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Grooming a Griffon

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The Griffon is first and foremost a serious hunting dog.  It is inappropriate to present a Griffon in the breed ring that has been sculpted, stripped, trimmed, back brushed, moussed and sprayed into looking like the proverbial “All-American Show Dog.”  That is not to say that a Griffon should not be groomed, nor that exhibitors should present a dog whose coat, body, or feet are not absolutely clean, nor in poor condition.  A great Wirehaired Pointing Griffon in excellent physical and mental condition, who is in full coat and is presented well, is a thing of beauty.  No artificial enhancement is necessary.

Coat Condition
The coat of a Griffon is an extremely important aspect of this breed and contributes greatly to both functionality and type.  A correct wire coat is designed for harsh climates and field conditions, and will not accumulate burrs or other material.  To quote the AKC Standard:
“The coat is one of the distinguishing features of the breed.  It is a double coat.  The outer coat is medium length, straight and wiry, never curly or woolly.  The harsh texture provides protection in rough cover.  The obligatory undercoat consists of a fine, thick down, which provides insulation as well as water resistance.  The undercoat is more or less abundant, depending upon the season, climate, and hormone cycle of the dog.”
A great coat – whether for pets, hunting dogs, or show - is in large part, the result of simple genetics.  However, improper nutrition, internal/external parasites, unhealthy environment, poor health, over supplementation, lack of coat care, and/or poor general physical condition of the dog can contribute to the destruction of a perfectly wonderful coat.  Unfortunately, it is sometimes possible, although unethical and absolutely against AKC regulations to alter a genetically poor coat (soft, fine, curly, off color, too long, etc.) by using artificial means – however an experienced judge will be able to determine the difference between a naturally correct coat, and an improper one which is being misrepresented.  The difference in grooming techniques between dogs being groomed for the breed ring, versus those who are strictly hunters or pets, is minimal.  For instance, pet owners may choose to use clippers for the top of the head, instead of hand stripping.  Be advised, though, that using clippers on a wire coat will make the hair that grows back in feel much fuzzier.  NEVER shave a Griffon's body coat using clippers.

Brushing Out the Coat
All Griffons benefit from being thoroughly brushed or combed on a regular basis.  As Griffons do not spontaneously shed massive amounts of coat (compared to most other breeds) regular brushing is an excellent way to remove dead hair and loose dirt. This is also an opportunity to locate parasites such as ticks, and invasive weeds such as foxtail, before serious damage is done. Although dogs that are being shown are thoroughly groomed on a weekly basis, pets normally need brushing only once or twice per month.  To avoid breaking coat unnecessarily, never brush a completely dry coat.  A simple misting with a spray bottle of water or a diluted moisturizing conditioner or anti-static spray before brushing will eliminate static electricity, which can break coat.
It is important to get down to the skin when brushing or combing.  Brushing helps to spread the natural protective oils from the skin throughout the shaft of the hair follicle.   Take extra care in grooming the facial furnishings, as the re-growth rate is very slow.  To maintain full beard and eyebrow furnishings, some people keep these furnishings in a conditioner when not showing.  If you don’t allow these furnishings to become matted, you will find the classic Griffon look much easier to achieve.
ALWAYS THOROUGHLY BRUSH YOUR DOG BEFORE BATHING.  Knots or mats which have been soaked in the bathing process are nearly impossible to remove without seriously damaging the coat.  This is particularly important when bathing facial furnishings.
A good quality stainless steel comb and/or pin brush is all you need to brush out a Griffon. A slicker brush does not get down to the skin surface.  You may find that a pin brush that does not have balls on the end of the pins, which can catch and break hair, nor one with thick bristles in between the pins, which keep you from being able to get all the way through a dense coat, works best on a Griffon coat.
Stripping

Since Griffons shed only minimally, it is a good idea to remove the dead hair from the follicle in order to stimulate new growth.  This is actually “Rolling a coat" rather than stripping, but common terminology uses the word "stripping." This removal happens naturally in the field, as the coat catches on vegetation, fencing, etc., and is pulled out.  In order to maintain a fresh, new coat, you can manually do this using just your fingers and/or a stripping knife.  By simply grasping a few strands of the extra long, dull, orange-ish dead coat between your thumb and forefingers, gently tug in the direction that the hair grows.  Any dead coat will easily be removed.  This does not cause the dog any pain - in fact most find this part of grooming their favorite, and quickly fall asleep.

This rolling of a dead coat kind of stripping is <strong>NOT to be confused with sculpted, pattern stripping</strong> techniques such as are used with German Wirehaired Pointers, Schnauzers, etc.  A Griffon should never have a sculpted, scissored or clipped appearance.

