Faced with the question of "Why should Cairns
be Groomed?" many think it's mostly to make your dog look neat and is
probably really necessary only for Show Dogs. The result is that many pet
Cairns are not often groomed. Actually there is a lot more to grooming.
What is grooming then? It consists of all those things that we do to
promote HEALTH, HYGIENE, and APPEARANCE. Grooming for health entails doing
those things necessary to ensure your dog's continued good health and to
avoid medical problems. Grooming for hygiene involves steps to prevent your
dog from becoming smelly, dirty, and uncomfortable and staining your carpets
and furniture. Grooming for appearance is done to give your dog that "Cairnish"
look. i.e. to make your pet look like the standard for the breed rather than
an undifferentiated pile of hair of uncertain ancestry. This is part of
There is a common perception that grooming requires a great deal of time,
effort, and skill. This is true for Show Grooming where the ideal is to
produce a perfectly sculptured, faultless example of the breed. The amount
of time, effort, and skill required to meet the basic goals of health,
hygiene, and appearance, however, are far more modest.
This article will examine the things that proper grooming does to meet
these goals. You will notice that many of the things done actually fulfill
more than one goal. While the following is oriented toward the Cairn, almost
all of it applies equally well to West Highland White Terriers and Scottish
Bathing your Cairn is something that you
should avoid. If you maintain your dog's coat and skin in good condition, it
will remain clean and odor-free. Bathing is recommended only when your Cairn
rolls in something that can't be brushed out. The reasons for this have to
do with the nature of the Cairn's coat and skin and the effect of the
chemicals in shampoos upon them. These agents accelerate the natural aging
and dying of the coat. They act to dry the skin and damage the hair. This
can lead to a vicious cycle. Bathing damages the hair. Damaged hair retains
more dirt, oil, and odor. Dirty, smelly dogs need more bathing. And so it
goes... If you HAVE to bathe, use a shampoo designed for hard-coated dogs if
at all possible. Under NO circumstances should you use a shampoo that
contains coat softeners or creme rinses. These only make the problem worse.
Note that if your Cairn's coat is naturally soft and/or curly you will
probably have to bathe. Fortunately few well-bred Cairns have such problem
coats. An effective "quick fix" for a smelly, oily, coat is to mist the coat
with either rubbing alcohol or SeaBreezeď and then rubbing your dog down
with a towel. Nearly instantly, your dog will feel and smell cleaner. Note,
however, that this doesn't do any deep cleaning so it is only a temporary
Unclipped toenails grow longer and longer
unless your dog wears them down with constant activity on rough terrain.
Since many Cairns are house dogs there is no natural wearing going on so the
nails will continue to grow. As this happens, they will tend to curve down
toward the ground. This forces the front of the foot up and the back down;
forcing the dog to walk more and more on its "heels". This causes the
Achilles tendons to stretch and strains the muscles of the legs causing
painful cramping in the legs and eventual crippling. Just imagine the pain
if you had to walk around with blocks of wood strapped to the balls of your
feet! If this continues for the long term the dog will display a shuffling
walk that may be permanent. In cases of severe neglect, the nails can curve
all the way around until they dig into the pads. In this case the dog will
not be able to walk at all. Unclipped nails also have an effect upon
appearance. The Cairn's jaunty, light-footed walk is a result of its walking
well up on its feet; "on its toes" so to speak. The unclipped Cairn, on the
other hand. is a plodder. How can you tell if your Cairn's nails are short
enough? Listen as it walks across a hard floor. If you hear click, click,
click, the nails are too long. Most Cairns hate to have their nails clipped.
If you don't want to go through this yourself. have your Vet or Professional
Groomer do it. Let the dog hate them instead!
