Standard Poodle fever hit me in early 2012. I wanted a poodle. A Big Poodle. And his name was going to be Perry. I don’t even remember what got the idea into my head. Since I am a person that refuses to wear makeup and believes that hair dryers should only be used quarterly, many people in my life felt that a poodle was entirely wrong for me. Poodles are prissy. Poodles are snobby. Poodles are willful and stupid. Poodles cannot do the rough and tumble things that I love to do with my other two dogs. I paid no mind to the breed prejudice thrown my way when I wanted a pitbull, and I had no intention of paying mind to this completely false and uninformed poodle prejudice either. Stubborn is as stubborn does.
And when I wouldn’t listen “to reason”, people asked me about the astronomical grooming bills. Is that what I wanted to “deal with”? I brushed that off (no pun intended). I was going to groom Perry all by myself. No big deal. After all, I groom my longhair cat, Smokey. This, rightfully so, brought about either laughter or horror. Each warm season, I shave Smokey’s beautiful long hair clean off. And each warm season, he looks like an uneven woven basket created by a three year old. Well, whatever. The clippers that I had cost 20 dollars, you get what you pay for! When I got Perry, I was going to buy some nice clippers and do the job right. Smokey was just the warm up.
I will save the details, but Perry finally came to me in the form of a 5 month old female parti poodle with a penchant for killing chickens on the farm where she was living. Perri the Poodle. And Perri was hairy. Hairy face, hairy ears, hairy body, hairy feet, hairy tail. Hairy, hairy, hairy. I have a good friend and groomer that took me under her wing and taught me the tricks of the trade. I also bought Poodle Clipping and Grooming by Shirlee Kalstone.
This post is to share a few things that I learned about both poodles and general grooming in the past year. I will allow that Perri’s grooming has been a complete experiment and learning experience. Professional groomers go to school for a reason, and I am in continued admiration of the talent and skill that goes into knowing how to groom poodles and any other range of breeds that go through a groom shop.
1. Poodles grow hair inside of their ears. I found this to be very odd, and it was indeed a complete surprise. Perri’s ears are hairier than a 90 year old man’s. The vet says that she has sheep ears. I knew that I would have to do a lot of work on Perri’s outside, but I did not realize that her insides would grow hair as well! My friend told me that the hair had to be plucked out, either by my fingers or with a hemostat. WHAT!?
Necessity called, though. The first few months of Perri’s life with me were coupled with a fight against yeast infection in both ears. Keeping her ears clean and hair-free were a must. So, we settle down with her head in my lap and the desk lamp shining in her ear while I pluck away with the hemostat. She is a good sport about it. For deeper in the ear canal I peer in with a flashlight to get those way-down hairs.
2. Proper grooming requires a lot of tools.
I was fortunate enough to be taken to a groomer trade show by my friend. She helped me select everything that I needed to groom Perri. I was a mixture of ambitious and confused afterwards, and certainly lighter in the wallet.
Clippers are complicated. My 20 dollar clippers were a solid unit. My friend and the groomers that she learned off of threw numbers like “a 10″ and “a 7″ around when they talked about clippers. I was a bit lost. I quickly learned that proper clippers are the machine itself, and then a variety of “blades” are to be interchanged on that unit. I am afraid that I will not be explaining every single blade and its use here today. I am simply not capable. What I do know is that there are certain blades that are “dummy proof”, and there are certain blades that can cut so close on the animal that she will bleed. I have the “dummy proof” sized blades. A “10 Blade” for Perri’s face, paws and tail – the 10 Blade leaves the hair 1/16″ long. And a “5 Blade” for the rest of her body – the 5 Blade leaves the hair 1/4″ long.
If that is not complicated enough, blades are also made out of different materials. Ceramic and steel are most commonly used, and it seems to me that groomers are very opinionated about which they prefer to use. I am staying out of that! Another surprise in the clipper department was that they get blazingly hot in no time at all, especially if you are an inexperienced “groomer”. If you do not have another blade of the same size to keep switching out, you will have to wait for your blade to cool down. Otherwise, the dog could get burned, and nobody wants that. It didn’t take me long to purchase another “10 blade”.