Ears

Breeds with drop ears who are frequently in and out of the water, and those who live in moist climates can develop yeast infections if their ears are not kept clean and dry.  Symptoms of a yeast infection can include a foul smell coming from the ears or mouth, the presence of a brown, sticky discharge, and/or redness and mottling of the skin on the inside of the ears.  Left untreated, this can cause itching, discomfort, and eventually damage to the ear itself.

To prevent this from occurring, you may wish to gently insert a wad of dry cotton ball gently into the outer ear canal of a dog while you are bathing.  (Don't forget to remove it when done.) An occasional ear wash with either a medicated ear cleaning product or a similar homemade solution of 2 parts white cider vinegar mixed with 1 part mild isopropyl alcohol can also keep the problem from occurring in dogs that are prone to yeast infections.  Many people include a light dusting of medicated ear powder or powdered athlete's foot powder, to keep the ears dry, as part of their regular grooming agenda.   If you do experience this problem, visit your veterinarian, who can diagnose the problem and prescribe an anti-fungal ear medication, such as Panalog® ointment or similar.  As part of each grooming session, the external parts of the ears should be thoroughly cleaned using a mild solution of isopropyl alcohol on a cotton ball.  Do not insert cotton swabs or any other foreign object into the actual ear canal without your veterinarian’s approval.  Serious injury to the eardrum can occur by over-enthusiastic probing while cleaning too deeply the ear canal.

Another way to keep the ear canal clean and dry is to remove the excess hair that may reside inside of the ear canal itself.  Do not use scissors inside of the ear canal.  Besides being obviously dangerous, it leaves an itchy stubble.  We recommend that you gently pull the shaft of hair out using some ear powder and your fingers, or have a professional groomer remove it with a hemostat.  Applying a bit of Neosporin® or Polysporin® antibacterial cream after hair removal will eliminate any irritation caused by the removal of hair.

