Grooming Your Dog for the Field

by Tom Goldsmith | January 4, 2012


If you were among the legions of hunters who fell in love with long-haired breeds like golden retrievers, springer spaniels, or any of the setters, you’ve already learned there’s no such thing as a quick, easy hunt in the Ontario uplands or marshes. Even 20 minutes off leash can mean hours of burr removal, which can take twice as much time as the hunt itself. All too frequently, these tedious tasks result in simply cutting out the clumps of burrs, leaving that glorious flowing coat looking like the result of an unpleasant encounter with a riding mower.

If you attempt removing burrs with a comb, a few things can make the job easier. I learned a trick years ago from a friend who owned horses. She used a product called Show Sheen on their manes and tails, to keep them from getting clogged with burrs and such. This product can be bought at any tack shop and serves as a conditioner of sorts. It allows most burrs to more easily slide out with a comb. I simply soak a cloth in the product and then apply to the legs, chest, tail, and ears of my setter and Brit. It doesn’t prevent burrs from sticking, but it sure makes removing them easier.

When removing burrs from a dog’s coat, avoid soft brushes. Use a good hard-wire comb. Pick at specific problem areas by pulling at the heart of the mat with the last few teeth on the comb. Then, once the mat is broken up somewhat, comb out the area and remove any debris.

Some areas on the dog will be quite sensitive, so be careful to hold the hair close to the skin with one hand, while you work with the other. Don’t just pull. This creates an unpleasant situation for the dog and the groomer.

The Kindest Cut of All
Many hunters who are willing to sacrifice a little of the visual appeal of their dogs, for convenience and practicality, simply cut off the feathering. You can either have this done by a professional groomer or you can easily do it yourself with a pair of electric trimmers. Setter owners typically leave the tail fully feathered, preferring to use it as a flag of sorts when the dog is on point. Aesthetics aside, a close trim before the season starts will reduce the pain and hassles associated with burrs and tangles encountered in the field.

Regardless of whether you want to commit to a complete clipping of the dog’s coat or not, trim the hair between the toes. At least half of the burrs that hinder a dog’s ability to hunt effectively are found on its feet. By keeping this hair trimmed, occurrences of burrs between the toes are lessened and removing them is easier.

Much of the grooming of your dog should take place before the hunt ever begins, but it doesn’t end there. After the hunt is over, conduct a tailgate check of your dog’s overall condition. Run your fingers behind its ears and look in each ear canal to make sure they’re free of debris.

Check its eyes to make sure no seeds have found their way under the lids and are causing irritation. If you find debris, try washing out the eye with a gentle saline solution. If this doesn’t clear the problem, a visit to the vet is a wise move.

Don’t forget the dog’s paws. Run your fingers through and around its feet and toes. Remove any thorns, burrs, or seeds that will cause discomfort.
Again, be aware of the dog’s reaction to your touch. Sometimes, the debris won’t be so obvious to you, but your dog might wince when you touch a sensitive spot. Again, remove the irritant or seek professional help.

Grooming one’s dog isn’t the sole domain of primped and polished show dogs and bench champions. A little time and consideration of your dog’s comfort and condition before and after the hunt will show measurable results in its ability to find game and hunt effectively.

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