This article describes grooming the Bouvier who is a family companion or a working dog. The emphasis is on practicality and comfort.


by Pam Green , (copyright 1993)

The object of grooming the pet Bouvier or the working Bouvier should be utility and comfort. The advice that follows is aimed at such practical grooming, not at the impractical styles and fads of the beauty contests in the show ring, something of which I remain ignorant.

Bouvier require regular coat grooming, usually 3 times per week. I recommend short daily or alternate daily sessions, rather than longer less frequent ones. (Bouvs with soft outercoat and have excessive undercoat require more grooming than dogs with really harsh outercoat and moderate undercoat. Unfortunately show ring fads have led to breeding for soft, fluffy, excessive coat. ) Less frequent sessions too easily result in a few sessions being skipped or shortchanged, resulting in runaway matting and discomfort for the dog. I suggest that if there is some daily TV program that you watch, this is a convenient time to comb out (and mat-break as needed) the dog as well ; grooming occupies the hands but leaves the ears free and the eyes sufficiently free. I usually have the dog lie on his side on the floor and I myself sit on the floor. (Update note : nowadays I have the dog lying on my bed and myself sitting on the bed, again watching television as I groom. The Star Trek series has changed, but the grooming remains the same.) Some prefer to have the dog standing on a grooming table, while the groomer stands or sits on a chair.

My preferred method of coat grooming is to comb the coat out using either the "MatBreaker" tool (my favorite !) or a "shedding comb" (alternates long and short teeth) or other medium spaced comb. The MatBreaker will break up any existing mats, break up any mats that are beginning to form, and remove a lot of excess undercoat, and will make the outercoat more harsh. The shedding comb will also break up mats that are forming and remove excess undercoat, but less efficiently than the MatBreaker. A "stripping knife" can be used to remove undercoat and harshen the outercoat, but it takes more skill and effort than the MatBreaker. MatBreaker can be bought at pet emporium stores or ordered from various catalogs. The best stripping knife is the McClelland coarse (may be found at dog specialty stores, at dog show vendors, or in some catalogs). Shedding combs can be had at most large pet supply stores. (Update note : the Mars Coat King tool is similar to the MatBreaker but may be even more effective and efficient. I have not yet tried this one.)

(update note : what used to be "MatBreaker" has been replaced by similar tools with other names. These have multiple curved blades, sharp on the inner curve, and may have little side wings on the blades. There are other de-matting tools. See what's available at the pet supply store or catalogue.)

Some dogs really enjoy coat grooming, but many merely accept it , and some endure it with a martyred air. Most dogs have some tender or ticklish areas which should be combed gently. Always be careful when grooming the face, especially around lips, ears , and eyes. Flank and armpits are sensitive on many dogs.

If the dog has gotten burrs stuck into his coat, the sooner these are removed the less difficult it will be for you and the less uncomfortable for the dog. For the great huge sharp-spined cockleburs, especially if they are badly entangled and especially on the dog's more sensitive areas, I find it is easiest to grasp the burr with needlenosed pliers or with a hemostat (also called "hair pulling tool" at the pet supply store), then use a comb to pull the hair away from the burr a few strands at a time. A few drops of Avon Skin So Soft diluted with water can be applied to make the hair slippery and thus easier to pull away. Horehound burrs generally comb out with the shedding comb or other medium spaced comb. Filagree (long & spiral shaped ) and "foxtails" (awns of wild oats, barley and other weeds) burrow into the coat and ultimately into the skin ; they should be combed out as soon as possible, and may need to be grasped with the hemostat and pulled out; once through the skin, it's a job for the vet.

It is customary , though not essential, to clip the hair on the top of the head and on the ears short, ie with a #10 blade. It is also customary and necessarily to cut out windows for the eyes; I prefer to make very large windows to allow the dog maximum freedom of vision, especially needed by herding dogs, protection dogs, and dogs doing any sort of jumping or agility work. Such windows are cut using blunt-tipped scissors. (Never use anything sharp tipped near the eyes!!!) It is customary but not necessarily to leave a "fall" or forelock of hair between the eyes; removing or thinning out this forelock probably improves the dog's vision. I myself prefer to thin out the hair on the cheeks to avoid too "chipmonky" a look. I personally prefer to preserve the beard long and full; but some prefer to thin and shorten , or even remove, the beard to reduce the amount of water that gets dripped across the floor every time the dog drinks from his waterbowl. ( I will let you in on a great secret : Goddess will not strike you dead if you choose to remove your Bouv's beard, and the dog won't care either. ) Because the beard will inevitably accumulate food particles which can get quite offensively smelly and can pick up other disagreeable substances, it is usually nescessary to shampoo the beard from time to time, ie far more often than you need to shampoo the rest of the dog. You can have the dog hold its head over the bathtub or lead the dog into a shower for ease in doing these beard washings.