Just like people, Cairn tend to build up
tartar and plaque on their teeth unless regularly cleaned. This will tend to
cause gum disease(periodontal disease) and again, just as in people, gum
disease is the leading cause of tooth loss in dogs. Dirty teeth also look
bad and have an impact upon hygiene. Dirty teeth and gum disease can give
your Cairn a breath bad enough to gag a maggot! The most serious results can
come from severe periodontal disease causing abscesses and in the most
severe cases systemic diseases such as blood poisoning(septicemia) which can
be life threatening. While some dogs, like some people, seem to be naturally
immune to plaque and tartar buildup, most are prone to some effect. Recent
research indicates that 85% of all dogs and cats over four years of age have
periodontal disease. Some compulsive chewers of hard rubber and nylon toys
tend to keep their teeth well cleaned. Most, however, should have their
teeth cleaned when necessary. How do you know if your Cairn needs its teeth
cleaned? Look for swelling, redness, yellowing teeth, deposits, and bad
breath. Since few Cairns will sit still for a teeth cleaning, very few
owners do this themselves. While there are some Professional Groomers who
will attempt this, most cleaning is done under sedation or anesthesia by
Vets. When your Cairn goes to the Vets for a checkup, make sure that the Vet
checks the teeth; many do not. If they need to be cleaned, get it done. This
is important! You can help the process of this examination. Most Cairns
don't like having people, especially strangers, prying their mouths open and
will kick up a fuss when they try. Perhaps this is why many vets neglect
this important health check. Accustom your Cairn to regular mouth
inspections. Invite your friends and relatives to have a look! You may be
considered a little weird but it's worth it. Show Dogs are trained to allow
the Judge to examine their bites and are blasÚ about it. We achieve this by
accustoming them to mouth examinations from puppyhood. They all learn the
"Show Teeth" command very early.
An important characteristic of the breed is
the expressiveness of its eyes. This is a look of alertness and intelligence
that is achieved not only through proper eye size, shape, placement, and
color, but also through proper grooming. The hair on the forehead should be
profuse but not so long that it droops down and obscures the eyes.
Conversely, it should not be so short that the eyes appear to be too
prominent and starey. The proper length is that which frames and enhances
the expressiveness of the eyes. This is usually a length where the forehead
hair is long enough to curve a bit forward but not to droop down. Similarly,
the hair on the muzzle and between the eyes should be trimmed so that the
eyes aren't obscured. The best way to do all this is to hold your Cairn's
chin whiskers firmly between the fingers of one hand and carefully pull
overlong hairs with the other. Your Cairn won't like this. Trimming with
fine thinning shears works pretty effectively here but doesn't look as good
nor does it last as long.
Use this opportunity to check for other conditions that need attention.
It isn't rare to find foreign matter In the eyes that cause discomfort and a
dull expression. Remove this by bathing or gently swabbing the eye with a
saline solution. You can buy this in the eyecare section of your drug store
or make it at home by dissolving l/8th tsp. salt in 8 oz of warm water).
Another fairly common condition found at this time is weeping from the tear
ducts. This weeping causes a crusty buildup at the inner margins of the eyes
that causes discomfort, hair loss, and skin reactions. This should be gently
washed off with saline. While this condition is usually caused by a reaction
to foreign matter in the eye or by minor colds, it could be a result of a
clogged or deformed tear duct. This is a fairly common problem in the small,
short-muzzled breeds. If this condition persists, your Vet should be
consulted. The most serious condition to check for at this time is "dry eye"
(Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca). While pretty rare, it is more common in Cairns
than in most other breeds. Here, the eye reduces or stops its production of
tears. When this happens, the eye looks dry and dull, and the dogs blinks a
lot and tends to avoid bright lights. If untreated, the condition causes
great discomfort and corneal ulcerations and always leads to blindness.
Unfortunately, even the best treatments aren't always successful.
Grooming the Ears
A Cairn's ears are one of its most expressive
features. A Cairn whose ears are covered with long, droopy hair loses a lot.
Fortunately, grooming the ears for proper appearance is a pretty easy thing
to do. The best way is to use your fingertips or a fine stripping knife to
pull the long hair off the TOP THIRD ONLY of both ears; both font and back.
