To Clip or Not to Clip: Dog Haircuts

Love Dog

In This Chapter

  • Knowing which dogs need to be clipped
  • Choosing the right tools: Clippers, blades, and scissors
  • Clipping your pooch

Clipping a dog is one of the more daunting tasks for pet owners. If you have a dog who needs to be clipped or one who needs a touch-up, this chapter is for you.

Several breeds need to be clipped. Most have single coats, the kind without an undercoat. The hair of these dogs grows like yours, and because these pooches don’t shed, they’re bound to look like a terrible mess of hair if you don’t clip their coats. Other breeds are clipped for show or style reasons, or maybe just because the pet owner doesn’t want to deal with all that hair.
Don’t fear the electric clippers. You discover the basics of using them and what you can do with all those strange blades and plastic snap-on thingies in this chapter. You also discover how to safely handle scissors (also called shears in the grooming world), and even how to clip your dog yourself.

Deciding Whether to Clip Your Dog

Before going farther, you need to determine whether your dog actually needs to be clipped. Although many breeds need only a cursory neatening up, the following breeds generally need more serious clipping:
  • American Cocker Spaniel
  • American Water Spaniel
  • Bedlington Terrier
  • Bichon Frise
  • Black Russian Terrier
  • Bouvier de Flandres
  • Brittany
  • Cesky Terrier
  • Cocker Spaniel (American and English)
  • Curly-Coated Retriever
  • English Setter
  • English Springer Spaniel
  • Field Spaniel
  • Gordon Setter
  • Irish Setter
  • Irish Water Spaniel
  • Kerry Blue Terrier
  • Lowchen
  • Poodle (all sizes)
  • Portuguese Water Dog
  • Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier
  • Springer Spaniel
At first, you may be surprised that more breeds aren’t on this list, but that’s because some breeds aren’t exactly clipped breeds — they’re stripped breeds, or dogs who need excess hair stripped from their coats to attain the proper look. Most dog owners aren’t into time-consuming stripping procedures, though, so they opt for clippers. Nothing is wrong with using clippers in that manner, but you won’t get the right look for your breed if you intend to show your dog (see Chapter Best in Show: Showing Your Dog).

Getting Acquainted with Your Tools

You can find a dizzying array of electric clippers and blades sold on the grooming-tool market these days. Open up a grooming catalog, and you’ll see a bunch of different clippers, ranging from the basic home-use, pet-grooming clippers to the fancy-schmancy ones the pros use.

Deciding which clippers to buy

The kind of clippers you need depends on how much clipping you need to do with your dog. These three hints can help you choose wisely:

– If you’re using clippers just to neaten up Fido’s feet or clean up a stray hair here or there, you likely need only a set of inexpensive home clippers that won’t see a lot of use.

– If you want to maintain a nice show coat (or even a good pet coat) between trips to the groomer, you’re probably looking at medium-priced clippers and a variety of blades.

– If you want to trim and style your own dog and perhaps other dogs, you’re looking at professional-style clippers, maybe with more than one speed and certainly with several blades. Some of these clippers are cordless, so you don’t always need an outlet handy.

Several different manufacturers make clippers, including Oster, Wahl, Andis, and Conair, among others. Oster is pretty much the leader when it comes to clippers, and its blades are universal enough that other manufacturers make their clippers so that Oster-style blades fit them. In fact, almost all clipper blades are made to fit Oster or similar products.

Tip

If you decide to purchase a brand of clippers other than an Oster, make sure that it’s equipped to use Oster-style blades. Most clippers are, but you need to be sure; otherwise, you’re stuck buying proprietary blades that may cost more. Besides, if your clippers breaks, you’ll be forced to choose between buying new clippers of a brand that matches the blades you already have or tossing everything and starting from scratch. Also, the quieter the clippers, the better.

Becoming a blade-runner

Most clippers come with blades, but some don’t. Blades are typically marked either by closeness of cut or by their Oster number (size 10, for example). The higher the number, the closer the cut. The lower the number, the more hair you’ll have on your dog after each clipping. So a size 40 blade (surgical cut) produces a much finer cut than a size 5 blade (1⁄4-inch cut).
Choosing your blades is a bit of an art form and depends on your dog’s breed and coat type. Look at your breed standard and talk to other owners of your breed. Table 4-1 describes various blades.
Most blades are full-toothed, but you can also find some skip-tooth blades. Skip-tooth blades are for stand-up coats (Poodle-type coats). Full-tooth blades are for smooth or drop-coated dogs (Spaniel-type coats).

