By Maria Laaksonen, Kennel Ta Maria, Rymättylä, Finland
The ABC of grooming a Shih Tzu
Shih tzu is a charming little dog, the fascinating expression of which is crowned by a beautiful, long hair. Often one can hear people wondering how a demanding, difficult and time-consuming task grooming the coat must be. Also a question frequently asked concerns the fact that the coat of some shih tzus might be long and shiny while the coat of the others resembles more of a messy lamp brush. A beautiful and a long coat is not a mystery, the solving of which would require a higher education. In fact, the basics of the successful grooming of a shih tzu are, very simply, regularity and thoroughness. So the first thing to do is to learn regularity and to invest in the training of the puppy. In this way, many troubles can be avoided.
How to begin?
It is especially important to get the puppy used to the grooming. The grooming of the puppy will take only a few minutes, but these minutes are a very important practice for the future. Often the puppy does not want to stay still while grooming, but this does not mean that the puppy could not be trained. Shih tzu is an intelligent dog that, with the aid of regular practice, will learn the basics of grooming very quickly.
It is advisable to practice the grooming and staying still after the puppy has first had the possibility to play and rage. This way, the puppy will be more peaceful and easier to handle. The puppy should be accustomed to be treated always in the same place, preferably on a table, so that the owner does not have to crouch. The table does not have to be designed specially for trimming. Any kind of table will do as long as a firm surface is used so that the puppy can feel safe being able to sit and stand firmly.
When the puppy is sitting peacefully, groom the hair through with a brush or a comb. Use your other hand to hold the puppy gently but tight. In addition to being intelligent, shih tzu is also daring and may try to rush down despite of the distance. Hence, do not leave the puppy alone on the table. Comb also the head and the whiskers gently. At the age of 4 months, the hair in the forehead will be long enough to be collected into a top-knot. This should be practiced right from the beginning.
One more thing to do is to train the puppy to lie on his/her side on a surface. This skill will make the hair care easier later on when the dog is grown-up and has a lot of hair. You could start by teaching the puppy to lie on his/her back on your lap while combing his/her paws. When the puppy is trying to get away, do not give up before he/she has calmed down. When this practice succeeds, you may begin to teach him/her on the table. Put a soft towel on the table and turn the puppy on his/her side on the towel. Hold him/her with your other hand and groom with the other. It is better not to ask anyone to hold the puppy with both hands since this will only make him/her feel uneasy. The puppy will think "Now that they are holding me so tight I wonder what an awful thing is going to happen…" Instead, the idea is to loosen the grip little by little after the puppy has stayed still peacefully for a while. In this way, the puppy will learn to relax and to understand that it is not a big deal to do this. Besides, while lying on the table and being groomed, one can take a nap as well.
It is important that the regular hair care will be considered a nice event by both the owner him/herself and the dog. Otherwise it will be too easy to avoid the whole thing. A good example of this was a wealthy lady whose dogs had very beatiful coats. However, the lady herself considered grooming of her dogs as a heavy duty. I was amazed, but after having visited her home the reason was obvious. The house was huge and fancy, but where was the table used for the grooming? It was placed in the basement, in the last corner of the laundry room. Even though the household work done by the most of the ladies is usually given less priority, it does not mean that this would be an appropriate thing to do with grooming your dog. In other words: ladies, a little bit of feminist attitude and the trimming table placed in the living room in front of the tv!
What could go wrong?
Many times I've been wondering how many people will fail in grooming their shih tzu's coat and tell me that the procedure is unpleasant. I've come to the conclusion that the basis of the hair care is in the trust that must be built between the dog and the owner. The dog must be able to trust that the procedure will no hurt. One must learn to undo the tangles gently, first with fingers and then with a brush. The tangles should never be ripped with a comb: that will definitely hurt, and there is no reason why any dog would have to stand unprofessional treatment. Thus, undoing the tangles asks for patience. Furthermore, the hair should never be let become awfully tangled, which can be prevented with a regular grooming. Simple, isn't it? Till the age of 7-8 months, the hair of a shih tzu puppy will be easy to take care of. After this age, the more difficult phase can come as a surprise for both the dog and the owner. In case the puppy has not been accustomed to a regular treatment so far, it could be wiser to start all over. That is, to cut the tangled hair off and let a new one grow. It takes about a year for a shih tzu's hair to grow back. While the hair is growing, one can learn to take care of the hair and train the dog to be treated in the same way that a puppy would be trained. If possible, the hair in the head, tail and ears could be saved, since the hair in those parts will take the longest period to grow back.
