Punker Spaniels

Abbey 'eagerly' awaits the start of the spring grooming session in the workshop.

Abbey ‘eagerly’ awaits the start of the spring grooming session in the workshop.

My dog clipping is, admittedly, a bit uneven. Perhaps ragged. Okay – scruffy. When I plied my trimming skills on six generations of English springers, my younger daughter used to call the look “Punker Spaniel.”

Punker Spaniels

Each May and September, the spaniels are sheared. Their coats, which have become long and shaggy over the previous months, are magnets for every burdock and beggar’s tick on the farm, and the daily brushing and combing gets to be a nuisance for me and an irritation to them.

So I attach a one-inch spacer to the blades of the Wahl pet trimmer, order the dogs to jump onto the table in the workshop, and the fall (or spring) grooming sessions get under way.

To use the word “grooming” to describe my technique in dog hair clipping is probably too complimentary. With the same deft touch that I employ with a scrub brush to scour gummy cow manure or raccoon carrion from their coats, I mow with abandon while the dogs squirm and twist.

The result is a haircut that is utilitarian, but not what you would call elegant. The goal is low maintenance, not high glamour.

My dog clipping is, admittedly, a bit uneven. Perhaps ragged. Okay – scruffy. When I plied my trimming skills on six generations of English springers, my younger daughter used to call the look “Punker Spaniel.”

Hey, these are hunting dogs. Working dogs for the field. Not prissy house dogs mincing through the ring at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. My signature coiffure: picture a border collie on a six-day bender that asked for a haircut at a tattoo parlor. That’s the look I strive for. Or the look I get, anyway.

Once the hour of trimming and clipping misery is over and done, the dogs are happy and I’m happy. So what’s the issue?

My current Sturm und Drang pair of French spaniels, Sasha and Abbey, grudgingly submits to the barbering, but both communicate clearly with body language and facial expression that they are much put-upon, and this whole grooming business is annoying in the extreme. Of the two, Sasha has more reason to mope.

Sasha grows a winter coat that a Ceviot sheep would envy.

Sasha grows a winter coat that a Cheviot sheep would envy.

Although they are the same breed, their coats could not be more dissimilar. Come the first frost of fall, Sasha grows a winter suit that would rival the woolliest Cheviot sheep from the highlands of Scotland. Beneath a top layer of long coarse outer hair lies a thick mat of fur that one would expect on this French-Canadian dog, bred to endure the bitter winters of Quebec. Hunting on a zero degree day, she frequently stretches out full-length, belly-down in a powdery snow drift to cool off, steam rising from her body.

Abbey grows a long stringy outer coat, but her under plumage is a silky layer of hair that would be the envy of an Afghan hound. She rolls in manure with enthusiasm equal to Sasha’s, but she is usually easier to clean and brush afterward. More fine boned and slender than Sasha, Abbey has gone through a couple of the North Country’s coldest winters in her first two years and never shown a sign of discomfort until night temperatures drop below -20 degrees and I insist on a last piddle-walk in the yard before we settle down for the night near the woodstove.

So Sasha’s time on the table is three times as long as Abbey’s, and the pull and tug of the clipper much more forceful. Still, she complains less, probably because she has gone through this agony twenty times and accepts its inevitability.

Abbey, after trimming, looks great except for her tail. The feathering will grow back by bird season.

Abbey, after trimming, looks great except for her tail. The feathering will grow back by bird season.

Abbey, on the other hand, wriggles and snaps her head around, increasing the number of scoops and gouges in her coat as the clipper tilts and plunges. Even with all the wrestling, the only part of her that looks really, really bad after the trim (in my opinion) is her tail, which has its beautiful fan of feathering chopped and shaved into something that resembles the hide of a starving street dog in Bangladesh with a bad case of mange.

But it grows back in a couple months.

The spring clipping has a secondary benefit. Swept up from the workshop floor the hair fills a five gallon plastic bucket, just the right amount to make a ring around the smaller of the two gardens. I cannot promise that this repels rabbits and woodchucks as the organic gardening books promise, but it seems to work – in combination with the plastic owl on the fence post, the whirligigs on sticks, the aluminum strips dangling and dancing on strings, and the companion plantings of forbs that are supposed to deter the vegetable eating vermin.

Sasha, displaying the signature 'Punker Spaniel' coiffure.

Sasha, displaying the signature ‘Punker Spaniel’ coiffure.

It should. The way Sasha’s wet fur smells after a long winter would drive me away from a grilled T-bone steak, let alone a couple dozen bitter starts of lettuce, carrots and broccoli.

But my hunting shirts probably end the season with the same range of exotic odors. Except for the distinctive aroma of cow manure.

I don’t roll in that.

At least not very often.

 

 

Advertisements

About Jerry Johnson

Curmudgeon. Bird hunter and dog trainer; indifferent wing shot. Retired journalist and college public relations director. Novelist and short story writer. Freeholder: 50-acre farm with 130-year-old log house. Husband, father, grandfather. Retired teacher, coach, mentor. Vicious editor. Blogger.
This entry was posted in Bird Dogs, Hunting Humor and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Punker Spaniels

  1. Wonderful story about wonderful dogs. Izzy my English Springer features on my Blog, I should write more about her…….

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s