Crufts 2024: Top Grooming Tips From The Professionals · The Wildest

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Top Grooming Tips From The Crufts Pros

We can only dream of having hair as good as these pups

by Orla Pentelow
11 March 2024
Long haired blonde lhasa apso dog at crufts 2024
BeatMedia / The Kennel Club

In the world of high-stakes dog competitions exists the pinnacle of perfection: Crufts. The esteemed dog show, dubbed the ‘Olympics of the Dog World’, draws competitors from across the globe, with over 22,000 dogs representing 222 breeds and competing in agility, flyball, heelwork to music and best of breed shows (where dogs are judged to their breed specification).

Amid the spectacle, there’s a secret weapon that often goes unnoticed: impeccable grooming. From the sleek lines of the Greyhound to the luscious curls of the Poodle, every breed struts its stuff in hopes of impressing the discerning eyes of judges and spectators alike. But what does it take to stand out in a sea of fur and finesse? According to seasoned competitors and grooming aficionados, the key lies in meticulous preparation and a touch of artistry.

Winning the Best in Show at Crufts is akin to claiming the canine crown. It’s a title that signifies excellence in breed standards, temperament, and, of course, grooming. Behind the scenes, a flurry of activity ensues as handlers and groomers transform their four-legged companions into the most glamorous of canines, whose hair rivals even the most famous human celebrities. 

To unravel the secrets of Crufts grooming, we spent the day with some of the seasoned competitors working tirelessly to ensure their dogs look 10/10, and gathered the top grooming tips straight from the pros to help you transform your pup into a competition contender.

Top Crufts grooming tips from the pros

1. Start with a solid foundation

A healthy diet and regular grooming routine set the stage for show-stopping fur. Gillian Gibson, handler of three striking Shih Tzus named Ezra, Sadie and Rudy, emphasises this, saying, “A healthy coat starts from within. Good nutrition and regular grooming sessions are non-negotiable.”

That doesn’t have to mean fancy supplements or expensive treats (no matter what your dog’s eyes might say otherwise), “I like to feed them raw food,” says Gillian. “But I think if you just have a good quality food, it should have everything in it they actually need for a good coat.”

2. Breed-specific grooming techniques

Each breed has its own unique grooming requirements, and understanding these nuances is key to success at Crufts. Plus, grooming styles will change as the pup grows from puppy to dog and their fur changes. 

Take the Poodle, for example. Natasha Dawson, a Poodle enthusiast whose 10-month old Standard Poodle, Cougar, came first in class, explains the intricacies of Poodle grooming. “We wash her three times a week at the moment as a maintenance because she’s still a puppy,” says Natasha. “When her coat changes to an adult coat, we’ll go down to once a week.” 

“Preparation for a show will take anything from three hours to 5–7 hours,” adds Natasha. “I’ll wash her, comb her out and then fine tune her [with scissors]. Plus, after the show or when we’re not actually showing but going through the routine, we’ll band her coat in a protective style for normal everyday life.”  

On the other end of the spectrum, for Hannah Ince, a seasoned handler of Shiba Inus, whose pup Koji won first place in the minor puppy show, it was as simple as giving Koji a bath, which all-in-all took “maybe an hour including drying”.

3. Bathing rituals

The importance of a good bathing schedule cannot be overstated. “A clean coat is a happy coat,” says Richard Bennett, handler of the charismatic Standard Poodle, Winston. “Regular bathing not only keeps the fur in top condition but also helps prevent knotting, which means a more stress-free grooming experience.”

4. Don’t overdo it

For that picture-perfect finish, you might think blow-drying is a must. But not all pups are as well adjusted as the next, and keeping the dogs relaxed is just as, if not more, important to their handlers.

“A well-groomed dog is a confident dog,” says Samantha Davies, handler of a third prize-winning Shih Tzu, Coco. “But it’s not just about aesthetics; it’s about ensuring that your dog feels comfortable and ready to shine in the ring.”

“I gave Koji a bath last night, and you would usually blow-dry them [for the show], but he’s not reacting well to a dryer, so I towel dried him instead,” says Hannah. “I brushed him before and after the bath, but we didn’t do a blow-dry as I didn’t want him to get stressed.”

The same goes for finishing sprays and any additions. “All the breeds should be showing as natural as possible I think,” says Gillian. “If you’re putting a whole lot of products on to [the dog’s] coat and changing the coat, then it’s not the true dog that’s going in there.”

5. Attention to detail

Details matter, and no one understands this better than Crufts competitors. From perfectly manicured nails to flawless ear grooming, every element contributes to the overall presentation. But it’s also a lesson in keeping your pup in tip-top shape from top to tail. 

“Judges notice the little things,” says Sarah Turner, handler of the dashing King Charles Spaniel, Chester. “A well-groomed dog is a testament to the handler’s dedication, but it’s also a dead giveaway in terms of the overall health of the dog, so you really have to keep an eye on the ears, teeth, eyes etc.” (Sound advice not just for shows, but for any pup parent).

Again, it depends on the dog what method you want to use. Gillian’s (lucky) Shih Tzu’s “have their teeth ultrasonically cleaned every two weeks”, whereas Natasha’s Poodles get dried lamb chews once a day (not sure who’s luckier?) to keep their teeth pearly white. 

Whether you’re a seasoned competitor or a casual dog lover, take a leaf out of the Crufts grooming playbook. As you groom your four-legged friend, remember that each brushstroke is a stroke of love, each scissor cut a testament to your dedication. After all, even if you’re not under the spotlight at Crufts, every dog deserves their moment in the limelight.

Orla Pentelow

Orla Pentelow is a freelance journalist and copywriter based in London. When not at her desk she’s out and about with her rescue dog, Luna, who works primarily as chief distractor.

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