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From Plain Pooches to Top Dogs : Think these showstoppers wake up lookin' good? Nope. Think time and cash.


King, black and big-chested, tugs at the bib around his neck. His nose is dripping, and the runoff threatens to ruin his coat before he re-enters the show ring. The 110-pound bouvier suddenly sits up, looks daggers at a stranger, snorts and flops back down on his grooming table.

Meanwhile, in the surrounding shady park, Irish setters in do-rags, Afghans in snoods and chows that take after Don King sit patiently in chin straps for their final touch-ups.

These beauties and dozens more are being shampooed, cream-rinsed, blow-dried, hair-sprayed and powdered into world-class creatures for the Kennel Club of Pasadena's recent California Classics show. Some dogs will go through just about anything, even wear hair extensions, to get the judges to notice.

Of course, only a small percentage of the 52.5 million dogs in America would put up with such a routine. Fussing over almost every last one was a professional handler--a dog jockey who makes a living creating winners. Rich backers often foot the bills--it can cost $100,000 a year or more to campaign a dog on the show circuit--in return for the trophies, fame and possible future stud fees.

"It's an ego thing," says exhibitor-groomer Andrew V. Castro of Claremont. "It's a contest about my dog's prettier than yours."

Those unfamiliar with the workings of the thousands of AKC all-breed and specialty shows held each year can't imagine the spraying, peroxiding and powdering that goes on.

"You don't want to stand too close to the collie people," one exhibitor cautions. "You'll cough from all the chalk (used to whiten their coats)."

But even dogs without perfect pedigrees, and their owners, can benefit from the beauty secrets of champions. Before you know it, a hang-dog doggy can be transformed into a mutt that looks like a million.

Because the beauty of the show dog circuit is skin deep--"Yes," judges say, "even corgis are beautiful"--there's probably no better place to start the metamorphosis than with a shampoo and a trim.

"I go to dog shows every weekend to see what's out there, the trends," says Castro, who just returned from the prestigious Poodle Nationals in Pennsylvania. "In the '50s and '60s, poodles had tremendous coats. Now, the cuts are shorter and tighter, to show more leg."

Castro--the owner of a boxer, seven Maltese and eight poodles--says a good haircut can help camouflage imperfections. "Grooming is an optical illusion," he says.

The right hair-care regimen can also do wonders for a dog's dimensions.

Penny Krebs, who shows her Labrador retrievers--Tugs, Gus and Jet--says some Lab owners trim around the toes and throat to give their short-haired pooches more definition. "My youngest is too leggy and scrawny," she says, adding that judges like Labs to look like Rottweilers. "I'm always trying to figure out ways to build up his coat so he looks beefier." Krebs relies on texturizing shampoos, sprays and blow-drying to add bulk to her dog.

An Alaskan malamute breeder from Arizona whose dogs always show up in enviably thick coats had everyone wondering her secret. "Turns out they are house dogs, and she sets the air conditioning at 50 degrees," Krebs says. "Her electric bills are huge."


If time were money, the keepers of cocker spaniels might be spending even more. Blow-drying alone takes about three hours, says Stephanie Archuleta, a Lancaster breeder and handler.

"If you go to any dog show, you can automatically pick out a total novice by how they groom their dogs," she says. "I feel real bad for them because judges don't look twice. How could they? Here's a dog all crinkled and wrinkled versus full and fluffy." To achieve the latter, she starts with sopping wet spaniels. "It's all hand brushing," she says, "from the tip of their nose to the tip of their tail."

Archuleta also brushes and combs her darlings every day, not only to stimulate hair growth but also to establish a meaningful relationship. "Some people will say, 'My dog hates to be brushed,' " she says. "I'll ask, 'How often do you do it?' And they say, 'When I see a tangle.' Well, I'd hate it too."

Louise McCann, handler and owner of three coarse-haired bouvier des Flandres, mists their coats with water daily and uses a lanolin conditioner on the dogs' faces, stomachs and legs twice a week to maintain their coats, which can't get enough moisture, moisture, moisture.

Troublesome, too, are the long, silky Afghan coats. El Cajon residents Rosemary and Bruce Sutton, who have been breeding and showing champions for 25 years, designed a line of products for hairy hounds. Sutton warns against using human shampoo on critters. "A dog's pH balance and a human's are totally different, so it's better to use a good dog shampoo," she says, adding that she once worked as a hairdresser with Vidal Sassoon. "So that's where my hair knowledge--and probably fetish--came from."

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