Grooming the Working Livestock Guardian Dog

Catherine de la Cruz

Need grooming
Ideally, the working LGD should be groomed monthly, but Spring usually brings the realization that the rain, snow and mud of winter have interfered with that ideal.   So, pick a relatively warm, dry place (the barn works fine), get your grooming equipment together, put a collar and a leash on your dog, and lets get to work.

Equipment needed:

Some place to tie the dog, preferably elevated. Grooming table, picnic table, sheep-blocking stand, goat-milking stand, a piece of plywood over a few hay bales – anything that gives you a place to tie the dog so you have both hands free.

Slicker brush, sllicker brushnail clippers nail clippers, scissors; spray bottle filled with equal parts of Mane and Tail® conditioner (or similar animal coat conditioner), Absorbine Show Sheen® and warm water.   If you only have one of these, mix with equal parts of water.

Decide whether you want to clip the dog’s underbelly, feet, lower legs and rump.   This is a personal choice and is a balance between leaving hair as defense and removing that which holds foxtails, awns and burrs. If you want to clip, get out your dog or horse clippers (NOT sheep shears), along with some clipper oil and coolant. Do the clipping before the rest of the grooming.

A garbage bag to put the hair you’ll remove.

Mentally divide the dog into four parts: right side, left side, front and rear.   The sides go from the point of shoulder to the hip and from the spine to the underbelly.   The front includes the head, the ruff under the chin, the front chest including the brisket.   The rear includes the feathering on the rear legs and the tail.

Start with one of the sides.   Beginning just above the elbow, brush downward with the slicker brush in short strokes.   Using your other hand, separate the hair so you can see the skin and hold the upper hair out of the way while you brush below your hand.   Gradually move the hand holding the hair upward, one-quarter inch at a time, thoroughly brushing out the undercoat below that hand.   You have to be able to see the skin at the beginning of every stroke.   The shoulder area rarely forms thick mats, so you should be able to get all the way to the skin in this area.   Work from bottom to top, then start over at the bottom a couple inches to the rear.   Leave the legs themselves   for later.

When the shoulder is free of dead hair, move to the rib area and work the same way, beginning at the mid line of the belly and working slowly upward toward the spine. The rear leg is started on the side, just above the hock, and the shorter hairs (not the britch) are groomed the same way up to the hip.   When you are satisfied that most of the dead hair has been removed, give yourself and the dog a short break.   Then move to the other side and do the opposite side the same way.

The front of the dog is next.   There are probably heavy mats under the ears.   To safely cut them, without cutting the dog, work a steel comb between the mat and the skin, then cut on the outside of the comb.   Using the spray bottle, wet the mane area, rub in the conditioner mixture, and let it sit for a couple minutes.   Then, starting at the brisket, between the front legs, brush the way you did the sides – holding the upper hair out of the way with one hand, and brushing downward with the other. Be sure you are getting all the way to the skin.   The conditioner will help the lighter mats slip out of the hair without pulling on the dog unduly.   If you come across large mats, rather than cutting across them – thus losing any advantage a thick coat has in a fight – use the scissors to cut in the direction the hair grows.   Work a steel comb between the mat and the skin, then cut with the point of the scissors toward the comb. Two or three slices through a large mat should allow you to use the slicker and the comb to tease out the dead hair, leaving the longer guard hairs.   Take a break, water the dog and rest a few minutes before the next part.

The rear britching is usually pretty matted at the end of winter. If you have decided not to clip it all off at least clip the area around the anus and the vulva of the female.   These are the areas most prone to fly-strike if the dog gets diarrhea. Clip the matted hair off the back of the hocks as well.   As with the front part of the dog, wet the matted areas with the conditioner mixture and let it sit about five minutes.   Starting at the curve of the back leg just behind the stifle (rear knee) brush the way you did the rest of the dog - holding the upper hair out of the way with one hand, and brushing downward with the other. Be sure you are getting all the way to the skin. When you encounter a mat, either cut through it in the direction the hair grows, and then brush out the matted undercoat, or put the metal comb between the skin and the worst of the mat, and cut the mat away.  

The tail is a special case. A full tail, curved over the back at full attention, is not only beautiful, it acts as a flag to help spot the dog at a distance.   If the tail is shaved, it may take up to two years for the full coat to grow back. Even a matted tail can be saved with careful grooming.

Encourage the dog to sit on the grooming stand and gently lay the tail out behind him.   Wet it well with the conditioner mixture then rub it well into the mats.   With the tail flat on a firm surface (your denim-covered thigh works if nothing else if available) use the pin-brush only at right angles to the tail bone. Start at the very end of the hair at the part of the tail closest to the body.   Gradually work upwards toward the tail bone, using scissors where necessary in the direction the hair grows to cut through tough mats. Always brush away from the tail bone, at right angles to the bone.  

When you think you have removed all the mats, again spray the tail hair lightly and see if you can run the metal comb through the hair, from the bone to the end of the hair, again only at right angles to the bone.   If the tail is mat free, and you are satisfied that the rest of the dog is too, it’s time for the annual bath.

Orvus "Orvus™” is a great shampoo for all livestock, including the dog.   It rinses free even in cold and hard water and doesn’t irritate the skin.   If you have a blow-dryer for show livestock, it will do a great job of drying the dog.   Otherwise, towel dry as well as possible and put the dog up in a clean dry place to finish drip-drying.  

Nail clipping is easiest when the dog is still wet from the bath.   If the nails are white, you can see the quick, and can take off the part of the nail in front of the quick.   If nails are dark, cut only to the start of the curve to avoid hitting the quick. If you   make a mistake, the dog will let you know.   Some alum will stop the bleeding, but if you don’t have it, the bleeding should stop by itself in a short time.   Don’t forget the dew claws.   If the nails   have grown in a full circle and you can’t get the nail clippers in there, use rose clippers to cut at the first curve out from the toe.

Now that you have a clean, dry dog, enjoy the sight for a few minutes before you turn him out again – and resolve to groom him once a month at the time you give his heartworm preventative – at least until next winter.