The Georgia Shih Tzu

Grooming: Don't Panic!

shih tzu outline
Grooming your dog
Last Modified: 13 Apr 2013
Along with this article you will find several links that trigger popups of pictures that should give you a visual of what I do my best to explain in words. Since there are so many pictures they are linked to popups to ensure the page loads quickly. At this time the videos are new and not many so they remain linked directly to this page, but that may change in the future if they overload the page.

Don't Panic!

Grooming a Shih Tzu is not as scary as it looks. It will not take much time unless you do not keep up with them. They should be bathed every few weeks depending on how dirty they get. I bathe mine once a month and if they get filthy before then you can bet they will get a bath sooner. Beside bathing they should be brushed at least once a week, but I recommend you do it more often. Having the right tools for the job will make the process easier, even if you do use a groomer.
The tools you need are (Picture of Tools) a curved or flat steel comb, a strong plastic comb, a good slicker brush, some dental bands or if you cannot get a hold of them try some small rubber bands, and I mean tiny. The brush I prefer over any other are the slicker brushes, but as shown in the popup above, you need to be careful to purchase the ones with coated bristles and labelled as use for massaging rather than the regular harsh slickers that tend to cause rashes and skin irritations. For those of you wishing to do your own bathing you will need a good blow dryer as well. I prefer the type that have two separate settings for heat and power which allow you to blow with the hottest heat at the lowest power or the lowest heat at the highest power. If you plan on shaving your dog the only things necessary are the brush and plastic comb. If you want to do all your own grooming you will need to do further shopping. A good quality set of dog clippers with detachable blades is a must for every groomer. Trust me, I have tried just using scissors. These can be found at animal supply stores as well as hay and feed barns. You will at least need a size 10 blade, which usually comes with all clippers, and a size 7 blade. If you will be wanting a very short puppy cut then also purchase blades with lower numbers and/or blade covers which reduce your use of the scissors. All your metal blades will need to be sharpened periodically. If you plan on doing a good amount of grooming, I suggest you spend the money to purchase the metal base horse clippers by Oster. I bought the plastic dog clippers and dropped them two years later and the base snapped in half. I can drop the metal horse clippers all I want and they continue to work beautifully. You will also need a good pair of slim shears and scissor-like nail clippers. If you are so inclined you can go so far as to get a holding table and what ever else a groomer may suggest but I find my dogs react better to just sitting in my lap. Many top showman and top breeders recommend using a spray bottle with detangler to wet the coat before brushing. This is fine if you don't mind blow drying your dog every time you do this. Do not let them run around wet (no matter the weather), they will be very likely to become chilled. And lastly you may need a regular flat dog brush. Many coats do not require anything beyond normal brushing to look sleek and shiny, while others seem to have hair that always looks slightly messy. The old fashioned dog brushes are great for forcing the hair to separate, rather than to gather in small clumps, and will give her that great look that other coats produce without effort. I use this always last as the regular human brushes will not break off as much hair and will get further into the coat to help you find the matting underneath. Shih Tzu have coats that need to be regularly cared for, but the definition of regularly depends upon the style you plan on sporting and the dogs activity level. They are prone to matting, tear stains, frayed ends and every other hair disaster humans face. Below are instructions and tips to help you keep your dog in beautiful form and style.


