Other than the annual shave-down, the SWD's coat is traditionally left natural throughout the year. The coat often will start to cord or form into narrow dredlocks.
While there are a handful of single-coated breed owners that show their dogs in cords, most of the corded dogs we know of are double-coated breeds: Pulik and Komondorok. The cords on these breeds are dense and contain both top and undercoat hairs. Coat in these breeds is considered sacred and not cut, so we often see the cords all the way to the ground.
In contrast, the SWD's single coat, if not matted, will form into a lighter, narrower cord. It should be noted that hair of different colors (black, brown, beige, white) do have slightly different textures and will cord differently. The lighter-colored coats and spots often mat more easily than the darker ones, although there are exceptions to every rule.
When cording for show, you must work with the coat Mother Nature gave your individual dog. Realistically, every SWD will cord slightly differently, and your own living conditions are probably not the same as in the Spanish countryside. It is entirely normal for your dog to cord easily on the less agitated areas of his body (head and trunk) and start to mat on the legs, rear, and belly. These mats prevent air flow and create opportunity for hot spots and mildew, especially if you live in a moist area and the dog isn't dried thoroughly. Your job is to keep the integrity of a natural-looking coat but to maintain it so that it and the underlying dog are healthy.
The first thing you must do is provide the dog with a top-grade diet. The condition of a coat starts on the inside. Poor nutrition can cause a poor coat and skin conditions such as dandruff or scaly skin. To grow a health corded coat, the underlying skin must be healthy, too.
Start with an evenly-clipped dog, and wait for the hair to grow out. It is important that you keep the coat in good condition and as mat-free as possible. Some people use very light and diluted conditioners after the bath at this stage, others do not. (Once the cording begins, conditioners are "out" as they retain moisture inside the cords.) The important thing is, DO NOT RUB THE DOG DURING THE BATH OR DRYING! Allow the dog to dry naturally if possible for maximum tightness of the curl; blow driers make the curls fatter and open.
If a mat is found at this stage, break it apart with your fingers. Find a weak spot in the mat, and tear from the skin outwards. The important thing is to allow airflow between the forming cords to the skin. A proper cord will have an "air pocket" (looser, less curly hair) next to the skin of about 1/4 inch so that the cord does not pull on the skin, and to allow air flow for cooling.
The Felting Period: Some dogs, especially those with lighter-colored coats, will go through a felting stage before you can start cording them. Resist brushing the dog out as this will cause a spongy coat and take even longer to cord. If you feel the need to "do something", then find weak spots in the felting with your fingers and try to tear from the skin out. Fat cords are more likely to retain moisture and grow mildew if not thoroughly dried, but don't get too carried away in the beginning. Mature SWD cord widths vary, but shoot for the base being about 1/2" square.
The Crisp Stage: As the coat continues to grow in length and the cords naturally begin to form, you'll find that running your fingers through your dog's coat has become an addiction. Suddenly, the hair seems "crisp" when you tear it, and tearing it down to the skin seems pretty gosh, darned easy. This is the perfect time to really work on the cords, and you'll realize that all the work you put into cording over the past ten months was just to keep yourself busy (sorry!).
Odor: If your dog's coat begins to smell of mildew (like an old tent!), you must address the problem. Regular shampoos will clean the coat but will not kill mildew. Generally, the culprit areas are those that take the longest to dry and have really fat cords: the neck (especially under the ears), and the cords that drag in the water bowl. The fastest way to get rid of this odor is to cut off the culprit cords, but it certainly spoils the look of the entire coat to do this. Instead, try cutting the cords into much narrower cords to aid in drying. Kill the mildew with the following:
- Bathe your dog with a very diluted, gentle canine shampoo. Squeeze the shampoo through the corded coat. Rinse, rinse, rinse, and rinse again.
- Next, eliminate bacteria with one of the following rinses and allow to sit five minutes. Rinse thoroughly with water.
- A. 10% Betadine: 90% water
- B. 10% white vinegar: 90% water
- C. 10% Nature's Miracle or similar: 90% water.
- Dry thoroughly!
Approximate drying times: