Ring Presentation of the Australian Terrier
By Jerre McCulley Illustraed by Denis Shaw
The first grooming chart I received years ago began "Australian Terriers are easy to groom." And mine was. I ran a comb through him, neatened around the feet, pulled a few hairs from between the eyes and off I went to the shows. And I won my share. Of course, all the Aussies in the ring were groomed the same way. I marveled at how well groomed the other terriers were, but consoled myself with the thought that Aussies were suppose to be shown looking natural and certainly mine did. But as time progressed (and incidentally I traveled to dog shows with Miniature Schnauzer owners who have a passion for grooming), I learned that it's possible for an Aussie to look both natural and well groomed.
Putting an Aussie into show condition requires a good deal of time and effort….and patience. It is rarely straight forward since most dogs grow coat at various rates over the body. Some trial and error is almost always necessary to produce a healthy coat which shows the dog to best advantage, but there are certain guidelines which I have found to be useful and appropriate for most dogs. I'll begin by assuming that your Aussie is in a blown coat and describe the steps necessary for effective show conditioning.
STRIPPING THE COAT:
It is easy to tell if an Aussie's coat is blown. The hair is long and often has changed to a lighter shade as the coat became dead. It parts down the
middle of the back or in different sections all over the back area. If you grasp the hair and give a slight tug, it literally falls out in your hand.
Few people realize that hair grows differently on different parts of the body. No two Aussies coats are alike, but they do seem to follow
patterns of growth. The hair grows fast and thick over and behind the shoulder area and in front of the
tail. Neck hair seems to grow moderately fast and thick, and back hair (from the withers to the loin) at an even slower rate.
Before you begin, plan to spend a period of from 2-1/2 to 3 months during which your dog cannot be shown. If your Aussie has a dead coat and you want to continue with showing, you must be very careful to neaten the animal by stripping only enough of the coat and furnishings to produce the desired appearance. The dead coat, of course, lacks the luster and body of a healthy new growth so important to your dog's appearance in the ring.
First, stack your dog on a table and take a good honest look at the dog's topline. If you're fooled by how the hair's growing, wet it down. Obviously a dog that grows hair in abundance over the loin area will look high in the rear when he's really only "high" in coat, etc. Once you have a good idea of your dog's topline structure, you are ready to begin a series of simple steps. At each step, a different portion of the coat is stripped and the order and time between steps is designed to accommodate normal coat growth patterns and specific features of your dog's conformation.
Begin stripping by pulling the hair out either by hand or with the aid of a stripping knife. I personally always use my hand, but if you use a knife make sure you pull the hair out by the roots, not cut it off. You should never use scissors on the back coat or furnishings of an Aussie. Ideally scissors shouldn't be used at all, but I find there are places where they are indispensable. Also, I only strip the harsh outer coat, leaving the undercoat.
STEP 1: Strip a section that is almost a triangle, starting behind the withers and ending at the mid-section of the back. (See Figure 1, Step 1).
STEP 2: Aussie coats vary greatly in the rates of growth on various parts of the body, but I've found the following waiting periods before beginning Step 2 to be representative of the more common structures;
2 weeks -- if the topline is perfectly straight
3 weeks -- if the region over the loin area is high (roached).
1 month -- if the region just behind the withers is low (dip)
Then strip the center section of the back to 1/3 of the way to the sides. (See Figure 1, Step 2)
STEP 3: Approximately 3 weeks later strip the neck and the shoulders (down to the elbows). Completely strip the tail. Strip the section in front of the tail, including the thighs. (See Figure 1, Step 3)
Step 4: Approximately 3 weeks later, lightly strip the hocks and back feet. Work the hair on the front legs pulling the hair very short as far up as the knees, but not completely stripping it out. Strip the front feet very close but not bare. NOTE: Hair grows very densely on the knees and must be thinned (by hand, not scissors) in order to avoid a knobby look. I've also found that hair on the front legs grows at "angels" distorting the true shape of the leg unless stripped properly (i.e. that it hangs in a straight line.)