When brushing a shih tzu start where you and your dog are most comfortable. Some coats are so smooth all the time that mats just fall out when you use a comb, but for cotton coats you should learn how to use a curved steel comb. Beware of those RARE coats that seem to mat just out of sheer spite. Many owners give up and keep these coats clipped, but try grooming twice a day to keep it long and healthy. The under coat is where the mats usually start and, if missed, will ruin any coat but in reality it is hard to start with a coat that is covered by a second coat. If you work in sections, combing all the hair you have separated, you will be able to catch all the mats. Use your brush as a guide. If you here a crackling sound when you brush or meet resistance than you have found a mat. Switch to the plastic comb to see if it will work out easily and if not then switch to the curved comb. As you get better you will find you will know what tool to use just by looking. Once you have gone over the whole coat, I suggest going back over with your fingers to feel for any small mats left behind. I usually find one more. To use the steel comb (Using Dematting Comb) find the skin with your fingers and place the teeth behind the mat. Very gently pull the comb up into the mat while turning it up with each pull. This gets the mat into the base of the comb where it is scissor sharp. Rock the comb gently and do not pull hard through the mat. Worse mats will require cutting one layer at a time while others will come out with one simple swipe. Continue working through while avoiding your dogs skin as this will slice them. Many times I have cut myself to avoid cutting my dogs so be careful. This may take awhile if the mat is really bad so don't rush or become inpatient and rip the hair. Next check under the legs and around the neck. The ears are the most sensitive part for your dog so you will have to be even more careful around here ans will also be the most likely place for matting. Once the mats are cleared, use the brush to soften and straighten the coat and remove any debris and lingering mats as well as to part the hair down the middle of the back for a finished look (Parting Coat). Lastly on the face, starting from the eyes, stroke downward to keep the hair out of their mouth and eyes using the smallest teeth on your plastic comb. Trim the hair from the pads of the feet to help them keep their footing on slick surfaces (Pads of Feet). You do not need to be so fastitious as to clip all the hair between the pads, just place your scissors against the pads and clip the hair that has grown past the padding. You may also get some of the longer hair between the nails, those annoying ones that insist on growing straight down! You may even clip a line around the pads for good measure.
Now, this is where the top knot comes in. Using the plastic comb, make a part on the top of the head from one corner of one eye and circling around the top of the head to the other eye (Banding the Top Knot). How much hair you put up is your choice, but you need to be sure to grab the hair that falls down into the eyes just above the top of the nose. If you choose gather the hair sitting right on top of the nose into the top knot, but in my experience most pets are likely to pull this hair out first. Don't get me wrong, in young dogs the rest of the knot will follow but like everything else you have to train your dog to be used to wearing his hair up. If you are still worried about hair coming out and getting into his eyes, I recommend trimming to the skin all the hair on top of the nose up to the bottoms of the eyes. Also trim the lower eyelashes to keep them from curling into the eyes (Trimming Eyes). Besides cutting down on eye mess, it keeps the eyes from getting scratched. When trimming the face always use scissors and never clippers. Scissors give the ability to feel the strength of what you are cutting and keep from doing as much damage to a flickering tongue or eye lid you came too close to. One trick for working past the tongue is to wait patiently and the minute he licks his nose make the cut. He should not lick his nose so often that you do not have time to make a cut in between licks. If you are trimming his face and accidentally cut lashes that you do not want cut, upper or lower, do not fear, they will grow back! Once the top knot is up loosen it a little to make sure it is not pulling at the eyes and forehead. Be sure to congratulate your dog with a treat as he has been so patient with you.
** A few more tricks; feed your dog a raw carrot once a day or more and change his drinking water to boiled/distilled to eliminate the tears all together. Switch from a bowl to a water bottle. You can easily find them at all stores that sell small animal pet supplies. I purchase the large rabbit water bottles rather than the type made for dogs. They last longer and drip less. Yes- these are always adhered to a cage with wire that comes with the bottle. If you do not have a cage or crate in your home you can purchase water bottle stands from a friend of mine. These bottles can be seen and ordered from the Georgia ShihTzu Palace. Shipping rates are not included in her prices. Should you decide to be a little more creative with her "up-do" there are plenty of fashions that can really be tailored to suit your dog's personality. If you need my help, you are free to write or call me. There are pictures (Top Knot Styles) of various styles to give you an idea. The length of your dog's hair will determine what you can and cannot do. But gratefully your dog is not as picky as your daughter would be and you are free to experiment and then start over if you or your dog are unhappy. If you have a new style you have tried that I do not have a picture of please send me one to add to my collection, but please be sure it is a clear and closeup picture with a good pixel camera so that all can see the art. We will all enjoy your creativity.


