Grooming Your Shih Tzu

:: Grooming Your Shih Tzu ::
By Lynne McGuire

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: Brush with 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.

fine and medium comb

Face comb

Finishing comb

nail clippers


Pin brush

round tip scissors

straight scissors

slicker brush

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.

General Grooming

Continue parting and brushing with your pin brush in layers up to the center back of your dog. Chest is done the same way, beginning at front legs and working up in layers to the chin. The whiskers and beard is a sensitive area and should be groomed with care. The facial area requires special attention because food particles may adhere to the hair around the mouth and matter accumulates under the eyes. I like to use a fine face comb on the facial hair as a brush may scratch and cause damage to the eye. Using a fine tooth steel comb close to the eye, remove all eye matter with the comb by pulling gently away from the eye. If the matter has dried, use a wet cotton ball to moisten it before combing. It is also a good idea to wash the eyes daily by placing a couple drops of eye wash solution in each eye to rinse away matter and to clean them. When grooming the facial area carefully inspect the eyes and note any redness or irritation that may require attention by your vet.

Facial Staining

Moustache and beard are susceptible to staining from food and even water. If this area is stained, you can apply some cornstarch to the stained area after dampening the hair. Work the cornstarch in with your fingertips, allow it to dry, and then comb it out thoroughly being careful not to get any in either the eyes or the nose. The first step in preventing staining is to keep the facial hair dry. Shih Tzu are easily trained to drink from water bottles in a water bottle stand, which keeps their facial hair dry. Besides preventing facial wetness and staining, water is available at all times for your Shih Tzu's drinking pleasure.

Tear staining can be an ongoing problem with Shih Tzu, especially if the nose hair has been clipped and the eyes are irritated from facial hair poking up into the eyes. Check your Shih Tzu's eyes daily for signs of irritation, and if you notice excessive tearing it is best to have your vet check the eyes first to rule out several medical reasons that may be at fault. There are many products on the market to treat facial staining, but always use caution when applying any product next to your Shih Tzu's eyes. Personally I would wait for my puppy to finish teething. Often by the time your Shih Tzu is full grown the facial staining corrects itself. I have a male Shih Tzu who's face was terribly stained all of puppy hood and after he became mature the staining stopped and his facial hair is now snow white. I do not apply anything to his face to lighten the hair. The only change I made was to get a water bottle stand to hold his water bottle and eliminate wet facial hair.


On long coated breeds such as Shih Tzu, there will be hair in the ears. This hair can easily become embedded with dirt, causing infection or odor. It should be removed about once a month or as needed. Frequent ear hair removal helps eliminate irritation to the skin. A hemostat is ideal for pulling hair from the ears. Lay your dog on his/her side. By holding the ear leather with one hand, the ear canal can be exposed and made accessible. Use the hemostat to pull a few hairs with one stroke; do not jerk. A steady pull is less painful as the ear canal does not have a great deal of sensitivity. Do not try to pull too much hair with one stroke. Instead, make several attempts to remove all the hair. Don’t probe into the ear canal; allow the hair to grow long enough to grasp. After the ear hair has been removed, place a cotton ball on the end of your hemostat that has been dipped in ear wash or alcohol. Swab the ear repeatedly until the cotton is clean when removed from the ear. The alcohol helps to remove any infectious particles from the ear and will dissolve accumulated wax. Ears should be cleaned with alcohol or ear wash every time your dog is groomed. If you would like to purchase a high quality ear wash, I highly recommend one called “Oticlean-A” ear cleaning lotion for dogs and cats. It is made by ARC laboratories and is an excellent product for cleaning and odor control of the ear canal.

Finish Grooming

Finally, using your scissors you should also trim a small amount of hair around the anus for cleanliness. You may want to apply a little baby powder on the area and brush it in. The baby powder absorbs moisture, removes stain and controls odor.

When you have completed brushing/combing the entire coat, part the coat down the spine from the back of the neck to the tail. To get the part centered and straight, your dog should be standing four square and facing you. Use a knitting needle to make the part down the center of the back. Attempt to part about four inches with each stroke of the knitting needle. Continue a straight line from the back of the neck to the base of the tail, following the spinal column to center the part. Spray the part lightly with grooming spray and brush all the hair on either side of the part straight down with long smooth strokes of your pin brush.

Finish your Shih Tzu grooming with a beautiful topknot and maybe a pretty dog bow. If your Shih Tzu has a long, heavy head fall you may choose to divide the topknot hair into two topknots. Tiny dog bows may be added to the double topknots for fun. If your Shih Tzu is still a puppy, without an abundance of topknot hair, you can still make a little topknot that is fairly low and secure it with a latex band. I give detailed instructions on making topknots on my other instructional pages, but for a puppy please follow these instructions:

Shih Tzu Puppy Topknot

To begin with these topknots, part the hair evenly with a straight part between the two eyes just above the top back of the nose. This is the area along the front side of the stop. The part is accomplished with a parting comb. This is usually a rattail comb. A small face comb may also be used. The hair above the nose and between the eyes is gathered up and sectioned into a neat inverted V. It is secured with an elastic band. Place either a double loop or a single loop puppy dog bow into the topknot. As the hair lengthens, more hair may be added by making the parting for the front section larger.

Shih Tzu Puppy

Eventually the hair is long enough for a second section. Then you may have enough hair
for an adult topknot. Be sure to check out my puppy dog bow sizing chart for choosing a dog bow for your puppy:
Dog Bow Sizing Help for Fun Bows

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