I’ve had rough-coated border collies for 16 years. I have hiked them in all kinds of terrain this entire time; much of these hikes in the dry Rocky Mountain climate I grew up in. Still, the burr (spiky seed pod) situation I experienced with my young Felix just a few days ago is unparalleled in my life. Anyone with dogs that have coat much thicker than a vizsla’s knows that these spiny devils can wreak havoc on any nice walk in nature. The times I have combed them out of Idgie’s or Kelso’s coats are many; and the times I’ve cut them out are plentiful enough.

Then, the other day, Felix topped them all.

The pictures don’t do it justice; this was a state of emergency. 

You see, my boy Felix has a zeal for life that is unlike that of any dog–or other creature–that I have ever met. In my seminars I often talk about dogs with “BIG FEELINGS” and Felix is the reason I use that phrase. To see Felix frolicking down an open trail, across a grassy meadow, or in a mountain stream is to witness joy embodied. So when I noticed that his tail and neck ruff were collecting burrs on our pit-stop hike the other day (halfway to our destination) I figured, whatever. I will pick them out at the car, let him run. I don’t regret that choice, as the damage was done, but I was wrong about the picking them out part. And that’s where this gets interesting.

At the car I attempted to pick the burrs out of Felix’s body. Turns out they were embedded in his tail, making it one giant ball of felted fur and burrs. They were down to the skin behind his ears, woven into his delicious ear hair that I adore. The little boogers were even twisted up into his armpits in clusters. My poor guy must have been uncomfortable; but they hadn’t slowed him down. Nothing stops him from experiencing full-on bliss on a hike. Nothing.

You guys, that ear hair. It’s gone. 

My fingers were not doing the trick and I do not travel with all of my grooming tools. So I chose to put Felix in the car and deal with the nasty buggers when I arrived at my destination. So, 9pm, glass of wine nearby (thanks mom), I assessed the situation. Quickly I saw that there would be no brushing these things out, and that while I could use oil, another day of waiting to buy such oil would only allow them to dig deeper into my sweet boy’s skin. Felix was also as exhausted as I was and fully over being handled and groomed.

So I picked up a metal comb and a pair of scissors, and did what needed to be done. It was so tedious and uncomfortable for Felix that I did it in several short sessions, and when I was done he was free of the burrs and also much of his beautiful coat. Each cut hurt me deeply; I am unabashedly in love with the way my dogs look. As hard as it was for Felix to tolerate me cutting these out (it was no small task and involved wiggling them away from his skin with the comb) it would have been much, much harder for him to withstand the actual removal of the burrs without scissors. I’d have been happier in the end because my gorgeous dog would still be fluffy and fully coated; but our relationship would have suffered. So this is a case of taking the high road; of choosing the long term over the short term. It was a case of choosing my connection to my sweet dog over my own vanity. And it hurt (me).

So my question is, when was the last time you chose your relationship with your dog over your own ego, or your own goals? Do you do the ear pinch, knowing it will get you that consistent retrieve for the ring; or do you trust the power of positive reinforcement? Do you noose up the dog and cut those toenails or do you let them grow a little while you work on a cooperative toenail routine?

Relationship, friends. It’s everything. 

Do you throw on a prong collar, or spend the painstaking months it might take to teach reliable loose leash walking?

Often we choose ourselves or our goals over the relationship that exists between us and our dogs. I am not exempt from this; but I am choosing to think of my choice as a wise one while I cringe at the butchered coat of my pretty young dog. He is thrilled; he can continue hiking to his heart’s desire and he has no aversion to combs, scissors, or brushes. I am horrified at his chopped-up tail and man-mane. But I will live, and he will trust me all the more.

4 thoughts on “Relationship>Vanity

  1. Great post! I just had this exact situation with my rough collie, Skye. I love her coat and take great pride in keeping her well groomed and floofy – and then the attack of the burrs occurred during our walk in the woods. She was COVERED. I took one look and knew that her leg hair was dunzo. We have come along way with her grooming but I knew the process of removing the burrs with a brush would be a step back in that relationship. So I have a choppy but happy mess of a dog, and happy is what matters. 🙂

  2. I have a standard poodle going on 15. I made the decision a couple years ago that trying to keep grooming him the way I have in the past, making sure he was evenly shaved down, getting each foot just right, making sure his head was balanced, etc. just wasn’t worth the uncomfortable process of holding still, stretching out a leg for a couple minutes, etc. So now he has some tufts sticking out here and there, I don’t worry about clipping the top of his feet anymore, just the pads for safety, one ear might be a little longer than the other, etc. As he is losing his sight I’ve been cutting the hair way back from his eyes even tho it gives him an odd look. And yeah, sometimes I worry that people will think he’s not as beautiful as I know he is or think I don’t care enough about him to take the time to make sure he looks perfect after grooming. But in the end, those are very small potatoes compared to his comfort. He still goes into my office with me some days and I find I really don’t care if someone can’t look past the grooming imperfections to see the amazing soul shining out of his therapy dog eyes.

  3. Loved this post. Just the other day, I attempted to clip my dog’s dew claws (any idea why they are called that, btw?) and didn’t do a good job on the second one and so it didn’t get clipped. I was frustrated and really wanted it done, but time and much blog reading and talking to good dog trainers has gotten me to a place where I realized it was better – after assessing it can remain in the state that it’s in – to leave things be and to start again another time as I have learned to value the trust and the relationship we have developed.

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