Bathing
This is not a breed that must be bathed and groomed constantly.  Once per month is usually quite sufficient for most pets. Giving your Griffon a bath could not be simpler.  There is no need for expensive shampoos or conditioners, nor is there any special technique to follow.  The purpose of bathing is to remove dirt and excess oil from the coat, and to insure that the skin is clean and healthy.  Simply find a good quality shampoo that does not leave any residue, which works best for your dog.  You may want to try several different ones, as each dog’s coat is a little different.  Some Griffons’ coats respond beautifully to a gentle dish soap such as Ivory® liquid – others require a gentler or more moisturizing formula.  Just remember – a correct Griffon coat is NOT soft and silky!   Be sure and rinse extremely well with lukewarm water to remove any residue.  Bath time is an excellent opportunity to check your dog carefully for signs of injury, parasites, skin problems, foxtails, growths, or other abnormalities.
Drying
It is not really necessary to use a dryer to blow dry the coat of a Griffon.  In fact, if not used carefully, the use of a force dryer can alter the appearance of an otherwise excellent coat into an “open” fluffy coat, which is totally incorrect.  Dryers are often used by breed ring exhibitors to quickly dry a freshly bathed coat, or to “freshen” a coat in the middle of a long cluster of shows.  Only cool air should be applied to a Griffon’s coat, as using heated air will make the coat too dry and prone to breakage.
Grooming the Coat
The AKC Breed Standard states,
“The breed should be exhibited in full body coat, not stripped short in pattern.  Trimming and stripping are only allowed around the ears, top of head, cheeks, and feet.”
That about says it all!  After brushing or combing through the freshly bathed coat, you may want to tidy up the extra or scraggly coat around the ears, head, cheeks, and feet.  Dogs who are shown in the breed ring have the extra hair on the tops of their head and cheeks <em>(NOT their eyebrows, moustaches, or beards!)</em> neatened by hand stripping, using either just fingers, or a combination of fingers and a tool called a stripping knife.  This is a painless procedure of removing the dead and extra hair.  Most Griffons are so relaxed by this that they often fall asleep during grooming.  Pet and hunting owners usually speed up this process by using clippers.  The use of clippers leaves a less than natural looking appearance, but can save many hours and tired hands.  This tidying of coat is not to be confused with pattern stripping, or stripping of the body coat!  Griffons are shown in full body coat, and must not be pattern stripped like a Schnauzer or German Wirehaired Pointer.
Nails
Keeping your dogs’ nails short is critical.  Long nails splay the foot, pushing back on the pastern (wrist), eventually breaking down the dog.  Left unmanaged, this structural breakdown can affect the elbows and shoulders – causing great discomfort and eventual disability.  This is especially critical for dogs that spend a great deal of the time on carpeting or as professional couch potatoes.  Even dogs who are active, or who spend significant time on an abrasive surface will also need to have their nails shortened regularly, for optimum structural health, and to avoid possible cracking and breakage.
It is easiest to condition your dog to accept having his/her nails groomed at as early an age as possible.  Frequent handling of their paws and individual toes with a firm, consistent approach will make the lifetime of nail grooming a much more pleasant process for you both.
There are two different types of tools for trimming dogs’ toenails:
Dog nail clippers (either the pliers-like bypass type, or the guillotine type)
Electric nail grinders (either re-chargeable battery operated, or direct plug in type)
The benefit of the clipper approach is they are faster, have no vibrating motor, and require no power source other than a strong pair of hands.  The detriment of these is that it can be difficult to avoid nicking the “quick” of the nail, which causes some bleeding and discomfort for the dog.  The by-pass scissors-like style also creates pressure on the side of the nail, causing a pinching sensation.  Bleeding can be stopped by the application of some styptic powder or stick directly to the wound.  Styptic powder is a blood-coagulating agent, commonly sold under the “Kwik-Stop” brand in the USA. The quick contains the nerve endings and blood vessels that feed the nail.  Nails trimmed using clippers have sharp edges, which can scratch floors, furniture, skin, and clothing.
Whether using nail clippers or a grinder, <strong>PLEASE wear a pair of safety glasses</strong> (under $5.00 in any hardware store) to protect your eyes from pieces of nail that can fly through the air.
To trim a dog’s nails using a pair of nail clippers, stand the dog on a grooming table facing forward.  Standing in the opposite direction as the dog, raise the dog’s paw with one hand so that you can see the bottom of the foot.  Locate the end of the quick by finding where the dark pigment on the bottom of the nail stops and the lighter, creamy pink color of the quick begins.  Holding the paw firmly, using the other hand, simply remove as much of the tip of the nail off as possible, while avoiding cutting off the tip of the quick.
The benefit of using an electric hand-held nail grinder to trim the nails is that it is much more unlikely to unintentionally nick the quick.  Once conditioned to the noise and vibration of a grinder, most dogs (and many groomers) prefer this method.  Other benefits to using a grinder include the ability to get closer to the quick without damaging it, the ability to expose quick on the UNDERside of the nail, which encourages the quick to recede further back more quickly. (Thereby allowing you to trim the nails even shorter next time.)  It is easy to quickly grind off the sharp corners of the edges of the nails, and a more natural, rounded look to the nails can be created.  Battery powered grinders can be purchased for emergency touch-ups at shows, but a two speed, plug in model is much more powerful, and will allow you to do more than one dog’s nails at a sitting.  These hand-held grinders can be purchased at local hardware, home improvement stores, or kennel supply vendors under the Dremel™ or Oster™ brand names.
To grind a dog’s nails using a grinder, first acclimate the dog to the sound and feeling of the vibrating grinder.  With the grinder off, let him examine it.  Then turn the grinder on AWAY from the dog.  Gently touch the dog with the NON GRINDING part of the grinder on their legs, feet, and toes.  Be careful not to let them get their faces too close to a grinder that is turned on.  Beards can become instantly entangled and pulled by over-curious investigations.  When the sound, vibration, and novelty are no longer a cause for concern, place the dog on the grooming table as before.  WEAR YOUR SAFETY GLASSES.  Facing in the opposite direction – locate the quick.  Pull as much hair as possible away from the nail, to avoid tangling it in the grinder.  From the tip of  the nail, press the rotating grinding head straight down – grinding the dog’s nail back JUST TO the quick.  If the nail is long, do this in stages, as holding a rotating object against more than a brief moment causes friction and heat build-up.   Carefully grind the bottom side of the nail to a flat position, BARELY exposing the quick, without nicking it.  Round off the sharp top corners, and go on to the next nail!  Always keep a firm grip on the grinder, to avoid nicking yourself, too!
If you don’t have a grooming table, or if you have a puppy, or a dog that is difficult to control by yourself on a table – many people find that sitting on a couch or floor with a large towel on your lap for easy clean up of nail dust – have the dog lay on his back between your legs an easier alternative.  In this case, you can put a dishtowel over the dog’s face to keep the dust from getting in their eyes and noses.  Some dogs find this more comforting and more difficult to turn into a wrestling match.
Tidying Feet
Once the nails are short, its time to clean out any extra hair from in between the pads and around the toes.  Keeping pads clear also helps to keep feet from splaying, from dirt and mats from accumulating, and to make the identification of wounds to the feet much easier to do.  Using a small pair of straight shears (scissors), or small clippers if you have them – simply remove the hair from the underside of the foot, in between the pads.  You can also choose to tidy the longer hairs that protrude from the feet to keep mud from accumulating on them, and to neaten the appearance.
Teeth
Griffons are a tough, hardy breed with a relatively high tolerance for pain.  Unless you check the mouth for damage to teeth, cuts, or other problems, you may never know that your dog has a problem until it’s too late.  Griffons should have clean, white, straight teeth that are free from tartar build up, decay, and breakage.  Check with your veterinarian for instructions for keeping your dogs’ teeth and gums clean and healthy.  Any time your dog is under anesthesia is also a good time for a professional cleaning and dental exam.