If you plan on bathing your dog, good for you! You're more likely to be gentle than an unfamiliar groomer. Every groomer uses a different shampoo. I personally use Straight Arrow's "Mane 'N Tail" to help keep the coat soft, growing, strong, and moisturized. It can be found at PetsMart, PetCo, WalMart, Kroger, horse tackle supplies, hay and feeds, specialty stores and beauty supplies. There are dog shampoos but this brand is recommended and safe for both animal and human use and every dog I've known to use it is visibly improved. But, if you are still unsure there's always trial and error. Switching too often between shampoos can be hard on the coat and skin so unless the shampoo is really terrible use the whole bottle with a few baths before you move to another brand. Asking around can be a big help. Just be sure to ask why they use that particular brand. Also note that oatmeal shampoos are not all they promise and your dogs long coat or longer sections of hair (on shaved dogs: ears, face, tail) will require both a separate shampoo and conditioner. Use luke warm water in either the shower or tub, whichever is easier. But I would think that without a detachable shower head your best bet is the tub. Have everything ready before you begin and within easy reach. Before you bathe, brush the coat out to remove mats as washing will set them and make them doubly difficult to remove. Soak your dog down and treat her coat as you would treat washing your own hair, avoiding eyes, nose and mouth (Bathing a Dog). Don't forget to use conditioner to help the coat and skin stay moisturized. I strongly suggest you stay away from any of the brands which combine the shampoo and conditioner. Your dog's coat will not benefit from such treatment so stick with using separate shampoo and conditioner.
Towel dry and get ready to be very quick with your hands. If you are bathing a puppy you might want to hold them in a wrapped towel for awhile, changing towels if you need a dryer one, and love on them to calm them before taking the blow dryer to them. This also works well with adults and can cut down on the amount of time you spend drying them. Taking the time to do the job slowly will increase your dogs willingness to be patient with you. These are not drip dry dogs. If you cannot take the time to dry him out then find a groomer, as even a shaved dog needs to be blown dry. As it will take both of your hands to hold the brush and dryer try wrapping him in your lap to keep him in place. You might have to stop often to reposition a dog that would rather air dry. What I do is pile a towel on a chair, drawer, bench, shelf, or toilet; anything not too far from the ground and then position the dryer on the towel to face the dog. Then I can slightly move my dog where I need her. This way I have one hand to hold the dog and the other to brush. While you do this, reassure your dog with gentle tones to keep him calm. Brush with the blow dryer directed where you are brushing until the coat is completely dry. If mats formed during bathing you will want to break out the curved comb again. Once dry, brush him down and give him a top knot and watch him prance around.

Coat Styles

There are many different ways to keep a coat. If you are growing the coat long (Picture of Full Coat), you can either grow everything out keeping the pads of the feet and the lower eyelashes trim or if you want grooming to be a little easier, trim the top of the nose as well as under the eyes. To keep the ear looking nice keep them trimmed straight across making sure both are the same length. If the top knot is too much for you, try layering the hair with scissors from the top of the nose to a position on the head that looks good to you. Starting very short and getting longer towards the top. Layer as high up as you feel will look nice and still keep the hair out of his face. I have heard complaints that hot climates and long hair don't mix. Since Shih Tzu are inside dogs, this is not true. If you are still worried about it being too hot, shaving the belly is sufficient to help keep him cool. Use a size 10 blade on your clippers to shave between all four legs on the inside and then don't forget to shave around their backsides but here use a size 7 blade. How much you shave back there is entirely up to you and how old or messy your dog is when relieving himself. Always use a very short blade on the belly as the longer blades tend to grab more than hair because the skin is many more times sensitive on the belly. Should you decide that the mats on the insides of your dogs legs are too difficult to manage you can shave a few inches down from the belly, use the size 10 blade, and it will not show when your dog is running around and neither will the fact that you have shaved your dogs belly. There are many places you can clip on your dog that will reduce the amounts of mats and still not show when your dog is not on his belly! Should you wish to, try a half inch right under the ear, the inner leg areas near the belly (don't shave too low!), the belly, and even an inch or two up the underside of his tail though this will show (Shaving the Belly).

JUST A TIP! If you find you are having trouble getting the hair of the top knot to grow thick or it is not growing at all try clipping it to a layered look and in a few months, maybe less, the hair will grow back much thicker than before.


