Sheltie Planet

How to Groom a Shetland Sheepdog

By Becky Turner

A complete guide to grooming Shelties, including stripping the thick Sheltie undercoat, clipping the nails, and dealing with fleas.

How to groom a Sheltie

How to groom a Sheltie

Grooming a Sheltie is an essential part of his routine care. Today you'll learn all the essentials:

The Sheltie Undercoat

The Shetland Sheepdog has a luxurious double coat, which served him well in the harsh weather conditions of the Shetland Islands where this breed evolved.

The coat is made up of a soft, short, woolly undercoat which keeps him warm, plus a long, straight, silky outer coat which protects him from the elements.

Do Shelties Shed a Lot of Fur?

As a long-haired dog breed, you can expect your Sheltie to shed a reasonable amount of fur. Regular brushing will stop most of it from ending up all over your living room couch.

Once they are fully grown, male Shelties usually shed once a year.

Female Shelties shed in the summer and after every heat cycle (roughly every 6-8 months) although spaying a Sheltie will eliminate most of this.

How Often Should You Groom a Sheltie?

Experts recommend thoroughly grooming Shelties about once a week, with a quick daily brushing to catch any nuisance mats and tangles in the problem areas.

Before I had a Sheltie, I was worried this would be a massive burden. But it's actually quite therapeutic (for both of you) and makes for good bonding time.

Sheltie Grooming Brushes and Tools

Here are the tools I recommend for grooming Shelties:

Furminator for Shelties

The FURminator is the best brush I've found for removing dead undercoat, which is especially useful when your Sheltie is shedding.

It has a single row of metal prongs to dig past the outer coat and get into the dense woolly fur underneath. Check out my FURminator review to see this brush in action.

Slicker Brush for Shelties
A slicker brush removes mats and dead hairs from both the inner and outer layers of the Sheltie coat.

It also stimulates the skin for better circulation and distributes the natural oils through the coat for a silky, smooth finish.

Thinning Shears for Shelties

Thinning shears can be used to remove the inevitable and extremely stubborn mats without resorting to cutting out large chunks of hair.

You'll also need a regular pair of sharp scissors to trim the unwanted fur that grows in between the paw pads and makes it harder for your Sheltie to walk.

Nail Clippers for SheltiesNail clippers are essential. If left unclipped, your Shelties claws will grow long, forcing your dog to walk on the back of the foot. This can eventually lead to serious problems like arthritis.

The guillotine style mail clippers are the easiest to use on small to medium dog breeds.

How to Groom a Shetland Sheepdog

When your Sheltie is still a puppy he won't require much work. His fur is short and he's yet to develop his undercoat.

Around 5-6 months old he'll begin to develop the classic thick Sheltie coat and that's when you need to begin a Sheltie grooming routine.

The Sheltie Undercoat

Howard and his undercoat after grooming

Step 1 - The Sheltie Undercoat

The Sheltie undercoat is the most time consuming part of grooming because there's so much of it.

Carefully draw your FURminator or undercoat rake through the dense woolly fur, moving in the direction of growth. You will need to make multiple runs through. Your brush will quickly fill up with soft undercoat; pull it out of the brush and go again until there's little or no undercoat coming out.

Work through the entire body of undercoat, inch by inch, building up a nice big pile of it in front of your flabbergasted dog. It's so satisfying!

Step 2 - Problem Areas

Next, gently roll your Sheltie onto his his back. Holding the fur at the base, use a fine toothed comb (flea comb) or slicker brush to tease out any mats in the soft underbelly. The hair is comparatively thin her and there's no undercoat to speak of.

Take care to get all the mats and tangles under the armpits and around the groin, as this can easily become tangled and painful for your Sheltie.

Another problem area is behind the ears, where you have both a thick undercoat and long wispy outercoat to contend with.

I give this area a quick daily brushing because after a week or more it can become very knotted and a nightmare to detangle. By that point you may even have to get the scissors out...

Step 3 - The Hind Legs and Tail

Take your undercoat rake and part the coarse, wavy fur on the hind legs to get the deep mats out.

When it gets really thick, use the thinning shears on the bushy rump to reduce matting.

You should be able to get your brush through the hind legs and tail without running into knots. If not, you have more work to do.

Step 4 - The Finishing Touch

Finally, to make your Shetland Sheepdog look grand, run a slicker brush over the outer coat to distribute the natural oils and maintain the coat's natural luster.

The overall grooming process typically takes 20-30 minutes depending on the time of year and how much undercoat your Sheltie is sporting.

If you have neglected your grooming duties and let knots creep in, expect to spend an hour or more catching up. There are no short cuts with Sheltie grooming!

Grooming Sheltie Feet

This aspect of grooming Shelties is often overlooked, but it's really important to their health.

Every few weeks, you need to tend to your Sheltie's beautiful little paws. Grab your nail clippers (or nail file) and a pair of small, sharp scissors (or a razor).

Step 1 - Trim The Nails

Sheltie Claw - Before

Overgrown claws and fur

You must keep your Sheltie's toenails clipped or they'll arch the toes away from the ground, forcing him to walk further back on his paws. This is not only awkward but it puts extra strain on the tendons, causing limping and eventually arthritis.