Table 4-1                        Clipper Blade Types, Cuts, and Uses

Blade Size
Cut Length/Type
Uses
40
1⁄100-inch/surgical
Hair trimming around wounds; can be used for ears and face as well
30
1⁄50-inch/very close
Show clips
15
3⁄64-inch/medium
General use; this blade is also referred to as a Poodle blade
10
1⁄16-inch/medium
General use, including hair trimming from around and between your dog’s paw pads
9
5⁄64-inch/medium
Smooth finish, general use
81⁄2
7⁄64-inch/medium
General use; this blade is also referred to as a Terrier blade
7F
1⁄8-inch
Full tooth, body clipping
7
1⁄8-inch
Skip tooth, body clipping
5F
1⁄4-inch
Full tooth, body clipping
5
1⁄4-inch
Skip tooth, body clipping
4F
3⁄8-inch
Full tooth, body clipping
4
3⁄8-inch
Skip tooth, body clipping
3F
1⁄2-inch
Full tooth, body clipping
3
1⁄2-inch
Skip tooth, body clipping
5⁄8
1⁄32–5⁄8-inch/wide
Hair trimming and finishing
7⁄8
1⁄32–7⁄8-inch/wide
Hair trimming and finishing

Snapping on guide combs

Snap-on guide combs (shown in Figure 4-1, along with electric clippers, blade-lubricating oil, and a cleaning brush) are plastic combs that you attach to your electric clippers to provide an even cut. So if you get a half-inch guide comb, you’ll get a half-inch cut. Pretty simple, isn’t it?
Some guide combs come with the clippers. Others you have to buy separately.

Using scissors

When you just can’t get your dog’s coat to even out with clippers no matter how hard you try, use scissors, but only with extreme caution. Scissors can injure you and your dog if you’re not careful.
You can find plenty of reasons for using scissors on your dog’s coat. One is that you just don’t have the same control with clippers that you do with scissors. If you need to trim whiskers or stray hairs from your dog, for example, scissors probably work better than clippers. Scissors are best used on dogs who are already groomed properly and just need touch-ups. Consider these tips when using scissors:
Figure 4-1: Electric clippers (with oil and a cleaning brush) and guide combs help maintain your pooch’s coat.

– Choose scissors that are sharp and made for dogs.

– Never use dull scissors on a dog’s coat.

– Go slowly when using the scissors.

– Always keep your fingers between the scissors and your dog’s skin. Otherwise, you may easily suffer a mishap that requires you to take your dog to the emergency vet.

– Train your dog to stay still when you’re using scissors, to avoid injury.

– Avoid distractions when using scissors. No TV, no chatty friends, no talk radio. Remember, you’re working on your dog with a sharp instrument.

Technical Stuff

Thinning scissors (also called thinning shears) are used to thin the coat or blend one layer of hair with another. They have rows of skipped teeth that cut only every other hair. As with all scissors, thinning scissors can be dangerous if used incorrectly or without care.

Getting Down to Clipping Business

Before you cut your first dog hair, plan ahead. Your dog must be clean, with all mats and tangles brushed out, before you start clipping. Doing so makes clipping the coat evenly easier for you.

Preparing for success

You have your clippers and your dog. Now what? These handy tips can help you get your dog used to the clippers and keep your dog looking good:

Start clipping your dog as early as possible, even as a puppy. Getting an older dog used to the clippers is much harder than training a puppy.

Read your dog’s breed standard. Often you can get clues about how your dog’s coat should look and how to make it look that way.

Check out the breed club’s Web site for tips on how club members clip their dogs. Some clubs provide free guidelines.

Have a professional groomer or a breeder show you how your dog’s coat needs to be clipped. Most groomers and breeders are happy to spend a little time helping you — or have a pro do it the first time.

If you make a mistake, don’t fret. Your dog may have a bad hair day, but it’ll eventually grow out. Your main concern is using your clippers safely.

Using clippers safely

Follow these handy guidelines for safely using clippers on your dog’s coat:

– Be sure your clipper blades are sharp. Dull clippers pull hair more.

– Choose the clipper blade that works best with your dog’s specific type of coat so you achieve the result you want.

If you’re not sure about the cut of the blade you’re using, you can try using one of the many available snap-on guide combs. These combs help you make a uniform cut.

Warning!

– Always use clipper coolant or lubricant on your blades, to keep them from getting too warm and burning your dog. Coolant or lubricant is available through pet supply catalogs and on the Internet. Clipper blades can become extremely hot, especially when you use them for a long time. If you burn your dog, she won’t soon forget and will decide that clippers are no fun. Make sure that you wipe off excess lubricant, or you’ll end up getting oil all over that nice clean coat.

