It coats the carpet and acts like Velcro on a shoot day, says David Tomlinson, who has risked the wrath of the spaniel purists and had his springer stripped
Grooming a spaniel properly is essential, as their long hair will coat the carpet and attract and trap dirt on a shoot day. David Tomlinson has taken radical action and had his springer spaniel stripped.
How you groom your gundog is entirely dependent on the breed. For The Field’s advice read gundog grooming – top tips and techniques.
GROOMING A SPANIEL
It’s no wonder labradors are so popular as they are remarkably easy dogs to live with. They are generally easy to train, will eat almost anything with enthusiasm and hardly need grooming. No, I’m wrong about the grooming. Labradors do need grooming but I suspect that many do not see a brush from one month to the next. Most labradors have a wonderfully dirt-resistant coat and if they do get muddy, the mud soon falls off, leaving the coat much as it was before. This is fine with a kennelled dog but if the animal lives in the house then a bit of brushing before it comes in will partly solve the problem.
However, labradors are also great shedders of hair, something that’s all too apparent with indoor dogs. Here, regular brushing is a great help. You might not feel inclined to groom the dog every day but a good going over once a week will remove lots of the dead hair before it falls onto the carpet. Most labradors enjoy being brushed, especially if it has been done since they were puppies.
One of the reasons golden retrievers are not as popular in the shooting field may well be because their wonderful golden coats really do need regular brushing, while their fur is the perfect length for trapping and holding mud and dirt. Like labradors, they are also great shedders of hair but their long golden locks are much more obvious than the short hairs of a labrador.
Dogs that don’t shed hair are rare, though some breeds are much better than others. It is claimed that one of the reasons the first labradoodles were bred, as guide dogs, was to produce a non-shedding animal suitable for allergy sufferers. I’ve spoken to quite a few labradoodle owners and all said that their dog did shed, though not perhaps quite as badly as a pure labrador. The Kennel Club’s website lists non-shedding breeds; sporting dogs are conspicuous by their absence. The three gundog breeds that are claimed not to shed are the Irish water spaniel, Spanish water dog and the lagotto romagnolo. The last two are rarities in the shooting field but perhaps they would be popular if more people were aware of their non-shedding properties?
HOW TO GROOM SPRINGER SPANIELS
One breed that certainly sheds a lot of hair is the springer spaniel, something I can vouch for having owned them for rather more than 30 years. I have to hang my head in shame as I haven’t brushed my dogs as often as perhaps I should have done. Their ears and feathers do require regular attention – the former in particular can easily become matted (particularly under the ear) if they are not combed regularly. I have always trimmed the feathers, using proper hair-dressing scissors, to minimise the problem. Trimming the furry pads of the paws is also important, as these are the worst dirt traps of all. Frustratingly, many spaniels have ticklish feet and hate having their paws trimmed.
With my current spaniel, Rowan, I’ve resorted to more radical action: she gets stripped four times a year. Unlike her mother, who had silky fur, Rowan’s is woolly and my efforts with the scissors were not sufficient to smarten her up. So now she goes to the professional dog groomer for what amounts to a short back and sides. The cost is a modest £20 – we don’t bother with the optional bath afterwards as she is a proper spaniel, not a poodle, after all. She comes back looking rather like a spotty pointer puppy.
Mention such action to spaniel purists and they will frown and shake their heads, as it’s simply not part of standard springer management. However, stripping a spaniel off, if only for the summer, certainly makes the dog more comfortable on hot days. Perhaps the autumn and winter stripping isn’t so necessary but it certainly makes a dog much easier to clean after a shooting day.
Another advantage is that it’s easier to find and remove ticks, burrs and cleavers if your spaniel is trimmed. I remember one shooting lunch when two spaniel handlers spent a whole hour cutting burrs from their spaniels’ feathers. George de Mestral, the Swiss inventor of Velcro, found inspiration for his invention from the sticky burrs of burdock; history doesn’t record whether these burrs stuck in the fur of his dog.
It’s also easier to check a short-furred dog for injuries and lumps than it is a long-haired one. Trimming the fur does make the dog more susceptible to the cold and wet, so it’s important to rug up a trimmed spaniel after a day’s winter shooting. Such practice is now usual with most spaniel owners but I remember being laughed at when I first rugged up a spaniel 20 years ago.
My dog groomer tells me that she is stripping more and more spaniels – both cockers and springers – as increasing numbers of owners come to appreciate the benefits such action brings. If only dogs could talk I’m sure that they would agree that, overall, it’s a good thing.