Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Ayelet Waldman of poodle owners

Before I gave any particular thought to poodles, I assumed that they could either be topiaried - which they probably wouldn't appreciate - or left like normal dogs. Leonard Lopate said something along those lines in a recent show about Westminster, and I suspect this is what the uninitiated typically imagine. Once knowing I would be getting a poodle, I imagined I'd want it to be fluffy, messy, and scraggly-looking, like the various bichons, poodles, and mutts of Paris. Not filthy or neglected, but not overly-shorn. Little, so little, did I know.

Poodle fur (technically "hair") - or at least this poodle's fur - is a mix of incredibly kinky and incredibly fine, combining in a way that one rarely sees on humans, and that is at any rate quite unlike my own thick, frizz-prone hair. We'd been going about our business, brushing Bisou a few times a week, not the once a day the breeder had recommended, but not thinking much of it, and being not so diligent about the post-brushing combing sessions. The breeder had also recommended weekly baths for a poodle, which seemed to be far more than any other source advised, and I figured the brushing advice, like the washing advice, was for poodles with more glamorous existences than romps through the woods. And the vet had advised daily canine tooth-brushing. And the trainer had advised, in addition to her daily walks, "running" her for a long time with a frisbee, something that would go much more smoothly if she'd learn "fetch." It had begun to seem that if we followed all the necessary upkeep for both Bisou and ourselves, that would well fill 24 hours, seven days a week.

But her fur just kept expanding. We kept thinking that some week when we took her to obedience class, we'd also get her groomed again, but week after week, other activities (including poodle-maintenance-related) got in the way.

All was well until I started to notice mats. The way poodle fur works, these form almost at the skin, and you don't see it happening, and you can even near-fully brush out the poodle, have this amazingly fluffy beast, and underneath, bad news. The mats don't feel all that different from skin, so you can think you're doing everything right, and yet.

All of a sudden, I felt myself going from a reliable dog co-owner - two or three long walks plus more going out each day, obedience class, toys, treats, cuddling, playing, reusable produce bags as well as a purchased supply just in case, everything medically sorted, and a not insubstantial if ultimately inadequate amount of brushing - to an utter failure at dog-rearing.

In a desperate attempt to get the brush through Bisou's hair, I cut out some mats, brushed more thoroughly, yet kept finding more places I couldn't get the brush through. So off to the groomer, and off - unsurprisingly - with a good amount of Bisou's fluff. The matts weren't that impressive, as the poodle beneath was just fine, but still, to be avoided.

Very much in a never-again frame of mind, I have already twice brushed out the results of yesterday's shearing extravaganza. She will not tangle! But there wasn't much to detangle, just the puffs of her head and tail, and a lot of "brushing" where the fur is very short, so she's used to the comb-against-skin sensation. The comb, it seems, is essential. As is the regular grooming. I may not have been to a hair salon since August, but I'm not a poodle, so no harm done.

Bisou now looks remarkably like the first Google Image hit for "lamb," which is going to put a damper on the one dish that stands between me and lacto-ovo vegetarianism.


kei said...

Hehe! I was going to say, maybe a little like Bedlington Terrier based on the pictures in the post above. I started to 'brush' Mitsu's teeth because the vet recommended it. I think what helped me was that I realized I could train her to 'shake' and give me 'other paw,' so I figured I could turn the teeth cleaning into another training activity. I think these kinds of daily activities, including brushing and combing, are good for dogs, because it takes energy to be engaged like that (this is what I tell myself, at least). So the more, the merrier, I think!

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

Yes, very Bedlington, now that you mention it! Does Mitsu, who presumably sheds, need daily fur-brushing as well?

I mostly agree re: "daily activities," but I think a certain threshold is reached when it starts to fill the entire day. Part of it, I suppose, is that this year I'm working from home, basically, so I can always think of something a vet/trainer/book claimed was essential for a dog's well-being, and there go the next three hours. From all the advice I remember taking in at the beginning, it was tough to sort out what was essential (ample exercise, for example - there's no not being diligent there), what was anthropomorphizing, etc. Daily brushing and combing, with a poodle, does seem to be essential, but as long as her coat is kept reasonably short (no Westminster topiary!), this isn't so tough to maintain.

kei said...

It sounds like maybe Bisou needs more exercise than Mitsu. Mitsu suddenly got lazy and enjoys lounging about on the sofa, going in and out of sleep for hours. Besides the walks, the daily activities I was referring to are each pretty short (sorry, I didn't specify, I can see why you thought I was maybe implying "spend your entire day with Bisou!!!"). So brushing her teeth takes about 5 minutes, (to get her acclimated, I'd stick my finger against her molars in her mouth and then reward her). While she's engaged (i.e. interested in more treats) I also pretend to clip her nails so that she doesn't freak out when we do get her nails done (this was around the time I taught her 'shake' and 'other paw'). That also takes about 5 minutes. She seems so eager that I hope she's burning off energy in her hope for more treats. Not sure if that's very scientific but I have faith!

As for brushing, that's the one thing I haven't been able to do. I was thinking it was the brush, that the one we use might be kind of scary/slightly painful. The "zoom groom" by Kong is good only when she's shedding. In terms of fur grooming, she's been low-maintenance--she'll shed, and we brush out what we can, and then the rest of the time, there seems to be nothing to do. She also clean herself (like a cat) so she doesn't need to be washed frequently (once a year so far). I'd like to brush her more often though, so I might switch up my brush and incorporate more treats instead of chasing her with the lousy brush and giving up :D