Mrs. Obvious is a mother, wife, and mentor. She used to own her own groom shop called Puppy Love and was self-employed for nine years.
Clipper Handling Basics for Pet Grooming
In this article, I will discuss the basics of clipper handling and how to use your tools effectively, safely, and in a way that will make your job easier. 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. This approach will also help you focus on the most important aspect of grooming your pet: his comfort and health.
Talent Comes With Experience
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—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.
Clipper Blade Lengths
A short haircut should be done with a #5 blade or shorter. In grooming equipment, blade numbers go backward 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 mats, 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.
Blade 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 the 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 the blade in a skip-tooth version would simply be written as #5.
Potential Dangers for the Novice
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 these 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.
My Top 10 Techniques to Make Using a Clipper Easy
Once you have determined the blade length you are going to use, here are the most important tips you need in order to groom your dog like a groomer.
1. 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 in.
2. Go With the Lay of the Hair for a Natural Cut.
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.
3. Go Against the Lay of the Hair for a Smooth Cut.
If your dog has particularly thick hair, or it lays really flat, you can try going backward 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 backward 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.
4. Consider Blade Length vs. Actual Cut Length.
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 as what is shown on the blade. In the practical application of this idea, a #5 against the lay will be a similar length as a #7 with the lay.
5. Consider Your Comfort Level With Scissor Details.
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.
6. Shave Short for Thick Coats.
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.
7. Use Different Blade Lengths for Head and Body.
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.
8. Always Use a #10 for Sensitive Areas.
If you are going to shave a sanitary area, armpits, or in front of the eyes, always use a #10.
9. Learn How to Deal With Clipper-Blade Jams.
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.
10. Make Sure the Blade Doesn’t Get Too Hot.
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!
More Dog-Grooming Tips!
- 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.
© 2009 Willow Mattox
Milica on March 20, 2020:
I have baught the hair cutter Moser 1400 for dog grooming, and I have been cutting my maltese dog's hair, but it has stopped. It only works on human hair, dog's hair it does not cut any more... What can be the problem?
Tina on January 08, 2020:
What a kind person for doing this. I've been grooming my non shedding pups for a few years now because I enjoy it, as well as they do. Truly appreciate the tips. Thank you :)
Danny on December 31, 2019:
these were awesome tips, very helpful. thank you!
Robin moylan on February 02, 2019:
Ms. Willow, this knowledge is invAluable to me others like me. I recently got a Scottie mix. ( she so much fun). I like the diy thing. Have clippers.. and couldn't get the line thing right on the skirt. Thank you for sharing. When I groom again. I now feel more informed about grooming my dog. (. She not social, and has bit a groomer on the first try.! This, I gotta do it. She better now.) I got her fir my protection! Anyway, thanks again. I look forward to reading more of ur pages. Robin in tx .
pjd on October 02, 2018:
bought Andis clipper # 10 blade, worked fine day one....never was able to use it a second time...hair get's stuck and NO cutting at all.
should I by a new set of blades EVERYDAY ? ? ?
Jessie on September 17, 2018:
Well written and very informative. I like the professional business writting style. Thanks
Dee Elliott on August 20, 2018:
Awesome instructional tool. Thank you sir.
Emma on July 23, 2018:
I have a 2 year old Gordon setter and he hates being groomed he has been asked not to come back by 2 different groomers. Unfortunately he is now really matter so I think I am going to have to take the clippers to him and start again from scratch can you recommend the clippers grade I should use
Linda Abbott on May 23, 2018:
I just can't thank you enough. I had a wonderful groomer when I lived in Utah, but I moved to Florida to be closer to my kids and grandkids. I took my Yorkie to a recommended groomer, left a photo of how I like him groomed, even telling them what comb my groomer used. It took 6 1/2 hours from the time I took him in until they said he was done. He looked NOTHING like the photo. When I commented, their reply was, "you wanted him to look like the photo?" That was the final straw. I will gain experience as I groom him and won't care if I screw up a time or two. I'll just never have him professionally groomed except in case of dire emergency. You just gave me the information I needed to begin. You answered 90% of my beginners questions. I am sure my Yorkie will be much more comfortable in my inexperienced hands than he would have been without you. I thank you and Boomer thanks you.
Kiki on April 24, 2018:
Great info! Very helpful hank you!
scottshs on October 22, 2017:
You are amazing! Truly puppy love is the correct name for what you do and your former business. I have learned so much in such a short time on here and I will now provide even greater "Puppy Love" to my "pups" because of you. Thanks Mrs Obvious or should I say Captain Obvious, lol
mrs karen l trezins on August 30, 2017:
what are the three action points of using hair clippers in a dog parlour
Miz Lisa on August 06, 2017:
LOVE this! Thank you for taking the time to write and share... I learned a lot and wll be back for more... God Bless...
