Lessons From a Groomer: Clipper Tips and Tricks
Talent Comes With Experience
In this article, I will discuss the basics of clipper handling and how to cut hair so that you can use your tools effectively, safely, and in a way that will make your job easier. What I cannot give you in this article is talent. An artistic and careful eye is the most important thing you can have to achieve a great look, and hopefully it comes naturally to you. If you discover that you have no artistic talent in grooming your pet, at the very least your new skills will keep your pet clean and comfortable and hopefully save you some money. I am not going to get into the specific breed haircuts because I want you to focus on your technique and getting comfortable with using all of the tools correctly and confidently. Once you accomplish that, you will be able to create styles you like and also implement patterns you may see on other dogs or in pictures. Also, this approach will help you focus on the most important aspect of grooming your pet: his comfort and health.
This lesson is part of a series on dog grooming, which you can find at the bottom of this page.
Common Clipper Blades
A short haircut should be done with a #5 blade or shorter. In grooming equipment, blade numbers go backwards from what you would expect. That is, the smaller the number, the longer the hair will be, and the bigger the number, the shorter the hair will be. So short haircuts will be a #5, #7, #9, #10 (named longest to shortest). Long haircuts will be #5/8, #3, and #4, and then combs, of course, leave the hair even longer. Personally, for short haircuts, my favorite blade length is the #5. It cuts through hair well, is short enough to cut underneath most matts, and is a very safe blade to use. It also is not too short and leaves a fuzzy, instead of shaved, look. In the longer lengths, my favorite is the #3 because it leaves the hair about an inch long when you are clipping with the lay of the hair (the direction the hair lays when it’s flat) and leaves the coat looking full and fluffy.
Safety tip: If you choose to use a #7 (FC) blade, you must be extremely careful! This blade's teeth are spaced a little too wide and folds of skin have been known to easily roll in between the teeth and cause severe gashes. Always pull skin tight when using this blade and never run it parallel to a fold or roll. Never use this blade on the groin area or flank, on elderly dogs with thin skin, or on an animal that is dehydrated. Unfortunately, not all groomers are aware of the dangers of the #7 blade and may even refute this information as untrue. But friend, I have met too many groomers who have found out the hard way just how unforgiving this blade can be. For an inexperienced groomer, an injury with a #7 blade usually results in a trip to the vet for stitches. That is not to say that the #7 is a bad blade. It produces a fantastic short haircut for summer that doesn't look like a Marine Corps high and tight and is a favorite among groomers everywhere.
Finish-Cut and Skip-Tooth Blades
Another thing about blades that is not immediately obvious to the novice is that blades come in a finish-cut or (FC or F for short depending on the brand) and a skip-tooth version. FC versions append an abbreviation to the number—for example, a finish-cut #5 blade would be written as #5FC or #5F. The same length of blade in a skip-tooth version would simply be written as #5. Unless you are very experienced, you should always buy the FC type of blades. Skip-tooth blades are very dangerous for the novice to use, for the same reasons I just discussed for the #7FC. Skip-tooth blades look exactly like they sound, with every other tooth being short. The purpose of these blades is to cut through coats that may be matted, tangled, or very thick. Because of the spacing of the teeth, you can easily make mistakes with them and cut your dog. I recommend only buying the FC blades if you have years of experience or are trying to shave down a double-coated breed dog and must have this type of blade. Once you have determined the length you are going to cut the hair, here are the most important tips you need in order to groom your dog like a groomer.
My Top 10 Techniques to Make Using a Clipper Easy
- Keep the tip of the blade down against the skin and hold the back up at an angle. The shorter the blade, the bigger the angle. Do not allow the blade to skip along the skin. If necessary, use your other hand to gently pull the skin taut to allow the blade to travel smoothly in whatever area you are working.
- Go with the lay of the hair. This results in the most natural-looking cuts. If you go across the lay of the hair, perpendicular, you will end up with chop marks or lines. Start near the head and follow the back to the butt and then down the legs.
- If your dog has particularly thick hair, or it lays really flat, you can try going backwards against the lay of the hair. This technique is pretty easy. Start low on the dog's rear legs and work up to the butt and then over the back up to the neck and back of the head. Follow the lay of the hair exactly backwards for this haircut. The interesting thing is that this technique produces an extremely smooth looking haircut. Plus, if you have been having a tough time with lines left in the coat or choppy-looking haircuts, this is the answer! It works especially well for terrier-type wire-haired coats. Try using the #5 or #4 for this haircut.
- Blade lengths are measured by the manufacturers according to how long they leave the coat when going against the lay of the hair, and this information is stamped into the back of each blade. Going with the lay of the hair, which is how we do 90% of our haircuts, results in leaving the hair approximately twice as long than what is shown on the blade. In practical application of this idea, a #5 against the lay will be a similar length as a #7 with the lay.
- The longer the blade or comb you use for your haircut, the more finishing touches you will have to do with scissors to make it look good in the end. If you are uncomfortable with scissoring, then I recommend a shorter haircut.
- If you are trying to shave a thick-coated dog, your best bet is to shave it short, with a #10 or a #7FC. I say that because you can literally shave right underneath the thick undercoat and it will be so much easier than trying to shave through it! Besides, if you don't get the hair shorter than an inch, your dog will not feel any relief from the heat of that thick coat, and you'll be wasting your time.
- Another tip for blade lengths: If you do a #5 on the body and you need to make the head look in proportion to the body, use a blade that is two sizes longer, in this case, a #3.
- If you are going to shave a sanitary area, armpits, or in front of the eyes, always use a #10.
- One common problem that occurs while grooming is having the clipper blade jam. When this happens, the blade is no longer cutting the hair, it just pulls through it. This is a very frustrating experience if you don’t know what to do next. What to do is blast that blade with a product like Andis Cool Care spray. Point the spray directly into the teeth of the blade while it is running and keep spraying while holding the blade at an angle until you see hair dripping off the blade. Wipe the blade off with a towel and then try using it again. If this hasn’t cleared the jam then try this procedure again and make sure you are spraying it all over the parts of the blade that touch metal to metal. The idea is to remove hair that has gotten between the two pieces of metal and caused the jam. If after repeated tries the blade is still not cooperating, you may want to have the blade sharpened. Other uses for clipper cool are to literally cool the blade when it gets too hot, as a rust preventative and lubricant, and as a disinfectant.
- Speaking of cooling the blade, routinely touch the blade you are using to make sure that it is not too hot to the touch. A hot blade can and will "blade burn" your pet and is very uncomfortable and hurts!
I hope you learned something you didn't know before!
This Lesson Is Part of My Dog-Grooming Series
- How to Use Scissors and Clippers
Learn about different types of scissors and clippers, how to choose the correct tools for your pet, and what is worth your money.
- 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.
- 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.