Having grown up in the dog show world, I’ve always objected to coated breeds being shaved down. It’s kind of a pet peeve of mine. Why buy a coated breed if you are not going to care for the coat, and are just going to brutally buzz-cut it into a miserable-looking hack job? IMO, shaved dogs look terrible, no matter how skilled the groomer. Not to mention, there is a lot of theorizing about whether shaving coated dogs is bad for them. That it’s stressful for them to go from coated to nearly bald and feeling vulnerable. That they are vulnerable to sunburn, and overheating, since coat can actually insulate them from the sun. That the blunted hair coat ends will grow back matted and harder to groom.

SnacksAll of these things have caused me to struggle to keep Moses’ coat brushed every year. And each year, it seems like it’s more and more work. Moses doesn’t have a great coat for a livestock protection dog. His breeder and I have discussed that before, how that is one thing she was not happy about in this dog being equipped to do what he was bred to do. Breeders try to preserve the working breeds, via a “breed standard” for what they were originally bred to do. Surely livestock men of yore did not want to brush their dogs to keep them maintained. So, the breed standard should clearly call out a coat texture and type that requires no grooming.

And yet, the temptation of the show world is to breed for more and more coat, because when kept groomed, it is beautiful. Such that, even breeders who knows this is the wrong direction, are stuck with the gene pool that everyone else creates, and dogs like Moses are produced. Compared to both our Maremmas, Moses’ coat is a nightmare. The Maremmas grow a nice, protective winter coat, but it sheds freely in the spring. At most, I spend a few minutes trimming a couple of spare mats once a year, and that’s it! Moses, on the other hand, just grows a continuous layer of dirty, felted matting that’s millimeters away from the skin.On top of it, Moses is sensitive about being groomed, bellowing in terror at the slightest hair pull or skin pinch.


Last summer, as I triumphed in getting the last bits of matting off of him at summer’s end, just in time for him to start the matting process all over again while growing a winter coat, I declared, no more! I texted his breeder and asked if she’d be willing to help me shave him down in the spring. She agreed.

So this is how we spent our Memorial Day Sunday, this husband-and-wife breeder team and I. She bought a brand new clipper blade, and brought her low-height grooming table. We spent about three hours on it, but with breaks in between, as Moses is nearly twelve and has a hard time standing for long periods. We were able to do part of it while he was lying down. He was very calm and patient, and we fed him a lot of treats. He still remembers how to stack and bait like a show dog. In the end, he emerged with a sort of hybrid Poodle puppy body clip-Bichon-Portuguese Water Dog look. He emerged happy, as if he felt a lot better freed of that wool blanket on a warm spring day. It is an extremely unattractive clip, but it is practical…


And lo and behold, there were really no adverse affects. No emotional trauma. No sunburn, no overheating. We’ll see if it mats worse growing back, but I plan to shave it again next year, so I don’t really care. I now think, why didn’t I do this from the beginning? It is especially nice having a breeder who cares about the dogs she produces throughout their lives and is willing to continue to invest in them, as I would have struggled to do this job alone.

Incidentally, a few weeks before we did this, I had suddenly noticed a huge, hard mass on his left elbow. My heart sank, as it sure felt like Bronte’s bone cancer tumor on her knee. I took him to the vet for diagnosis, and she immediately announced, “well, the good news is, I never see bone cancer on the elbow!” And sure enough, the x-ray showed a clear, non-reflective mass, typical of fat or fluid. Biopsy confirmed, it is a fatty lipoma, which is not likely to metastasize. This one is called an “infiltrative” tumor, in that it is entangled around the joint, unlike a fatty lump on, say, the side of the abdomen, where it just sits on the surface.

The choices are to ignore it, or pursue having it “de-bulked”. I am considering the latter, because I think it is uncomfortable just because of its size and location, and the way it alters his gait. It was described to me that sometimes these tumors can be peeled out of there like an orange peel coming off an orange.  There is a chance it will grow back, but maybe slowly, buying him some time not walking around with a huge bolus in his armpit. He’s not lame, per se, but he does walk slowly now, and no longer runs after cars, cyclists and runners as he used to. It’s on my to-do list to make an appointment with the cancer vet to get her assessment, as this is a surgery my vet thinks is best done by a specialist.


I can tell he’s aging physically and mentally, I don’t think he sees or hears well anymore, and he sometimes acts a little confused.  But, for now, he is happy snoozing in his shade huts under the blackberry vines. He looks forward to his twice-daily meals, always ready at the gate waiting when he knows it’s about time for me to show up, and he barks at me if I do not expedite. Nearly-twelve is old for a giant breed, so I feel lucky he’s still around.