Grooming Your Shih Tzu: Keeping Your Dog Clean
At-Home Shih Tzu Grooming: Tips For Owners
If you're the average toy dog owner, it might be safe to say that your Shih Tzu has two main purposes in your life:
- to provide unconditional love and friendship, and
- to be the little cute thing that makes you happy.
Who can resist that adorable face, fluffy ball of fur and loyal personality? And the fact that Shih Tzus do not shed (because of their long coats) is a plus as far as keeping your home dander-free. Unfortunately, this signature long coat also makes it hard for the average person to maintain. Most long-haired dog owners I know (myself included) pay at least $50.00 once ever few months for routine grooming at the local pet store.
So how can you avoid shelling out money at the groomers' every time your Shih Tzu's hair gets out of control? I am not saying you should do everything yourself at home--only few people have the time, and more importantly, the talent of neatly cutting a dog's hair. As a Shih Tzu owner (I currently own my third one), I still take my Shih Tzu to the groomer, but only once every four or five months. The lessened frequency of pet salon appointments are due to ways I've learned from reading Shih Tzu books and getting tips from professional groomers on how to maintain doggie hygiene. So if you're willing to put in a little time each week for some maintenance, I guarantee your Shih Tzu will be happier and cuter, and YOU will be relieved at avoiding expensive grooming bills.
To Bath or NOT to Bathe?
Unless your dog is muddy, filthy, or smelly, he/she does NOT need a bath. Dogs have oils in their coat that keep them naturally clean. These same oils keep a Shih Tzu's hair soft and smooth. Constant bathing only removes these oils from the dog's coat and can cause dry skin and course hair.
Brushing: Take 5 Minutes!
This is the task you'll need to perform at least once a week. Use a standard wire brush or a slicker brush you can get at any pet store. Work from the bottom and work your way up: brush in downward strokes starting with your Shih Tzu's feet, then legs, belly, back, tail, and head. Pay special attention to the following problem areas as they tend to mat easily:
- under the front legs (the dog's "armpits")
- behind the face underneath the ears
- the back of the thighs
- around the anus.
Brushing will prevent impossible tangles from forming and also gets rid of debris stuck in your dog's hair. If you're like me, I prefer my Shih Tzu's hair nice and long--regular brushing will keep you from having to get your dog's hair shaved off when you visit the groomer (you know that waiver they make you sign--the one that basically says you should expect your dog to look COMPLETELY different after a haircut?). Yeah, I say Shih Tzus are much cuter when they have hair.
Hair Trimming: Snip, Snip, Snip!
If you don't already have one, get a good pair of grooming scissors or shears. A nice, sharp pair will quickly slice through your dog's hair for quick trimming. After brushing your Shih Tzu, check the following for any maintenance needed:
- paws (between toes) to keep from slipping
- inside and around the ears
- under the tail and around the anus
- around the eyes (see special section on "Tear Staining")
Like brushing, regular trimming will help your dog stay clean and free of any debris that tend to get stuck on the hair.
Nail Clipping: Yes, Your Dog Needs a Pedicure!
If you can hear your dog's footsteps when walking on hard surfaces, then it's probably time to check his nails. A dog's nails should not grow past the paw pads as the pressure of walking can cause discomfort or splaying of the feet. Use a dog nail clipper to maintain your dog's toenails. Be careful not to cut through the "quick", the sensitive flesh that is inside the nail. You'll know you clipped too much when your dog shrieks and starts bleeding--trust me, you don't want to do that again!
Teeth: Brushing is Good
Does your Shih Tzu have bad breath? He probably has gum disease and a lot of tartar on his teeth. Don't rely solely on chew bones, hard foods or biscuits to clean your dog's teeth. Really--does eating more food remove plaque? It's a pain, but you want your dog to have healthy teeth and gums. If your dog is not used to teeth brushing, start with toothwipes. This will get your Shih Tzu used to you handling his mouth, gums, and teeth, and should freshen his breath a little. There are many doggie tooth brushes available at your local petstore. Your dog should love the taste of the toothpaste and best of all, the paste itself has enzymes that help remove the plaque from the dog's teeth. Try to brush your Shih Tzu's teeth at least once a week, and schedule for professional teeth cleaning with your vet once a year. To clean, use your fingers to lift the lips to expose the teeth. Pay special attention to the back teeth as they tend to be in worse condition than the front teeth. If there are signs of infection or gum disease, schedule an appointment with your vet immediately.
Tear Staining: Stinky Face Shih Tzu!
You'll notice that most Shih Tzus have dirty faces. This is due to food or water staining the beard, and worse, their tears accumulating under the eyes. Shih Tzus have large, protruding, "bug" eyes, usually of low sensitivity, but easily irritated. They constantly secrete tears that, if left untreated, will make your dog's facial hair turn brown, wet, and super stinky. It really does STINK! My Shih Tzu also likes to wipe his dirty, stinky wet face on the carpet or bedsheets, so both the stains and the smell get on our household fabrics (yay). I have tried everything from constantly wiping or washing my dog's face and using cleaning drops, but nothing seemed to work. Finally, I asked the groomer from Petsmart on what to do about this problem: how do you keep a Shih Tzu's facial hair free of tears and caked-in bacteria? All she said was, "Keep it short." So now, I make sure I use my grooming scissors to cut off ALL the hair right underneath my Shih Tzu's eyes so the tears pretty much don't have anything to stain. I use my grooming scissors to get rid of the hair as closely as possible, careful not to poke his eyes with the scissors. With the mustache and beard still nicely groomed, my Shih Tzu still looks cute but has a much cleaner face. Once in a while I'll still quickly wipe the tears with a paper towel for maintenance, then cut the facial hair off again when it grows back. My dog's face definitely stopped smelling bad, and even better, he stopped wiping his face on our household fabrics!
Wow, did all that sound like a lot of work? Just a bit. With practice, maintaining your Shih Tzu's hair, teeth, and nails at home should only take a few minutes at a time. I hope the things I've shared here will help you and your Shih Tzu live happier ever after, and, possibly, save you from paying for expensive grooming bills!