Hold the base of the ear steady with your other hand as you do this. Cairns
don't seem to mind this procedure at all. The hair is pulled very short but
not down to the skin. Any rough edges can be then neatend with fine thinning
shears or scissors. Thinning shears are better because they don't leave an
unnatural, clipped look. Alternatively you can clip the ears with scissors.
This is definitely second best, though, because the result is never as
smooth and the hair grows out again much faster.
When trimming your Cairn's ears, inspect the ear canal. If you see
buildups of dirt or wax, remove it by gently swabbing out the ear with a
little mineral oil. Note that unlike the human ear you can't hurt the
eardrum by sticking a swab down in it. The Dog's ear canal has a bend in it
that prevents you from reaching the drum. You may notice that your Cairn has
been shaking its head or rubbing an ear. If so inspect the ear. If it's just
dirt or wax buildup you can fix it by cleaning. If the ear is red, swollen,
or has blood, pus, or fluid coming out of it, though, that's a job for the
Grooming the Tail
A Cairn's characteristic look also depends
upon the proper appearance of the tail which should be trimmed to
cone-shape. Clipping the tail to this shape is not very effective over time
because the characteristic shape requires a volume of hair that can only be
maintained by healthy hair. The clipped tail gets thinner and thinner as the
hair dies and so does the appearance of the tail. The tail should be pulled
to maintain its proper shape. This also maintains the health of the
underlying skin; an important factor since the tail is one of the areas on a
Cairn prone to skin disease.
Grooming the Feet
Grooming the feet rarely has an noticeable
impact upon health or hygiene. This is mostly a case of grooming for
appearance. The properly groomed fool has the hair trimmed short. This can
be done with scissors or a fine stripping knife and is pretty easy to do.
The hair on the bottom of the foot that grows between the pads should be
clipped with fine scissors. This is one area that has an impact upon the
dog's comfort if your Cairn likes to play in the snow. Unless the snow is
very dry it will tend to stick to the hair between the pads; forming ice
balls that make walking painful. If you see your Cairn stopping frequently
in the snow to chew its feet suspect that long hair between the pads is the
cause of the problem.
Eliminating or Minimizing Skin
Cairns are more prone to skin problems than
are many other breeds. Heightened sensitivity to flea bites, dry skin,
bacteria, and clogged pores have all been identified as precipitating
factors. While some dogs seem to be blessed with immunity to this, many will
show some sign of skin disease; especially in the Summer and more often in
the older Cairn.
How do you detect skin diseases? Your dog will do a lot of scratching
and/or pulling out of hair on its back and legs. The most common spot for
this is on the back and buttocks near the base of the tail. As the condition
progresses you will notice reddened areas of skin in the now bare or thinly
haired parts. In more severe cases the skin will be broken and will bleed or
What can you do about it? If you take your dog to the Vets, they will
prescribe flea dips, flea shampoos, steroid creams and antibiotics. In more
severe cases they will give cortisone injections. While all these are
effective to a degree and easy to do, they extract their prices on your
dog's health, hygiene, and appearance and also on your pocketbook. There is
a better way to avoid or minimize skin disease through grooming! Through
these techniques, visits to the Vets can be reduced and in many cases
Why don't Vets tell you about this? There are probably several reasons.
First, many Vets don't know about it. Their training focuses on treating
disease through chemical, pharmaceutical, and surgical methods. While they
all have good understandings of the anatomy and physiology of these
conditions, grooming isn't a hot topic in Veterinary School. Second,
grooming takes time and effort and Vets know that most people prefer quick
and easy fixes.
In order to understand how grooming promotes healthy skin it is necessary
first to understand the growth progression of the Cairn's coat. Unlike most
other breeds, the Cairn doesn't shed. Hair growth goes through a progression
of healthy new coat, "dying" coat, and onto "dead" or "blown" coat. Hair
growth stops when the underlying hair follicle becomes "exhausted". The dead
hair remains loosely rooted in the follicle until it is mechanically
removed. At this point the follicle goes into a "resting" stage for a period
of time before producing a new, healthy hair. The following drawing
illustrates these stages.