Gently hold your Sheltie's paw up and cut the hooked part of the nail about 2mm in front of the pink quick. It's easier to see the quick inside white nails, so start with those.

If your Sheltie has black claws, use your best guess an do it in several smaller cuts, getting closer to the quick each time. When you see a gray/pink oval in the claw, stop cutting as this immediately precedes the blood-lined quick. Alternatively, use a nail file to wear the nail down gradually and avoid any bad experiences.

To minimize the risk of cutting the quick, make sure the cutting blade faces you.

If you cut the quick, it causes bleeding for several minutes and can be painful for your pooch, so err on the side of caution.

When using a guillotine clipper, hold it vertically so the nail is cut straight up or down. If you hold it sideways, the nail will be crushed, causing splintering.

Sheltie Claw - After

Neat and tidy

Don't forget to clip the dew claw! This is a finer, thumb-like nail on the inner surface of the leg, much further back than the others. If left to overgrow it'll curl right round in a circle and become impossible to cut.

Usually the nails on the back feet are shorter and need less trimming than the front feet. There are no dew claws on the back legs.

Step 2 - Trim The Fur

Overgrown hair between paw pads makes it harder for your Sheltie to walk properly. He'll skid on polished floors and get dirt and other debris stuck in the fur.

With sharp scissors or a razor, trim the fur between his paws until it is flush with the pads. Mind the hidden webbing between his paws; it's just like the webbing between your own toes and would be very sore if cut.

Then trim the fur around the paws into a nice neat arch.

Finally, on the hind legs only, brush the fur from the back of the paw up to the first joint on the leg. Slightly trim the excess fur to keep him looking neat and stop any dirt from accumulating.

Bathing Shelties

Bathing Shelties

Peter holding Howard after a bath

You don't need to bathe Shelties very often. Shelties are clean dogs and tend to avoid swimming and rolling in animal poop - the main culprits of bad smells.

In fact, you can leave them unbathed for months and you'll find they still don't develop any nasty doggy smell. That's because Shetland Sheepdogs keep clean by licking and grooming themselves every day.

What's more, if you wash them too often you will strip away the natural coat oils, causing dryness, flaking and itching.

So only bathe your Sheltie when he needs it, for instance, if he gets really muddy. Otherwise, let his natural oils do the cleaning for you.

When you do bath your Sheltie, use warm water to shower him in the tub and part the hair, getting the nozzle right against his skin. Otherwise the waterproof outercoat will protect him like water off a duck's back.

Be extra careful not to shower water straight into his ear holes though. Use cotton balls to protect them if you are worried.

Only use shampoos designed for dogs because human products have different pH levels which can damage your Sheltie's skin and coat. Take extra care to wash the shampoo out thoroughly.

Afterwards, gently pat him dry with a towel. Don't rub him or you'll loosen the undercoat. Allow him to dry off naturally indoors. Or, if your furniture can't take a wet Sheltie rubbing himself all over it, carefully blow dry the coat on a low setting, parting the hair as you go.


Related Article: 101 Shelties in The Bath

How to Deal with Fleas and Ticks

Fleas can live happily in the Sheltie undercoat, sucking blood which causes dreadful itching and laying up to 4,000 eggs which perpetuates the flea havoc.

Besides causing discomfort, flea bites can produce skin problems, infection, anemia, and in extreme cases can transmit tapeworms to your pooch.

What's the best way to deal with fleas and ticks? First, if there are no sign of any fleas on your dog then I suggest you do nothing.

If and when you do spot fleas on your dog, use an insecticide like Frontline or Advantage. If you are suffering from repeat infestations, you can also flea bomb the house to get rid of any eggs in the carpets and furniture.

Here's a little more about these methods below. After a bought of infestations when Howard was a puppy, I tried a number of solutions. I'm only sharing the most effective ones here.

Frontline for SheltiesFrontline is the best flea treatment in my opinion. It's the only one that completely breaks the flea cycle to give your dog continuous protection.

Flea eggs go through four lifecycles: embryo, larva, pupa and imago (adult) which takes 2-3 weeks in warm temperatures but can lay dormant for longer in cooler periods.

I use Frontline on our Shelties at the first sign of fleas (which can happen any time your dog comes into contact with an infected dog or cat). Frontline is proven to kill 100% of fleas and ticks within 12 hours and continues to kill them for one month.

Frontline for SheltiesOnce fleas are in your house, they can lay eggs in the carpet. A flea bomb like Hartz Flea & Tick Home Fogger effectively kills fleas, ticks, flea eggs, larvae and mosquitoes in the home. It also prevents reinfestation for 7 months.

You'll need to set it off in the center of your home then leave for 30 minutes. Leave the dog bed, rugs, towels, and other flea-havens in the kill zone and they'll be treated at the same time.

Other flea treatments include flea collars (fine for puppies by less effective on adults), flea shampoos (but these only temporary action), and flea sprays (effective but very messy).

The faster you spot and treat fleas, the better. It's worth having an insecticide like Frontline in your cupboard for the inevitable occassion.

About The Author

Becky Turner is a writer and zoologist-in-training. Learn more about Becky here. If you'd like to support her work, check out her ebook, The Sheltie Anthology, a complete guide to everything Sheltie.