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How to Groom a Shih Tzu - Brushing & More

Gabby,  photo courtesy of Charise Jones


The type of grooming tasks that you do and how often you do them will have a major effect on both how your Shih Tzu puppy or dog looks, and the health of skin, coat, nose, paws, and other body parts. 

While there are quite a few components to properly grooming a Shih Tzu, each on its own is not overly complicated. 

The key is to know exactly what to do, why it should be done, and the timing of each task.

This section will cover all that you need to know about this. The goal will be for you to have all the right tools and products, know how to use them, and feel comfortable in keeping up a schedule that leads to your Shih Tzu looking as beautiful as he or she was meant to.
You will find that once you fall into a grooming rhythm, your Shih Tzu will be healthier than ever, smelling fantastic, and looking like a little prince or princess. 

List of Grooming Tasks

Before we dive into the details, you should have a general idea of what needs to be done and how often to do it. 

This is the frequency of grooming tasks that should be performed on a regular basis to keep a Shih Tzu looking beautiful:

Daily: Face and eye wiping.
Every 1 to 3 days: Brushing is dependent on coat length; Long coats every day, moderate coats every 2 days, short coats every 3 days.
Every 3 weeks: Baths. Skin or coat disorders may require more frequent baths.
Every 6 weeks: Nails.
As needed: Coat trims; is dependent on the desired coat length. 
As needed: Paw and nose care. This is dependent on the season. Issues with drying, peeling, and more will require 1 to 3 applications per day. 
As needed: Touch-up body wiping. 

Ahead, we will go over the details of each of these, along with tips and advice for particular needs. 

Groomer Vs At-Home

Many owners bring their Shih Tzu to a professional groomer. And for some tasks this is the best choice. Here, we'll cover what can be done at the groomers and which tasks you will need to do at home. 

You may want a groomer for:

Trims and cuts: Since a Shih Tzu's coat grows rather quickly, an experienced groomer is often the best person to execute trims, cuts, and creating specialized hair styles

This said, if you want to try to keep the coat tidy yourself there is no reason not to. You may wish to start with minor trims, and see if you feel confident working your way up to clipping. 
Nails: Many owners feel nervous clipping their dog's nails and feel better leaving this to a professional. This said, using an electronic filer can give you the confidence to do this yourself. 

In some cases, owners avoid trips to the groomers if a puppy or dog does not handle the visits well. It is often a matter of finding the right match so that your Shih Tzu feels comfortable being handled by a particular person. Typically, it takes 3 to 5 visits for a dog to feel acclimated to both a salon and a groomer.

There are some salons that offer visitor windows, so that owners can watch what is being done and how their dog is reacting. 

Grooming you will need to do at home:

Brushing, baths, eye care, face wiping, paw, and nose care will all need to be done at home, since these need to be done on a frequent basis. Nails can also be done at home. We will cover all of these grooming needs ahead. 
Molly, at 9 months old,
photo courtesy of Georgina 
Sir Chester Copperfield, at 2 years old,
photo courtesy of John and Gail Bouwkamp

Keeping the Face Clean

Whether or not you give attention to the face will have a dramatic effect on how clean and tidy your puppy or dog looks. 

This is because this breed easily picks up staining on the face.

There are several elements that lead to issues. Having hair instead of fur means that strands pick up debris much more easily. The fine hairs attract tiny food particles, retain moisture (which can cause discoloration), and collect normal eye discharge.

Hairs under and around the eyes can become tinged as can the beard and chin. Hairs can also have texture changes, feeling dry or even crispy instead of silky.

For optimal appearance as well as keeping the face hairs healthy, you will want to do daily wipes. 
What to do: For normal daily cleaning, you'll want to wipe over the face 2 to 3 times per day. This is best done right after meals. Use a quality eye wipes like Earthbath All Natural Specialty Eye Wipes, which are very gentle yet effective. 
Swipe around each day, and then over the cheeks, and then down the beard and chin.

If your Shih Tzu has staining around the eyes, you will want to take steps to clear away tear stains, which involves both eliminating triggers and then either using the eye wipes or a more powerful applied remover. 

Brushing a Shih Tzu

Brushing is the task that is most often equated with grooming, and it is indeed a very important part of keeping your Shih Tzu looking great, with healthy skin and coat. 

