Czechs discover the pleasures of the poodle parlour

On my way to work I meet about five of them. And there are usually a couple more travelling by bus or tram. Dogs, the favourite Czech pet. Their popularity has been growing steadily at all levels of society. These days, just like cars, they tend to represent status and reflect the image of their owners. Wealthier dog lovers don't hesitate and splash out on doggie clothes, high quality food or even special hair styles for their beloved pooch. Good for dogs, even better for dog salons, which used to be quite unknown here. Now they are catching up with western - and especially American fashions offering Czech customers better services.

"It all depends on the owners. Dogs in Germany are just like their owners who look after themselves just as much as after their dogs and front gardens. It is all about prestige and image. A dog has to have style. Go and have a look at Czech front gardens. Mainly messy, just like Czech dogs."

Says Martina Koudelkova owner of the Oliver dog salon.

Martina's four dogs are lazily walking around and are happily showing off their exceptional 'hair cuts'. I am sure. This salon would be a good choice for my dog... if I had a dog, that is.

"I got my first dog when I was about twelve years old. It was a breed that needed trimming so I had to start myself. It was close to impossible to find a salon back then in communist times. I got my first scissors in Austria, they were a big treasure and I started experimenting on my dog. It didn't take long and I was approached by a few people who wanted their dogs to look as good as mine. At the age of fifteen I had my first clients."

Martina has been running the salon successfully for ten years. She has also been successful at international dog grooming competitions. Her clients are of various breeds, sizes, with or without a pedigree. While some are delivered by taxi others cheerfully walk in with their elderly owners.

As I enter the room, I'm met by a distinctly doggy smell. I am greeted by two middle-aged ladies who help Martina to wash and brush the dogs. Today's top client is five-year-old Archie. 'Oh, that is a lovely big white wet dog.' I say. But Martina frowns and puts the record straight. Archie is a White Royal Poodle, dearly loved by his owners.

"His owners asked for a modern style, a bit shorter than the ones you see at shows. It is so much more practical. I will start shaving the parts around the tail, the bottom, the face, the paws, and all the places which get dirty very quickly."

While Archie is getting his shave I walk out of the stuffy room to get some fresh air and to talk to Zlata Hospodarova Martina's student who would like to start her own dogs' salon one day.

"Your hands hurt after an-hour-and-a-half of brushing. You have to hold a dryer in one hand and a brush in the other." Zlata tells me. Eager not to give a bad impression she explains that there are pros and cons to every job. She comes to the salon to learn and to find out if she has the talent needed. "If I fail to set up my own salon one day, at least I'll know how to trimm my own dog." Zlata concludes.

... and I am back in the room where Archie has been standing patiently on a table for more than two hours. His thick fur is gone and I can finally see his eyes. As he turns to look at me or more likely at my blue microphone, I can almost hear him saying 'Look at me. Aren't I beautiful?' Unbelievable! My very first talking dog! Sorry Archie, I should add, my very first talking pedigree dog!

"I have shaved all the body. It is time for the scissors now. I will use these long, bent scissors. They are much longer than ones used by hairdressers who have to be careful not to cut their fingers. I wouldn't be able to get the right natural shape of the body without these long scissors."

Explains Martina. The icing on the cake is the 'crown' on the top of Archie's head. It has to be just the right shape and size. He is after all a White Royal Poodle and you don't mess with royals.

"When Archie's owner comes to pick him up she will definitely say 'You are so beautiful Archie.' And he will immediately realize that something is different. He will feel that he is clean and beautiful and he will show off as if he was at a show."

Martina praises Archie who is suddenly getting restless and tries to jump off the table. He has had enough of the belt which hangs from the ceiling in a loop underneath his stomach back to the ceiling. It is now high time to show off. Encouraged by the previous impression that Archie is a dog that can talk I go for my last question. This time not to Martina but Archie himself. Archie what do you think of your new image?

Well, well, well.... Don't judge a book by its cover and a dog by his haircut. However beautiful, Archie is just a dog, excuse me Archie, a pedigree dog.