How to Groom a Shetland Sheepdog
My step-by-step guide to grooming Shelties, with advice on the best brushes, how to line brush the undercoat, shampoos for double coated breeds, and dealing with difficult mats.
As a long-haired dog breed, your Sheltie will shed a lot. Weekly brushing is important not just to his looks, but his health too: mats accumulate over time, pulling on the skin and ultimately leading to sores or worse.
While all Shelties need serious grooming, there's a difference between the shedding patterns of males and females. Male Shelties have a major moult once a year before summer, when they ditch their winter coat over the course of a few weeks. Female Shelties moult before summer and after every heat cycle (every 6-8 months if she's not spayed).
When Do Shelties Need Grooming?
Compared to adult Shelties, puppies hardly shed at all. The fur is short at this age and the thick, fluffy undercoat is underdeveloped. Just run a comb through his fur once a week and check his nooks and crevices for mats. More on this in a moment.
Around six months old your puppy will start to develop the classic thick Sheltie coat, and that's when you need to step-up your grooming routine. Be prepared, because this can sneak up on you. Plus, it usually takes longer when you start out because you haven’t established your own systematic process yet. But you will!
5 Tools You Need For Grooming Shelties
I recommend some basic tools to tackle the different layers of fur, trim out inevitable knots, and keep the paws neat. These include:
#1 A Detangling Comb. This is critical for stripping out the loose, fluffy undercoat and preventing it clogging up your Sheltie's skin. I recommend the 2-in-1 Detangling Comb by Poodle Pet. It doesn't look like much but it's extremely effective at loosening the undercoat with minimum fuss.
#2 A Fine Toothed Comb. This is for wispy areas where you need precision. I recommend the Fine Toothed Comb by Safari to target behind the ears, under the armpits, and around the underbelly.
#3 A Slicker Brush. This is for the outercoat, to remove debris (or food scraps from your beard if you're Howard) and distribute the coat's natural oils. The Hertzko Self Cleaning Slicker Brush has retractable bristles for cleaning and storage, so the pins aren't liable to break or become bent.
#4 Nail Trimmers.It's essential to clip your dog's nails when they grow long to prevent them arching his paws and forcing him to walk on the back of his foot. These Safari Nail Trimmers are a guillotine style ideal for small dogs.
#5 Pet Scissors. You'll need a sturdy pair of pet scissors like these Pet Magasin Round Tip Scissors to cut out tough mats, trim the fur between the paw pads, and tidy up where things go haywire.
How to Groom Your Sheltie in 4 Steps
Step 1: Strip Out The Fluffy Undercoat
The most efficient way to groom a Sheltie is called line brushing.
Starting at the back of the neck, part the fur horizontally so you can see his skin and use your dematting comb in small strokes. When there's no more resistance and no more fur coming out, move down an inch and repeat the process. With this technique, you can target all the undercoat on the body, rump and legs. You'll accumulate lots of loose fluff!
Step 2: Detangle The Wispy Fur
Now use your fine toothed comb on the long wispy fur behind the ears, under the armpits and around the soft underbelly.
This is where you're going to encounter the most mats, as these areas tangle easily and often. Tight mats near the skin can be painful for your pooch, so take it easy.
The best approach is to pinch the fur at the base so you take the tension in your fingers rather than pulling at his skin.
Step 3: Trim Out Any Mats
Sometimes, you’ll encounter a mat that is difficult to comb out. The easiest solution is to trim it out with your pet scissors. Show dog owners loathe to cut out knots because it can leave unsightly patches in the fur—but pet owners needn’t worry! The important thing is your Sheltie is comfortable and pain-free.
When the mat is close to the skin, snip very carefully. And avoid pulling the fur taught as this pulls the delicate skin into the path of the scissors. Instead, hold the fur back loosely and cut in small, gentle snips until the entire mat is free.
Step 4: Brush The Rough Outercoat
Finally, run your slicker brush down the outercoat in long strokes and in the direction of the hair growth. This removes light tangles, debris and dead hairs from the coarse fur. It also stimulates the skin to improve circulation, and distributes the coat's natural oils for a smooth finish.
