Cavalier King Charles Spaniels Breed Column
AKC Gazette - March, 2003

One of the charming characteristics of Cavaliers is the minimal grooming time required to keep them looking tidy. There is no trimming and sculpting for the show ring allowed in our breed, so there is not the vast difference between show and pet grooming seen in other breeds.


That said, there certainly are legal tricks of the trade that may be employed to have your charge looking his (or her) best. Here is my own science of Cavalier bathing, honed over the years on unwitting volunteers ranging from the gangly pet puppy to the jaded show dog.


The first hard-and-fast rule is that no dog goes into the tub until completely brushed out. When brushing, keep a spray bottle filled with warm water and a tablespoon of conditioner or creme rinse handy. Spritzing the hair lightly before brushing prevents the dry ends of the hair from snapping off. Use the brush in a straight motion.


Once thoroughly brushed, nails clipped, ears cleaned, teeth scaled, and hair trimmed from between the pads on the bottom of the foot only, His Highness is ready for the tub. A quick squirt of dilute shampoo down the back will help the hair to absorb the lukewarm water, making it easier and faster to completely wet the dog.


Now I do a quick all-over bath. With a show dog, I use a degreaser shampoo on the ears, taking care to work the lather to the tips of the leather. If the ear coat is really oily, I rinse the ears and wash them again.


Next is a very thorough rinse, then repeat the whole procedure. If I am using a whitener shampoo, I scrub it into the stained areas at this point. Again, for show I take extra pains with the ears, as the tips tend to retain oil.


Once the dog is shampooed all over he gets another thorough rinse. I squeeze out excess water from the coat with my hands, and lightly apply a very dilute conditioner or creme rinse. Depending on the dog, I often do not condition the back coat or the ears if on that dog they tend to get oily again easily. Then I give one last rinse, a little cooler, until not so much as a bubble appears in the rinse water.


I squeeze out as much water as I can and then use a high-pressure blower, pointing the air flow in the direction of the back coat, to get the dog as dry as possible. I then wrap a heavy towel around my friend and head for the grooming table, where more water is toweled off.


I brush through all the hair with the pin brush, put the back coat flat and in the direction I want using the slicker brush, and then "jacket" the dog with a towel. This process of pinning the towel around the dog so that the coat lies flat takes some practice and care, as it involves the use of sharp diaper pins in rather delicate areas.


Once he is jacketed, I place the dog in a box-dryer for a few minutes until the hair is still damp enough to straighten, yet so that the drying process is not begun while the dog is streaming wet. I keep turning the dog in front of the dryer as I brush with the pin brush, careful that one area does not dry before another and that the dog's skin does not get irritated by the hot dryer.


Ears take the longest, but they must be worked on until dried right to the tips. Not only does this prevent kinking, it also keeps the ear leathers from "mildewing," which they do (the smell is horrible). Once all hair is dry except what is under the towel, I remove the jacket, dry the chest, and check that all feathering and the tail are completely dry .I blow down the back coat a bit, using the bristle brush for finishing touches.


A few final flicks of the comb, and His Highness is ready for the ball-or the nearest mud puddle, whichever he finds first.


- John D. Gammon, AKC Parent Club President & Gazette Breed Columnist