Tip

Frequently turn your clippers off and touch them to make sure that they’re not too hot. If they become too warm, spray on coolant. It’s made especially for cooling down hot clippers. (Follow the directions on the canister.) When the clippers become too warm, you can also

  • Switch blades and let the hot ones cool down.
  • Switch to another clippers (if you have one).
  • Place the blade on a metal surface, which quickly cools it off (a cookie or baking sheet works).

Making your first clip

The best way to find out how to use your clippers is to start by neatening up areas where your dog has already been trimmed but where the fur has grown a little untidy.
Before jumping into the deep fur, however, make sure that you’ve chosen the clipper size that works best for your dog’s coat and the right blade. Your dog also should be clean and free of tangles and mats.
Hold the clippers in a way that feels comfortable in your hand and gives you the most control over them. Check out Figure 4-2 to get a better idea.
Figure 4-2: Clipping a dog can seem daunting, but when you and your dog get comfortable with the clippers, it can be fun.
By starting with an inconspicuous area that needs some neatening up, you can easily find out how much hair your clippers and blade take off. If the amount of hair you removed is too much or too little, you can adjust by switching to a different guide comb setting or blade.

Remember

The higher the number of the blade, the shorter and finer the cut. And always appraise your work as your clipping progresses — after you’ve trimmed a bit. That way, you know whether you’re taking off too much or too little. Don’t forget, however, that taking off too little is better than taking off too much. You can always trim off more, but you can’t glue it back on.

And don’t forget to trim the hair that sticks out around and between your dog’s paw pads, if you like a neater look. Simply use an electric clippers with a size 10 blade and hold the foot in its normal shape (not splayed). Trim the hair that sticks out beyond the pads (don’t clip down between the pads), and then use the clippers to trim any other hair around the foot that ruins a neat presentation.

Attempting a Pet cut

Unless you’re set on giving your dog a show cut (usually because you’re showing your dog), sometimes the best thing to do is to clip your dog in an easy-to-maintain cut. Often called a Puppy cut, a Teddy Bear cut, or a Pet cut, this cut doesn’t require much work (see Figure 4-3). Follow these steps for giving your pooch a Pet cut:
1. Equip your clippers with a size 30 or 40 blade and an appropriate snap-on guide comb set at the right length for your clip.
2. Go over your dog’s body with the clippers, trimming her coat to an even length.
3. Remove the snap-on guide comb and gently trim the ears with either a size 10 blade or size 15 blade (if you want a closer shave).

Trim to the ear flaps, thus following the line of the ear.

4. Using the size 10 or size 15 blade without the snap-on guide comb, gently trim your dog’s underside — especially around the genitals and anus, to keep them clean.

Oops! Righting a wrong

Everyone makes mistakes. It’s a normal part of being human. Occasionally, you’ll make goof-ups that don’t hurt your dog but make her look pretty silly. No matter how hard you try, you’ll make a mess, and now your dog looks like she’s having a bad hair day. What do you do?
 Figure 4-3: Most like the simple Pet cut, because keeping it looking good doesn’t take much effort.
Take a deep breath before you panic, and try to relax. If your dog is injured, with cuts to the skin, see Chapter Canine First Aid on how to handle them. If your dog has suffered clipper burn, you can use a little aloe vera on the burn — and remember to keep your clippers cool next time.
If your dog has not been injured, remember that the mess you’ve made is only hair, and hair does grow back. You just need to figure out how to fix the problem so your dog won’t be the laughingstock at the dog park.
Assess the problem first. What did you do that looks so awful? In most cases, you’re probably looking at an uneven spot or two, so check to see whether you can blend the two layers of hair together. Thinning scissors or shears — see the “Using scissors” section earlier in this chapter — can sometimes fix a problem; sometimes they can’t. Sometimes you can trim the area around the uneven spot to match, or vice versa. Your dog’s coat may be a little short for a while, and if it’s cold, she may have to wear a sweater.

Tip

If you’re afraid you’ll end up with a bald dog, put away all your grooming tools, take your dog off the table, and have a cup of coffee (or tea). When you’ve relaxed, evaluate your dog. Can you realistically fix the problem? Or do you need to call in the pros? And of course, try not to clip your dog’s coat to the point where the only thing a pro can do is shave her.

by Eve Adamson, Richard G. Beauchamp, Margaret H. Bonham, Stanley Coren, Miriam Fields-Babineau, Sarah Hodgson, Connie Isbell, Susan McCullough, Gina Spadafori, Jack and Wendy Volhard, Chris Walkowicz, M. Christine Zink, DVM, PhD 

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