Paws and Claws
Every month or so, trim down the fur in between the paw pads and around the outside of the paw. This can get pretty overgrown and makes it harder for your Sheltie to walk. At the same time, clip your Sheltie's claws. If left unclipped, they'll arch your Sheltie's toes away from the ground, forcing him to walk on the back of his paw. This is not only awkward but puts extra strain on the tendons, causing limping and eventually arthritis.
Lay your Sheltie on his back and hold his paw in one hand. Use your pet scissors to trim the overgrown fur between his paw pads until it's flush with the pads. Be careful not to angle your scissors inwards as you may snip the hidden webbing between his pads. It's just like the webbing between our own toes and I imagine snipping that would hurt bad!
I find it easier to cut the claws while he’s still on his back. If he's jumpy about having his claws clipped, talk in a calm soothing voice and work quickly so it's over sooner. Clipping your Sheltie's nails is much easier when you understand the structure of the nail. Start with a white claw, found among the white fur, so you can better see where the inner "quick" begins. This is the part that contains blood and nerve endings—you definitely don’t want to cut through the quick.
Take a pair of guillotine style nail clippers and cut only the thinnest, most hooked part of the nail. With the cutting blade facing you, make the cut vertically (a horizontal cut causes crushing and splintering down the nail). If you see a gray or pink oval in the claw, stop cutting, as this precedes the blood-lined quick.
If you're new to clipping claws or are particularly worried about cutting too much off, you try making several small cuts, getting closer to the quick each time. Look for that gray/pink oval inside the claw and you’ll be fine.
If you do cut the quick, it will bleed for several minutes. Hold a tissue over it until it clots and calmly reassure your Sheltie to minimize upset and future nail clipping fear.
Remember to clip the dew claws on the front legs. These sneaky little scoundrels are thin thumb-like nails on the inner surface of the leg, a few inches further back than the toes. If left to overgrow they'll curl right round in a circle. There are no dew claws on the back legs, no matter how hard you look for them.
Finally, trim the fur around the outside of the claws into a nice neat arch. On the hind legs only, brush the fur backwards from the back of the paw up to the first joint on the leg. Trim the excess fur with scissors in a straight line, but not too close to the bone. This keeps the legs looking neat and prevents dirt and debris from accumulating. Voila!
How to Bathe a Shetland Sheepdog
Every one or two months, shampoo your Sheltie to thoroughly clean her skin and fur. (If you wash her too often you'll strip away the coat's natural oils, causing dryness, flaking and itching.) For this exercise—and it is an exercise—you’ll need a shower, dog shampoo, an old towel, and a strong back.
If possible, choose a dog shampoo that’s designed for dogs with double coats. This can help exfoliate the skin that hides away under all that fur, while loosening old undercoat to reduce shedding. I suggest TropiClean's PerfectFur Dog Shampoo
Thoroughly soak your Sheltie in the tub with warm water, line parting as you go to fully drench the undercoat. The phrase "water off a duck's back" springs to mind here. You'll see that the waterproof outercoat resists getting wet, while the many layers of fur underneath help shield your pooch from your watery whims.
The best strategy is to drench to lower half the body first with the shower head right up against her skin. Shampoo that half, giving your Sheltie a nice scratch and some kind words of encouragement, then rinse it all out thoroughly. Try not to leave any shampoo residue behind as it’ll itch and irritate her skin later.
Then move on to the top half of her body. Be careful around her ear canals, which are much larger and angled differently to ours, so the shower water will squirt right in there. This creates a risk of ear infection as bacteria love warm, damp body parts. You can plug her ears with cotton balls, or just mind the angle of your shower nozzle.
Shampooing Sheltie hair takes a lot longer than human hair because there's just so much of it. This is where the back ache comes in, as you’ll be bending over and holding your wriggly Sheltie still for at least fifteen minutes straight. It's worth it though; her skin and fur will be spotless and she'll smell delicious (at least, to you).
After bathing, gently pat your dog dry with a towel. Don't rub her or you'll damage the undercoat which, like human hair, is more prone to breakage when wet. Then allow her to dry off naturally indoors, or outside if the weather’s warm. If your furniture can't take a wet Sheltie rubbing herself all over it, carefully blow dry the coat on a low setting, parting the hair as you go. Wait until the coat is fully dry before brushing.