitter, stencils, props, and very skillful scissoring. It can require up to 60 hours executing some of these designs. It first debuted at a 2005 Chicago dog grooming expo. In less than a decade it expanded from a special attraction to a niche market to become one of the biggest trends to hit the business. In 2009, its popularity spawned the National Association of Professional Creative Groomers. According to their website their goal is to help groomers effectively utilize creative techniques to expand their repertoire of professional skills beyond the basics, increase business, and encourage their creativity.

The organization offers many educational options, but competitions are the main focus of Creative Dog Grooming. Ron Netherland, the official photographer for Creative Grooming shows, profiled one of these competitions for the Daily Mail last year. He called these transformations simply spectacular, and his photos told the story. White Standards are the breed of choice. Over the course of two hours, he snapped pictures as they were remade into butterflies, camels, snails, ponies, buffaloes, peacocks, and one truly amazing fancy show chicken.

Needless to say, the article triggered a vicious backlash from AR proponents. Their primary accusation was cruelty. It’s difficult to get onboard with that contention. Like any show dogs, these are maintained in flawless condition. In his article, Netherland emphasized that the dogs seem to love it. I have no trouble believing that. I’ve got a few dogs who act like vampires seeing daylight when I get out the grooming gear. But most enjoy the sense of physical well-being that comes with meticulous grooming and especially the attention. Plenty of dogs happily endure canine humiliations like little hats, booties, and ridiculous sweaters simply because they love the spotlight. In the canine universe of attention getting ploys, a Spiderman costume or a glitter tattoo on your butt is small change.

On the other hand, there is some logic to the other predominant AR complaint. Creative Grooming willfully distorts a dog’s natural look. Although it’s an amazing display of grooming virtuosity, there is no inherent integrity to turning a Standard Poodle into Captain Jack Sparrow. When you consider their grievance from that perspective, it becomes a little ironic. AR proponents should admire Creative Grooming and champion a trend that literally obliterates breed type. But if they genuinely take issue with the underlying concept, I have question for them. Where have they been every time someone transforms a Briard into a giant black Bichon or decides that a full body Mohawk is the summer look for Poodles?

That brings me back to bad haircuts, the subject that sparked this long, convoluted rant. Creative Grooming obviously requires artistic perception, imagination, dexterity, patience and immense technical skill. If groomers possess expertise for this, why can’t they strip a Schnauzer, rake out a shedding Pom, or maintain a passable semblance of breed type when they trim a Cocker?

According to Brenda, “Groomers just don’t listen to you. They do what they want and really don’t make any effort to keep the dog looking like its breed.” I don’t buy the argument that these dogs are simply house pets so it doesn’t matter. Pets – rather than show dogs – provide most people with their introduction to a breed. And more than a few successful breeders have gotten their start that way. Maybe somebody’s asleep at the wheel.

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Posted by on Aug 31 2022. Filed under Featured, The Buzz. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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