Chapter Eleven Grooming and Health

this is from CLUMBER SPANIELS by Jan E Irving 1998, published by Hoflin, USA
full copyright is retained on this chapter – it may not be reproduced or distributed without the author’s authority
the actual book contains a series of illustrations to complement the text


Clumber Spaniels by Jan Irving (published by Hoflin)

Clumber Spaniels by Jan Irving (published by Hoflin)

While cleanilness, grooming, etc will keep in good condition the hair of a sound dog happily situated, except in the presence of good general health the hair can never be at its best, no matter how cleverly and faithfully treated. Ashmont KENNEL SECRETS 1893

Ideally you should groom your dog each day. If this is done, the routine will involve a quick brush to remove loose hair and free the feathering. Even running your hands through and over the coat each day will often prove adequate as the fine loose dirt will cling to your skin, and the coat is laid straight after a slight airing. If you are unable to maintain the daily level of grooming then the task of regular grooming can be reduced by carefully trimming and perhaps even stripping certain areas of coat. Even for showing there is some trimming or slight stripping required. If this approach is done with thought and consideration it helps to reduce the amount of time you need to spend grooming your dog from day to day. Dogs not being exhibited or actually working in the field are best trimmed out more thoroughly.

When trimming for shows always bear in mind your country’s breed standard – for international judges I have even followed the judge’s country’s breed standard. The presence of long and untrimmed hair can as easily mask ideal or near ideal points as it can poor points. In particular the shape of the foot can be properly shown if you take the time to trim the feet correctly and neatly. Even a poorly shaped foot can be trimmed to advantage – as an exhibitor you are about presenting your dog to its best advantage without fraud or additives. As the hair growth on Clumber’s feet is particularly strong (as called for in the breed standards and important if the dog is to work in the field), so there is room for experimentation. If not being used or exercised in field conditions the foot hair soon becomes overgrown and does require trimming for the comfort of the Clumber.

The hardest part about trimming the feet is to ensure your dog stands still while you are working on the foot – to achieve this it really is a case of reinforcing the concept that you are the BOSS. Until you are certain you know precisely how much you want to do, only operate in stages so that you work towards a fully trimmed foot. I like to work with the dog standing squarely on his feet, it is the finished result you will be trying to achieve and the foot proudly presented while your Clumber lolls around on his back is a poor measure of what it will look like in the show ring – hopefully! While your dog is standing squarely on all four feet look at the foot to be trimmed. Then with a pair of sharp, straight edge scissors trim the excess growth from the upper surface that protrudes from between the toes. I used to carefully remove all the excess hair from between the toes by dragging my finger up and out and so drawing out the excess hair – I don’t now, I suppose it is because the feet on my dogs are now tighter and bigger and the hair doesn’t seem to grow as thickly there. I simply trim the excess from the top surface and ensure no small mats have formed, if present they are neatly removed with the scissors at skin level where a mat is rarely to be found matted all the way down.

The fringes that stick out from the sides are shortened back into line and then the dog is asked kindly to lift his foot for the under surface to be neatened up. Again, in my early days with the breed, I had little call to trim the hair between the pads. As exercise conditions haven’t changed much in this time I guess the natural based diet has given more hair growth as the majority need to have this hair removed to ensure the pads are exposed. Unlike in many breeds the presence of long hair between the toes seems to draw grass seeds into these clefts, little mats form, the grass seeds work their way towards the skin and actually pierce it, enter the foot, the wound heals and there you have your first interdigital abscesses that are sure to cause lameness on the morning of the show!

I trim the hair between the pads on the underside of the foot only as far back as the pad, never in the clefts. The hair on the sole provides protection to the delicate interpad spaces and also ventilation. Excess hair that is allowed to become wet and stay damp for hours at a time leads to the development of infections and particularly eczema.

To finish off the foot I trim from heel to stopper on the front legs and trim back hard that wrist part at the back of the front leg. I also “bang” the front feathering some way up the height of the front pastern so its ends are not dabbed into every mud puddle my dogs insist on walking through. The banging greatly reduces the chances of staining the front leg feathering. On the hind legs I trim from the hock to the heel with the lie of the hair so as not to be too severe but still neatening the hind cannon.

Any hair that extends beyond the edge of the leather of the ear I trim off with sharp straight edge scissors. My working breed standard, that from the UK, states the ear should be well covered with hair and the hair should not extend beyond the leather – this is how I present the Clumber in the show ring. I leave the feather, trimming only the extraneous whisps that extend more than 1.25cm (1/2 inch) beyond the ear, however it is common practice in some countries to strip off the bulk of the ear feathering, hence you can see the importance in referring at least to your country’s breed standard if not actually chatting to local exhibitors. Only Clumbers working or exercising in the field will wear their ear feathering back in line with the edge of the leather.