There are many benefits to regularly brushing your Shih Tzu:
  • It stimulates blood flow which aids in delivering nutrients to the hair stem, root, and bulb.
  • It removes debris.
  • It distributes natural body oils to keep them from accumulating at the roots, and when used in conjunction with a good brush, leads to a shiny, resilient, and strong coat.
  • It separates hairs to keep tangles away.
  • It is your opportunity to refresh the coat via a coat spray (more ahead) which has quite a few vital benefits itself.
There are 3 elements to grooming the coat:

1. Combing. For both moderate and long coats, this done both before and after brushing. The first combing will separate hairs and allow you to check for any tangles. The final combing will give the coat a finished look. 

Face combing is done for all coats, since brushes cannot reach small areas of the face.

2. Brushing - To take care of all of the elements mentioned above under 'benefits of regularly brushing'.
3. Spritzing - You do not want to brush a dry coat. Doing so can cause static electricity that leads to hair breakage. The spritz will prevent this from happening. 

In addition, there is a host of important benefits that will work to keep your Shih Tzu's coat extraordinary healthy.

No matter the length of your puppy or dog's coat, a quality spritz will:
  • Help prevent split ends
  • Protect the coat from contact friction
  • Offer a layer of protection from the elements (the summer sun and winter's cold, arid air)
  • Add moisture to the coat to keep it healthy
  • Have the added bonus of making your Shih Tzu smell fresh and clean
So, to summarize, brushing has a host of benefits. This will keep your Shih Tzu looking fantastic and will lead to a strong, healthy coat. 
Misty Dea, 
photo courtesy of Frisca Lisa Laygo
The order will be: Comb, brush, comb, and spritzing as you go. 

Please note: You do not want to over-do things with the leave-in conditioner (if you do, this can cause the coat to be overloaded and 'sticky'; rather, just do a light misting. 

You'll work in sections, holding the bottle 5 to 6 inches away, with a quick spritz near the roots, and then brushing down to the tips.

If your Shih Tzu has a short coat, spritz the leave-in onto the brush as you go. Then, once you are done, spray some onto your hands and scrunch the hair tips. 
If you find a mat: A mat, also referred to as a tangle, is a knot of hair. This is not uncommon with the Shih Tzu due to the coat being hair (not fur) and one that grows rather quickly. The biggest reason for mats developing is a lack of routine brushing. 

You will want to get into a good grooming schedule to catch tangles before they develop. 

To remove a tangle, you can wet your hands with either your chosen leave-in conditioner or your Shih Tzu's bath condition and try to work the knot out by hand.

If it is not possible to work it out, the next option is to use a de-matting comb. This is a tool that has with serrated blades that remove a knot without damaging the rest of the coat.  It is recommended to use as small of a de-matting comb as possible.
The grooming tools that work best for Shih Tzu are:

A pin brush: For moderate to long length coats, a 16 mm or 20 mm is often best. You'll want this to be sized small enough that it is very easy to reach all areas of the body.

Bristle brush: For shaved or short coats, a bristle brush is best. 

A two-level comb: The side with the wide teeth are for the main body, the side with the narrow teeth are for smaller areas such as around the paws and to use as a face comb.  

De-matting tool: To safely remove a mat that cannot be worked out by hand.
Below are our recommended brushes (pin for moderate to long, bristle for shaved or short), two-level comb, and de-matting comb. If you do not see the images, try a refresh. On mobile, you may need to turn your screen horizontal to see all 4 images. 
And for a coat leave-in spray, there are just too many benefits to not use this. Nootie and The Stuff are great choices for hair health and fantastic fragrance. And in the summer, Ice on Ice is really good since it contains a sunscreen. 
Below are our recommended coat sprays. If you do not see the images, try a refresh. On mobile, you may need to turn your screen horizontal to see all 4 images. 
Bella, photo courtesy of Benny McCarthy

Body Touch-ups

Many owners wonder how to keep a Shih Tzu clean in between baths. This is where spot-cleaning comes in. 

