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“Everybody Must Get Stoned”
To paraphrase Bob Dylan, every English Setter show dog might benefit from getting stoned -- grooming stoned, that is.
Grooming trends change over time. These days, when I look in the English Setter ring, I see lots of body coats that have been shortened with thinning shears, and some of them are very short indeed. When I was taught to groom 25 years ago, the person who taught me was a purist who advocated stripping out the undercoat and then finishing with a grooming stone and using thinning shears sparingly and only to blend around the edges. People who have gotten into the breed in the last few years may have been taught to scissor and may not know there is another way.
Hand stripping and stoning takes much more time than scissoring, but it’s the best way to produce that smooth, finished look.
English Setters have a modest double coat with a fuzzy undercoat for warmth and a silky topcoat for waterproofing. The undercoat often has lots of colored hair, whereas the topcoat is mostly white. Scissoring removes the white topcoat hairs, making the dog look darker, which is a disadvantage (because the English Setter standard asks for even ticking all over) and removes the dog’s protection from rain and snow. Stripping and stoning preserve the topcoat.
I like Classic strippers, the ones with wooden handles, but many other strippers work well. You do not pluck at the hair like you do on a terrier, but comb through the back coat with the stripper at an angle, pulling out undercoat. You then use the grooming stone to take off the wispy hairs that stick up, to blend around the edges, and to remove the fuzzy hair on the front and sides of the legs. Many vendors sell grooming stones, which are just pumice stones cut into small pieces.
When you remove undercoat, the silky long hairs of the topcoat lie flat, and the look is elegant and natural. Scissoring, to my eye, makes the dog look scalped. The late great Ann Rogers Clark appreciated a stripped and stoned ES coat, and when judging, she would lift the dog’s hair with her thumb to see if the topcoat had been preserved and how much undercoat had been removed.
Irish and Gordon Setters have a silkier coat than English Setters, and they look just fine if scissored, but the texture of an English Setter back coat is a little harsher, wavier, and sometimes curlier than their Celtic and Gaelic cousins. Over time, scissoring increases the curl in an English Setter back coat, and if you scissor, you often have to keep making the dog’s coat shorter and shorter to control the curl, whereas stripping and stoning encourages the coat to lie flat. If you do a little stripping every time you bathe and brush the dog, it’s not a big job to keep the coat in beautiful show shape.
If you’ve never hand stripped and stoned your English Setter show dog, perhaps you would enjoy asking someone who knows how to show you what to do. You just might fall in love with the results.