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What does a groom at Crufts actually do?

Dan ShawWhen one qualifies for most big agility events like Crufts, Olympia and the various World Championships, it is traditional to take a groom (usually a friend) with you. The groom's job is basically to make the handler's day easier. In 2024, Dan Shaw was grooming for his partner Dave Munnings with Legacy (Susan) in the Championship and he was helping Martin Reid and Naarah Cuddy with their ten million qualified dogs in the Singles. Of course, extra love had to be given to his home bred girl, Runbye Going Bananas! In an interview with photographer Linda Gore, he explains what the role of a groom at Crufts is.

Some handlers ask more of a groom than others. Luckily for me, the handlers I was helping at Crufts were fairly self-sufficient. It turns out my main role was to be a donkey, carrying the crate - and shopping - back and forth from the van.

A vital role of the groom is to help make course walking decisions backstage once the competitors are given the course map. When competing at these big events, I always want my groom to keep me chilled, so I try to do this when I groom for others, too. Personally - and Dave, Martin and Naarah are the same - I like to warm up my own dog, but often grooms help with this role, too. The groom must not forget to feed and water the handler. Hangry handlers are not pleasant.

Q. What's the hardest part of being a groom?

A. My days were incredibly easy, but I am sure the days of all grooms were not the same. Many competitors need a groom to help them with mental prep, to stay focused, to cope with emotions. I say it every time at big events, but it is no coincidence that those who are not flapping backstage are doing better in the ring!

Q. And the easiest?

    A. Taking the glory for any success!

Q. How do you feel that so many of your friends have qualified and you have not?

A. I honestly could not be any prouder of my friends. Many people only get to see those at the top of our sport being amazing, but I train with these people when things go wrong, when they need a shoulder to cry on and watch them dedicate their lives to being at the top. So, to be there on the great days, like Crufts, is awesome.

Of the UK finals, Crufts is probably my favourite so, of course, I was a little sad not to be there. The 2023 season was not kind to me. With dog injuries and just general life chaos qualifying was not possible. But the year taught me to be grateful for the good times, so I focused on the success of my friends and taking inspiration to be back next year.

Q. Have you taught any these competitors?

A. As so many of my students had qualified for Crufts this year, I won't name them in fear of forgetting someone, but I was so proud of them all flying that Agility Geek flag!

Q. Who pays for your expenses?

A. It's not cheap at Crufts. I don't expect anything to be paid for me when grooming. It's a fun day out for me, too. Having said that if Dave, Martin and Naarah wish to take me to an all-expensive trip to the Maldives, I definitely wouldn't say no!

Q. Have you done this job before?

A. I was really lucky that I used to groom for Dave before I had ever qualified for Crufts myself. It was so helpful in preparing me for my first Crufts all those years ago!

Q. What words of advice would you give for anyone else who is asked to be a groom?

A. Just do it!

About the author...
Linda Gore loves action photography and doing agility with her Border Collies.

She lives in Leicestershire.

Photo credit: Dan Shaw headshot - Linda Gore Photography

First published 14th March 2024

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