Hair from around the ear canal opening and the soft hair lying directly under the ear flap I also trim off, some may even say hack off. The soft hair here is particularly prone to forming matts, and excess growth together with matts will restrict air flow into and from the ear canal. Allowing a free flow of air by this method reduces the incidence of ear canker and other infections commonly found in kennels throughout the world; both diseases enjoying warm, moist conditions unchallenged by air. The removal of fluff and soft hair also reduces the chances of grass seeds working their way into the canal. Lifting the ear straight up, I often allow the leather to fold into a tube in the palm of my hand instead of hanging on with a couple of fingers to the now raised lower tip of the ear. Rest the hand with the ear against the skull and using sharp plain, straight edged scissors cut the soft hair away working from the top down with the lie of the hair; being more radical with experience I trim down the ruff seam and meet with the neck feathering. This neatens the lines of the neck, allows better air flow, and cleans the line of the chest feathering, as well as encouraging any wayward set ears to lie flat against the side of the face more neatly.

Apart from the above the Clumber Spaniel should not need to be trimmed and this trimming for domestic purposes can be done every two months, for the show ring every fortnight. You should never need to remove matts, they won’t form unless you have entirely neglected your duties. If matts occur, try to ease them apart using your fingers before resorting to scissors. When teasing matts, start at the skin side and work outwards. Be very careful not to pull at the skin, even the strain on just one hair as you are working will make your dog uneasy and restless. Recall your own discomfort when your mother was frustrated brushing your own hair out when you were a child. By keeping the toes trimmed and removing excess hair from under the ears, if a quick daily grooming procedure is adopted, matts will have no chance to form. Even if they do form they have little chance to become large or uncomfortable.

A fairly broadly spaced smooth toothed comb is ideal for maintenance. Never rip at knots, there is a living dog attached to that thick mess! A soft bristle firm brush will polish the exterior and back brushed will shift spare grease.

I doubt the wisdom of stripping or trimming out entirely any Clumber because of the local climate. The coat has proven to be an asset worldwide and actually, when left intact, the dog is better able to regulate its own body heat. Certainly the stripping of the Clumber coat for heat mediation is not practiced in Australia or America.

More important would be to ensure the dogs after exercise in damp or wet conditions are encouraged to stay up and active to dry off before being bedded down for the night. The Clumber has quite a heavy coat and dries by the water and moisture rising slowly to the surface – forever after bathing!

Bathing is a common practice, however I have found with a good natural based diet there is little need; in fact, I rarely these days have to bath the Clumbers before a show having taken care to limit the chances of staining to the coat by care of the day runs and using a fairly dry but well grassed exercise lane. Comb out the whole coat before washing and certainly remove all matts! Shampoos and conditioners are often harsh and hard on the true texture of a healthy coat. I would suggest you ask someone locally what they use and make your choice from that. I have tried several formulas and concoctions over the years, currently favouring a human preparation based on herbal extracts manufactured in Italy. Any excess grease in the coat I find is easily pulled out by rubbing a few handfuls of cornflour and bran through the coat and brushing the surplus out – this is an outdoor job but the lawn appreciates these organic materials. Bedding on clean, fresh wheat straw is bound to give a lovely lustre and texture to the coat and freshly bathed or groomed out, the show team are treated to the crisp crunchy straw they love to dig and snuggle into. Bathing for show as compared to cleaning up a dog for the house should require little extra. Super dry towel, followed by a cotton pile towel will reduce the drying time markedly even if you plan to use a blow drier. It is only the attention to detail that distinguishes a dog from home activities to show ring glamour, and quite frankly our predecessors have left us with a dog still quite capable of working in the field so why should we seek to have a glamour doll for the ring at this stage in the Clumbers’ evolution?

Coat clipping is not a practice common among owners across the world. However, some American and Canadian owners do “clipper” out necks and under ears. Under the ears I use straight edged scissors, as far as stuffy necks are concenred I concentrate on my actual breeding programme to avoid this problem. The use of clippers is seriously frowned upon by the American breed standard, and I support its condemnation. The Clumber should have a good coat that does not require clippering, this is just another point breeders should consider in their programmes.

