Grooming the Spanish Water Dog
One of the things that attracts people to the Spanish Water Dog is it's coat. The Spanish Water Dog should never be aesthetically groomed. In order to maintain the rustic appearance that attracts us to this breed, the coat should be clipped at least once a year evenly all over. A #5F or #5 skiptooth blade will leaves about a quarter of an inch of coat. This is a utilitarian clip: one length all over including body, head, legs, and tail. No part of the coat is left longer for aesthetic reasons.
Most groomers cut their teeth on poodles want to deliver a brushed out product complete with floofy head and legs. They just don't know any better. Additionally, new SWD owners, much to a groomer's horror, will present their unbrushed dog and request the coat be left one inch long. Neither of these scenarios is correct. The Spanish knew best for this breed: take the whole coat off to one, short length all over.
How often you clip your SWD is a personal preference. If you are going to show your dog, usually once a year is the norm, as the coat should be at least an inch in length. If you are not going to show your dog, 2-3 times per a year is typical. If you are using your dog for work, many people like to keep the coat short.
A Spanish Water Dog's coat should never be brushed, combed or blown out. The dog should be bathed using a mild shampoo without heavy conditioners. The shampoo should be squeezed through the coat as if you were washing a sweater. The coat should not be rubbed vigorously as this is the recipe for matting. Thoroughly rinse until the water runs clear. Squeeze excess water out with your hands. The coat should not be rubbed with a towel, but rather blotted and then allowed to air- or crate dry.
After a several months, the coat will start to cord in the open areas and "felt" or mat in the areas that get the most rubbing, generally the ears, neck, legs and rear. Attend to those areas where the coat is matting. Work the mats apart with your fingers from either the ends down to the skin or from the skin, up. Find a natural separation and use your fingers. Many times the areas where the dog lays become matted, for instance on the back legs and must be maintained. Another area of concern is behind the ears. Wearing a collar all the time can make mats worse around the neck area.
A note to those of you who use groomers. Clipper blades are a groomer's lifeblood. Dirty coats dull or break blades, so try to deliver a clean, dry dog to the groomer. The groomer can then clip the dog before the hair cut, cutting the drying time down to next to nothing. Here is a great article to give to your groomer before you show up.
If you follow these directions, you should be able to easily maintain the Spanish Water Dog's coat as it should be.
Cording the SWD
The Spanish Water Dog is a rustic herding dog, and its coat and care reflect this. The Spanish sun, dust, wind and salt water all aid the formation of beautiful, pencil-thin cords with fish-hook curls at the tips.
The coat is allowed to grow naturally after a complete and even annual shave. To develop proper cords, the coat will need to be at least 6 months old.
Corded coats are not shaped or trimmed in any way, but they do need maintenance. Keep an eye out for extremely tight mats that cause discomfort or hot spots. These mats can be teased-out or torn with your fingers. Find the weakest spot and tearing the mat either towards or away from the skin. Regular baths and complete drying, either in the sun or in a crate drier, should also be a part of your dog's care. Incompletely corded and dried areas can prove ideal areas for mildew to bloom, so be wary of any wet-tent odor.
Single-coats vs. Double coats
The hair follicles on dog's skin grow one single guard hair and a multitude of undercoat hairs. In some breeds, the amount undercoat hairs is significantly reduced. These types of coats are called "single coats". The SWD and its cousins the Portuguese Water Dog and Poodle share this type of coat. The other common trait that the water dog breeds share is the appearance of white hairs (sometimes called "threads") placed sporadically and without pattern throughout the adult coat. Sometimes people mistake this for graying or aging, but it is a natural appearance in black or brown coats.
Similar to a sheep, the your SWD's hairs are curly and of wooly texture. The hairs themselves if viewed under a microscope have scales down the entire hair. When several hairs rub together, the scales interlock, creating a mat. With agitation, the mat can turn into a wad of felt.
You can significantly minimize matting in your dog's coat by changing the way you pet and wash your dog.
We all know the SWD's coat is great fun to rub in circles with the entire hand. However, it is this rubbing action that makes mats the fastest. Splay your fingers like a giant comb when you pet your dog and allow the coat to run through them. Resist rubbing in circles.
When washing and drying your dog, remember not to agitate or rub the hair. Put your shampoo in a plastic pitcher and run water hard into it, creating bubbles. It is the surface of the bubble that carries the dirt and oil away. If your dog has very dirty legs, dip the feet and legs into the pitcher and swirl it around, suspending the dirt in a bath. Pour the remaining shampoo over your wet dog. Squeeze the shampoo through the hair--do not rub! Rinse thoroughly. Towel dry by blotting the moisture out of the coat--again, do not rub! Drying the dog in the sun or in a crate with a box fan or two will promote tighter curls.