You’d think that grooming an ex-show dog would be easy wouldn’t you? All you need to do is to get your dog and grooming brush together and the rest will almost take care of itself. Well let me tell you, it might be easy to groom the average show dog, but just let that average show dog come and live with me and all his good manners training flies out the window.
I am not new to the art of grooming dogs. Years ago, when we lived at Hill Top just outside of Mittagong, I owned an Old English Sheepdog named Aasta (actually her kennel name was Weeack Warm Welcome, but we tried not to hold that against her). We had no ambitions to show Aasta, but of course she needed daily grooming to keep her from looking like a birch broom in a fit, to use one of my grandmother’s favourite terms for describing me during my scruffier years.
There was little drama in grooming Aasta. She’d dutifully climb onto the grooming table, sit facing me for the ever essential grooming of her chest, stand quietly when asked so that I could groom first one side and then the other and finally lie on her back so that I could get to the tummy region. All this, as I said, took place without incident. Aasta loved being groomed but at all times she displayed impeccable manners, if at times a somewhat pained expression when I tackled a difficult knot. After Aasta’s grooming session had been completed Deci, my German Shepherd Labrador cross, rocked up for her fair share of the grooming brush. Needless to say Deci’s short, brown coat didn’t need grooming but I am an equal opportunity pet owner and Deci was entitled to equivalent time on the grooming table. Again Deci’s grooming was undertaken in almost a state of tedium on my part with Deci obediently going through the motions to allow me access to various regions of her body. Thus I whiled away my first few years as the owner of a long coated dog. It lulled me into a false sense of security I can tell you.
When Billy bounded into my life one of the first things I did was purchase a brand new, double sided grooming brush. Billy is a rough coated St. Bernard, so while his fur is nowhere near as long as Aasta’s was, he still possesses quite a bit of soft undercoat that is inclined to work itself into the odd knot or two if left to its own devices. Grooming Billy, I thought, would be a synch. He’d been bred to enter shows and of course that meant he had spent his formative years learning to love being groomed and assuming whatever position was required for his groomer to get to those less accessible body parts.
This was going to be easier than grooming our huge male Maremma, Apollo I thought. Apollo felt that submitting to being brushed or even tidied up in any way cast a slight on his masculinity. Apollo almost had to be hog-tied in his youth in order for me to attack his many matted regions, brought about when he began to shed his winter coat. With plenty of grumbling on Apollo’s part about being a tough guarding dog who had no time or patience with this sissy beauty parlour treatment, Apollo would endure a minimum of grooming before breaking free and stalking off back to his flock.
To say that Billy enjoys being groomed is to understate the emotions that run through my boisterous St Bernard. A\s soon as he sees me pick up his grooming brush he goes into full throttle delight, sidling up to me to offer his rear end as the most desirable grooming site first. Having the base of his tail groomed is absolute heaven to Billy. As soon as the bristles move to that tender area of his person he begins to buckle at the knees with a dopey, far away look of ecstasy in his eyes.
Now none of this would present a problem if that were all I had to endure while tidying Billy’s vast acreage. But Billy has a rival at grooming time in the shape of Shadow, our pint sized Silky type dog. Shadow is getting on in years now. We are not at all sure of her age because she was an adult dog when she wandered into our lives as a homeless waif about go give birth to a huge litter of pups. That was about nine or ten years ago now, so she is definitely an elderly dog. Shadow’s advancing years have brought with them the beginnings of cataracts, but apart from that she is a very spry old lady. Her less that perfect eyesight does mean that she is likely to blunder into any small object that crosses her path, and on bad days even large objects like Billy are at risk.
So, Billy’s daily grooming sessions usually go something like this: I’m inside, sitting down and quietly occupied – usually sewing, when the most unwelcome thought that I haven’t groomed Billy today occurs to me. I remember that when I saw him that morning his front half was coated in mud. How Billy manages to find this mud is a mystery to me. We are in the middle of a drought and I would dare anyone to find a puddle of water on the property – dams included, Billy regularly presents himself at the back door first thing in the morning with his obligatory mud caked forefront. Anyway, back to my musings … I might stop to recall the previous day’s grooming session, but I have found it is best if I don’t. The memory of the full on battle to groom one excited Billy and one jealous Shadow is enough to make even a professional groomer quake – and I’m far from a professional groomer! After giving myself a mental shake, I take a deep breath and head for the back porch. Sure enough, there’s Billy – often sitting with a treasured shoe between his paws while strings of drool fall into it. We have learned never to put on an outdoor shoe without first conducting a drool search of its interior. While Billy appears happily occupied fawning over a shoe, he is really waiting to ambush whoever comes out the back door in an effort to get just one more pat.
As soon as he sees my hand moving in the direction of the grooming brush, Billy leaps into action. This is better than getting a pat! This is what he lives for! He immediately sidles up to me moving in a crab like fashion, with his back end wagging from side to side as the force of his wagging tail carries the rest of his hind quarters with it. He manoeuvrers his bulk so as to present as much of his body to me as possible. At the last minute he executes a neat body twist, which means that his overlarge rump is now not only facing me, but also pushing up against me and driving me into the wall of the house. At this stage, I always seem to yell “Get out of it!” Why I say that I don’t know, but it’s what always seems to come out. I’m sure “Please don’t squash me against the house wall,” would make more sense, but it never occurs to me to try that approach. On second thoughts the polite approach would most probably fall on deaf doggy ears.
My rebuke usually has the effect of causing Billy to try to see what all the fuss is about by swinging his head around in my direction again, forming a St Bernard U shape because his bottom continues to pin me to the wall. When he sees that I’m still in one piece, but not brushing him yet, he gives me a very offended look and wiggles his bottom up closer to my body to give me a better chance of connecting brush and Billy together. When this doesn’t work either, Billy adjusts his getting ready to be groomed technique slightly. He quickly turns so that his head is now in my stomach with me still pinned against the wall. You might have noticed that no actual grooming has yet taken place. Shadow who can only vaguely make out what is happening, on the other hand, counts Billy’s grooming time from the time she sees me picking up the brush, so in her estimation I have now had enough time to spruce up the large dog and it’s now her turn at the beauty parlour.
Shadow might be our smallest dog, but she has a lot in common with our smaller ferret, Miette. They are both very pushy females. Shadow has maintained her position of top dog in the house yard by the simple expedient of refusing to recongnise any other dog’s claim to the alpha position. She didn’t get into those exhaustive battles that Billy and Apollo indulged in for a while. She was happy to let them fight it out and when the dust had settled she didn’t even bother to find out if there was a winner, she just went on about her daily routine and continued to treat each of the large male dogs with haughty tolerance. So when Shadow decides that it is her turn to be groomed she simply steps between Billy’s front legs and presents herself for her turn with the grooming brush.
Why this ploy always surprises Billy I don’t know. You’d think after three months of finding a small furry dog down there between his front legs early in every grooming session, he’d come to expect to see her there. But no, Billy is always taken unawares and has to halt briefly in his attempts to get his entire body closest to the brush to see what that funny feeling is around his front paws. This lull in the proceedings gives Shadow the opportunity for which she has been waiting. She then scampers out from under Billy and rolls onto her back, presenting a vast area of tummy to be brushed. While she is in this somewhat vulnerable position she tries to keep a wary eye on the large amount of dog just above her. I usually take a few well-meaning swipes at Shadow’s soft underbelly and assure her she has now had equal time with the grooming brush. Shadow is forced to accept this meagre offering because by now Billy has assured himself that whatever it was that was puzzlingly worrying his feet has now just as mysteriously left and he has turned his attentions back to getting his daily brushing.
After more gyrations on Billy’s behalf and defensive manoeuvres on mine, the brush finally makes contact with Billy’s body and the grooming officially begins. Eventually we reach the stage in proceedings where under his jaw and his chest needs my gentle ministrations. This is the time that a lesser woman would leave Billy’s mud caked body to set like concrete while she heads for the hills. The cleaning down of Billy’s front half is not difficult in itself, it’s the little dance that Billy and I perform each day just prior to me getting at his front that would make a strong woman wilt. Over the months I quickly learned that the easiest way to get at Billy’s grubby fore regions is to position him at the bottom of the steps with me sitting on the top step so that I am face to face with the vast expanse of muddy chest. While positioning Billy sounds easy, let me assure you it is far from it. I begin by taking Billy by the collar and descending the steps, releasing my hold on Billy and walking up the two steps to the top of the porch. A piece of cake I hear you say. Well, the only problem with this method is that Billy always beats me back to the top of the porch, ready to welcome me home as soon as I gain the porch again.
I have tried various amendments to the above procedure and all work about once. After that we are back to our little dance of Billy side stepping my move to block him from the steps and racing me for the prime position at the top of the steps. I have now taken to sitting on the top step while Billy prances around me trying to inveigle me to get on with the brushing. Billy employs very underhand tactics I’m sorry to say. He sits beside me with one huge paw around my shoulder and his very moist jaws resting on the top of my head and lately he has taken to licking my ear with his huge sloppy tongue. To make matters worse, yes this situation can actually get worse, Shadow sees this as her best opportunity to get some more brushing herself. She wriggles her way through any piece of daylight Billy leaves between my body and his, gaining a little more ground with each wiggle. When she has claimed enough of the top step for herself she once again presents the tummy for my attentions. To say that I am a bit distracted by Billy’s antics is an understatement. It takes all my attention and effort not to get pushed off the step while Billy is trying to get up close and personal with the grooming brush. Shadow’s subtle requests for a bit more brushing usually fall on deaf ears, or rather ears that are busily occupied trying not to be licked by a huge St Bernard tongue.
Now once Billy remembers that his overly friendly approach to me sitting on the top step never works, he docilely ambles to the bottom step to offer his front for grooming. Having his chest groomed is not his favourite part of the proceedings because I often find a few knots in the undergrowth. But Billy is a realist and resignedly takes the good with the bad.
By this time we have almost come to the end of our grooming session. I now give Billy’s back another brushing just to show there are no hard feelings. Billy responds by burying his head in my lap and making loud snoring noises. Unfortunately these snoring noises immediately galvanise Shadow into action. She comes skittering back from where ever she has retired to during the latter part of Billy’s and my skirmish and once again presents the tummy for grooming. She usually arrives with such force that I leap into action to prevent her sliding right off the steps and into the garden. This of course means that the Billy grooming hand is removed from Billy and used in conjunction with the other hand in rescuing Shadow from her fate. Billy once again begins his getting as close as possible manoeuvres, which often tip me over backwards as he climbs the steps and moves his head into my chest.
After I have fought my way clear of dogs both large and small, I pull myself up using Billy for leverage and totter into the house. Once I have returned to the relative safety of the kitchen, I make myself a cup of tea and then retire to the bathroom to see to my own grooming. Because if there’s one thing that Billy’s daily grooming session accomplishes it’s the ruination of my own personal neatness.