Grooming Kooikerhondjes

One of the major selling points for Kooikers is how little grooming they require – and it’s true! But it doesn’t mean NO grooming, and this post is about striking that happy medium. A Kooiker owner shouldn’t need to take their dog to a professional groomer, but they should be prepared to do occasional maintenance with the proper tools.

The Look

Kooikers are meant to have a rustic, un-fussy aesthetic. A healthy Kooiker coat should have topcoat hard enough to shed dirt and sand, but remain soft to the touch. Individual dogs can range from revealingly threadbare coats (noticeably seen in females after their heats or puppies) to males with long, profuse coats. These are all within normal variation for the breed, and a “healthy coat” may mean a slightly different look between dogs, but each should be maintained as naturally as possible. However, when breeders and Kooiker enthusiasts say grooming is minimal, it still means that some maintenance grooming is required for a healthy coat (and healthy dog).

Stand Nederlandse Kooikerhondje

“Hair: Of medium length, slightly wavy or straight and close lying. Soft hair. Well-developed undercoat.

Front legs should have moderate feathering reaching to the pastern joints. Hind legs should have fairly long feathered breeches; no feathering below the hock joints. The coat on the head, the front part of the legs and the feet should be short. Sufficiently feathered on the underside of the tail. Longer hair on throat and forechest. Earrings (long feathered black hairtips) are highly desirable.

… The dog is presented with a natural, untrimmed coat.”

From the FCI breed standard

Maintenance

Like in all dogs, Kooiker grooming involves cutting or grinding toenails, cleaning teeth, and occasionally cleaning out the ears. These can be done as often as needed but are not typically daily maintenance, except if an owner chooses to brush their dog’s teeth every day. These types of things need to be done for all dogs and Kooikers are no exception. New dog owners should be sure to have nail clippers or a Dremel, a toothbrush and dog-safe toothpaste, some cotton swabs and an ear cleaner.

Coat maintenance is a little more breed-specific but should not be time-consuming. The ONLY trimming allowed in the AKC show ring for this breed is “neatening of the feet” which involves trimming the sometimes-unruly hair that grows between the paw pads and the toes. One can use small scissors/shears or electric trimmers (or both) for this tidying, and follow it up with thinning shears to make this grooming look more natural. Some dogs may never grow fur long enough to require it, but with my hairy males, I find I need to do it once every month or two, and again before a show or event. Other than that, trimming of hair on the body should not be required for pet dogs and is meant to be faulted in the show ring, along with any other fussy grooming practices like stripping or chalking.

Normal coat maintenance consists of a simple brushing with a pin brush, bristle brush, or comb, and should be done between daily and weekly, depending on the dog. Coats should not be brushed when dry, so a light spritz of water or water combined with a conditioner or grooming product will help reduce coat damage. Kooikers will sometimes form mats, especially in the soft hair behind the ears, so a finer comb run through the troublesome parts, more often, should maintain proper coat. Kooikers are double-coated dogs that do shed twice a year and females will also shed after heats or puppies, and owners may find that during these times, more frequent brushing is required. At these times, a slicker brush or undercoat rake may help manage the amount of fur on the floor!

Spay coat” is a definite phenomenon seen in Kooikers – the condition where the coats of spayed or neutered dogs changes and becomes more wooly and sheds more heavily. Spay coats are also more prone to matting. Sometimes we see neutered pet Kooikers with mats or dense areas resembling the beginnings of dreadlocks, especially on their sides. This is why I say that Kooikers may be a low-maintenance dog, but it doesn’t mean zero maintenance! Coat maintenance needs to be done for neutered animals especially, as they can be more difficult to maintain – and mats can pull on skin and hurt the dog.

There are often questions on social media about bathing Kooikers, and this seems to illustrate a cultural difference – Europeans will proudly state that their dogs have never been bathed, and Americans will say show dogs are bathed at least once or twice a week! Again, Kooiker coats are not meant to require much bathing and maintenance to stay clean and healthy. Very often on outdoor adventures, Kooikers will become covered in mud, sand, or small sticks and leaves, and owners despair of ever getting this out of their coats – but on the ride home or within a few hours, most of the dirt has just fallen right out of the coat and generally no baths are required. Most Kooikers, my own included, are bathed only when required because they have rolled in something smelly, and then again a few days before a show. This will depend heavily on the coat and activities of any individual dog, as well as owner preference. If you are going to bathe your dog, use BOTH shampoo and conditioner. Kooikers can air-dry, but sometimes their fur will dry in wonky arrangements that are hard to fix once dry, so the use of a drying coat or suit, or a high-velocity dryer, will give you more control over the direction in which the hair dries.

For Show

It is very important to Kooiker enthusiasts that the “wash and wear” character of the breed is maintained, and for that reason, direction warning against overgrooming is found in the very FIRST paragraph of the AKC breed standard: “Visible scissoring or grooming, except for neatening the feet, is to be severely penalized.” Judges are cautioned against rewarding dogs that are not wearing their “natural, untrimmed coat” in the show ring. This means that maintenance grooming as described above is sufficient to prepare a dog for show. American judges in particular will prefer a clean, freshly bathed coat with clean feet and teeth, but no further grooming is required to enter a conformation show. (As an aside, the other major conformation organization in the US – UKC – has stringent rules about grooming and requires that no product – even water – is in the coat while being judged.)

Products

This isn’t a product-recommendation post, necessarily. Since Kooikers’ hair type, length and thickness varies, (as does the owner’s tolerance for unruly locks!) different products will work for different dogs and I’d encourage some trial-and-erroring! Owners wanting recommendations for specific products should be able to ask their breeders and fellow Kooiker owners for their favorites, and I’m willing to share mine via email. In general, I’d advise the following “starter pack” which should be sufficient to groom 90% of pet Kooikers:

  • Nail trimmers or clippers, AND/OR a cordless Dremel tool (even the basic $20 Walmart model will do fine, as will the included attachments, but you can buy better/more dog-specific grooming heads)
  • Toothbrush and dog-safe toothpaste. A dental scaler can also be used but requires some caution.
  • Cotton balls or pads, and a commercial ear cleaner like Zymox or Epi-Otic
  • Small grooming shears or scissors – I prefer very small ones with a blunt tip; AND/OR a small cordless electric trimmer, such as a beard trimmer.
  • Shampoo AND conditioner – I find you can’t go wrong with products by Chris Christensen, Isle of Dogs, Panagenics, or #1 All Systems, but these won’t be found in most pet stores. If you want to start small, use a cheaper pet store shampoo and follow it up with a higher-end conditioner, instead of the other way around.
  • An all-purpose grooming/detangling spray – again my favorites are the four above plus the Crown Royale brand.
  • Brushes to your liking: a pin brush, bristle brush, slicker brush, and/or undercoat rake or alternative for shedding season. I’d recommend buying them one at a time, and in that order, to find what works best for you and your dog.