Grooming a Shih Tzu

 The Chinese Shih Tzu is a double coated breed sporting dense, long, luxurious, and 
flowing hair. Slight wave is permissible. Hair on top of the head is tied up. All colors and markings are permissible and to be considered equally.--AKC Standard. 

Photo: CH Windsor's Golden Buda; 
Owner/Breeder: Sheila Gordon 

It is never a good idea to buy a puppy because you like how that 
breed looks in a dog show, and especially a long-haired breed. (This topic is discussed in Shih Tzu Rescue.) Show dogs are loved by their owners but they are not pets. They are the jet set, charismatic and glamorous stars of the canine world. Like their human counterparts, show dogs live a different life than mere mortals. They are carefully selected to be a representation of the breed; show trained; constantly pampered; have especially designed, slick surfaced, enclosed, exercise and 
play areas to protect them. Rolling around the backyard is out. 

Shih Tzu may not require as much grooming as some of the other long-haired breeds but they do have long hair and definitely require regular grooming. If your life style does not allow time to groom a Shih Tzu, and you cannot afford to pay a groomer, then a Shih Tzu may not the companion dog for you. The other side of the coin is that if you can spare the time or money, it will be well worth it. Shih Tzu are adorable, intelligent, beautiful dogs, who will be loyal, loving, and a wonderful member of your family for many years.

Following this section is a "how to" article that explains cutting down a Shih Tzu coat. Generally, this information is intended for persons who have several Shih Tzu and/or 
novice show dog owners.  The article describes three cuts:  Schnauzer, Cocker Spaniel and  a puppy cut. Excluding health reasons or your pet rolled in something unspeakable, and cutting down the coat is the consequence, a Shih Tzu is a coated breed, and should show 
off a long, flowing, luxurious coat. If you cannot afford to pay a professional groomer, or 
are unable to bathe and groom a Shih Tzu frequently, then you should probably consider a pet with a shorter coat.


Shih Tzu change coat at about 10 - 12 months of age.  During this period, they mat faster than you can brush, but keep brushing, the results are worth the effort. This is a 
temporary situation that lasts about three weeks to a month. Once the coat has changed grooming will be easier. Soft cottony coats will tangle more quickly and require more care than the silky type coat mentioned in the breed standard.

The most common reason a mat occurs is dead hair that drops and becomes entangled in the coat.  Never bathe a matted dog without tending to the mats, first. Dirty coats mats more easily, so be sure to bathe your dog at least every two weeks, but ideally once a 
week. The likely areas for a mat to form are around the neck and ears, underbelly area inside the legs, and under the foot pads. Never pull or rip at a mat because it will cause breakage. Would you do that to your hair?  Use a cap of cream conditioner in a spray 
bottle. Saturate the mat and leave it for three minutes. Carefully separate the hairs with your fingers, and the mat should fall out.  If a mat is dense and has significant loose hair entangled, saturate it with undiluted conditioner, and let stand for three minutes. Use 
your fingers to separate hairs. 

To grow and maintain a beautiful coat, you will need a soft brush with flexible pins called 
a slicker, a rat tail comb, a metal comb with movable wide and narrow teeth, a plastic 
pick--the kind with 8 or 9 teeth about 3 inches long. The amount of brushing required for
an adult coat depends on the texture of the coat--the more cottony coats will require 
more brushing.

Never brush a totally dry coat. This will cause breakage. Dampen the hair slightly with a spray bottled filled with warm water and a capful of cream conditioner. The coat should 
be brushed out in layers from the hair ends to the roots and working from the bottom up. Never rip at the coat or lift the top of the brush away and up from the coat as you reach 
the hair ends. This will cause the ends to weaken and break. Instead, turn the brush into the coat and twist it downward. Use your fingers or the long toothed pick to break up tangles that the brush will not go through.

Begin with the feet, legs, and belly, brushing upward to the skin. Pay special attention to the areas inside the legs and around the neck and ears where mats are more likely to 
form. Begin brushing the left side, right side, working up to the top coat on the back. Use 
a rat tail comb and part the coat from the nape of the neck to the root of the tail. Brush 
out tail. Brush ruff, then comb the mustache and below the ears. Pay special attention to 
the face and ears. Clean the inside corners of the eyes with a damp washcloth or a piece
of cotton soaked in warm water. Use a comb on the mustache and below the ears. Finish 
with the topknot.  


Ships in bottles are cute but BREAKABLES do not belong anywhere near the grooming area. Make sure all bottles are non-breakable.  The coat should be shampooed at least once 
every two or three weeks, but once a week is best. Use a good quality shampoo and conditioner. If you begin bathing your Shih Tzu while a puppy, bathing will be easy.  
Before you put your dog into the sink or tub, dampen the coat using a spray bottle of 
water with a touch of conditioner.  Brush out the coat out thoroughly. Be sure to check 
the hair between the pads of the feet. Trim this hair level with the pads, then stand the 
dog in a show pose and trim the hair on the top of the paws, level with the table, to give the feet a neat appearance. Pull any excess hair out of the ear canal with your fingers to prevent matted hair in the canal cutting off air circulation. If you want to clean visible excess wax and dirt out of the ear with a Q-tip, be sure not to poke down deep into the 
ear canal, as you can injure the ear drum.

