The Deeply Weird World Of Extreme Dog Grooming

Photographer Paul Nathan shines a light on the deranged world of competitive dog grooming, which takes the creative potential of fur to its limits. Brace yourselves.

The world of creative canine coiffure is a truly, deeply weird one. Last year, NYC-based photographer Paul Nathan traveled to New Jersey’s Intergroom, a high-profile grooming competition, because of course those exist, and took portraits of pooches clipped and dyed to look like flamingoes, clowns, leopards, and parrots, among other un-dogly things.


Now, these freakish glamour shots are compiled in a book, Groomed, out this spring from Pelluceo Publishing. Some of these dogs look understandably embarrassed or confused, but others just look smug, convinced their new fur is super fly. After all, most of Nathan’s subjects are poodles, Bichon Frises, and Bedlington Terriers–creatures already doomed to looking ridiculous at all times.

As for whether these grooming procedures constitute cruelty to animals: Nathan insists that groomers work to keep their pets happy and comfortable. The non-toxic dyes are applied in different stages over the course of a few days, in sessions of up to three hours. “As with child stars, some are just born with patience and the will to please that help them deal with the long process involved in creating a creative grooming piece,” Nathan says in a recent interview with Feature Shoot. The child beauty pageant analogy is apt–indeed, this deranged culture already has its own high-drama reality show, Animal Planet’s Groomer Has It.

“When the dogs are presented, the groomer is often dressed to match the animal and there is a set or backdrop where the animal is presented,” Nathan says. “This really was one of the craziest things I have ever seen.” To top off the craziness, “some do a little performance,” Nathan says (whatever that means)–an effort to take home prize winnings of up to $1,500. Nathan chose to leave out photos of the matching groomers, perhaps to protect their dignity. We’re not sure whether to laugh or cry at some of these photographs, but at least we can rest assured the artistic potential of poodle fur has not gone untapped.

Groomed is available here for $25.

About the author

Carey Dunne is a Brooklyn-based writer covering art and design. Follow her on Twitter.