To my eyes, there are few things as beautiful to watch as a Brittany racing around the yard or field, just for the love of running. And then when that happy dog come close for some love pats, there is a great feeling in stroking a clean, well groomed Brittany. I have found the Brittany very easy to maintain. In this article, I will share what I have learned about grooming over the 18 years that I have had Brittanys. I use the same type of grooming on my show dogs (Breed, Obedience, Agility, and Hunt) and on my older dogs who are retired from obedience and agility and enjoy life at home.
It's a good idea to have a clear picture, in mind or on paper, of what a properly groomed Brittany looks like. You can use your copy of The American Brittany Magazineor one of the available books on Brittanys, to locate pictures of several groomed dogs. These will most likely be found in the section dealing with conformation shows. Note especially the amount of hair on the ears, neck, tail and feet. (See listing of resources at the end of this article.)
One question frequently asked by someone interested in the Brittany, is "Does a Brittany shed?" Most dogs shed, as do people. It is a natural process, hair falls out and, with any luck, new hair grows again from the same follicle. With regular brushing, the amount of hair scattered around your house, stuck to your clothes and landing on your dinner plate can be controlled. And for those special events, be sure to keep a pet hair remover - one of the those sticky rolls of paper with a handle - close at hand.
Following is my standard, weekly grooming routine:
Start with a clean dog. You be the judge of when a bath is needed. I have found that the coat on the Brittany is naturally clean. Dirt just seems to fall off easily. I don't bathe the dogs every week, just when needed. I use a slicker brush - one with wire teeth - to remove dirt, snarls, and plant material like burrs.
Ear Flaps Up
I clean the inside of the ear flap and the inside of the ear by squirting ear cleaning solution into the ear canal, then massaging the base of the ear. I then wipe with a cotton pad wetted with an ear cleansing solution made especially to dry quickly. Let the dog shake it's head and dry the ears again. Regular cleaning will control the brown waxy buildup that smells. [Ear cleaning supplies on right.]
When bathing my dog, I use a good quality shampoo made expressly for dogs. It is the correct pH for their skin, and rinses without leaving a soapy residue. Dog shampoo is available at dog shows, through pet supply catalogs and web sites, and local feed and pet stores.
Start at the Head
Have a good supply of big towels at hand. My Brittanys fit in the laundry sink, where the faucet is a hand held spray head on a retractable hose. I thoroughly wet the dog, soap, rinse and dry the head, and then soap and rinse the rest of the body.
Let's Get Anal
While the dog is soapy, express the anal glands. There are several methods to do this:
Put on disposable rubber gloves, put KY jelly on one index finger, hold the tail up with the other hand and insert the gloved finger into the rectum. Using your thumb on the outside of the dog and the finger on the inside, locate one of the anal glands (at about 4 and 8 on a clock face); if full, it feels like a grape. Gently squeeze the accumulated fluid out. Beware, it may come squirting out and it is stinky. Twist your thumb to the other side of the anus and do the same to the gland on the other side.
Another way is to use paper towels or Handi-Wipes to cover the anal area, apply pressure externally at the 4 and 8 o'clock areas to express the glands. Get your veterinaria or someone who knows to show you how this done before trying it yourself.
Anal glands are found in all dogs. Anal sacs are collectors for glandular secretions and are located on both sides of the dog's anus. These sacs contain a liquid that ranges from brownish-yellow to light gray in healthy dogs. The anal gland is normally maintained during bowel movements if the dog's stool is firm then this liquid is normally discharged. These anal glands are used as a scent indicator. This is why dogs greet each other by sniffing the other's butt. If the anal gland fluid is discharged during the greeting, they know if they have frighten or made the other dog nervous and can be assured they are the dominant dog.
Often these sacs empty easily, however, some dogs are not able to empty their sacs completely and risk anal sac disease.
Visible signs that your dog may be suffering from anal gland discomfort include:
scooting across the floor or yard,
chasing their tail, or
chewing or licking at their rear end.
It is important that all stages of anal sac disease should be treated by a veterinarian. If your dog suffers chronically from anal sac impaction, there is a surgical removal procedure which involves anesthetization. Consult with your veterinarian about this treatment and include discussion of anal glands during regular checkups with your vet.
Anal glands aren't a popular topic of conversation but they are an important part of your dog.
After expressing the anal glands, I squirt more shampoo on the rear area and suds well. Then rinse the dog thoroughly. Throw a towel over the dog sopping up as much water as you can. I taught my dogs to shake on command, so I hold a towel over them and say "shake." Wrap a dry towel over the dog and lift him onto the grooming table, the top of the washer, or the floor, which has been covered with another dry towel. Towel off as much of the remaining water as possible. I like to use a hair dryer and brush or fluff the coat with my hand while drying.
Additionally, I clean the teeth with a toothbrush and dog toothpaste, which has a beef flavor. Never use human toothpaste. It is not designed to be swallowed. If swallowed by your dog, it may make the dog ill. I also scrape off any accumulated tarter and plaque, using a scrapper similar to that dentists use. These are available at dog shows, pet supply catalogs and web sites, and feed and pet stores. When necessary have your vet do a more complete cleaning, removing plaque from your dog's teeth.