Some Shih Tzu have coats that seem to be impossible to keep nice in their long, natural state. For example (Picture of Matted Shih Tzu), dogs with very thin, cottony hair. Though you may have intended to keep her coat naturally long, brushing four times a day can be daunting. There are many styles that are available to you since their coat length allows you as much freedom as with human hair. Of course if taming all that hair still makes you nervous, you can shave your dog (Picture of Shaved Dog). Just remember that shaving to the skin can cause skin rashes which is why I suggest you use a size 7 blade for most of the body. The typical style is almost skin short on the body with a "puppy cut" on the head, leaving the tail long. Now, you can shave your dog completely, but I am warning you it looks really ugly. Also, there is a constant "puppy cut" which is exactly like its name (Picture of Puppy Cut). Your puppy always looks like a puppy. Keep in mind that most coat colors and markings disappear when they are shaved and it could take years of growing to bring it back. Should you decide to use this term with your groomer- beware! For some reason groomers think the term puppy cut means shaved. Be very specific and do not be afraid to refuse to pay if your instructions are not followed. Here (Pictures of Coat Styles) are some other coat styles I currently have pictures of. Anyone with a style their dog is now sporting will, I hope, be kind enough to send me a picture to include for all to see. Everyone is welcome to download and print these pictures to show to your groomer, should grooming yourself be too much, there are no copyrights so feel free.
When shaving your dog I recommend sitting on the floor with him in your lap. Start in the easiest places, namely the back. Shave from the base of the tail to the top of the neck. Remember to use a size 7 blade for most of your work and switch to a 10 blade for under the legs and on the belly. Draw an imaginary line between the ears and that is the top of the neck. You will probably also want to shave the legs but always leave the tail on a Shih Tzu. Their tails are pretty sad to look at without the hair. If you do not want long hair on the face I would pull out the scissors and slowly using a comb and your fingers pull a section of hair up and out to the length you want it. Use this section to guide you on the length for the next. If you make a mistake, it is not the end of the world. You may have to clip your dog's hair shorter than you would like to repair the damage, but it will grow back and this does take practice. Luckily our dogs are not as prissy as our children and will not be emotionally scarred by a bad haircut! For the ears only trim the bottom. Try not to shave them completely as this will change the overall look of the breed. If you only want to trim your dog's coat to be a little shorter you will want to part their hair down their back and then pull a section of hair down with a comb and your finger to the length you want and trim. Again this section will be your guide for the next.

Nail Trimming

The last part of the grooming process is the nails. This can be even harder to do than everything else but if you are careful there is no reason why you cannot trim the nails yourself. Some dogs have dewclaws and some had them removed before they were given to you. It depends on the breeder. These claws are found on the two front legs, sometimes the back but rarely. They are about an inch down the inside of the leg from the other four toes and can be easily missed in the hair (Picture of Dew Claws). Dew claws are more sensitive than the others but not always and they must definitely not be missed. If allowed to grow too long they may start to curl back into your dog's paw. Take the claw in your hand and move away as much hair as you can to get clear access. When you trim do not cut more than a millimeter or two (Trimming Nails). If you are pretty sure your dogs claws are way too long then try shaving off a little more but be extremely careful since cutting too far will induce bleeding and, with some dogs, it takes a long while to heal. I have found some pet stores carry a nail healing treatment for cuts, but I have not tried it yet. I thought you would want to know. I do not cut the hair of my own dogs, but I will work on getting some pictures the next time I am able. You may also find that some of the links give you a warning page but I ask you to please be patient while I am improving this site. Good luck in your grooming and however you style him, enjoy your beautiful dog.

Body Odor

Let's face it, dog's stink. Whether outside, inside or both, they just have a smell about them. Normally, this is not too terrible, but on a hot day or during times of stress or heavy activity, they really cause your nose to wrinkle and they are no longer so cuddly. One fast way to handle the problem is with dog perfumes. My personal opinion is eew!; they stink worse than the dog. If you like them, they are there to be bought. If you are like me and would like a better alternative you can dilute spray deodorizers like Febreeze ad Odo Ban to 1 part deodorizer with 3 parts water. Spray only on the back, avoiding direct contact with skin, eyes and mouth. Watch for possible allergic reactions! If you would like something safer sage and lavender will be your best friends. A deodorant spray made of sage and lavender can be purchased at natural health stores or you can make it yourself:


  • 6 Tbsp Witch Hazel
  • 6 Tbsp distilled water
  • 4 drops sage essential oil
  • 2 drops lemon essential oil
  • 2 drops lime essential oil
  • 2 drops tea tree essential oil
  • 4 drops lavender essential oil
  • clean plastic funnel
  • sterilized glass or aluminum spray bottle


Combine the witch hazel, water, sage, lemon and lime essential oils in a saucepan. Heat the mixture for 2 to 3 minutes over low heat. Remove from heat and add the tea tree and lavender essential oils mixing thoroughly with a wooden spoon. Pour the mixture into a spray bottle with funnel. Shake gently to combine for about 30 seconds. Store the bottle in a cool, dry place for 24 hours before first use. Shake gently before each application.