If you have a rubber shower mat in the bottom of the sink or tub, your dog will have firm  footing and will be less likely to struggle. Use lukewarm water and two soapings. Give particular care to the legs to get all the dirt. Wash the back, tail, underbelly and legs and paws. Wash the head last and use your fingernails to thoroughly clean any encrusted 
matter out of the hair beneath the eyes and around the mouth. Try not to get any soapy water into the eyes or ears. After you have rinsed out the shampoo, pour a capful or two 
of conditioner into a quart of warm water and pour it over the dog, avoiding the face. 
Allow the conditioner to remain on the coat for three or four minutes, then rinse. Be sure 
all cream rinse has been removed from the paws.  

After conditioning the coat, use one cap of apple cider vinegar to one quart warm water. 
A vinegar rinse removes shampoo, conditioner and deodorizes the coat. If the coat seems 
to be dry or brittle, put a leave-in conditioner on the coat AFTER the vinegar rinse. 
However, a leave-in rinse will attract dirt, so you will need to shampoo in four or five 
days. Squeeze any excess moisture out of the coat, then wrap the dog in a couple of thick bath towels for 10 - 15 minutes to lessen the amount of time he will spend under the 
dryer. Use a corner of the towel to wipe the face and blot the ears. This is a good time to 
cut toenails -- your pet is more or less captive while swaddled in towels, and the nails are softer when wet. Cut the nails to where they hook over, be careful not to cut into the red streak (quick) that can be seen in any translucent nails. If you accidentally cut too deep 
and the nail bleeds, use styptic powder to stop the bleeding. Pay attention to dewclaws, since the do not touch the ground, they will not wear down naturally like other nails.

A Shih Tzu should be dried with a blow dryer; one with a stand will free both hands to 
work on the dog. Brush the dog gently while the coat dries to separate the hair and speed up the drying process. Once the coat is thoroughly dry, part the hair down them back and put in the topknot. Give your clean dog a kiss, then put your dog down onto the floor. 
Your Shih Tzu will royally prance around, knowing how good he looks.


Between baths, if you notice your dog sitting down or rubbing his rear along the floor, check his behind, it may be caked with fecal matter, particularly if you dog is still a puppy. Hold the affected area under warm running water, wash out the softened matter, wipe with paper toweling and blow dry. It is not necessary to cut the hair. As your puppy's hair grows longer, it will fall naturally to either side of the anus rather than across the opening.

Shih Tzu have eyes that can be easily injured. Check them daily, and any time you see the dog squinting or rubbing his eye. If your dog's eye is bloodshot, partially closed, has what appears to be a white dot in the pupil, take the animal to the vet immediately. Eye injuries can be very serious--the sooner treatment begins, the more likely healing will be rapid and uneventful.

Keep a sharp eye out for parasites such as fleas and ticks. Fleas cause the dog to scratch and could tear out the coat you just spent months growing.  There are several very good products on the market, currently. Speak to your vet for a recommendation.  
Lyme ticks are in many areas of the U.S. Lyme disease caused by the Lyme tick is harmful to dogs and humans as well. In areas where ticks are abundant, it is a good idea to have your dog immunized once a year, against Lyme Disease. In any event, check your pet for ticks and remove them immediately. 

Ask your vet how to express your Shih Tzu's anal glands. When full, they will feel like two hard peas on either side of the anus, just below the root of the tail. To clean them--a foul smelling job and definitely to be done just before a bath...cover the anus with a tissue, squeeze gently upward and outward until all fluid is extracted. Do not put your face near the glands. You may decide to pay a groomer or your vet to do it for you. It is not a pleasant task and if done incorrectly, you could injure your Shih Tzu.

Finally...the infamous and very dangerous wild oats, better known as foxtails are everywhere in CA and some other states as well. Foxtails are airborne and search for somewhere to plant themselves. They are not selective. Once they find any spot that is soft and a bit damp, the foxtail immediately softens and begins to burrow into the skin, swelling from the animal's body fluid. It will continue to move or burrow until it lodges into something solid like bone. A foxtail can enter a dog's foot pad, work its way up the foot into the leg and require surgery to remove it from the knee joint or even pass the knee joint, continuing up the leg into the shoulder. 

During the summer and fall, foxtails are the most prevalent. Daily, check your dog's eyes, ears and ear leather, legs, sides, paws, and belly. If you catch a foxtail early, even if it has started to burrow, you can usually remove it yourself with a pair of tweezers without assistance from a vet. If you notice any swellings, weepy or runny eyes or nose, or an oozing break in the skin anywhere on your dog, go to the vet immediately. Every summer and fall in CA. veterinarians remove hundreds of foxtails from dogs' eyes, ears, noses, throats, sides, legs, foot pads, tails, penis sheaves, and vaginas. If the foxtail is visible, your veterinarian often can remove it without surgery. Foxtails that have burrowed deep into the skin or paw pad or have been swallowed and are lodged in throats, stomachs, and intestines must be surgically removed.--Editorial comment.