Stage 1 shows the resting hair follicle. The skin over it is unbroken.
Stage 2 shows the growth of a new, healthy hair. This hair is thick, hard,
shiny, well pigmented, and solidly rooted. This coat readily sheds dirt and
water. As the hair continues to grow the follicle becomes less vigorous
leading to stage 3. In stage 3 the base of the hair is thinner, softer,
dryer, less well pigmented, and is now weakly rooted. The tip of the hair
though retains its thickness which can fool you. On the outside the dog's
coat appears to be in good condition even though in reality it is half dead.
We call this stage a "dying coat" The weak rooting provides a channel for
bacteria to enter the skin and cause skin disease. In stage 4 the hair is
eroded to the point that its entire length is crinkled and has lost pigment.
We describe a coat like this as "completely dead" or "completely blown".
This coat becomes matted and tangled and holds onto dirt, water, dead skin
flakes, water, twigs, and practically everything else. In stage 5 the hair
has been mechanically removed but still remains tangled in the coat. The
follicle, now though, is able to close up and return to the resting stage.
What are the implications of all of this? First, the dog with a healthy
stage 2 coat is going to remain cleaner and better smelling than one with a
dead coat. It is also resistant to bacterial infection and so less likely to
suffer from skin disease. Its shiny, well pigmented coat is far more
attractive. This coat then meets all of our three goals of health, hygiene,
and appearance. The opposite is true of the blown stage 4 coat. Note that
simply clipping the stage 3 and 4 coat doesn't buy you much. You still have
a dead coat. Some people think that clipping the coat lightens its color. We
now know better than that. All that was done was that the healthier tips
were clipped away revealing more of the dead, unpigmented roots underneath.
Not shown in the illustration is the second half of the Cairn's coat. We
speak of Cairns as being a "doublecoated" breed. In addition to the outer,
or guard, hairs shown above, Cairns have a soft, downy "undercoat"
consisting of fine, soft, dull hairs that are much shorter than the guard
hairs. There are approximately 3-5 undercoat hairs clustered around each
Guard hair. Nature designed the Cairn to have its hard outer coat for
protection from weather, the terrain, and its prey and to have its downy
undercoat for warmth. The undercoat doesn't cause the same types of problems
that a dying outer coat does. Over time the undercoat just becomes thicker
and looser and adds to the hygiene problem.
What should you do to maintain your Cairn's healthy coat? For show dogs
whose coat is to be maintained in the very best condition we perform a
process called "Rolling the Coat". What we do here is go over the entire dog
and actually pull out the dead and dying hair. This can be done using either
the fingers or a tool called a "stripping knife". These come in left and
right-handed models and look like little saws with straight handles. The
technique is similar using either method. First secure your dog so that it
can't run away or do back flips on you. Leashing them to an overhead ring
works well. The dog should not be strung so tightly that it is strangling
but it shouldn't be able to wander around either. Next, thoroughly brush and
comb the coat to get rid of all the knots and tangles. Then, grip a group of
hairs either between the fingers or between a thumb and the teeth of the
stripping knife. Pull the hair in the direction in which it naturally lies
using enough tension so that the weakly rooted dead hair comes out and the
strongly rooted healthy hair stays behind. Be careful to always pull in the
direction of the lie of the hair, not against it and always pull smoothly,
never jerk the hair. These wouldn't be any more efficient and would just
hurt the dog. If you find your fingers or your knife slipping, use
bookkeepers rubber fingers or chalk to improve your grip.
By the way, does this hurt the dog? The answer to this is "it depends".
Pulling the dead hair off the back and neck of Cairns doesn't hurt them.
