Lessons From a Groomer: How to Use Scissors and Clippers
Here, we will be discussing different types of scissors and clippers. I hope you learn a lot about choosing the correct tools for your pet and what is worth your money. There are so many options out there, especially if you start buying from professional catalogs, so I will break down for you the major choices of tools and their benefits.
Straight and Curved Scissors
Straight scissors, of any length, are going to be your main scissors of course. I recommend using a scissor that is no longer than 7 1/2 inches. Longer scissors really should only be used by pros because the longer the scissors, the bigger the mistake you can make both with the hair and possibly the skin of the dog.
But have you ever seen or used curved scissors? They are an awesome tool that I believe even a novice can use effectively with great results. Here is some food for thought: How many straight lines do you see on your dog? Before you say legs, look at and feel your dog’s legs. Not as straight as you thought, huh? Curved scissors are supreme at getting trimming the hair on dogs' feet so that they look nice and round, back legs where the thigh muscle curves down to the hock, that area of the chest that blends down into the front legs, eyebrows, and many other places. Once you get comfortable using curved scissors and learning how to use them with the curve facing either left or right, they will become the tool that you'll never want to be without again.
Another pair of scissors you may not have considered is the thinning shear. A thinning shear is the perfect cheat for:
- Fixing the chunks you accidentally took out with your other scissors or blades.
- Preventing the inevitable missing chunk of hair on an overly excited animal.
- Trimming areas, such as the face, from which you're not sure how much hair you really want to remove.
- Removing matts in a way that still leaves hair behind.
- Creating a natural, blended look.
The teeth of a thinning shear are set, so they only cut the hair where the spaced out teeth actually meet, thus resulting in a non-obvious, very forgiving trim. You have to open and close the scissors several times to remove more and more hair until you are happy with the amount you have removed. Because of this, you can also use them to break up mats by cutting into the matt several times and then using your brush to pull out what you have cut. Eventually, you will have the matt out, and there will still be hair left, rather than a big bald spot from just using a scissor to chop it out. Thinning shears can also do something that regular scissors can't. They can create a very natural, soft look, as opposed to the blunt, hard edge you get with other scissors. One caution when using these scissors, though, is that they are very unforgiving to skin. If you accidentally grab the dogs skin with these, you can cause a lot of damage with just one mistake. The teeth of a thinning shear will bite and grind skin instead of just slicing like a regular scissor. But please don't let that discourage you from trying to use them. I'm telling you this so that you can be an informed and careful owner who knows that all tools have to be handled with safety in mind.
Thinning Out a Dog's Coat
A lot of people come to groom shops asking us to thin out the dog's coat. If you have thick hair and have had your hairstylist do this with a thinning shear at a salon, this is the same tool. But the big difference between you and your dog is that the dog's hair covers its entire body, and using a thinning shear to thin out an entire dog is neither time- nor cost-effective for you, us, or your dog. We may use thinning shears for certain areas of the body that may be thicker in proportion to the rest of the coat, but thinning the coat is more easily achieved by giving the dog a good bath, blowing out the coat with a forced-air dryer, and carefully brushing out its coat, possibly with the use of an undercoat rake or furminator.
There are many kinds of clippers available on the market nowadays, some professional-grade and some made for home use that you can get at any big box store. But buyer beware, you do get what you pay for. Clippers marketed to regular consumers for supposed pet use are just cheap human hair clippers repackaged, and there is a difference. These types of clippers are not strong enough for most pets' coats. Pet hair is usually thicker, and/or has an undercoat that this type of clipper is not made to handle.
This is not to say that you couldn't use them. In fact, on a few of the small breeds that have soft, human-hair-like coats, such as a Yorkie, Shih Tzu, or Maltese, they may actually work quite well.
But if you are trying to groom a large thick-coated dog (such as a golden retriever, border collie, collie, bearded collie, or Tibetan terrier) or double- or triple-coated breed (such as an Akita or a malamute, husky, or chow), then you are definitely going to need a professional-grade clipper.
I recommend two brands: Andis and Oster. They both should cost in the neighborhood of $130 to $160, depending on where you buy them. Either of these will do the job on almost any coat, and they are strong, durable, long-lasting, and quality built. I use Andis exclusively for my clippers and use both Andis and Oster blades.
The cool thing about professional clippers and the main difference between them and the cheaper models is that the blades are removable and can be sharpened. This is a huge money-saving advantage in the long run. The average I've paid to have blades sharpened is about $5 each. Another advantage of removable blades is that you can buy blades that cut the hair to different lengths, up to about an inch long. Most of the cheaper models come with a standard, non-changeable blade that is very short. It is perfect for faces, sanitary areas and stripping all the hair off of your pet. If you want a very short summer haircut and don't mind the hair being about 1/16 of an inch long, then this is fine. Obviously, if you want the hair longer than that, you need a professional clipper.
Two Other Methods to Consider
There are two other methods of cutting hair to consider, especially if you like to keep your dog in a long coat. But these both take more time and skill to make the haircut look good. You could learn the art of scissoring the dog all over. This is extremely time-consuming and tedious, and one wrong flick of the wrist or movement of the dog and you'll have big chunks of hair missing. I'm guessing if you are reading this article, you may have already tried this.
The other thing is to learn to use snap-on combs which fit right over the blade and result in longer lengths of haircuts. Most of the models that don't have interchangeable blades come with a few snap-on combs for you to try using, so I do not recommend this for the amateur groomer/owner simply because of the frustration factor. When using snap-on combs, known as combs for short, the coat must be thoroughly brushed out with no mats. When this is achieved, and you get the comb to go through the coat without snagging in the hair, you will still have to scissor it all afterwards to get a neat, uniform appearance. This is because it is very difficult to get comb cuts to look even and not choppy, and takes quite a bit of skill (practice). Honestly, most groomers greatly dislike doing comb cuts (yes they make combs for professional clippers too) because of the reasons I just stated. I have found that comb cuts are easier to perform on pets with wire type coats such as terrier mixes, jack russels, cairn terriers, border terriers, westies, and wire fox terriers. If you have one of these dogs, you may like it.
Clipper Blade Coolant
One last thing I want to include in this section that you should buy is a product like Andis Clipper Cool spray. It comes in an aerosol can and has so many uses. It oils the blades and keeps them cool/cools them off. It is a disinfectant. It will also clean off poop, blood, hair, body oils, and whatever else you run into that may interfere with the blade's performance. I always have a couple of bottles of this stuff handy at my shop, because I'd be miserable without it!
Have you ever bought scissors or clippers just for grooming your pet?
More of My Dog-Grooming Articles
- Decoding Groomer Speak (What's a Teddy-Bear Cut?)
In my experience as a pet groomer, I have learned to speak the language of groomers and interpret my clients' needs and desires. It sometimes be hard to understand the terms groomers use, so here are some common cuts defined and shown in pictures.
- Shampoo Selection for Fleas, Dandruff, and Other Skin Issues
Learn about different shampoos and when, why, and how to use them. You don't have to be too picky about the kind of shampoo you use on your dog, just make sure to get a shampoo that is made for dogs, not humans.
- How to Clip Nails and Properly Bathe Your Pet
In this lesson, I will describe clipping the nails, cleaning the ears, and giving the bath. Nail clipping is hard to describe, but I will do my best.
- Clipper Tips and Tricks
Learn the basics of clipper handling and how to cut hair so that you use your tools safely and effectively.
- How to Dry Your Pet Correctly
To blow dry or not to blow dry, that is the question. Well folks, the answer is: to blow dry. Why you ask? For several reasons.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
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© 2009 Willow Mattox