Grooming equipment and cosmetics
Choosing the right kind of grooming equipment is also very important. You do not have to collect a huge arsenal of brushes and combs in order to survive. It is enough to invest into a few devices of good quality. The poors cannot afford to buy cheap, i.e. in this case it is advisable to pay for the quality. Moreover, the brushes and the combs should be kept clean and treated well in order to increase their life span. The most important piece of equipment is a decent brush. The most suitable brush for a shih tzu's coat is a bristle and Nylon Mixture brush. This kind of brush is gentle and the most suitable for undoing the tangles. A one example of this is the English-made Mason Pearson. A genuine Pearson may seem like an expensive purchase, but it will last nearly forever. Besides, there might not be a need for any other brushes at all. For a change, you could still also try a pin-brush used in the finishing and grooming a tangle-free coat. In addition to these, you will need a straight metal comb, the other end of which has a lot of teeth and the other fewer of them. A plastic comb with sharp teeth is needed mainly for making a top-knot for shows, but it can also be used in combing the whiskers and the facial hair. You will also need a pair of small scissors (trimming scissors) for finishing the hair in the paws and some yellow rubber bands.
Grooming liquid is used in combing, for example Ring5 Coat Gloss is a good product and it can be purchased from most of the pet shops. You can also mix your own liquid using water and a conditioner. The ratio of dilute depends on the conditioner, but usually a good ratio is one spoon of conditioner to 0,5 liters of water. Since the conditioner mixed with water will not keep for months, it is advisable to mix the liquid in small portions at a time. When choosing the shampoos and conditioners, the best thing to do is to buy quality. And a good conditioner is more important than a good shampoo. Many of the conditioners on the market are not caring enough for a shih tzu coat and will cause tangles more easily. In order to save time and effort, it is advisable to use products that have proved to be excellent in use. Suitable product series are for example Vellus, Coat Handler, Biogroom, 1#all System, Jean-Pierre Hery, KW and Summerwind. The products of Biogroom and Jean-Pierre Hery can be ordered via Shih Tzu Club's boutique, the other series can be purchased from pet shops with wide selection of products. Or they can be ordered straight from the retailers of dog devices. In addition, in the biggest dog shows there is usually a large selection of grooming products for sale.
Some products of the series mentioned above that I prefer are, for instance, Coat Conditioner of Coat Handler, Hair Care Balsam of KW, Conditioner Concentrate of Vellus and Protect-a-Coat-Oil of Summerwind. I do not recommend the use of strong oils, like lanolin or mink oil. The oil of Summerwind is light and can be used as a grooming liquid for a dry hair when mixed with water. The conditioner used for a shih tzu's coat must be strong enough so that it can be left in the coat. The products that are rinsed away are far too light and therefore unsuitable for a shih tzu's coat. Good shampoo products can be found from different series. For puppies, it is advisable to choose a mild shampoo, and it is anyway better to avoid using too strong shampoos, since they make the coat dry. Good shampoo products are, for example, Super White of Biogroom (suitable for white whiskers and paws), Protein-Lanolin of Biogroom, Shampoo Concentrate of Vellus and Protein/Puppy of KW, just a few to mention.
How to groom a shih tzu?
When the right equipment has been purchased, the grooming will be easier. When grooming the hair, it is important to groom the whole dog carefully and thoroughly. There is no rule for the order in which the grooming should be done. The most important thing is to learn to do the grooming always in the same order. This way, you can learn automatically to groom the whole dog through, leaving no parts out.
You could begin with, say, the paws. The dog is lying on his/her side and you are grooming first his/her legs and underline, then the sides and finally the base of the neck and the ears, each part layer by layer. After grooming one part, the same part can be finished with a metal comb in order to be sure that no tangles were left inside the hair. The tangles are spread out with fingers, and then the whole coat is groomed through, little by little, hair by hair. It is important to straighten up the hair all the way through to the skin. This will be easier if it is done layer by layer. Sometimes one can see dogs that have been "groomed": outside, the hair seems to be straight, but if the dog is being held with both hands, one can feel soft lumps inside the hair - tangles. To avoid an unfortunate mistake like this, it is wise to learn to groom the hair through and to carefully check that it is certainly without tangles, all the way to the skin.
