Posted on October 09, 2021 7:29 AM
The wonderful husband and I have spent all kinds of quality time together lately, and most of that time has been around the dogs.
Guess we’re rehearsing for the not-so-distant future when the kids pilot the chicken coop. Having everyone in middle and high school has now created more than one night where everyone is at some sort of practice and other than pickup and drop off, the WH and I are almost irrelevant. As long as they need rides and funds, they’re always willing to admit they need us.
Anyway, back to the reluctant object of our redirected attention, Duncan. One of the appealing aspects of their breed is that they tend to have “hypoallergenic” coats and don’t shed much. One of the downsides is that in order to maintain their “good appearance” they have to be hand stripped which is a lot of work, takes some time to acquire the right technique and most importantly requires a really cooperative subject. The alternative to this type of grooming was to use a trimmer or just let it go natural and have shaggy locks.
Personally, I was a fan of its plush look. I was also a fan of minimal work and not testing the limits of his patience. From the number of other fluffy puppies on the group’s Facebook pages, many Airedale owners have felt the same. However, after our meeting with all the other Airedale members, we realized that giving Dunc a cut had benefits for him beyond a sharper appearance. While a thicker coat in some places is beneficial when he rips the brush off, a little bit of his back would definitely improve his comfort level in hot weather.
Like most of the projects it does, the WH has read a dozen “how to groom” guides and thoroughly researched all the right tools for the job. As for me, I had flashbacks to shearing sheep and I was not looking forward to this adventure. Granted, Dunc weighs about a hundred pounds less than most sheep I’ve had to shear, but he also has a nice set of upper teeth that sheep were missing. Since the WH is Dunc’s favorite person and has been trained to follow up on every command I issue, I made a strong point that I really didn’t need to be involved in this project.
I was quite happy a few hours later when Dunc was strutting around the house with a very groomed and trimmed back. But that was the extent of the plate. His landing gear and most of his face were still a hairy mess. The WH informed me that my help would be needed to continue.
We gave Dunc a few days to settle in which also allowed me to mentally prepare myself for what I was sure was going to be a disaster, one way or another. I’m pretty sure Dunc knew exactly what was going on as he distrusted me more than usual. It was interesting for me to see how, even though the WH was the instigator of this misery, I was the one it held responsible. I should be used to this by now.
So the day dawned. The WH had set up all the tools and a makeshift grooming table set up on the porch. We put E on broom service and got to work. The plan was that the WH would distract Dunc’s attention while I made the cut. The first few passes went well, but as the mower got closer and closer to his lower regions, he started to be less distracted and more determined to escape. E was quickly promoted from holding a broom to holding a spoon full of peanut butter in front of his nose. This little trick saved us a bit more time and I managed to go through almost all of his underside before he decided he didn’t like peanut butter anymore.
The next challenge was to “fade in the legs”. Apparently I had to change the comb length in the middle of this operation so that her chest hair, which was shorter, gradually merged with the hair on her legs, which we wanted to keep for longer so that they would help to protect his legs from sticker bushes. While the rest of its finish was strictly utilitarian, this part needed to be slightly more artistic. There is hardly anything more fun than two adults trying to get a young dog to stand perfectly still and straight so they can tell if their hairstyle is even. Of course, the Enemy of the Good is perfect, and soon after that it didn’t matter if it was, because his chest hair was almost gone. If I had a dime every time we said, “It’ll grow back, won’t it?” I could easily afford to hire my own personal groomer for the rest of Dunc’s life.
One of the things that helped make WH and I a pretty good grooming team is the fact that he’s left-handed and I’m right-handed. Once we got Dunc into a comfortable and occupied position, each of us would tackle whatever part we could reach, and the two of us managed to reach just about every part of him.
He’s definitely not the prettiest animal around right now, but the end result has been a definite improvement, if you like cleaner dogs that don’t have bad hair. Much like the children’s first haircuts, I felt like he had turned into a much older dog just like that. We tried to give him the traditional beard and mustache look that sets his breed apart, but it was hard to say if we were successful due to the peanut butter that got him tangled. A few hours later, after he was done grooming himself, I was able to make his facial hair puff up and my fluffy Muppet puppy suddenly looked like a wise old man.
While I thought we did an admirable job on our first outing, our two legged kids were slightly less than impressed. None of them were interested in us replacing their usual barber. As for Duncan, from time to time I catch him looking at his reflection. I’m pretty sure he’s thinking, “This is going to grow eventually, right?”
Liz Pinkey is a Times News contributor. His column appears weekly in our Featured Saturday section.