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Life with Liz: Adventures in dog grooming

The Wonderful Husband and I have been spending all sorts of quality time together lately, and most of that time has been revolving around the dogs.

I guess we’re rehearsing for the not-so-distant future when the kids fly the coop. Having everyone in the middle and high school now has created more than one evening where everyone is at a practice of some sort and other than pickup and drop-off, the WH and I are almost irrelevant. As long as they need rides and funds, they’re still willing to admit that they need us, though.

At any rate, back to the reluctant object of our redirected attentions, Duncan. One of the appealing things about his breed is that they tend to have the “hypoallergenic” coats and they do not shed a whole lot. One of the drawbacks is that to maintain their “proper look,” they should be hand-stripped, which is a whole lot of work, takes some time to acquire the proper technique, and most importantly, requires a really cooperative subject. The alternative to this type of grooming was using a clipper or just letting him go au naturel and have shaggy locks.

Personally, I was a fan of his fluffy look. I was also a fan of minimal work and not testing the limits of his patience. Based on the number of other fluffy pups on group Facebook pages, there were a lot of Airedale owners who felt the same way. However, after our encounter with all the other Airedale folks, we realized that giving Dunc a trim had some benefits for him beyond just looking sharper. While some heavier coat in some places is beneficial when he’s tearing through the brush, a little bit off his back would definitely improve his comfort level on hot days.

Like most projects he does, the WH read about a dozen “how to groom” guides, and thoroughly researched all the right tools for the job. As for me, I was having flashbacks to sheep shearing and I wasn’t looking forward to this adventure. Granted, Dunc is about a hundred pounds less than most of the sheep I had to shear, but he also possesses a fine set of upper teeth that the ovines were missing. Since the WH is Dunc’s favorite person and he’s been trained to follow every command issued, I made a strong argument that I really didn’t need to be involved with this project.

I was quite pleased a few hours later when Dunc strutted in the house with a very neat and trim back. But that was the extent of the trim. His undercarriage and most of his face were still a furry mess. The WH informed me that my assistance would be required to continue.

We gave Dunc a few days to settle down, which also gave me the chance to mentally prepare for what I was sure was going to be a disaster, one way or the other. I am pretty sure Dunc knew exactly what was going down as he was more suspicious of me than usual. It was interesting to me how, even though the WH was the one instigating this misery, I was the one he was holding accountable. I should be used to that by now.

So, the day dawned. The WH had all the tools set up and a makeshift grooming table set up on the porch. We put E on broom duty and got to work. The plan was that the WH would distract Dunc while I did the clipping. The first few passes went smoothly, but as the clipper zipped closer and closer to his nether regions, he started to get less distracted and more intent on escaping. E quickly got promoted from holding the broom to holding a spoon full of peanut butter in front of his nose. This little trick bought us a quite a bit more time and I was successfully able to navigate almost his entire underneath before he decided he didn’t like peanut butter anymore.

The next challenge was “fading in his legs.” Apparently, I had to switch comb lengths in the middle of this operation so that his chest hairs, which were shorter, gradually blended into his leg hairs, which we wanted to keep longer so that they helped protect his legs from sticker bushes. While the rest of his trim was strictly utilitarian, this part had to be slightly more artistic. There is hardly anything that is more fun that two adults trying to get a juvenile dog to stand perfectly still and straight so that they can tell if his haircut is even. Of course, the enemy of good is perfect, and pretty soon it didn’t matter if it was even, because his chest hairs were just about gone. If I had a nickel for every time we said, “It will grow back, right?” I could easily afford to hire my own personal groomer for the rest of Dunc’s life.

One of the things that did contribute to making the WH and I a pretty good grooming team is the fact that he’s left-handed and I’m right-handed. Once we’d get Dunc in a comfortable and occupied position, each of us would tackle the part we could reach, and between the two of us we managed to reach just about every part of him.

He’s certainly not the prettiest animal on the block right now, but the end result was a definite improvement, if you like neater dogs that aren’t having a bad hair day. Much like the kids’ first haircuts, I felt like he morphed into a much older dog just like that. We did attempt to give him the traditional beard and mustache look that distinguishes his breed, but it was hard to tell if we’d gotten it right due to the peanut butter that had it matted down. A few hours later, after he’d gotten done re-grooming himself, I was able to fluff up his facial hair, and my fluffy Muppet puppy suddenly looked like a wise old man.

Although I thought we’d done an admirable job for our first time out, our two-legged kids were slightly less than impressed. Not one of them was interested in having us replace their regular barber. As for Duncan, every once in a while, I catch him looking at his reflection. I’m pretty sure he’s telling himself, “it’s going to grow out eventually, right?”

Liz Pinkey is a contributing writer to the Times News. Her column appears weekly in our Saturday feature section.