GROOMING THE AFGHAN HOUND
(Author - Jim Hickie Gengala Afghan Hounds, Australia 2001)
Over many years I have observed (and occasionally judged) Afghans throughout the world. The subject of grooming and presentation of this breed is one which generates much debate.
Depending on where you are in the world it is possible to see extremes in presentation ranging from specimens with coat almost to the ground with no visible saddle and with faces covered in fuzz to at the other extreme dogs clippered into shape (with clipper marks visible), sometimes virtually completely bald from the occiput to the withers and down the sides of the neck accompanied by a tail totally devoid of fringing. Depending on your geographic situation it is even possible to see judges awarding each of these extremes.
In my opinion each of these variations is in complete defiance of the requirements of the breed standards.
When the proponents of these styles argue that their presentation is the "correct" interpretation one must seriously question how well these people interpret the written word.
Some years ago I wrote a somewhat "tongue in cheek" article about Afghan grooming that was published in a number of breed magazines. Might I suggest that if you have not read this it might be an idea to do so prior to perusing the rest of this article. It is still available on Steve Tillotson's excellent web site "Afghan Hound Database and Breed Information Exchange" at
Whether you are new to Afghans or have been around forever you will be aware that most controversy about the breed centers around those words "the coat must be allowed to develop naturally".
So long as these words remain in the standards without further explanation of what is acceptable the controversy will continue.
The presentation of Afghan Hounds is generally governed by the following four headings.
(1) The conventions that are generally followed - bathing, combing, brushing etc
(2) Constraints imposed by the K.C. (or governing body) - clipping, substances in coat etc.
(3) Requirements of the breed standard - long silky topknot, saddle, sparsely feathered tail etc.
(4) Enhancement for aesthetic appeal - ensuring edges of saddle and neck patches are straight and that coat blends in around those edges etc.
Looking at these in order :
(1) It is generally accepted in the world of show dogs that exhibits are prepared for the show ring and presented in a clean unmatted condition. To achieve this shampoos and conditioners are used on most breeds and so long as substances are not left in the coat their use would appear to be acceptable to governing bodies. It is even possible to alter the drape and texture of a coat using specialized shampoos and particularly conditioners. Since these are usually rinsed completely out they may not be readily detected by normal coat testing procedures.
(2) I am sure that most people would agree that clipping or trimming is unacceptable. If you are foolish enough to use products that leave a residue in the coat to achieve the desired effect then it is quite likely that you will be penalized if your exhibit's coat is selected for testing. It should be noted that silicone based products used as rinses or pre-show sprays do leave a residue in the coat and are readily detected.
The right products to use on a dog's coat are usually a matter of experience and experimentation for products that achieve the right effect on one coat may not be nearly so effective on another. Indeed some of the better hair care products from your local supermarket are frequently excellent for keeping the coat smooth and silky.
Some exhibitors keep dog's coats in oil or in a mix of water dispersible oil and conditioner between shows and this in many cases certainly helps keep the coat from matting and prolongs the time between maintenance baths. It is not ideal if your dog has access to your furniture.
(3) & (4) Now we have reached the most controversial aspects of Afghan grooming for the show ring.
To some people "the coat must develop naturally" implies that the coat must not be enhanced in any way with the possible exception of bathing. These people are rarely found in the placings at the majority of major shows.
It should be remembered that the breed standards make other requirements that are more important than "letting the coat develop naturally". Yes, a saddle, sparsely feathered tail and a long silky topknot are characteristics in adults that distinguish the breed from others. These are hallmarks of the breed i.e. characters that are unique to the breed and if an Afghan did not have these along with the other hallmarks then it is not truly an Afghan
If you agree with the philosophy expressed above then you will present your Afghan with a clearly visible saddle of short hair along the back and the top and sides of the tail will look like an extension of the saddle.
To achieve this you will pluck or comb out the excess fluff growing through the saddle so that only the short saddle hair is visible and you will try to get the top and sides of the tail to have the same appearance. Similarly the "monkey whiskers" that appear on the faces of puppies can be removed the same way as the dog matures.