Brushing to remove dead hair
All brushing and combing is done in the direction the hair grows. Once the dog is thoroughly dry, a use a Zoom-groom (pictured on the right), a flexible soft rubber devise with 20 to 30 cone-shaped teeth. It fits in the palm of the hand and removes the loose guard hairs. It is very soft so it doesn't poke or scratch the dog's skin. It is especially good on the bony areas like the leg and feet.
Finally, I use a fine striping comb (pictured below.) I learned about this comb several years ago and really like it. It has a wooden handle and metal head at one end. The metal head is about two-inches long with a row of tiny teeth about ½ inch deep.
Start at the rear of the dog, combing a patch at a time, and work your way forward. The stripper comb removes dead hair, especially from the undercoat. The amount I can remove depends on the dog's coat. The thicker and woollier the coat, the more hair may remove.
Clipping and Trimming
Get someone experienced to show you how to do this the first time, and refer to the pictures of well groomed Brittanys.
Holding the dog's muzzle pointing upward, use clippers with a #10 blade and clip the neck of the Brittany. Go the way the hair grows in a "V" shape, to the top of the breast bone (the top of the "V" being the top of the neck and point of the "V" at the tip of the breast bone.
Next use thinning shears (the best quality you can afford) to thin and blend in the hair on the side of the neck with clipped area. Do not trim the coat on the top of the neck.
Grooming the Ears
Grooming the ears is necessary especially on those Brittanys with lots of furnishings, long or profuse feathering. First, using straight scissors, trim the hair following the outline of the ear from ¾ down the front, under the tip and up the back of the ear. Then thin the rest of the furnishings with either a thinning shear or stripping comb, making sure to blend in with the edges. Remember the ear set is high so do not take out the hair at the top and the front top of the ear. Thinning shears may be used under and in back of the ear to blend in with the neck. The ears should not have so much hair taken out that it has a hound appearance.
If you are showing your dog in Conformation, whiskers may be taken off using blunt ended scissors. Some people prefer to leave them on, with the thought that they need them in the field. It is not a fault leaving them on but taking them off gives a smoother, much more finished look.
Thinning is also done under the tail and blended into the rear feathering. The coat should be thinned to lay flat from the anal area to the circular areas of hair on either side of the rear. The tail is completely thinned out underneath and the sides are blended in with the top of the tail. The tip of the tail should be thinned also to blend in, if necessary, taking care not to have any bald spots showing. To make a tail look longer, thinning can be done on both sides of the tail but never on the rump above the tail.
In trimming the feet, the hair growing between the pads is cut even with the pad. Do not cut or clipper out the hair in between the pads as this is protection for their feet. Trim the hair evenly along the sides of the pads all the way around. With a bristle type brush, back brush the fur on the feet (from toenails toward the foot). With thinning shears, trim the wispy hair sticking out on the tops between the toes, taking care not to trim out the hair in between the toes. This gives the foot a neat appearance. I especially like to keep the feet trimmed to minimize the amount of dirt that gets carried into the house.
Hind Hocks and Front Pasterns
On the hind hock, brush the fur against the growth pattern, then use thinning shears to clip the rough coat that sticks out from the hock to the footpad. On the front pastern, thinning shears or clippers again may be used to smooth out the rough coat between the foot pad and the wrist pad, only on the back side of the leg. Clippers should not be used on the hock.
I trim off the tips (about 1/8 to ¼ inch) of the toenails with a nail clipper. I use a light located on the far side of the foot so that the pink quick is visible through the white nail. This way I can avoid cutting the quick and drawing blood. On the brown nails, I estimate how much to trim based on a white nail. Then I use an electric grinder with a medium grit sanding drum to smooth the rough edges of the mail and to shorten it further. Apply the grinder in short intervals, without much pressure, so that the friction does not heat up the nail. I feel the end of the nail during this process and quit when I sense I am getting to a soft area.
Introducing Pups and New Dogs to Grooming
When you bring a new puppy or new adult dog, such as a rescue dog, into your home, you will want to gradually introduce the new dog to this grooming routine. I use treats and praise for calm behavior. When the dog is tired and relaxed, I sit on the floor with the dog and start out just touching and manipulating the feet, ears, mouth, and the rest of the body. I show the dog the tool (brush, clipper, etc.), touch it to their side or foot. Gradually build up to short brush strokes, then a treat, more brushing and another treat. I trim the tip of one toenail and give a treat. I introduce the electric grinder, showing the tool, turning it on, touching the foot with vibrating handle and rewarding calm behavior with a treat. I gradually build up to touching one nail with grinding wheel, and so forth.
At the end of this process, you will have a lovely, well-groomed Brittany, ready to show in the ring, or jump up and sleep on your bed, one that will feel and smell wonderful when you pet them.
Recommended Brittany Grooming Resources:
The Book of the American Brittany: Eighties Edition by Rheta Cartmell
Order from: Velma Tiedman, ABC, 2036 N. 48th Ave., Omaha, NE 68104
New Owner's Guide to Brittanys by Beverly Millette
The Guide to Owning a Brittany by Stacy Kennedy
Brittanys by Beverly Pisano
Brittanys by Dan Rice
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