Your dogs may try to convince you that you are torturing them, but this is
just acting. You handle this by adopting an attitude that says "I know what
I'm doing. We ARE going to do this, so get used to it". After a while, it
doesn't bother them much. When Cairns get older, however, their skin tends
to become more sensitive so you have to be a little gentler to get the job
done without discomfort. Just pull fewer hairs at a time and do it more
slowly. Gently teasing the hair out also helps. Be aware that some parts of
the body are more sensitive than others. Cairns are more sensitive the lower
that you go on the sides and very sensitive on the belly. Many show Groomers
clip the belly hairs rather than pulling them. Just go more slowly and
carefully on the sides than you do on the top. This also applies to the
head, legs, and the rear around the anus, vagina, and scrotum. Also pulling
live, healthy hair is much harder to do than dead hair and greatly increases
the dog's discomfort.
To maintain your dog's coat in the very best condition it has to be
rolled every 7-10 days. This is a lot of work; more than most people would
want or need to do to maintain health, hygiene, and appearance. In fact we
only work this hard on the dogs that are actively competing in the show
ring. The others get much less on an as-needed basis. Once a month is
probably sufficient for most Cairns. Can you hire a professional to roll
your dog's coat? No. All professional say that they couldn't make any money
doing this even if they were able to work that hard all day. Occasionally
you can find a breeder or professional handler who will do this but not very
often. If you do, prepare to spend a dollar a minute or more.
If the coat is completely blown, you can take it all off. This is called
"stripping the coat". Here, all the outer coat is removed at once so only
the undercoat is left. This is a frequently-used technique on dogs whose
appearance is not a prime consideration.
Although rolling the coat is indisputably the best way to achieve health,
hygiene and appearance, what can you do if you simply can't bring yourself
to pull hair? First, regular brushing is pretty effective. Begin with a
coarse brush such as a metal pin brush. This will work through a lot of the
tangles. Go over the whole dog. Next, comb the dog with a coarse comb;
working gently through the remaining mats and tangles. Third repeat the
process using a fine-toothed comb. Upon completion of this you will have
straightened out the tangles, stimulated the skin, and pulled a surprising
amount of dead hair. Finally, brush the dog with a fine brush. The Slicker
brush which contains a large number of fine wire bristles works well here.
This will further stimulate the skin and remove dead flakes and other
detritus. A bigger reason for this step, though, is that it is very
effective in raking out dead undercoat. Profuse dead undercoat traps a lot
of dirt. In removing this you will also notice that your Cairn now has a
sleeker, healthier appearance. This is because you have removed the long,
dull undercoat that had begun to grow through the outercoat. Next have your
dog clipped when the hair gets long and dead. As previously mentioned this
is a far cry from the best course to follow, but at least it gets rid of a
lot of hair and makes brushing a lot easier. By the way if you send your
Cairn to a professional Groomer and get back a dog that looks like a
Schnauzer, Westie, or Scottie, go somewhere else. There ARE Groomers who
know how a Cairn should look. It's just that they aren't too common.
Expressing the Anal Glands
All dogs have glands on either side of the
anus that normally produce scent. Sometimes these glands become impacted and
swell up. When this happens your Cairn will act uncomfortable and probably
will do a lot of scooting on its bottom on your carpets. The dog will also
probably stink since the rotten exudate dammed up in the glands can be
pretty rank. When this happens the anal area will probably be reddened and
swollen. If you see this condition either your Vet or Groomer can take care
of it or you can do it yourself. It's a pretty simple operation. Cover the
anus with several thicknesses of toilet paper and squeeze the base of the
anus between your thumb and forefinger. You will feel a pop and the TP will
have collected a dark secretion. Work the base of the anus with additional
squeezes to empty any pockets that you missed the first time. Clean up the
anal area with soap and water. Few dogs resent this procedure. After it's
done most will give you a look of real gratitude! Warning!! Make sure that
the anus is well covered by the TP before you squeeze! If unconfined, this
stuff can fly right across the room!
Grooming, then, is much more than just
enhancing your Cairn's good looks. It is part of a comprehensive program to
maintain its health, hygiene, and distinct breed appearance. A moderate
amount of effort on a regular basis can provide large benefits.