Ingrid on June 23, 2017:
Wow ! Amazing info..
Nadia on July 30, 2016:
Thank you so much - such a great help!
briden on September 16, 2014:
Hello, I have just bought a WAHL KM2 dog trimmer for my maltese-shitzhu. I don't like a really short cut - but am not sure about the numbers of the cutters - does, e.g. a #4 leave longer hair on than, say, a #10?
Bunnie-n-Ellie on May 14, 2012:
Hi Mrs Obvious! :)
I've been meaning to write back to thank you again for your great advice and let you know how it went. I gave my Eskie her first home haircut and it turned out well! After calling Pet Edge they recommended not getting their fastest clippers when they heard I'd not used clippers before. They said for my skill level my clipping would likely be pretty slow going and with their highest speed clipper set at the highest speed I'd likely be dealing with hot blades too frequently. So I bought the the AGC2 (still a two speed but not as fast) and it saved me some money to spend on blades. I went ahead and bought 2 #5 skip tooth blades, figuring if they got hot I could trade them out. As it turned out though they only sent one blade as the other is on back order.
Anyway, the first initial cuts I was so nervous and unsure as to how much pressure to apply as I ran the blade across her. But pretty soon as it became evident I wasn't going to cut her as easily as I'd feared I started to get the hang of it. Doing her back and sides was pretty "easy" the trickier part is everything else--ha-ha! I knew I needed to be extra careful anywhere there are skin folds (her flabby jowl area, under her arms, etc) so I was much more tentative and careful to make sure her skin was pulled tight to not catch it. I also made use of the #10 blade in places (tummy, back end). After my first go-around I had to laugh at how rugged she looked. We gave it a break, I called a friend for an hour then went back at it, cleaned her up and tried to get her legs looking better. I was amazed at how patient my dog was--she was such a good girl, I was so thankful she was used to the shaver from her previous grooming experiences.
After the 2nd attempt and a little help from my husband to hold her up and help out in the tough spots she actually looked pretty darn good. Certainly not quite the finesse she's had coming back from the professionals, but she still had that cute fresh haircut look. The blade didn't end up getting very hot either. I mostly used low speed as my dog seemed to notice the noise more when it was on high and low seemed to do the job. Now I'm kind of wondering that instead of getting another 5 skip to maybe get the 5 finish instead to get just a little smoother look--although I don't want it to be too much shorter so still debating that one.
So just wanted to say thanks. Your advice really helped and it was fun and gratifying to clip her myself. Also, after doing it myself I have renewed appreciation for the skills of professional groomers, they do such a great job--and in such a short time! Thanks again!
Willow Mattox (author) from Northern California on May 08, 2012:
Annmarie, you can use a less heavy duty clipper for a poodle with fine hair, but the real downfall is that most of these models (marketed specifically to pet owners through places like Petco) do not have interchangeable blades. Therefore, if the blade goes dull, you can't sharpen it, and you also have to rely on combs for a longer length, which can be frustrating unless your dog is perfectly combed out. The combs often get stuck on a matt and yank off of the clipper head, and then you end up cutting a huge super short gash in areas you were trying to leave the hair longer. Again, you do have choices with a fine haired dog like a poodle, but I like to stress that in grooming tools, you "get what you pay for". Glad you are going to try it, good luck, you can do it!
A24484963 on May 08, 2012:
I was so glad to find a page with some direction on clipping. I have a mini poodle that I am going to learn to clip at home. I don't mind spending money for something that will last and do the job well. I see that the Andis 2 speed is a good option, but it comes in many models. The AG seems nice, I see is also comes in a less expensive animal version. I am wondering if with my poodles fine hair, I need something as hefty as the AG or if something like the animal 2 speed will last and do a good job? Any suggestions? Thanks in advance:)
Annemarie on May 08, 2012:
Going to learn to clip my mini poodle. I keep her pretty short... puppy cut. I don't mind spending the money, but because she has fine hair, not thick fur...what is the best clipper for this? Sounds like the Andis 2 speed is nice...but there are several models, including a less expensive animal version....need some guidance please
Willow Mattox (author) from Northern California on April 24, 2012:
I have used the Andis AG Super 2 speed for years and love it. I almost always use it on high because I didn't see the point of using the lower speed when it was capable of more. You can buy the Plus+ model, that should work fine for your dog, let's say versus a chow-chow where you really need more power! Faster does equal smoother, but is mostly noticeable when the coat is thick. I just looked at the site again, and they have a good prices with the included #10, and a free #7FC included with your order! Don't waste money on combs, they will only frustrate you...they frustrate me, and I would just rather do a scissor cut all over than use them. If I do use them its just to knock down a long fuzzy coat, and then scissor the rest to an even finish. Oh, while I'm at it, stay away from ceramic blades. They aren't worth the money because they break easily if dropped, do go dull quickly, and most blade sharpening guys can't sharpen them!! You should only have to sharpen blades about once a year when using them for only one dog, but any blade that is making track marks that is not clearing up after spraying with Cool Lube probably needs to be sharpened. For sharpening services, call grooming shops in your area and ask them who they use. If they have a regular guy, most nice groomers will let you know what day their guy is coming and allow you to bring your blades in to be sharpened. Blade sharpening ranges about $5-7 per blade. Scissors are usually done for between $7-12 each (curved scissors are on the more expensive side of this range). I'm happy you found all of this helpful. Gotta go, good luck!
