In the past year I’ve followed the Instagram playbook of how to make my world a little less grim: I planted an herb garden, procured (and subsequently killed) a sourdough starter, dialed up my volunteer hours, and acquired a taste for the fine art category known as Tiktok. I also acquired an 8 pound-and-counting, four-legged bundle of mischief and joy. His name is Puff.
Puff is a cavapoo, which means he is part Cavalier King Charles spaniel and part poodle, which means he has curly hair. Well, sort of curly hair? Let’s call it a 2C or 3A curl pattern at most. And still, it was enough for our vet to urgently advise me to consult “how to groom poodle hair” videos on YouTube ahead of Puff’s first visit, because, as she put it, “it’s a process and not as easy as you’d think!”
I didn’t know what I’d find in these videos—ultra precise brush movements? some scissor action? intricate finger detangling?—but I imagined it wouldn’t be fun. And then, as I watched video after video, the truth began to crystalize: Oh God, my dog’s hair routine is essentially the same as mine.
As with human curlsJust like me, the main nemesis for poodle hair is tangles—poodles get more of them than dogs with straight fur. (Fun fact: poodles don’t have fur at all, just hair, so their coats are smoother and less likely to shed.) So as a lifelong owner of a set of tighter, more knot-prone curls, the poodle grooming seemed blissfully easy, even basic to me.
Puff’s hair routine starts with the lick mat that I cover in peanut butter, freeze for 20 minutes or so, and then attach to the side of the bathtub so he is distracted throughout the entire process (Tiktok taught me!) Then I give him a good rinse, followed by a lather of Malin + Goetz’s dog shampoo (currently out of stock everywhere, but not discontinued). Once those paws are properly cleaned and rinsed, I go straight to the conditioner. Dog conditioner is harder to find than shampoo, but for Puff it’s non-negotiable—I need it to detangle! Chi’s Keratin Dog Conditioner is my tool of choice. It smells floral but not cloying, and the scent keeps for days, despite Puff’s best efforts otherwise. It also smooths his hairs to feather-like softness, and keeps it shiny, like CGI in a shampoo commercial. Have I tried it for myself? No, but it’s not off the table.
While the conditioner soaks in for five minutes and Puff goes to town on his peanut butter, I comb his coat with a wide-tooth comb. He gets a rinse after that, and then he’s dried off in a towel (“A microfiber towel?” Ali Oshinsky asked me. My answer: “No, but that’s a good idea.”)
The next stop is under the dryer, which is a two-person, one canine ordeal, where my husband holds Puff while I dry and brush his hair simultaneously. The blow dryer addition is utilitarian; Puff hates to be wet, which is something our neighbor recently pointed out as I carried him on his first “walk” (Neighbor: “Poodle doesn’t want to get his feet wet! [insert a guttural laugh loud enough to wake the dead].”) The blow dryer process straightens his hair a tiny bit, but the curls tend to snap back after a day. And in between his twice monthly washes, Puff gets combed a lot, as in a couple times a week, all in an effort to keep knots and tangles at bay. It’s not foolproof; no curly routine is. But that Puff’s nailed this routine down before his first birthday? He’s already got a leg up on me.
Photo via the author