Three-year-old Darcy has a bath in preparation for competition. Photo: Simon O’Dwyer June Soderstrom and daughter Virginia give Darcy a make-over.
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Darcyin preparation for being exhibited at the show.

Darcy sits placidly while being groomed for exhibition at the Royal Melbourne Show.

How do you stay cool while washing an Old English sheepdog? Play easy listening songs, and learn how to duck.

Preparing three-year-old Darcy for competition at the Royal Melbourne Show is three hours of slushy hard yakka for mother and daughter team June and Virginia Soderstrom.

They must lift the 38-kilogram gentle giant into the bath, scrub his giant paws, woolly neck and hairy face with shampoo and conditioner, rinsing in between, till the light part of his coat is toothpaste-white.

They try to duck in time when every so often he gives an epic shake, soaking everyone near the bath in their Greenvale garage.

Two secret weapons get them through. The first is easy listening music. It’s relaxing, and Virginia doesn’t need a stopwatch – she times the application of soaps, lotions and water by the number of Barry White, Ronan Keating and Peter Allen songs.

The second is the adorable nature of Darcy – stage name Australian Champion Perfu Here Comes the Fuzz.

As he’s hosed, moisturised, then hoisted on to a table to be brushed and blasted from three hair dryers, he doesn’t whine or try to flee.

He sits placidly – blind from the curtain of hair over his eyes – occasionally smiling or obediently lifting a paw to be groomed.

A jet plane could probably land outside, or a small child could pull his tail, and he wouldn’t flinch.

Friday is his big day competing in his breed and class at the Showgrounds. If he wins best in breed, he will return on Saturday be be judged against six other top dogs for the coveted Best in Show title.

Virginia says it’s she who gets nervous in the show ring. “He’s fine, he loves it. He loves all the attention.”

The Soderstroms have been showing Old English sheepdogs for 40 years, since a teenage Virginia pestered her parents, June and the late Lou, to get a puppy.

But June and Lou fell even harder for the breed – within a year, they had bought their own puppy, and by the 1980s were leaving Virginia at home to enter 100 dog shows a year, all over Australia.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Soderstroms’ dogs would compete against about 200 Old English sheepdogs at the Royal Melbourne Show. The breed was famous from the Dulux commercials — some of the Soderstroms’ dogs, including Darcy, have starred in them.

On Friday at the show they expect only about 12 to compete. The breed fell out of favour due to smaller suburban gardens and the lack of time to exercise them.

Not to mention their grooming needs. “They say you’ve really got to love an Old English sheepdog because of the sheer upkeep and maintenance of them,” Virginia says. “They’re beautiful, but a lot of work.”

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