(These are dog grooming instructions for all long-haired small dogs. If you have a short-coated small dog, you don't need most of these instructions. He or she need his toenails clipped and an occasional rub down with a rough cloth.)
It’s true that all long coated dogs require more care than short coated ones. Small long-coated dogs are very actually very easy to groom. Really. It’s all in knowing what to do, and having the right equipment. Still it remains that they are more work than many other breeds.
It is certainly true that if one wanted an absolutely easy care coat, the solution would lie in cutting all the hair off with clippers. But what fun is that? Besides, if one wants a short-coated dog, it makes sense to me to buy a short-coated breed.
Of course, as you contemplate the mass of tangles, burs and bits of stick that your dog has managed to accumulate over that last (it feels like) teensy period of time, exchanging the dog out for, say a Miniature Pinscher doesn’t seem like such a bad idea.
Okay, you know that I am joking, (maybe). But seriously, there has to be a way of bathing, brushing and trimming your dog so that he or she still looks lovely but isn’t a pain to groom.You just need the proper dog grooming instructions.
Many pet owners say to me, I couldn’t possibly groom my own dog. I have a local groomer who will do this for me. That of course is fine, and I’m sure your dog will come home clean and sweet smelling.
But will the dog come home easier to maintain than before, and even more seriously, will they come home with a (gasp) bow in their hair? So part of what I am teaching you can also be taught to your groomer.
Dog Grooming Equipment
Your local pet store has, I am sure, fine products in many areas. However, they do not have the quality of combs or brushes you need for your dog. Even if you don’t plan to do it all yourself, you should have the following:
A natural bristle brush, with or without plastic centers. If it has plastic centers, the plastic should not have a knob at one end. These can be purchased at a local hair salon retail store. Our’s is Sally’s. A natural bristle brush is good for brushing your dog’s coat out once it is free of tangles.
A good pin brush for tangle teasing. My favorite for this is Scalpmaster.A Greyhound style metal comb. 1 All Systems Ultimate Combsor Chris Christiansen Buttercombs – you want a fairly expensive comb because the good ones will have few or no burrs to catch coat. Source is any good online pet website. The purpose of a comb is to check for tangles, not pull them out.
A small slicker brush. I like the Ultimate Professional Slicker. You want a small one, but softer than the pet store type. These are good for brushing out feet hair. Get from a pet supply website.
A nail clipper. Get the kind for the biggest breeds. They are more powerful and therefore easier even on small toenails.
A 4” or 5” scissors. Sally’s sells good ones; you can also try a dollar store. If you do get one at a dollar store, get several, as often not every one of them will work well.
You can get scissors with blunt ends if you’d like, it will give you confidence that you’re not about to stab your dog. By the way, you won’t stab your dog but it can take a while to gain this confidence.
A 4” or 5” thinning sheers, teeth on one side only. It’s fine if you get a great deal on a pair, but you might want to get a couple pair. The cheap ones often work fine, but sometimes don’t.
Do you really need a grooming table? No not really, but you need a comfortable table to groom your dog on. You definitely need some sort of non-slip surface so your dog feels secure on the table. A non-slip bathmat works well for this.
A grooming arm can be quite helpful.A good one is the MidWest Deluxe Folding Grooming Arm. Small dogs can be wiggly and twisty and turny. A grooming arm holds at least their head in place. You clamp it on the edge of a table.
A Cordless clipper. A good one is Wahl Touch-Up Rechargeable Dual Head Trimmer. So you’ve gotten all your equipment. Probably spent more than you intended. (Don’t worry – it will all last a long time.) Now what?
Dog Grooming Tips
Well there are two old sayings in dog grooming instructions:
1. Never brush a dog that’s dry.
2. Never brush a dog that’s wet.
Yeah I know. Pretty annoying. But actually there’s truth in both statements.
It’s true that one should never brush a dry dog. Tangles can be formed around dirt that will literally wash out once your dog is bathed. And especially males can get, well, sticky. You’re better off washing that out before brushing the coat.
Dog Grooming Detangling
By the way, I find that there are two kinds of tangles.
a. Dirt tangles. See above.
b. Scratched or rubbed tangles combined with dirt. These won’t wash out but still they benefit from being cleaned and conditioned before being brushed out.
If you brush a wet dog you pull at the hair follicle when it’s vulnerable, stretching it and weakening it. So don’t brush a dog that’s wet.
