Monday, July 31, 2017

Grooming How-To: Asian Fusion Inspired Trim on a Poodle Mix

With the popularity of poodle hybrids on the rise, we've all seen an influx of clients dealing with the high-maintenance needs of poodle-type coat who aren't interested in a poodle-type look. For many, that means a full, shaggy headpiece (what I like to call a "muppet head") that's prone to matting and all the usual wet beard issues we see in sheepdogs, schnauzers, and other dogs with a lot of facial hair. In response to the messiness, many doodle/schnoodle/somethingpoo owners decide to split the difference between a poodle's shaved face and a full muppet head and settle on something in a snap-on comb length all over the muzzle and chin. I have many clients who take this route and it works well.

We usually treat the body the same way, with an all-over length that follows the dog's natural shape. Sometimes we leave a bit more hair on a scissored pillar leg or do some sculpting to play up the dog's angulation, but these are all what owners like to call "puppy cuts" -- a basic, generic, one-size-fits-all style that varies only in its length. It works for so many because it's both practical and cute.

But the fact remains, there's not a lot of room for style or flair when the goal is to leave a uniform inch or two of hair all over a dog's face and body. It can feel like a lost opportunity, because the wonderful thing about poodle-type coat is how many options it gives you for turning up the wow factor. The recent Asian fusion grooming trend is a wonderful way to capitalize on the versatility of a poodle-type coat without making the dog "look like a poodle" while still sending clients home with a reasonably low-maintenance look.

This little schnoodle has been through a variety of styles, starting with her very first haircut as a several-months-old puppy, when she got a 1/2" comb (that's a 1 or orange comb) on her body and chin, with everything else scissored to match, to her current Asian fusion inspired look. There's a lot about settling on a style for a dog that's really about problem-solving than aesthetics. This dog likes to chew her ears, so we decided to take them short. Her owner is good at keeping her combed out in between appointments, so we can leave her legs fairly long, but they also have an active and busy lifestyle, so we want to make sure they don't get too long. Sometimes that means trying things and then asking the client for feedback, as well as taking note of the condition of the coat when the dog comes in for their next appointment

My number one principle of flair is contrast in length. This dog gets a #5 blade on her body and I set the length of her legs by skimming into them (working off the shoulder on the outside of the front legs and off the thigh muscles on the back legs) with a 5/8" comb (that's a 0 or yellow comb). I want the legs to get slightly wider at the foot to emulate the Asian fusion flared leg but without leaving that much length. I set that width by lifting the foot and scissoring around the pad at whatever size I want the leg to be at the bottom. No matter how big the leg, I always take the front of the foot tight to the nails. I leave nail trimming to the end of my groom so that I know the nails will disappear behind that scissored front edge. If you cut nails earlier, as many do, make sure you don't take the front of the foot too short or you will expose the nails and mar your silhouette.

I use the same technique to set the length around the front and the back feet, focusing on making all four feet the same size. When I scissor the front legs, I go straight up towards the body on the front of the leg and then scissor a straight line to connect the area where I skimmed off the shoulder to the newly scissored side of the foot. I scissor the back of the leg straight up and down at whatever width I want that leg to be in side-view. For more drama, I would take the leg in tight above the elbow and flare every aspect of the leg -- front, back, inside, and outside. Keep in mind that true Asian fusion requires leaving a lot of hair at the bottom of the leg, which amps up the maintenance requirements between grooming appointments. For this dog, we're doing a lower-maintenance leg whose flair comes more from its overall length in contrast to the body than from how dramatically it flares from elbow to foot.

On the back leg, a true Asian fusion style starts short at the hip and flares like cone down to the foot. The front leg and back leg look very much the same. But in the modified version we're doing on this schnoodle, I'm giving her a more classic poodle-style rear leg, focusing on angulation to give her some flair. So, I take her tight from her point of rump down to the bend of her stifle on the back of her back leg. I leave a little hock hair and echo the curves on the back of that leg with a little bit of curve and a hint of a knee on the front of her back leg.

The inside and outside of the legs are scissored in parallel lines, like a poodle leg. I finish them with a little bit of a bevel, tightening up the hair at a 45 degree angle around the base of her feet to keep it off the ground.

She has a short dock on her tail, so I usually scissor it round like a bunny tail. Many poodle mixed dogs have long tails and you can do a fan, a flag, a plume or whatever style your client prefers. If she had a proper poodle dock, I probably wouldn't do a typical poodle pom tail on an Asian fusion inspired look. I'd either take the entire tail the same length as the body or I would leave it longer all over without any shaving at the base.

Like the rest of her clip, this dog's head isn't quite proper Asian fusion. Her hair doesn't have the plushness required to stand the way I'd like muzzle hair to stand up for that kind of cut, so I leave more hair and work with it the way it does like to sit instead of teasing it and filling it with products that aren't going to last in between haircuts.

I start her head with a 3/8" comb (that's a 2 or blue comb) on the chin. One of the hallmarks of this style of head is a nice, short chin that helps move focus up towards the dog's eyes. I also run the 3/8" comb in exactly the same places I would shave a poodle face if I were doing a donut style muzzle. I run it down the sides of her head, along the line from eye corner to ear opening that I would use to set a poodle topknot. The only difference is that I'm clipping downward instead of against the grain of the hair. I run the snap-on comb behind the mustache area, under the eye and shorten up everything behind the back corner of her mouth.

I trim up her eye corners and clean out her stop. Then I comb her muzzle hair forward and trim off everything that falls past a point about 1/4" past the end of her nose. Normally, you would want to trim off in line with the end of the nose, but leaving that extra hair helps this dog's muzzle retain its shape. You want to clean the lip area under the nose and trim stray hairs around the upper lip.

Next, I fluff the mustache hair out to the sides and I scissor it into an oval shape, leaving the sides as wide as they'll go without falling under their own weight. I leave plenty of hair on the top of the muzzle, combing that straight up and neatening just a little. On a nice, plush coat, that hair is meant to sit in front of the lower half of the eyes when viewed head-on, giving the dog a soft, stuffed animal sort of expression. This dog's hair doesn't do that, so our goal is to give her a low-maintenance face that evokes some of the shaggy muppet look and the Asian fusion teddy bear look at the same time.

Finally, her topknot is hand-scissored and blended into the neck in the back and into the cheeks on the side. The profile view of the Asian fusion head is very distinctive and this dog does fit very well into that profile. The topknot has a visor similar to a poodle, but angled a little more sharply away from the eyes.

The last piece of her head is the ear trim. Any ear style is permissible in Asian fusion, from long and flowing to shaved very short. The two major considerations are maintenance and contrast. Because she chews her ears, this little girl gets a #4 blade on the outside and a #40 inside and the edges are trimmed to the leather, following the ears' natural shape. She could easily get an even shorter blade on the ears and still be cute. I like to leave them a little bit fuzzy because her coat is always just a little stubborn about fluffing straight and the bit of wildness a #4 leaves fits in nicely with the rest of her look.

Asian fusion styles are great to offer to clients who are open to some wow factor but aren't into the poodle look and modified Asian styles are perfect for clients who want something different without upping their pets' maintenance requirements.

 Remember that grooming should always be customized to the dog, its lifestyle, maintenance needs, and the preferences of the people who care for it and look at it every day, but you still want to give yourself a little bit of space to put your own creative, artistic stamp on your work. Encouraging your clients to allow you to try new styles and techniques helps keep you interested and motivated at the grooming table. And it can make things more interesting for your clients as well. It turns the dogs' style into a conversation piece which dogs usually enjoy because of the extra attention. It's a great way to stand out from your competition and it can help drive new business as well.

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