When both sides have been groomed, the dog can be set to stand on the table and to part the hair in the middle along with the backbone. Then groom through the tail, the coat in the backside and finally the coat in the neck, the head and the ears, and make a new top-knot. You could finish the coat with a comb and, at the same time, to check that there are no tangles left in the coat. All this can be also done in an opposite order. The most important thing is that everything is always done in the same order so that a caring routine will be developed. Moreover, the hair must never be groomed dry since this will make the hair gather static electricity and break the hair. Grooming liquid should always be used.
Shih tzu has a double coat that consists of hard, support hair and soft bottom hair. The tangles are born when the bottom hair drops and is mixed up with the support hair. The hair in the tangles is loose and will go off from the tangle by grooming and by using one's fingers, especially if the hair has not been tangled for a long time. The longer the tangle is in the hair, the tighter it gets. An experienced groomer can estimate the age of a tangle when seeing one. The are tangles of two days and of two weeks…
If the tangles are ripped off with a comb or a brush with sharp teeth, also the support hair messed with the tangle will break, and as a result the dog will have a hair that's messy and broken. The tangles are being formed especially in the armpits, inside the legs, behind the ears and in the neck and sides, and these are the places where they can be missed the most easily. Remember to be thorough when going the coat through.
The first tangle phase is in the age of 8-10 months, and for a bitch puppy, after the first season at the latest. The puppy is beginning to change its puppy coat into a coat of grown-ups, and the bottom hair is loosing up causing tangles. The difficult phase may last until the age of two years, depending on the quality and amount of hair. After surviving the first two years with the hair, the hair care of a grown-up shih tzu is really simple.
Daily and weekly grooming
As mentioned above, the puppy should be accustomed to the grooming by teaching him/her little by little every day. When the dog grows, you do not have to and must not to groom him/her every day, since grooming too often will wear the hair out. The daily grooming will include making new top-knot and checking of ears and eyes. The main thing is that the hair will not hang down in front of the eyes and the dog can see where it is going. Still it is advisable to eye the coat through every day and see whether there are tangles inside. The coat of a young dog changing its coat is to be groomed in periods of two or three days, so that the bottom hair loosing up will go off and is not able to form a tangle as big as the dog him/herself. As the dog is getting older, one thorough grooming per week is enough.
How often to bathe?
Bathing is an essential part of the hair care of a shih tzu. How often this is to be done depends a lot on whether the dog is going out downtown or in the countryside, i.e. how fast will the hair get dirty. Washing the coat is also important in case one is planning to have a show career for her/his Shih tzu. In that case bathing should take place at least once a week and the coat must not be groomed without bathing. The cleanness of the hair is essential, sincea clean coat will wear off less and gather less tangles.
Shih tzu can be bathed when it is felt necessary, that is, every time it is dirty. Usually the puppy is less often in need of a bath since he/she has less coat than a grown-up. Nevertheless, the puppy should be bathed at least after few weeks in order to get him/her accustomed to bathing. But, in case you want your shih tzu to have a beautiful show coat, it should be bathed once a week and during the hair-changing period, even more often. The coat does not have to be touched between the baths, and the coat must never be groomed dry. I would like to emphasize that for a regular pet the weekly bathing is not necessary at all. This kind of dog should be bathed when it is felt that the bathing is needed. Otherwise the hair is cared by grooming it regularly and thoroughly in a way that no great tangles will be born.
In the bath
Bathing is fun, so reserve enough time and relax. When the puppy is being handled peacefully, it will quickly learn to stay still. The worst mistake is to wash the puppy quickly and roughly so that it will learn to be afraid of the bathing. Be positive and be prepaired to be wet yourself.
For the bath, purchase a baby tub. The most suitable bath tub would be one with legs or a stand so that you would not hurt your back. If you are bathing the dog in a bath tub or on surface otherwise slippery, set a rubbery mat on the bottom of the tab or on the surface so that the dog can feel comfortable. In addition, you will need a shampoo and a conditioner, and an extra bottle and a container of one liter to dilute them. You can also have a whisk or a mixer to dilute the shampoo and the conditioner evenly to the water.
First dilute the shampoo into the bottle or to the container. Check the ratio from the instruction manual. Usually a suitable ratio is one teaspoon of shampoo into a liter of water. Start by wetting the dog thoroughly. Foam the hair in the backside and the hind legs, and rinse the shampoo away right away. Do not let the "bathing tangles" develop by rubbing the hair into a mess, but spread the diluted shampoo into the hair with your fingertips. The paws are usually dirty, so them you could foam a couple of times. Then proceed by foaming the underline and front paws. Again, remember to rinse the shampoo away. Wet the dog again, all the way to the shoulders and spread the diluted shampoo to the sides and the back. Remember to use movements grooming downwards, do not rub! Rinse. Finally, wet the head again and wash the ear hairs, whiskers and the front chest.
