Grooming Your Shih Tzu - Part I

Train Your Shih Tzu Puppy for Grooming

Grooming your Shih Tzu can be fun if he/she is trained to allow it without a struggle. This training should begin as early as possible.  One of the first things a puppy should learn is to lie quietly on its side on a grooming table or flat surface. This surface should be comfortable for the groomer who is standing, or sitting if you prefer. Do not try to groom your dog from a disadvantageous position on the floor or the bed. You should be comfortable while grooming or you will tend to rush the job, and the grooming results will be disappointing.

In the beginning, you will spend more time teaching your puppy to be quiet than grooming it. A puppy’s coat mats very little the first few months. By the time it starts the matting-tangling change of coat, at six to nine months, the puppy will have been trained to lie still while you brush and comb its coat.

To lie your dog on its side, stand it sideways in front of you on the grooming surface. Grasp the front and back legs on the opposite side. Lift slightly and push the dog over and away from your body. At the same time, lean over and hold it while speaking softly, until the dog relaxes. As you feel the dog relax, slowly slip your hands and body away so it lies still without being held. If your dog struggles and stands up, repeat the process until you have convinced it that it will not be hurt while lying on its side. You may have to use a little force to hold the dog down the first few times it struggles. Otherwise, it will assume it can get up any time it desires. Practice laying your dog on its side until it will stay there without being held. This frees your hands for grooming. When you have finished a practice session, praise and play with your dog to make it feel rewarded for having pleased you. The early grooming sessions are more for the benefit of training than grooming.

Basic Grooming Supplies

  • Pin Brush: This brush has long pins protruding from a rubber cushion. (metal flexible pins no ball tips) Especially effective for long-haired breeds.
  • Fine and Medium Tooth Comb: preferably Teflon coated with wide and narrow tooth placement for checking for mats after brushing.
  • Fine Face Comb: fine tooth steel comb used to remove eye matter and to comb the facial furnishings (whiskers and beard)
  • Blunt End Scissors: for removing topknot bands and for trimming sensitive areas such as the anus and between the pads of the feet.
  • Hemostats: for removing excess hair from inside the ear canal.
  • Canine Toenail Clippers: For clipping toenails. Nail clippers come with either two cutting edges and or a single blade that acts like a guillotine.
  • Slicker Brushes: This is a rectangular or triangular board with thin, bent wire teeth and a handle. A slicker brush is used to remove loose hair and for picking apart mats. Brush in short, deep strokes.

Layer Brushing

The real grooming process begins with your Shih Tzu lying on the flat surface that you have been training him/her to lie on without struggling. Start by pushing all the hair away from you, exposing the skin of the stomach. Having a starting point helps to avoid getting the hair caught in your brush or comb, and allows you to see the area to be groomed. The exposed skin of the stomach forms a horizontal part of the hair. The part does not need to be straight, but if you do not make the part, you may not get to the skin or you may miss some areas entirely.

Damp Brushing

Dry hair attracts static electricity, which causes individual hairs to stick together. It is a good practice to use an antistatic coat conditioner before brushing. Because static electricity in a dry coat contributes to breakage, spray the coat with a fine mist of water and crème rinse solution or a commercial coat conditioner before brushing. This will help to lubricate the dry coat, protect the ends and help to control the static electricity, thus making the coat more manageable. After spraying the coat, use your pin brush to brush it down. Note: crème rinse solution=mixture of one part cream rinse and eight parts of water in a spray bottle.

Correct Brushing Technique

There is a right way and a wrong way to use the brush. A Shih Tzu's coat is easily damaged by rough handling and improper grooming techniques. Hair has tiny scales that lie flat against the hair shaft. As the hair is pulled and stretched (which is not desirable), the scales project like barbs. Adjacent hairs become snarled and eventually break during the unsnarling process. The coat should be brushed with tools that pass smoothly through the hair. In general, a pin brush can be used safely without stretching the hair. Never flick the pin brush. Keep the brush flat on the hair, avoiding any twisting, turning or flipping action, which tends to break the ends of the hair. Learn to brush with long sweeping strokes and brush down to and beyond the ends of the hair. Brush a small portion of hair down towards the stomach, continuing horizontally from the front to the back of the body. Take care to brush only a small amount of hair, thus moving the part a fraction of an inch up the side of the body. After moving the part up about an inch with the brush, use a medium tooth steel comb on the same area, making sure there are no tangles or mats that were missed by the brush. Do not flip, twist or turn the comb either but simply pull it gently through the hair. If the comb is stopped by a snarl, simply lift it straight up and out of the hair and start over very gently, working the tangle to within a few inches of the ends of the hair. Use a pin brush to gently work the snarl out the last few inches. Continue this inch by inch grooming process until you have groomed the entire body on one side of your dog, including its chest and rear.

Removing Mats

Mats are solid clumps of hair that can form anywhere on the body but are usually found behind the ears, in the folds of armpits, around the anus, on the backs of thighs and between the toes. Mats are evidence of neglected grooming or grooming with the wrong tools. To remove mats, first saturate the lumps of hair in coat conditioner for several minutes. This hydrates the hair and closes the barbs. Then separate as much of the mat as you can with a brush or a comb; if you discover a mat too large to work out with a brush or a comb, use your fingers to spread the mat apart. After separating the mat with your fingers, use the pin brush to work out the mat. Plenty of patience is needed when working out mats. The more you separate the mat into smaller mats or tangles, the less damage you will cause to the hair. Another way to remove a large mat is to use the corner of a triangular shaped slicker brush in a “picking” action, gently pulling hair bit by bit loose from the mat.


Grooming the legs requires you to hold the foot and most of the leg hair at the same time. Start at the base of the leg next to the body. Brush the hair away from the foot and toward the body. By following the same technique as you did on the body, the part should appear completely around the leg. The area under your dog’s leg next to the body tends to mat quickly, so be sure to get all the mats from this area. As this area is one of the most sensitive areas to groom, be gentle to prevent any discomfort. Brush the leg until you have reached the foot. Be careful not to use long brush strokes that damage the body coat. After all the leg hair has been completely brushed and detangled, lightly brush the coat downward toward the foot so it falls in its natural direction.

Clipping Toenails

Your Shih Tzu’s toenails should be clipped weekly to keep the nails short. The nails should never be allowed to grow long enough to absorb the pressure of walking. This pressure should be absorbed by the toes. If the nails are allowed to grow too long, they can cause splaying of the feet and discomfort to your dog.

Lay your Shih Tzu on its side and grasp one of its feet in your hand. Use your index finger to push the hair away from the nails and place your thumb between the pads. Identify the quick (the pink part of the nail), which contains the nerves and blood vessels. If the toenails are white, it's easy to see the quick. Be sure to trim the nail in front of the quick (but close to). With the nail clipper  clip the tip off the nail a little bit at a time until the blunt end of the nail appears pink or, in the case of the black nail, moist. Trim the nails parallel to the toe pads, so that the nails just clear the floor. If you clip too deep, the nail will bleed, and the dog will feel a brief moment of pain.. The bleeding can be stopped by applying pressure to the end of the nail. Keep some styptic powder available and apply it to stop any bleeding immediately. After trimming the nails, you can use your rounded tip scissors to trim off hair between the pads of feet.


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