While the back hair is growing, time must be spent blending the hair on the sides and under the belly. Lift the hair on the sides and pull out the longer ones. By partial stripping, blend the hair into the stripping line (See Figure 2). Pull the hair from the undersides of the chest and stomach, leaving just enough to give the appearance of silkiness or profuseness. (See Figure 2) At the same time, shape the furnishings on the hind legs so that they hang about the bend of the stifle. This is a constant procedure - working the hair at least once a week by lifting and pulling out the long hairs and constantly shaping.
HEAD AND RUFF
Comb the topknot straight up and forward; comb the whiskers and hair on the muzzle back; and comb the ruff out to frame the face.
Strip the ears down to the leather. This simply entails plucking all the long hairs on the ear which are generally of a lighter color than the leather. The whole ear is stripped clean to the leather in back and as close around the edges and in front as is possible (See Figure 3)
Aussie topknots are supposed to stand up - not part down the middle nor be combed to the sides. When the topknot is too long the hair (which is softer than the body hair) collapses. The topknot is one of the distinctive features of our breed and should be groomed properly. In order to get the proper effect, shorten the topknot by stripping the long hairs until it is short enough to "stand" by itself when combed forward and up. Even up around the edges until you have a neat frame for the eyes and ears. (See Figure 3).
Remove the hair from between the eyes but not so severely as to give a stark appearance. Comb the hair on the muzzle back and blend it into the ruff. Generally no stripping needs to be done on the muzzle. However, if the muzzle hear grows too profusely, some light stripping is needed in order to avoid a bearded look. Never comb the muzzle hair forward or straight down.
Perhaps the crowning glory of an Aussie is the ruff. Care should be taken that the ruff always looks it's best. Fortunately this is easy to do. Once a week comb the ruff out from the head and chest so that it frames the front. Strip any hairs that are long or straggly. Even up the front of the ruff so that it hangs in a very neat line to the knees and tapers up to the ears almost in a horseshoe shape - very much resembling a bib. Lightly strip the throat and chest area (See Figure 3).
The final grooming step is to clear the pad of the feat of long hair and to neaten both front and back feet by scissoring along the rim of the pad. Scissor underneath the tail area to neaten. This should be done frequently.
If the above steps are carried out, in about three months time, your Aussie is ready for the ring. Now the challenge is to keep him looking that way during the months he is shown.
MAINTAINING THE COAT
Like a well-oiled machine, a well-groomed Aussie has to be maintained or else you find yourself in a very short time back to square one - tails go plumed, ears grow fringes and feet become showboots, it seems, overnight. And even more shocking one week you have a coat that looks lush and beautiful and the next you have a blown coat!
From the beginning, get into the habit (and the strong word here is habit) of putting the dog on the grooming table at least twice weekly (I understand everyday is best but have to admit that I've never been that diligent). Then perform the following steps. They take little time and pay big dividends.
1. Rotate the Coat: Starting at the top of the neck, lift up the coat and strip all long hairs. Go over the entire coat in this manner, lifting the coat and removing the long hairs. This allows new hair to begin growing and prevents the coat from blowing all at once as you have hair at different stages of growth.
2. Shape the Tail: Holding the tail in the palm of the hand, comb the hair out from either side like a fan. Remove long hairs, shaping in the form of a soft "V". Leave plenty of hair on either side so that it is thick and slightly tapers toward the end. Be sure both sides are even and no long hair protrude. With the tail up, it should look full from in front and lightly feathered behind. (See Figure 4)
3. Neaten the hocks and feet: Remove long hairs from the hocks. The rear legs should be kept clean from the hock down (See Figure 5) Scissor around the pads of feet, both front and rear.
4. Remove long hairs from ears and between eyes. Keep hair around edge of ears stripped very close.
5. Work the Furnishings: As described above, keep furnishings neat by stripping unruly hairs.
By following these steps, you should have an Aussie that is ready for the show ring. And on the day of the show, all you will have to do is comb your dog and be ready to win.
Easy to groom? Not necessarily.
Worth the trouble? Definitely.