Note that the U.S.A. standard is quite specific, requiring that" the coat is not clipped or trimmed". ( A requirement that is frequently ignored by both exhibitors and judges in that country.) However it does imply that the other methods of hair removal described herewith might not be unacceptable.
The best methods of removing the excess are to use a very fine and robust flea comb and/or use rubber finger stalls (the ones used for counting money) or rubber gloves. All of these help get a firm grip of the hair you want to remove and it does help if the coat has not been recently bathed. Some people even chalk the coat to make it easier to grip.
Do not try to remove too much at once - your dog will object ! Remove a little at a time and keep grooming sessions reasonably short.
If your dog has neck patches, cleaning out the fuzz from these can often enhance the overall appearance and make him look more elegant.
It is assumed that when you do these things that you will ensure that the edges of the saddle are straight, that the croup is well defined and that the lower edges of the neck patches follow the line of the shoulder.
Where the saddle meets the normal coat it is a good idea to make the coat blend into the saddle rather than come to an abrupt halt at the saddle line.
Too much coat on the throat area can give the impression that a dog is U -necked. Again the excess can be removed by combing and plucking to give a smoother and more natural effect.
Quite some years back it was not unusual to see exhibits with extreme length of body coat - so much so that some exhibits actually trod on the coat going around corners. These were supposed to look glamorous at the time but fortunately one rarely sees such exhibits these days. However what do you do if your dog has descended from these and has too much coat underneath ?
The answer is of course to pluck out the excess remembering that an Afghan is a sighthound. Sighthounds in general have underlines that are deep at the chest curving steeply to the loin and then dropping in a smooth curve to the front of the pastern.
The Afghan will have a more "houndy" appearance if his coat underline follows the contour of his body underline. If you leave it too long under the chest you will make him look short in leg - if the coat is too short the dog looks unbalanced. Generally speaking if the length of hair below the chest extends to about half way down the front leg or a little less it will give the most pleasing effect depending on the conformation of the dog.
In individual cases there may be other places where a little judicious removal of hair may result in an aesthetically more pleasing effect. That is up to you but do remember not to experiment in the weeks leading up to a show. If you make a mistake or an error of judgment it will generally not grow back quickly.
Perhaps the best advice I can give on show ring preparation is to firstly have a clear picture in your mind of what you consider an Afghan should look like and then pluck or comb out coat to make your hound conform to that picture. Most people have retired dogs at home and these are ideal to experiment with and practice on.
The one thing that is worth remembering is that the it is impossible to achieve the result in a few sessions. Starting from scratch an adult dog will take weeks to get him looking in top form. A few minutes to half an hour at a time is plenty. Pluck a little at a time and then comb and step back and appraise the result - it is very easy to take out too much and may take weeks or longer to grow back.
Good grooming can enhance the general appearance of any dog but it will not make a poor specimen into a good one in fact you may well make his problems more obvious.
I am of the opinion that most Afghans look most appealing when presented as a series of smooth curves (with the exception of the croup of course) rather than as a series of abrupt changes of line. I am sure that the same appeal applies to those who judge the breed. Remember that on average a judge gets only around two minutes to assess your exhibit and if the dog makes a good first impression then he is well on the way to being seriously considered for placement.
It is worthwhile pointing out that some Afghan coats will curl or wave if you use cutting implements on them. While these can generally be straightened with a blow dryer the waves return if the coat gets wet or even if the humidity is high.
Finally, look at the dogs that are well prepared and try to imagine how the exhibitor has achieved the effect. Does it look like it complies with the requirements of the breed standard ? Does it look "natural" ?
Look at as many photographs as you can - and don't confine yourself to the breed magazines published in your own country. Look at photographs of winners worldwide on the Internet. Print out the ones that appeal to you and draw lines on them to analyze how the exhibitor has achieved the desired result and then practice removing hair from your retired show dogs
Remove a little at a time and constantly review the results .
Don't expect an immediate result - it takes weeks - even months to get it right, but once you achieve the result you are looking for maintenance is little more than half an hour or so per week.
Good Luck with your grooming.
Jim Hickie (Gengala Afghans - Australia) Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The author encourages discussion on the above topics but is not prepared to be involved in such discussions.
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