In summer in hot climates , especially in areas (western US) where foxtails abound, some Bouvs are much more comfortable with a summer cut down. This means clipping the entire coat short on neck, body, belly, legs and feet (some even shave the face, but I prefer to leave the beard long, but thin it out a bit with thinning shears). Try to leave about 1/4 inch (or more) of hair ; clipping too close to the skin exposes it to sunburn. (If you do go too close, limit sun exposure for a while.) With clippers, a #4 blade, either full tooth or altrnate tooth, will do nicely. Or you can put plastic blade guards over your #10 blade. If you don't have clippers or find you can't easily avoid cutting too close, you could instead use scissors, cutting the hair off parallel to the skin. Doing it with scissors is a lot of work and you must be careful not to accidentally cut the skin ! Other Bouvs with harsher sparcer coat , and with greater heat hardiness, may not need a cut down. I have found that individual dogs vary greatly in their need for a full summer cut down to maintain comfort. (Moreover, dogs may vary in this regard as they age.) If your dog seems to be suffering in the heat , give a summer cut down a try. If it helps, then you'll know this dog needed it. If it does not help, then no real harm has been done and you can let it grow out again.

Regardless of the dog's need for a body clip for heat comfort, if foxtail exposure is likely, do shave the feet (with a #10 blade or closer), removing as much hair as possible between the toes and between the pads. Remove the hair from the tops of the feet, especially the webbing between the toes, and from the bottoms of the feet. This will have to be repeated every few weeks throughout the foxtail season. If you don't have clippers, you can do a decent job with blunt tipped scissors. Also clip or shorten the hair in the armpits , on the belly, the groin, and around genitalia, and in male dogs be sure to pay attention to the areafrom the front of the sheath to the belly button as that area for some reason attracts foxtails into it. I would also shorten the hair on the legs all the way up, as it catches burrs and foxtails and serves no useful purpose whatsoever.

In winter you may also want to clip or scissor the feet to reduce the amount of mud that will be tracked into your house. In snow, removing hair between the pads reduces formation of snowballs. (note : I would not be really familiar with the problems of snow and ice, as I live in the Sacramento Valley of California. since I live in the middle of large acreage of agricultural land, in summer the irrigation ditches provide bountiful quantities of mud for shaggy feet to glop up.)

Throughout the year, use blunt tipped scissors to trim hair around anus and genitalia. If you leave long hair around the anus, inevitably some excrement will get glued onto it. (In really neglected dogs , this can get so bad as to obstruct defecation. In outdoor dogs, maggot infestation can occur , creating a medical disaster.)

Clean ears regularly by use of an appropriate cleansing fluid , eg Oti-Clens or other liquid supplied by your vet or simply a solution of 50% vinegar 50% water (for some dogs who find this too strong, use 25% vinegar): squirt enough liquid into the ear to fill the cannal, then massage the canal from the outside (you will hear squishy squooshy sounds), then let dog shake it out, then use cotton balls to wipe out the rest. Repeat this process until the cotton balls are coming out clean, ie no visible dirt or grunge. How often ears need to be cleaned varies with the individual. Once a month would be a minimum, but some need it much more often. At the same time, if your dog has a lot of hair inside his ears, use the hemostat ( = "hair puller") to pull it out a few strands at a time. Removing excess hair will inprove arir circulation and make infections less likely. If your dog is prone to infections, some people report wonderful results in decreasing incidence of infection from feeding the dog a few tablespoonfuls of active culture acidophilous yoghurt every day -- a procedure that certainly could do no harm.

Use a tooth scaling tool regularly (monthly or more often, depending on the individual) to scrape tartar off the teeth. There's a bit of a trick to getting the plaque to pop off the teeth. It takes some practice. Don't be worried if you get a little bleeding from the edge of the gums. While you are at the mouth, try to inspect the entire inside of the mouth or as much of it as you can, looking for any suspicious lumps (which must be further examined and biopsied by the vet ASAP.) Ideally , you should use a toothbrush and doggie toothpaste on a daily basis to prevent soft tartar from building up and turning into hard calcus. There are also some foods and biscuits specially formulated to help remove soft tartar.

Toenail length must be checked frequently. Most dogs need to have their nails shortened regularly by use of either a nail cutter or a nail grinder, as they do not get worn off sufficiently by ground contact. Old dogs need especially frequent nail care. If your dog has dewclaws (5th toe), these toenails will definitely have to be shortened regularly as they do not wear down at all; if neglected they will eventually ingrow , causing great pain. For cutters use the big scissors action type, rather than the "Resco" (guillotine) type : the latter does not work as well on really large nails. For a grinder , I like to use a Dremel Moto-Tool with a drum sander attachment with coarse sanding drums. You are much less apt to invade the sensitive "quick" or pulp inside the nail using the grinder; and you can create a bluntly rounded tip to the nail, which is less apt to split. If the outer shell of the nail does get split, this can be very painful and can lead to infection of the inner pulp. Cutting off a split nail and cauterizing the cut end is usually best done by your vet.


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site author Pam Green copyright 2003
created 1993 revised 8/07/03, 11/13/2020
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