Shih Tzu grooming can be a delight or a disaster, depending on the dog and his experience with the hairbrush. Even the most reluctant subject can be taught to relax during a spruce up though so read on and learn how, with our specific guide designed just for you: Shih Tzu grooming 101.
Despite their similar size this little dog varies in nature, based upon his life experience and genes. Shih Tzu were bred as companions and will usually lap up the attention yet some simply don’t like being groomed.
Let’s start though with puppy handling.
Shih Tzu Grooming 101 – From Puppyhood
We will first talk through Shih Tzu Grooming as if we are in an ideal world, with a brand new puppy. Everything that a puppy learns, about being handled, from the moment that he is born will dictate how he acts when he is groomed from a few months old.
If Shih Tzu grooming does not occur early on then the dog, after a few months, will resist the act of being handled forever more. This is workable but it will be difficult and take some time, the brain of the Shih Tzu will literally need ‘rewiring’ by kind and rewarding handling. We will talk more about grooming a Shih Tzu with issues soon, but for now let’s get back to the puppy.
Shih Tzu puppy grooming only needs to be carried out once a day for a few minutes. Yet the more you do it the better your dog will be at accepting such handling when he gets older. This is particularly important for the stubborn Shih Tzu and those that may have learned to be reactive enough to growl or even snap during grooming.
Shih Tzu Grooming 101 – Equipment
Dog grooming equipment is pretty cheap and easy to get hold of, yet you need to cater to the coat of your Shih Tzu and its length. Left to grow long the Shih Tzu coat will become silky soft hair that needs gently combing with a wide toothed comb and soft brush, plus trimming with scissors. Whilst a clipped Shih Tzu will need less grooming yet it is still a good idea to do it regularly, for your relationship.
As an overall Shih Tzu grooming kit the following will suffice;
- Comb for longer areas of the coat, head and tail.
- Brush with natural or synthetic bristle.
- Slicker brush with wire teeth.
- Ear cleanser (a vet approved one or risk free natural remedy)
- Toothbrush & toothpaste (canine specific)
- Nail clippers
- Gentle canine shampoo (oatmeal shampoo is one of the gentlest types for dogs)
- Nail clippers designed for dogs.
If you like the idea of a sweet smelling dog then you can even invest in a deodorant spray such as those used by professional groomers. Be careful though because they are pretty potent and one squirt and rub is usually enough. Any more and your dog will be imitating a mobile air freshener for days.
Shih Tzu Grooming– The Sequence of Events
When you are raising and handling a puppy, over the first few months of his life, the idea is that you get him used everything that he will experience in his entire lifetime. If you do this then visits to the veterinarian will be easier, treatment will be no problem and grooming along with healthcare will be a quick, easy and stress free process for both of you.
So take a look at these basic stages for Shih Tzu grooming and health checking your Shih Tzu from puppyhood and beyond. Start at the tips of the ears and work to the tip of your dog’s tail. Daily checking of the following areas will alert you quickly to any problems.
Shih Tzu Grooming 101- The Ears
Some Shih Tzu grow hair right into the ear canal which can be problematic because it doesn’t allow the wax to leave the ear. Trapped wax can lead to painful infection so it’s very important to keep an eye on your dog’s ears.
Look into your dog’s ears and if necessary squirt in a little cleanser and rub (this is usually only necessary one every one or two weeks). If there is any hair growing within reach in the outer ear, and you are feeling brave, then you can pluck it out which will improve air flow throughout the ear.
Look out for redness, swelling, itchiness and a strong smell from your dog’s ear. These symptoms can mean that there is a build-up of wax, the start of an infection or even an infestation of ear mites.
Ear mites are tiny little mites that live within the ear of the dog and have a very distinctive smell. They are itchy and uncomfortable and need to be eradicated by careful veterinary treatment.
Shih Tzu Grooming 101 – Eyes
Eye problems are usually rare in healthy dogs though some Shih Tzu can have genetic problems and need constant observation and care to their eyes. When inspecting the eyes, during the act of health checking and grooming your Shih Tzu, then simply look out for redness and excess discharge. A small amount of sleep is normal and healthy.