Bunnie-n-Ellie on April 23, 2012:
Hello! Thank you so much for your reply, I really appreciate your time and expertise! So a couple more questions... I went to petedge.com and saw that their prices are comparable or better than Amazon--so thanks for the tip.
In looking at my options I'm thinking a two-speed clipper would be better for a double-coated dog? I'm also wondering about the importance of "strokes per minute." I looked at two Andis clippers similarly priced with strokes per minute at 2600-3400. Then there were two others (Ultra Edge and Super 2) that were 3400-4400spm but they were about $20-30 more ($146). Is it worth the extra money to buy the higher spm with my Eskie? I read the faster blade, the smoother the finish, but I also read some reviews on Amazon about these higher spm models getting hot very quickly... so my head is spinning! I guess if I bought the less expensive model (Andis + AG) I could spend some of my savings on extra blades and cooling spray. :) Which reminds me, should I get any comb attachments or anything else?
Thanks again for your time and also for your explanation about trying a #6 blade with her coat.
Willow Mattox (author) from Northern California on April 22, 2012:
Hi Bunnie-n-Ellie, I am glad you want to try doing it yourself, and that was smart to get the info on what blade your old groomer was using! Because you have a double-coated breed of dog, I would definitely recommend a high-quality clipper. My favorite is Andis because the clipper housing (that you have to hold the whole time) doesn't get hot, whereas most of the Osters do. This will be worth the money in the long run because almost any model they make will do the job and they come with a #10 blade that you can use on your sanitary areas. If you go with a cheap model (like Wahl) it will just frustrate you trying to clip that thick coat! Now for blades. The #5 skip is a great blade length and without experience using it can be dangerous...since writing this article, I was introduced to a new blade the #6. It will cut a little shorter than the #5 skip, but should still go through the hair better than using a #5FC, which is too long of a blade to get through that coat without looking choppy (remember skips appear to cut a little longer than a FC blade of the same length, but are made to go through thick coats). If the 6FC won't go through it, then you'll have to consider going to the shorter 7FC, but at that point you may as well go back to the #5 skip and try being very cautious. Getting the feel for using the blades is half the battle. Once you get the hang of it you should be able to use any blade in a safe manner. But remember, only use your 10 blade in the sensitive areas like the sanitary and armpits. Good luck, and oh, try ordering products from a grooming supplier online such as www.petedge.com
Bunnie-n-Ellie on April 21, 2012:
Hi, hope you're still checking your page here. I really appreciated your info on grooming especially the difference between blades (finish and skip tooth). I also got a kick on your remarks about hardwood vs. carpet--I agree! We recently moved to a much warmer climate and want to keep our American Eskimo groomed short. She seems happier with her short cut (even when we lived in a cooler climate). Her groomer liked using a #5 skip tooth, clipping her body and neck short, and keeping her head more normal (she looks a little like Wile E. Coyote--on the Road Runner--very cute). We used to have her done every two months or so. Now we live in a place that's warmer and much more expensive to have grooming done so I'd like to try clipping her myself. After reading your article I learned that a finish blade would be more appropriate for my skill level (or should I say lack-of-skill level!) but also wondering what brand you'd recommend for a decent cutter. I don't want to buy the cheapest thing out there but also don't want to break the bank either. A couple of folks have suggested Oster or Andis. After checking Amazon there are so many different types to chose from I'm a little lost. I'm not sure what features are most important in terms of a quality and particularly for clipping a heavy coated American Eskimo. Could you enlighten me a little!? Thanks for any ideas you can share--I sure appreciate it! Ellie's mom
julia on April 12, 2010:
when my dogs hair was to short to put up i used clear mascara.
Willow Mattox (author) from Northern California on March 10, 2010:
you could try using a little vaseline on your fingertip to rub into the hair and use it like a gel to keep the hair laying down in front of the eyes until its long enough to pull up. Good luck!
leanne on February 19, 2010:
hey ya jus noticed your website. i was jus wondering if i cud get some advice? i have a 7month old shih tzu when she was a few wks old i got her shaved but now i wanna leave her hair grow. its going in her eyes but the hair isn long enough to tie back. is there anthing else i could do instead of cutting it?