Toenails I have little concern with, from the comments of other breeders worldwide, I should imagine this is a reflection on exercise, kennel arrangements and surfaces and diet. Occasionally I come across one dog who needs toenail trimming lifelong, but essentially the dogs have neat and functional toenails. I never trim the toenails in the nest, perhaps the sharp nails are a little hard on the mammary glands, but the whelps of wolves and wild cousins of our domesticated dog aren’t nail trimmed either. And much to the chagrin of visitors I won’t trim the nails on the puppies either. The main reason I don’t is because poorly cut at this age the growth pattern is easily distorted and the nails grow awkwardly in later life. A healthy correctly formed nail has a lovely arch and curve, tapering to a blunt tip. The toenails are essential for walking and exercising and fantastic for control in damp or slippery conditions, infallible in climbing and also protection to the foot. Resting with four square on a hard smooth surface the nails should balance neatly on the surface without distorting the foot shape – if they do they are too long. A few hours a day on concrete or a ten to fifteen minute exercise period for some days on a sandy hard surface will hone them up, otherwise the owner can resort to toenail clippers. I have not found the Clumber nail particularly hard or tough although I understand many owners have had such trouble when trimming, so you are now warned. The usual scissors style toe nail clippers are best as they cut cleanly without pinching like the guillotine variety. The Clumber nail is white so the quick, the pinky internal growth part, is easily seen and definitely avoided, snip that region and your dog will be difficult in the future and possibly lame for days. Cut from behind the nail on an oblique angle to mimic the correct growth pattern, the high point of the cut being uppermost, the low point of the cut removing the long point of the nail, and the cut lying behind the arch of the nail so not damaging the hard protective cuticle at the front of the nail.

Front dewclaws are trimmed in a similar fashion. These are much more likely to overgrow unless you have a digger or one working in rough terrain. I leave the front dew claws on, they are an aid to the working Clumber in climbing mounds, banks, and fallen logs – hind dewclaws are no aid and if present at birth are removed. Overlong front dew claws cause the scratching on your thighs when your lovely Clumber jumps up – if you experience any scratching, check the dew claws!

The loose skin on the Clumber Spaniel’s head means the dog has a slightly loose eye lid. The loose eye lid is important as it allows foreign bodies that may become lodged in the eye, particularly during work, to be generally flushed out by the natural tear production. However, over the years there have been dogs with entropion and associated eye problems and this problem can appear in dogs you buy even today. There has never been a concerted effort to breed these problems out although a few individual breeders individually have tackled the task alone. The legacy of such inaction is often easily alleviated. The development of the jaw muscles will help to tighten the eye lids as the muscles develop and fill out. This aids both the flushing of the eye and helps to reduce the amount of material that actually enters the eye which cause the bulk of the irritation. If the eyelids on your Clumber are particularly loose – give your dog a bone, a hard really durable long lasting delightful chewy bone! An improvement in tear staining and weeping can be seen within ten days. Throughout his life ensure that this particular dog has plenty to chew. Any eye infections should be treated early and properly, inflammation due to infection or even allergy only encourages the eyelid to roll further in and compound or worsen the entropion. Wiping weepy or damp eye rims with a damp cloth is often all that is necessary to maintain health but dog artificial tears may be needed in more severe cases. In the worst cases surgery can be opted for, but be warned, the only cases I have heard of have been less successful than the surgeons’ promised.

Ectropion is another common problem in those individuals with excessive loose skin on the scalp. Ectropion is the condition where the eye lid is turned or droops outwards and the eyelashes are pulled away from the eye ball (and yes it is possible for one dog to have ectropion and entropion in the one eyelid). The opened out lower eyelid is a trap for all sorts of airborne infection and dust and grime, washing with artificial dog tears is essential and cooling of the associated irritated inflammation important for the dog’s comfort. Although most of our breed standards ask for some haw to show they do not mean the red highlight given by ectropion, it rather refers to a flash of red in the tuck of the lower eyelid associated with an active and moist membrane, certainly not diseased or inflamed tissues.

Teeth, other than with an incorrect bite, should require little attention. If there is a build up of tartar then clean the teeth using an old toothbrush and warm water. Frequent feeding of bones and hard biscuits as treats will keep the teeth free of tartar. The constant use of soft food, like canned dog foods, allows tartar to build up – the imbalance in the mouth biochemistry is attractive to further disease causing infections and a long list of complications can accumulate over the years. Incorrect bites do occur in the Clumber Spaniel, possibly because of several reasons. Unless there is a malocclusion causing the teeth to penetrate or rest against soft tissues the bad bite is usually of little consequence to the long and healthy life of a Clumber.

Drool is often associated with the Clumber, a hand towel is ideal for cleaning up the mouth. My dogs are not actually cursed by drool, whether it is the climate, the fresh meat, the exercise and fitness of the team, or the freedom from the need to use heartworm preventative treatment is open to strong conjecture.

Anal gland implaction is definitely associated with exercise and diet. The glands are fairly deep seated in the Clumber and can be difficult to express. Ask a friend or vet to show you how to express the anal glands if you have a dog with a problem. Left unattended the impacted anal glands can abscess or perhaps ulcerate.

At all times keep your dog free of fleas. Fleas can cause severe problems as they are carriers of flea tapeworm and the presence of a single flea is often sufficient to cause an outbreak of eczema in the Clumber. A tough skinned dog in the peak of health he is still “dog” enough to be susceptible to flea bite allergy! The flea bite eczema can rapidly develop to make your dog unsightly and unshowable due to pink staining or even from having scalped great chunks from his own coat. =

Buy the book Clumber Spaniels by Jan Irving (publisher Hoflin)

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