Show special attention with the muzzle, ears and eyes. When wetting the top of the head, put your other hand in front of the eyes to protect them and make sure that the water is running towards the neck, not the eyes. When wetting the whiskers, put the shower under the eyes in a way that the direction of the water is away from the eyes all the time. If the face is very dirty, you can foam twice the whiskers and the ears as well.
In case the dog is very dirty, one bottle of diluted liquid may not be enough and you may have to dilute some more of the shampoo. On the other hand, if the dog is not very dirty, you could foam only the legs and the underline and not the cleaner backside at all. Using too much shampoo could make the hair dry, so common sense is needed. And the shampoo should always be used only when diluted, since the pure shampoo is too strong and could damage the hair.
Then dilute the conditioner to the container and, again, check the ratio from the instruction manual. You should not be too stingy with the conditioner, and the conditioner should be of that kind that it can be left to the coat. If your dog has a lot of coat, you may need more of the conditioner that it is said in the manual.
Set the dog to the tub and pour the diluted conditioner on top of the dog. Spread the conditioner to the coat by showering the dog and at the same time, let the tub fill with water. Close the shower and let the dog stand in the conditioner water. At the same time, pour the conditioner water on all over the dog. Don't rush, but let the conditioner work for a few minutes. Then you can let the water run off and by hand squeeze the most of the water from the hair before wrapping the dog inside towels. If there seems to be too much conditioner left in the hair, you could shower the dog once more before wrapping him/her inside towels. It is definitely important to leave some of the conditioner into the coat, since it is protecting the hair from tangling, drying and wearing.
Keep the dog wrapped into towels in a warm place at least for twenty minutes. For instance, you could keep the dog in your arms and watch the tv at the same time. After a while, change the towels into dry ones. You can wrap a blanket on top of the towels if you feel that the dog is getting cold. A thorough drying with towels is important, since it will make the drying with a hair dryer easier and quicker.
It could be handy to get a holder for the hair dryer. This way, you would be able to use your both hands. When drying the dog, go the whole coat through in the same way when grooming. Groom the hair open from the part that the dryer is blowing at the same time. The dryer must not bee too hot and burn the dog's skin and hair. When grooming while drying the dog, you are able to feel the air temperature with your hands. Be systematic and check that the whole hair will become dry, from the root to the end.
I myself always start the drying of the dog from the head, and after the hair in the forehead is dry, I will collect it into a ponytail. When drying the head, a low power should be used. Like grooming, also while drying it is important to do everything each time exactly in the same way. This way, you will learn the routine and no part will be left wet.
One should begin to practice making top-knots as soon as the hair is long enough and it can be attached with a pin. One or two pins is enough for a puppy, but after the hair has grown and is long, more pins will be needed to keep the hair away from the eyes. Top-knots made for home environment it is advisable to use yellow rubber bands, since they are light and not so tight. Also the whiskers should be attached with pins so that they won't get into the dog's mouth.
Here you can see a picture of the top-knot of a young shih tzu. The hair has been parted in the middle and pulled back with a couple of pins. The last pins have been turned to the sides. Also the whiskers have been turned into sides with a couple of pins. There are several variations of the hairdos like this. The most important is that the hairdo is not too tight. If the dog had a long hair in the forehead, it could be plait to the sides and the hairdo would keep its form very well. If you are heading to a competition next day, do not plait the hair since the plaits will leave the hair curly. When attaching the whiskers with two pins, set the first pin in a way that the hair is parted in the middle of the face, from the lower corner of the eye to the side of the muzzle, and the whiskers are carefully combed aside before attaching the pin. Then attach the other pin by parting the hair from the outer corner of the eye to the side of the mouth (see the picture). Finally check that the beard hair do not mess with the pins in the whiskers so that the dog is able to open its mouth properly.
The last words
In addition to the facts told above, I can state that the hair of a shih tzu can be taken care of by keeping it short. The hair is not a value as itself, and a shih tzu will feel just fine in a short coat. In many countries in which shih tzu is a popular pet, keeping the hair short is more like a rule than an exception. However, it should be remembered that shih tzu is a "coat dog" anyway, and even if the coat is kept short, it will anyway require regular care-taking. If the dog were old or sick, it could be advisable to consider cutting the coat, since the hair care may strain a dog in a bad shape. In some cases cutting the hair may even younger the mental age of the dog by a couple of years.