Ideally you brush a dog when he’s damp, either from a bath or by being lightly sprayed with a leave-in conditioner. You can use a regular human conditioner, diluted until it’s almost water, a human leave-in conditioner diluted about half and half or a doggie leave-in conditioner. It’s better to brush a dog after being bathed though, if they are at all dirty.
Dog Grooming -- The Bath
By the way, how often should you bathe your dog? Basically when he needs it, but as a general rule, it‘s a bath and a brush once a week.
So let’s talk about bathing your dog. First of all you are absolutely right that dog hair has a different PH than human hair. Therefore you must never use human hair products on a dog, right? Well….
There are wonderful dog only shampoos and conditioners. I like a product called Coat Handler Clarifying Shampoo; it costs about $10.00 for the shampoo, ditto for the conditioner.
However the Pantene line of Sleek and Shiny or the Sunsilk smoothing shampoos and conditioners do almost as good a job as the expensive stuff. You wouldn’t think they could work well, because they were developed for human, not dog hair, but I’ve used them for years and they work great. Go figure.
Dog Grooming Instructions: Onto the Bath
I always bathe my dogs in the sink. A hose attachment is very helpful for this. If you don’t have one, make do with a plastic cup until you next need to replace your sink fixtures. Then get a faucet with a hose attachment.
A note about ears: Even if you have a prick eared breed, it is not a good idea to fill the ear canal with water. Fungus can easily grow in such a dark, wet environment.
So before you start the bath squirt a small amount of Swimmers Ear, made for kids that swim a lot, into each ear and follow up with a small amount of cotton wool. This will go a long ways towards keeping the ears healthy and fungi-free.
So you’ve shampooed your dog and rinsed it out. Always use a conditioner and don’t be stingy especially if your dog is tangly. It’s very helpful to have your dog sit at least five minutes, or even better ten minutes in the conditioner, at least once a month. How do you keep him in the sink that long? How to do this without getting soaked yourself? Entertain your dog. Tap dance. Whistle Dixie. And when that fails, threaten death and destruction if he jumps.
And don’t leave his side (I bring a book) so he knows you can make good on your promise.
So he’s shampooed and conditioned. You’ve wrapped him in a towel and put him in his crate to dry off a bit. (He does have a crate, doesn’t he?)
Dog Grooming Instructions: Now what?
You can hear your dog shaking vigorously, turning around in his crate, shaking again, rubbing his beard dry against his towel. When he is at least well wicked, in other words no longer dripping, you can decide – to blow dry or not to blow-dry?
I almost never blow-dry my dogs, other than when I’m getting ready for a show. I don’t think the heat is good for their coat; any more than I think that a woman should blow-dry their hair every day. But I think everyone, even pet owners, should know the right and the wrong way to blow-dry their dog. Because he will really only look his most gorgeous after being blown dry.
And wouldn’t that be fun every once in a while?
So your dog has been wicked and is standing at table level on a non-slip surface. Show people have special tables for this, but really, a good bathmat on a study flat surface will do. Show people also have a wonderful contraption called a stand dryer, which is basically a big blow dryer on a stand with wheels. I bought one of these many years ago, practically having to take out a second mortgage.
Only a few months later I left it at a show. Yes I know. So I don’t use a stand dryer. I use a good human blow dryer from Sally’s. My favorite kind is the one that “ionizes”. Why do I like it better? I think it does a better job, even though I have no idea what “ionizing” is.
When you blow-dry a long coated dog you want to spray on some kind of leave-in conditioner. I’ve never found human leave-ins that I like, so I use a product from the Australian company Plush Puppy called Swishy Coat. I am sure there are other good products out there and I would be interested in hearing about others’ experience with this.
At this point I settle myself in a good chair next to the table, a towel on my lap. I put my dog on my lap, belly up. Yes, he will need to get used to this position, and a typical small dog may not consider it dominant enough. But let’s think about this – who’s the boss? A hint: “my dog” is the wrong answer!
So like I said, put your dog on the towel, belly up. You will blow him out from bottoms up, belly and legs first. Once he gets the idea, most dogs like this and find it relaxing. Blow him out thoroughly and don’t leave damp spots – if you do this may cause frizzies later.
At this point lets talk a bit about tangles. Tangles happen. They happen to dogs with gorgeous long coats and short scruffy coats and everything in between. So the first step when you see a tangle is don’t beat yourself up. You and your dog will be fine. Trust me.
Dog Grooming Instructions: Now for a bit of physics.