Shih Tzu have hair that grows down over their eyes. I try to avoid leaving the eyes covered as this must be annoying for dogs and is a genetic trait that we bred into them. Because long facial hair is our responsibility I believe that it is equally our responsibility to keep the dog’s vision clear. So whether you become a careful trimmer of your dog’s facial hair or tie it back in a delicate band doesn’t matter as long as your dog can see without obstruction.
Shih Tzu Grooming 101 – Healthy Teeth
I cannot overstate the importance of keeping your small dog’s teeth clean. Shih Tzu have teeth that are close together and that trap tartar. When tartar is left on the teeth it becomes a condition called gingivitis, then if this condition is not alleviated the dog develops periodontitis, which is a shockingly serious disease.
So serious in fact that the effects within your dog’s body can actually shorten his life expectancy by as much as 20%.
The reason that tooth care within small dogs is so important now is partly dog food and partly genetic influence. In the wild, dogs ate a variety of foods which naturally cleaned those teeth. Chewing on bones, through hair and on plant materials all had a natural abrasive effect that many pet foods simply cannot match.
Then add this to the increase of genetic problems in Shih Tzu based upon poor breeding and lack of breeder responsibility in regards to genetics and dental problems prevail. It is vital to clean your Shih Tzu’s teeth at least once a day and well worth that two minutes of gentle extra care.
Shih Tzu Grooming 101 – Brush Those Teeth!
Cleaning the teeth of your dog is actually quite easy. You can find a good enzymatic toothpaste, a soft brush or even a finger brush in most pet stores. Dog toothpastes are usually flavored to ensure that the dog likes them.
- Do not use human toothpaste or mouthwashes though as they often contain xylitol, an artificial sweetener, which is extremely toxic to dogs.
- Start by allowing the dog to lick the toothpaste off your finger.
- Gently move on to rubbing the paste directly onto your dog’s teeth.
- When your pet is happy with this allow him to lick the paste directly from the toothbrush and eventually you will be able to brush his teeth.
It is important to keep the process positive. Whilst cleaning your dog’s teeth you can check for problems too. Look for swollen, red or bleeding gums and open his mouth up wide in order to see those back teeth. This is what a vet will do and it’s much easier for all involved when your dog is used to the process.
If your dog is reluctant do not despair for I will talk about reluctance and how to overcome it soon.
Coat and Skin
So, your dog’s ears are checked and his teeth are brushed, his eyes are clear and he is happily accepting the handling so far. Let’s take a look at his skin and coat next.
When you inspect your dog’s coat and skin look for excess flaking, redness, soreness, itchy areas. Skin problems are often related to diet and allergy, so if your dog is itchy first of all take a good look at what he eats.
When you groom your Shih Tzu’s coat it is important to always take the comb or brush along the same direction as the hair lays. If you groom against the flow of hair growth your dog is likely to protest, because it feels unnatural.
Start at your dog’s neck and gently brush or comb right down to the tail. Repeating this just once a day and keeping an eye out for tangles will keep your small dog’s coat in great condition.
With a soft bristled brush, on a short haired dog, you can press quite hard and as it will massage the skin to produce natural oils, yet do not press with a wire or metal brush because this will easily hurt your dog. On a longer haired dog you can comb through and untangle as you go.
Watch for Fleas
Fleas can be picked up anywhere and have some very distinctive symptoms;
- Black dirt in the dog’s coat that turns red when wet.
- A very itchy dog.
If your dog shows the signs of fleas it is important that you treat the dog, bedding and carpets with either a safe veterinary approved medication or natural remedies. When fleas are present in the Shih Tzu coat it is a good idea to treat your pet for worms too as the internal and external parasite life cycles are intricately connected.
Shih Tzu Grooming 101 – Pick Up Those Tiny Paws
This is one of the most important things to do regularly when you are grooming any dog. If the act of paw picking and nail clipping is carried out daily, even when the nails are not actually clipped, your dog will be relaxed about having his nails clipped for the rest of his life.
If you are happy to take the tips of your dog’s nails by using the clippers then this is fine. Be very aware though the nail is filled with a quick and if this is cut it will hurt a lot and also bleed a great deal. This is less of a problem when the dog’s nail is white or clear because you can see the inside and avoid the quick. However if the nail is black then it’s important only to take of the very tip, just in case.
Many dogs protest at having their paws fiddled with, the idea is to teach them relaxed behavior during the event, we will discuss keeping your worried pet happy shortly.
