Care of the Poodle Coat

Poodles' hair grows as human hair does. Just as we need haircuts, so do poodles. Other dogs shed their coats.

Because poodle hair is curly, any lost hairs (very few) are caught in the curls.

For this reason, poodles need brushing. Nobody I know does it every day, but once every week or so should be the goal. If you don't, you'll have mats that are difficult to remove. This especially happens with the ears all dogs tend to scratch in the ear area. In poodles, this causes a mat.

Most experts suggest every 4-6 weeks for a haircut. This will cost $100 for a standard poodle; and about $80 for a miniature or toy. Yes, figure in grooming. To own the most wonderful dog in the world, you must be prepared to pay the groomer.

I have let Chocolate go 8 weeks between haircuts, but I keep after the coat so he doesn't go to the groomer with mats. If he does, the groomer charges extra ($75 per hour) to remove the unusually-high number of mats. (Ouch! I learned that the hard way. And I didn't think he was "that bad.")

Start with a comb, using a corner of the wide-tooth area. After combing, follow with the "slicker" brush (also called a "pin brush"). This is not like brushing or combing your own hair, where you start at the top and pull downwards. Your poodle will not be happy! Hold hair above the point where you're working to keep from pulling on the body.

Be careful with the slicker brush. Don't push down on it firmly against the dog's skin. Your poodle will not be happy! If you don't believe me, use that same force on your arm (or head), and you'll see what I mean.

I have groomed my dogs before, but I never do as nice a job (surprise!) as a professional. If you do do this, don't forget to buy the special blade to use between the pads of the feet.

Note: Always brush out your poodle thoroughly before bathing. If you don't, you'll have felt.

Poodle Nails

You must keep a poodle's nails short. Otherwise, the dog has trouble walking; eventually the nails curl around and touch the pads of the feet. And, of course, there's the tap-tapping on the floor.

It may be just my imagination that poodles' nails grow faster than other types of dogs'. Nevertheless, consider keeping up with the nails between groomings, especially if you go a little longer between groomings. The hair on the foot is growing and thus covers the entire nail, so it's easy to say "it's not that bad" when it really is!

The goal is to have nails that are rounded and not extending beyond the foot, as in this picture. If this picture is gone, search on "poodle foot" on Google images.

Make sure to mention to the groomer to "take his nails down as far as possible."

An alternative is to go to a grooming salon or a vet for nail shortening. If so, weekly. This will run you about $10-$12 a clip (sorry for the pun), with the vet's charging even more.

Note: Touch your puppy's feet a lot, especially the front paws. Rub between the pads. This will get him used to having his feet handled.

Chocolate hates the "guillotine"-type clippers, so I grind with a Dremel drill. I try to take off a little every day. I keep his ears out of the way with a sweatband that I loop several times to hold them on the top of his head. I hold Chocolate tummy-up in my lap. He's not happy, but too bad. The other option is "raccoon nails" that the groomer can make little headway on in just one visit because the quick is near the end of the nail. If you work on the nails daily, you'll keep the quick receded. The quick is the "blood supply" that has a nerve running in it.

When the guillotine clippers go too close to the nail bed, the dog will be in great pain because the quick of the nail is nipped. On top of that, the nail bleeds profusely and for quite a long time, which scare you to death. It's much harder to grind that far to touch, though the vibrations can be disconcerting to the dog. If you're going to cut your dog's nails, get a little pot of styptic powder. If the dog protests more than you think should be normal, try a Dremel. (Be sure to be very specific you want the drill used when you visit the groomer and any between-grooming nail clips.)

Your goal here is to keep the quick receded.

I had a poodle when I owned a swimming pool. He loved to chase the balls floating in the pool, barking furiously all the while. He never needed his nails trimmed; the cement took care of them. Supposedly, walking your dog on asphalt will keep the nails short, but I cannot say whether this is true because we walk on the sidewalk.

Poodle Haircuts

In a nutshell, poodles were bred to be water retrievers. To streamline the body, excess hair was shorn. The puffs, pompons, and vest were left long to the protect the joints and body core. Today, anyone with a working poodle keeps the dog in a "utility clip" (also known as a "kennel clip"), which is like a military haircut ("all over with the 1 " blades" or however long the owner wants the hair overall), leaving the fancy clips for dog shows. Usually the face and base of the tail (and the feet, of course) are kept clean in a kennel clip, though not always.

Pompons on the end of the tail can be round or long. Long is the new style, but the traditional round shape says "poodle" to me. People with poodles as gun dogs sometimes keep the tail pompon-less.

Chocolate wears a kennel clip (1 " long in winter and " in summer) and a round pompon. Although this produces looks of "what is this woman asking for and why?"), I ask for a V-neck (I can't remember what my groomer calls it; "jewel neckline," maybe?) and the neck clean all around, which keeps the fur out of the way of the collar. If you want something non-standard, ask your groomer for it. Take a drawing or a photo to show the groomer what you want.

After being freshly-groomed he needs a walking. I swear that he prances with pride over how handsome he looks (more than normal joy over being a poodle).

Note: Take your puppy right away to the groomer (before his first haircut now that he lives with you) and give him several treats while there. Let him sniff around. Then leave. Come back every other week or so and repeat. This helps him learn that treats are to be had here. It's a good strategy with the vet's office, too.

It's time to go trim Chocolate's nails!


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marbeth@marthabeth.com