The Grooming at the Westminster Dog Show Isn't Just About Looking Good

groomer tends to white standard poodle at dog show
groomer tends to white standard poodle at dog show

Anadolu Agency / Getty Images

The grooming tent at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show is a cacophony of noise. Sure, a few dogs bark, but the more constant din comes from hair dryers or vacuums.

Those are hardly the only tools at work. The groomers and handlers comb, brush, spray, clip, strip, and wash the long-haired dogs. Some short-haired dogs, meanwhile, usually don't have to spend as much time on the grooming table.

Either way, your dogs have to look their best going into Westminster. Or else it could cost you.

"When you get to a show like this, you can be beat because of one little minute detail that—had you worked a little bit harder the weeks prior or even the day of—could've made a difference," dog handler Kate Berry tells Daily Paws.

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Early Tuesday afternoon she brushed and trimmed the hair of Romeo, the giant schnauzer she handles in the show ring. She says she needs two hours of grooming time on show day to get Romeo to meet his breed's standard as closely as possible. (That's on top of the 30 minutes of daily grooming his breed demands.)

Remember, dog shows aren't beauty pageants. To advance, dogs have to meet their breed's written standard as closely as possible. Within each breed standard is a description of the dog's ideal coat. You want to look good, but you have to look right.

It's why Berry, who clipped and brushed Romeo over the course of her Daily Paws interview, makes sure she cares for both Romeo's rough topcoat and soft undercoat. The difference is stipulated in the breed standard.

Dog shows, especially a big one like Westminster, can be won or lost in the margins. You don't want to give judges an excuse to dock your dog over something you can control.

"It's all part of the judging process, so everything that we can do to help ourselves in the judging process is what we're here to do," Berry says.

black giant schnauzer gets groomed before dog show
black giant schnauzer gets groomed before dog show

Daily Paws / Austin Cannon Romeo the giant schnauzer

Sometimes that means starting the day before the dog enters the breed ring. On Monday, Abby Anderson was giving 6-year-old English setter Blueberry a "bucket bath," wetting his feathery fur in sudsy water before he competed Tuesday.

Anderson, Blueberry's "doggy assistant," said his team will clip the fur around his throat and ears before he shows. They'll employ hair conditioners and then blow-dry his hair before applying chalk to his legs, making the hair stand up to reveal the dog's bone structure

"It just kind of accentuates the bone they do have," Anderson says, referring to part of what the judge will be looking at.

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For the standard poodle, the breed standard—you know, the standard's standard—mandates the fluffy haircut some view as silly or too fancy. It's called the continental cut, and it features spherical puffs of hair on their ankles, hips, and tail. The legs, face, and hindparts are shaved while the chest and hair feature large poofs of fur.

Poodles are historically water retrieval dogs, so the haircut actually has a purpose.

"All the poofing is protecting their joints when they're swimming," says Young Choi, the handler for Daniel, a standard poodle who competed Monday at Westminster.

Daniel also wore hair ties to keep his top knot poofy while several other handlers employed hairspray to keep their dog's fur where they needed it. Some handlers will bring spray bottles of water into the ring to keep their dogs' coats looking and feeling correct.

The handlers of short-haired dogs, meanwhile, usually don't have to go to that much trouble. (Swear I just heard "Must be nice!" coming from the grooming tent as I type.)

Tracey Hite says her whippet Hazel is a "true wash-and-wear dog." Before a show, she'll shave Hazel's whiskers, grind her nails, and give her a bath. All German shepherd Heathcliff needs is a rinse and blow-dry before he enters the ring because his team keeps his coat in good shape year-round.

That's a perfect reminder: Regardless of whether your pup is on the road to Best in Show, make sure to talk to your vet about the best ways to keep your dog's coat healthy.

Daily Paws editor Abbie Harrison contributed information to this story.