The loosest part of a tangle is at its bottom. So you want to loosen it up from its bottom. When you dig your brush into the top of a tangle and power downwards, you are actually tightening the tangle, and will pull out more hair that way. Your dog will do anything from eyeing you reproachfully to rapping your knuckles smartly with his teeth, because it hurts.
So get out tangles from the bottom, and work your way up-wards. I have a girlfriend who can turn a Silky Terrier with nothing but dreadlocks into one with a dead straight hair shimmering like a waterfall, using nothing more than a strong nylon brush.
She settles in on a sofa in front of the TV, sits the dog on her lap and gently works each tangle loose from the bottom up. She also has satellite cable so she can be adequately entertained for the hours and patient hours this takes.
I am not so patient. I like to use a Scalpmaster pin brush; it has a hard cushion with a short pin shaft. An alternative that works well, especially on the dogs’ legs, is a slicker brush. These are commonly used on poodles and have a thin bent metal shaft.
I will occasionally run into tangles that I can’t loosen, either because they are too tight or they are in a sensitive spot and my dog is howling in distress. I can either put my dog in a crate for a while until everybody calms down, or I can slice the tangle.
I take a pair of scissors, hold them open so I am using one of the blades like a knife, and move it downward through the tangle. Yes I will lose some hair this way, and professional groomers probably have their teeth bared at me right now, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.
Dog Grooming Instructions: A note here about combs.
Combs are good for checking for tangles but they are lousy for getting rid of them. They pull extra hair out and will leave your pooch plotting revenge. (Dogs are good at that. Not a good idea.) So repeat after me: I will never use a comb to pull a tangle. I will never use a comb to pull a tangle. I will never use a comb to pull a tangle.
Only loosen tangles with a good pin brush or slicker brush. A comb can sometimes be used to bring the tangle out of the coat after it is loosened.
Obviously all this information about how to detangle a dog can be used as well if you decide not to blow-dry him. In that case, keep him in his crate until he’s just barely damp, put him on your non-slip surface, spray lightly with the leave-in conditioner and let the games begin.
Once your dog’s belly and legs are dry and tangle free, put him on your table and continue blow-drying him from the top down. Make sure to really get under the topcoat to dry everything and watch out for areas like behind the ears and on the cheeks and neck.
Okay, he’s dry and tangle free and he doesn’t hate you too badly. Sit back and enjoy your handiwork Your dog looks lovely. Tell him that he is most gorgeous creature that ever lived. Give him a treat – heck, give him two.
But wait – even though he’s gorgeous, his feet look like small dinner plates!
Dog Grooming Instructions: How do you trim?
The idea of trimming a small long-coated dog, even one that is never going to see the inside of a show ring, is to make your dog look like his hair just happened to grow that way.
First of all the ears, for prick-eared breeds like Silkys and Yorkies: Take a good trimming clippers (those are clippers with a very fine blade) and run them first with the grain of the hair, and then against the grain of the hair on the back of both ears.
On the outside edge of both ears is a fold about 2/3 down. Trim to that. On the inside edge you can trim down to the head. So there will be a line of hair at an angle on your Silky’s or Yorkie's ear running from the point where the ear meets his head to the ear fold on the outside. Make this even for both ears. Then clipper the inside of the ears, all of it.
You’ve turned on the clippers and your dog is screaming in panic? There is no need for a straight jacket for him or full body armor for you. Clippers make a strange noise and they tickle (unlike nail clippers – more on that later). Place the clippers on the back of your dog, business end away from him.
Let him feel the vibration as well as hear the noise. Take your time. If you were in a panic would you like someone to rush you? Then do a little bit at a time. Small dogs are many things but they are not dummies. They will figure out that this is not an instrument of torture.
When you’ve clippered the ears, you can trim the edges. I like a blunt tipped children’s safety scissors best for this. These scissors are made to decently cut through paper or hair, but to stop at flesh. Just run your scissors around the ear edge where you have clippered.
The true secret of grooming a small dog is – take your time. If one procedure takes him to the edge of panic, don’t immediately do another. Give him a break. Then go back and do the next action. Groomers don’t have this luxury but you do.
After the ears, you can take on the tail – (this is for Silkys only – you leave others’ tail hair long). How to achieve that typical short Silky flag? Stand your dog on your grooming table perpendicular to you, his face to the left if you are right handed. Put your left index and middle finger down each side of the hair on the back of his tail. With your scissors in your right hand, trim up from the anus with your fingers as a guide. There will be some missing bits to trim but this will give your Silky a nice flag.
