by Jo Ann White
Whether you keep your Shih Tzu “in coat” or in a cute puppy clip, daily grooming is critical with this breed. Your dog’s eyes need to be gently cleared of any matter that collects in the corners with a damp cotton ball, bits of food and debris need to be combed out of his moustache, his topknot (if he has one) needs to be rebanded, and his coat needs to be combed or brushed free of mats and debris. It helps if your dog has enough of a beard and moustache to give you something to hold on to while grooming his face! Daily brushing stimulates the skin and encourages the hair to grow. In addition, a daily check will alert you to any sores, lumps, bumps, irritated eyes, smelly ears, parasites, or other problems right away, before they become major problems.
This is a time for you and your pet to bond, so make grooming a happy and relaxing experience starting from puppyhood. Daily grooming is MUCH easier (and faster) than grooming a badly matted dog. Grooming is NOT pleasant, for either of you, when large mats are allowed to form. Removing them is painful for your dog, no matter how careful you are to break them up with your fingers before brushing them out. If you allow mats to remain, your dog will scratch at them because they pull against his skin, making them larger and harder to remove. Hot spots often begin under such mats.
Ask someone more experienced to show you what equipment to use and how to brush so that you do not break the hair. Be sure you are getting all the way down to the skin when grooming—one of the most common mistakes novices make is brushing over the top of mats rather than removing them. It is sometimes easiest to put your dog on its back in your lap to comb out any mats on the insides of the legs and in the armpits.
Another important part of your dog’s maintenance is regular bathing. Remember that clean coats grow. Dirty coats mat. Dirty coats also break, and breakage or roughening of the hair shaft is something you want to avoid, especially on a show coat, because it generally leads to further breakage and damage. Most show dogs are bathed weekly, and no Shih Tzu should go more than about three weeks between baths. Your dog should be completely mat free before its bath, as tangles “set in” during bathing and are much harder to remove afterwards.
Different shampoos and conditioners work well on different types of coats and in different climates, and you will have to experiment to find the one that is best for your dog. Ask your breeder or other knowledgeable Shih Tzu owners for suggestions, and decide just what you need the product to do. Some products will soften the coat or make it lay flatter. Others will add body or whiten stained areas. The most expensive products are not necessarily the best ones, but there are some basic things you should know about various conditioners you use after shampooing and during your daily grooming. Products that contain silicone are drying and will eventually cause the coats to break. Oils often don’t work well on Shih Tzu coats either. Whatever shampoos and conditioners you use, be sure to rinse them out well before thoroughly blow drying your dog, and use a tear-free product around your dog’s eyes. You may want to put Refresh or some other gel product into your dog’s eyes before bathing to protect them. Bath time is also the time for removing excess hair from inside the ears, expressing anal glands, trimming toenails, and trimming the hair between the pads of the feet.