Shih Tzu Grooming 101- The Back End
When you are grooming and health checking your Shih Tzu it is important to check the anal glands. Anal glands are two little dots each side of the anus that help your dog leave scent and also toilet easily. They can become impacted or even infected though and leave the do in pain or itchy.
If your dog is scooting along the rug, scratching his bottom or there are any signs of swelling on his anus then it is important to take him along to a professional in order to get his anal glands emptied. Now this is not a nice job and the act of emptying anal glands is a smelly affair. Stand well back!
Often anal glands become impacted because the dog is eating too much soft food. So a change in diet and other preventative measures may be necessary. Or if the glands are infected your dog may need a course of medication.
Professional Shih Tzu Grooming
Your dog’s coat type may be a lot to handle and in this case you have the option of a professional groomer. Shih Tzu professional grooming is far more common than larger dogs because the breed will barely shed hair.
The Shih Tzu in full coat would need regular detangling in full coat and the skin of this breed would also miss out on necessary air flow if he wasn’t regularly combed through.
Shih Tzu grooming being done by a professional is quite common, one of my own goes into a mobile grooming van, with a lovely lady, an hour later comes out looking and smelling very sweet indeed.
It’s important that, when looking for a groomer, you find customer references and follow them up carefully.
The groomer will clip your dog’s excess hair away and leave him looking great plus the shorter coat will be a lot easier for you to manage. Remember to continue your daily handling practice though, for it is good for you, your dog and your mutual relationship.
Shih Tzu Grooming 101 – A Summary of Steps
I have thrown plenty of information your way so let’s do a quick summary. Here are the grooming and handling stages to go through every day with your dog. This is as vitally important whether you are bringing up a puppy or teaching a stressed rescue dog to be relaxed when he is touched.
- Allow your dog outside to toilet and stretch his legs before you begin.
- Decide where to groom and health check your dog and bring your equipment to the area.
- Check your dog’s ears and pluck/clean them if necessary.
- Check your dog’s eyes and make sure they are not red, sore or producing excessive discharge.
- Brush your dog’s teeth and open his mouth wide to check the back ones.
- Comb your dog’s hair aside and check that his skin is healthy. Also check for parasites.
- Brush or comb your dog
- Take our dog’s feet, one by one and check his nails. Cut them if you need to or just pretend that you are cutting them if they are short enough.
- Check your dog’s anal glands and reproductive areas for redness or swelling.
It really is that simple, particularly when your dog is willing or very young. What can you do if he is not willing though? Read on to find out.
Grooming a Scared Shih Tzu
Remember I said that your Shih Tzu grooming needs to be regular and your Shih Tzu should be handled from early puppyhood or he will not cope later on? Well a lack of this type of social learning will certainly lead to a Shih Tzu who is scared when groomed.
How this fear manifests really depends on the individual dog. Some may become squirmy and fidget whilst other dogs growl and threaten.
Whichever the behavior it usually comes from fear. You can change things though just by starting to reward and reinforce the dog when he stays relaxed whilst being groomed and handled.
- When your dog is scared or reluctant you can begin to health check him briefly at different times of the day and always reward him with a treat.
- You can do this by establishing a routine and breaking it down over time always rewarding calm and good-natured behavior that your dog exhibits during the times you are touching him. You may be able to establish a routine pretty quickly by gentle handling and regular reward.
- It is literally a case of carrying out each check and rewarding throughout – marking calm behavior with a treat. Gradually you can phase-out the rewards because handling will become normal, perhaps just giving one treat at the end of each session.
- If your dog is very scared or worried it’s up to you to break handling down into tiny sessions that he can cope with. For instance if he growls when you pick up his paw don’t immediately pick up his paw, instead touch it and then give him a treat. Continue to do this and eventually he will be so relaxed when you touch his paw that you can move on to lifting it up.
- Keep the sessions very short, the scared dog must be relaxed throughout and if you need to begin at ten second sessions then do that, because it will be worth it in the end.
- Any dog can be scared of being handled and often rescued dogs are worried. The majority however can learn to cope with it by being taught that being touched and checked over is a nice experience with careful and positive training
That’s it for now from us. Thanks for calling in and reading Shih Tzu Grooming 101. See you next time!
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