Using your safety scissors trim the hair around his anus, also you can trim some of the tan hair up from the base of his tail. This keeps the “dingle berries” (bits of dried poop caught in the hair) down. If you have a Yorkie that is always getting messy tail hair, you can groom it like a Silky. I won’t tell if you don’t.
Okay, now onto the feet! If the second you touch your dog’s feet, he glares at you and acts like you’re about to sneak off with his favorite bunny toy, I recommend a muzzle. Now before you cry out at the meanness, the cruelty, the inhumanity, consider this.
All a good muzzle does is let your dog know that certain actions are currently physically impossible. You don’t want to be spending half your time working on your dog’s feet dodging his teeth.
It’s a waste of time but even more so you are teaching your dog that going after you is acceptable behavior, as long as he doesn’t connect. I use an inexpensive nylon muzzle.
First I like to use my clippers and trim around the pads of the feet and also the space behind the pads up to the knob above the front feet. On the back feet, clipper between the pads and just a bit behind the pads.
You can clipper all the feet if you want to, or you can scissor them with thinning shears.
Here are the pros and cons for each:
Dog Grooming Instructions: Clippering:
Pro: Your dog will bring in less dirt to the house, because he has less hair on his feet.
Cons: 1. Dogs can be very sensitive and downright ticklish on their feet. It can be a battle of wills to get the job done.2. Your dog will look pretty naked on his feet until the hair grows in a bit.
How To: Clipper the front feet to the "ankle" front and back, removing as much hair as you can. On the back feet, clipper in front up to the ankle, and on the back of the back feet, clipper almost all the way up to the hocks.
Dog Grooming Instructions: Scissoring:
Pros: 1. Your dog will look more like a show dog.2. He will tolerate the scissoring better than the clipper.Con: Scissoring will not cut the hair as short as when you clipper, so your dog will track more dirt into the house.
How To: You scissor in the same basic pattern as you clipper. When you use thinning shears in general, cut the hair in the same direction as it grows. This will avoid cutting lines, and if well done, the dog looks like his hair just happened to grow that way.
Only his hairdresser will know for sure! Leave enough hair over the toenails to cover them, and trim around the edges of the feet with a regular shears to tidy things up.
Most owners tell me they don't want to trim their dog's toenails. I can understand this. I have good friends that tell me they do the job with a small circular sander called a Dremel, which can be purchased, from either a pet supply house or most hardware stores. I have never gotten the hang of this.
The one time I tried, my dog put her head down into the spinning sander and pulled out a good bit of topknot hair by the roots.So how to do toenails? A toenail has a curve in it. You want to cut at the curve or a bit above and always at an angle toward the dog.
I like to trim my dogs at the latest when they sound like tap-dancers, because the toenails are hitting the floor and this is affecting their feet and therefore their posture. I don't think that's a good thing. If your dog hates getting his nails trimmed, definitely do one foot at a time. Then take a break.
Some are docile on this subject and most (of mine anyways) are not. I have a feeling it's kind of like getting your legs or eyebrows waxed. The lady at the salon told me that it didn't hurt either. She lied.
As anyone who has trimmed nails know, there is a blood vessel running down the middle of each toenail. The end of this vessel is called the quick. You want to avoid this if you can, because if you nip the quick, you will make your dog's toenail bleed.
But understand that if this occurs, you don't need to head for the emergency room. Just put your dog in a crate for a while on newspaper or an old towel. The bleeding should stop by itself within about a half hour.
If you want to you can pack the nail with styptic powder, but I put styptic powder once on a torn toenail of mine and howled for a half hour. That stuff stings!
So there you have it. Your dog is now shiny clean, gorgeous and with that sparkle in their eye indicating the inevitability of mischief ahead. The sparkle is all theirs, the rest you have done yourself. Good job!
Use this search feature to quickly find the information you're looking for.|
This is the front of our card "Papillon Kisses". Ten 5 x 8 cards are $18.50. To pick up your set, click on
The Store At About Small Dogs.
You can find lots of small dog Greeting, Thank You and Sympathy Cards there at surprisingly low prices. All our cards are hand drawn by the Maxwell Award winning artist Sandy Bergstrom Mesmer. We also recently opened our seasonal Christmas Card page.
And as always, free shipping!
(Or do you want to keep on settling for cards that are kitchy, silly or smarmy?)
Small Dog Shopping
While we get often get inundated with demands to buy buy buy from questionable sources, About Small Dogs has found a couple of quality stores that really do deliver great products at reasonable prices. They also have great Christmas gifts.