Scissors: Also Complicated. Scissors are also not optional, as I thought that they might be. And you need different sorts of scissors. One pair of scissors will not do. Since the scissors are used to shape the poodles poofs and puffs into tidy rounded shapes, like a topiary, I needed “curved scissors” and “straight scissors” for different parts of the dog’s body. Since I did not plan on shaving Perri’s entire body to the skin at all times, scissors were a must. “Scissoring” is a type of shaping, putting finishing touches on, and otherwise fine tuning certain areas of the coat and “topknot” (otherwise known as “head poof” or ‘fro.)
And that’s not all. A grooming table seemed unnecessary to me initially. Initially. After a few attempts to groom Perri at ground level, I changed my mind. And everything was better on the table. I was not hunched on the ground for one thing, and Perri’s poodle instincts kicked in. She stands quite still and lets me do my work.
In the past when I have given any dog a bath, I rub the shampoo into their skin with my fingers. I always had a difficult time getting my shampoo to every place necessary on the dog, because it would fall off, or get worked into the coat too quickly in the spot that I was working on. A lot of shampoo was used and wasted. When I participated in Project Liberty, I learned a new trick at the groom shop. Loofahs. Now I have my own loofah, and the dogs have one. I fill the loofah with shampoo and I have enough lather to scrub the entire dog down. I use less shampoo, and do a more efficient job! This is especially important when I use whitening shampoo for Perri.
4. Poodle Feet.
Pick up your dog’s paw. Look at the pads. All of those little crevices – on top and underneath. Now imagine shaving hair out from between there. If hair grows inside of a poodle’s ears, then it certainly grows in liberal amounts out of every bit of their paws. Left to its own devices, this hair will grow indefinitely and eventually mat and cause difficulty in walking.
“Poodle Feet” is the term used for a nicely shaved set of paws on a poodle. I am not alone in thinking that it is the most difficult body part to master. The dog doesn’t like that much paw handling. It is awkward and tedious. Many dogs don’t even like their nails clipped, let along having a clipper taken to the insides of their toes. The poodle grooming book that I linked to at the beginning of this post was and is my lifeline when it comes to grooming Perri’s feet. And, like everything else, we have come a long way. In the beginning, we would do one paw over two days. She would get lots of treats for being so tolerant. Soon we moved up to one paw a day. At this point, I am able to clip all of Perri’s feet in one session. Perri may still try to flick her feet away form me on occasion, but we are both becoming old hands. (again, no pun intended.)
5. Poodle coats are customizable.
Many people judge poodles on their beautiful and curly hair, or on the extravagant clips seen on show dogs. But for a pet quality poodle, there are endless options for your dog’s appearance. I love that about them. My personal preference for Perri is a clean face, clean paws, and everything but the ears and topknot clipped close and a poof on the end of her tail. The long hair on Perri’s head and ears is a stretch for our lifestyle and I do end up brushing it to keep it from matting. It is worth it!
The options are endless, and you can dramatically alter the appearance of your dog depending on what you choose to play with. Ankle poofs, moustaches, mohawks, total clip downs or total woolly bear looks. Fur can be dyed. Shapes can be clipped into the sides of the dog’s fur. Most everybody has seen the artwork that can be made out of a poodle’s fur, and if you have not, do a Google search for “Creative Grooming”. That is a bit out of my depth, but fun to look at! At this point, any customizing that I have done to Perri is all in the name of learning. Her ears and topknot have changed dramatically since she came home with me last August. It was not until even a few days ago that I finally scissored Perri’s “mad scientist” topknot into a respectable poodle-shape. I am learning my way around this dog’s always-growing hair at last.
I also learned a lot more than grooming about poodles. I learned that my poodle? My poodle is not prissy, she is a clown. My poodle is not overly stubborn, she learns obedience commands almost before I can teach them to her. My poodle can spar with my pitbull and hold her own just fine. My poodle can hike over 10 miles, on any terrain that nature throws our way. Poodles aren’t sissies. They are fabulous looking dogs with plenty of character and charm to match.