Note: This is another in our intermittent series of educational articles designed to share valuable information from some of the best sources in the sport.

Hair! LOTS of hair.

Exhibitors who show drop-coated breeds are often specialists. Numbers of dogs being shown in many of these breeds, particularly by owner handlers, are dropping all across the country. In an effort to build interest and rekindle enthusiasm in some of these beautiful and often ancient breeds, we interviewed three top breeders, owners and handlers. These dedicated and talented people were willing to offer suggestions for new owners and youngsters to streamline the work and help turn out a stunning exhibit.

Luke Ericht and Rocket

Our experts:

Luke Ehricht: My original breed was Lhasa Apsos. I got my first one in 1972. I got my first Shih Tzu in 1973. So I have been involved for 43 years in the sport.

Kathy Bilicich-Garcia: I show and co-breed Shih Tzu with my mother under the kennel name, Shar-Ming. Both my grandmother, Roberta Keener, and my mother, Sharon Bilicich, were breeders of champion Shih Tzu since the early 1970s. I was surrounded by short-nosed, long-haired friends my whole life.

Joe Berkau: My original breed was Bouvier des Flandres, although I am now actively involved with Lhasa Apsos. I started in juniors, worked for Sue and Corky Vroom and have spent 21 years in the sport.

Our topics:

Brushing 101

Joe Berkau

“Brush daily,” Joe says. He loves his Pure Paws pin brush and reconstruction spray. “Single coats are much more difficult to maintain as you have to be much more careful about breakage, double coats are more forgiving.” Joe’s number one rule? “Do NOT flick your wrist!”

Kathy and Luke agree, “Brush clean hair.”

“My favorite brush is unfortunately not available any longer,” Luke says. “They quit making them about 5 years ago. I had used them since I started and stuck with them. It is a Hindes pin brush, number 6060. They were made in England. When I heard they were discontinuing them I bought a few cases. I still have about a dozen. I have also learned to like the Madan pin brush, depending on the pin stiffness. They are color coded, some firmer than others.”

“My go-to brushing spray is Crown Royal Magic Touch,” Luke adds. “I have used it for at least 35 years. The amount of brushing is completely decided upon by the dog. Some require daily brushing, others you can let go a little longer. Also the maturity of the coat factors in to this, as well as if it is a double or single coated breed. Shih Tzu, for example, take much more regular brushing than a Yorkshire Terrier. It is definitely dog specific how often you must brush. I think the most important tip is never brush a dry coat or a dirty one. Also using a good conditioner helps reduce static and dryness, which makes brushing much easier.”

Cleanliness is Next to Godliness

“When bathing and conditioning I always use LOTS of water,” Luke says. “I always make sure the coat is completely wet throughout. If there are dry spots through the underneath, the shampoo or conditioner will not distribute evenly and that will cause the coat to not be the same texture through out. It will be dryer in some spots or possibly gummy. Always rinse and rinse and rinse until there is no residue coming out in the water and from all places including inside of legs, belly etc. The hardness or softness of the water will make a difference which products to use. I find that the water quality when you travel can make a huge difference. The product may work well at home, but not when traveling and the water is different. You become aware the more you bathe and travel of these differences.”

Kathy notes that while coat maintenance can seem intimidating, it really isn’t. “It’s super simple,” Kathy says. “Clean dogs grow hair. Bathe every four days. This way the hair and skin stay healthy. Personally, I do not put dogs in oil. Oil can change the texture of the coat.”

Kathy Bilicich-Garcia (photo credit kayla Bertagnolli)

“I don’t have a favorite line of products,” Kathy says. “Different coat textures require different products. A good clarifying shampoo, good moisturizing shampoo and light conditioner that allows the hair to breathe are all you need.”

Joe is an advocate of the Pure Paws products and sticks to a weekly schedule to ensure his dogs are in their best condition.

“On Monday (or the first day home from the show) each dog gets a full maintenance bath and blow out. Then, daily brushing with conditioner spray, to keep them as clean and dry as possible. Bands/wraps are changed daily. Each dog gets a show bath the day before you leave. If it’s necessary to flat iron a dog’s coat, iron immediately after the show bath and blow out. But, don’t overdo, as it will damage the coat,” Joe says. “Day of show grooming requires line brushing every hair with a soft slicker brush. First thing brush out, then they can rest. Be sure to include a potty break before the final prep for ring time.”

“As for eyes stains,” Luke says, “some dogs are more prone than others. Also, the time of year can be a factor with seasonal changes, allergies, food etc. There is no way of just getting rid of them in one quick instant unless you want to permanently damage the hair by bleaching. It also comes down to very regular care of the face and whiskers. Keeping them tied up, dry and clean.”

“I recommend people start from the inside out when addressing staining,” Kathy says, “and not go straight to topicals. We find a lot food allergies in toy breeds that greatly affect their coat condition.”

Get Your Fit On

“Daily exercise is a must,” Joe says. “It is a misconception that dogs with coat are kept in cages 24/7. Our dogs are out in runs and yards. They are road worked and conditioned like any other dog, so they get plenty of exercise and have proper muscle tone. There is no excuse for not putting the dogs on a treadmill at the very least.”

“We ask these dogs to go to shows,” Joe says. “It is our duty to them to make sure they are happy and healthy, which includes letting them be dogs.”

Luke agrees. “Exercise is always important. Muscle tone and weight are as important as coat condition.”

That’s a Wrap

“Wrapping is a very important part for some breeds (like Yorkies and Maltese),” Luke notes. “Especially if you want them to be able to run and be free without damaging their coat. It is important that the coat is dry and there is no moisture inside the wrappers. Also, that the partitions are done so the dog can still freely move and eat etc without the hair being pulled because the wrappers are in the wrong place. Make sure you section the area you are wrapping to the structure of the dog so it can function like it should. Also be aware that some dogs destroy themselves when they are not used to being wrapped so it may not be a good idea for some.”

Wrapping the coat is important

Kathy adds, “Take sections of coat by planes of the body. Don’t cross hair across the dog’s frame so there is no friction. When you’re using wrapping paper, the cleaner the folds and sharper creases, the less matting or breakage in the coat. Don’t over tighten the bands, so the wraps can pull off if necessary, rather than pull the hair. Use light bands and wrapping in a maintenance topknot.”

The Art and Zen of Topknots

Luke says, “As for topknots, I say keep them moderate to show off your dog’s expression. If you create some huge bubble or topknot, it can detract from your dog’s head. It can also hide the eyes, which is their expression. That is never good because it looks like you are hiding something.”

“My best suggestion,” Kathy says, “if you’re new and just learning topknots, moderation and simplification are key. The more complicated the creation becomes, the more room for disaster. Less is more. Securing a topknot so it doesn’t flop around is the base that most people don’t get at first. Build a strong foundation, the rest is just fluff.”

“Another important piece,” Kathy says, “is keeping control of the dog on the table after it’s done up. We start at 12 weeks training the puppies to lie peacefully on the table for grooming. We do lots of baby brushing. We use positive reinforcement with food, toys and affection. It’s a slow process. You can’t manhandle a young toy dog and expect them to catch on or not ruin their spirit.”

The Final Word

“Overall, coated dogs take a great amount of dedication and time, but the result is well worth it,” Luke says. “You can tell the difference of someone who spends the time on a regular basis from someone who just does enough to get by.”

“It’s not as complicated as it seems,” Joe says. “It’s fun. It’s satisfying and gratifying. Once you get the hang of it, you really will find the pleasure and enjoyment.”