There are several elements that bring about the need for touch-ups.
  • Urine and feces - It is very common for little splatters of urine to bounce back onto the coat when a Shih tzu pees (both males and females), and tiny pieces of feces can stick to the fine hairs on the rump.
  • Dirt, mud, grass and other outside surface particles - This will end up dirtying the coat and while it is most common on the paws and legs, depending on the weather and a Shih Tzu' activity, tiny splatters may be found anywhere.
Another reason is allergy control. If a Shih Tzu is having pollen, grass, weed, hay fever, or other allergies due to outside triggers, you will want to use grooming wipes to go over his body, and wash off his paws, every time he enters back into the house.

Paw and Nose Care

This is a very overlooked area of grooming. If you think about the parts of a Shih Tzu that are most vulnerable to the elements, what would they be? The nose and the paws. 

These areas are bombarded with quite a bit. 

The nose often gets the full brunt of the sun in the summer. In the winter, noses often get chapped due to cold, dry air. 

The paws are subject to walking over all sorts of terrain. In the summer, there are hot surfaces to contend with. In the winter, there is freezing ground surfaces, ice melt chemicals, and snowballing (ice or snow getting wedged in between paw pads or toes). 

Year-round, there there are tiny grains of sand which can be quite grating on the paw skin. 

If your Shih Tzu's nose looks dry, use a quality nose balm. A good one will both protect the nose and heal any issues (drying, peeling, and even cracking).

To protect your Shih Tzu's paws, you may want to consider using a quality paw wax. This helps provide traction, and adds a breathable layer of protection from every walking surface. If your Shih Tzu has dryness or cracking, or has any damage to the outer layer, a good paw wax will promote healing. 
Our recommended body wipes, nose balm, and paw wax are below. If you do not see the images, try a refresh. On mobile, you may need to turn your screen horizontal to see all 4 items. 

Trimming a Shih Tzu's Nails

A Shih Tzu's nails will need to be trimmed about once every 6 weeks. However, the exact timing will vary quite a bit depending on what type of surfaces your Shih Tzu walks upon. Typically, walking over pavement and other hard terrain leads to a natural filing down that can extend the time of trimmings.

You will want to keep a close eye on this, because if the nails grow out too long they can curve back inward. This can cause quite a bit of pain and will often require a trip to the groomers or veterinarian.
If you can hear the 'click-clack' of the nails when your Shih Tzu walks on hard flooring, this is your cue that it is time for a trim.

It is very common for owners to be nervous about doing this grooming task. 

Some dogs simply do not sit still enough. And either way, it's normal for there to be some trepidation in regard to clipping too short and hitting the quick (the vein that runs down the middle of the nail, that if cut will bleed quite a bit). 

For this reason, you may opt to have a groomer do this, or you may wish to try an electronic nail filer. These are helpful little tools that use sanding bands to quickly file down the nails.

These can be a bit noisy, but they are very fast and very efficient. 
young Shih Tzu growing out coat
Lola Monroe Clarkson, 7 months old
Photo courtesy of Derek and Molly Clarkson
If you'd like to use an electronic filer, we highly recommend the Dremel 7300-PT Nail Grooming Tool.

It is sized nicely for toy breeds, has 2 rotation speeds so that you can file in stages, and the sanding band that comes with it is perfect for most Shih Tzu. If you have a puppy or a smaller Shih Tzu (6 lbs. or under), you may want to additionally obtain the 100 to 120 grit sanding band.

Allowing the Coat to Grow Long

Some owners choose to wrap the hair. This is a simple, yet time consuming method of providing protection. 1 inch (2.50 cm) sections are combed and held away from the dog

Silk wrapping paper is then wrapped around the end of the section. It is gently folded up to the base and held in place with thick, non-stick rubber bands. 

A Shih Tzu that has wraps must be un-wrapped every other day, groomed, and then re-wrapped. It is vital to never leave the silk papers for more than 2 days and also for the dog to become wet while wrapped. Doing so may cause mildew to begin to grow underneath the silk wrappers. This presents the possibility of a discoloration to the Shih Tzu's coat.
Note: For more detailed instructions on topknots, including photos, plus tons of more grooming information, you may want to see AllShihTzu's GIANT Book of Shih Tzu Care. Available in both paperback and ebook.
You May Also Like:
Giving a Shih Tzu a Bath: Tips and advice for stress-free baths with excellent results. 
Which Shampoo is Best for a Shih Tzu - For optimal shine, resilience, and healthy skin and coat. 
Shih Tzu Shedding - How much hair fall is normal, and the process of renewal. 
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