This article is all about grooming Shelties from a pet owner's perspective. (A lot more effort is required to groom a Shetland Sheepdog for dog shows.) You'll learn about:
Grooming Shelties can be very therapeutic for both of you
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. This is made up of a soft, short, woolly Sheltie undercoat which keeps him warm - plus a long, straight, silky outer coat which protects him from the sun and the harsh elements.
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.
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. Having never owned a dog before, I was worried this would be a massive burden, but it's really nothing to worry about. Sitting down in front of the TV with a Sheltie on your lap and giving him a good brushing isn't a chore - it's bonding time!
While you can pay to have your dog professionally bathed and groomed, I highly recommend learning how to do it yourself. Like I say, it's quality bonding time and actually very therapeutic for you, too! This requires a small investment in a few good dog brushes specifically designed for the long Sheltie fur:
An undercoat rake - this is an essential grooming brush for when your Sheltie is shedding. It has a single row of metal prongs to remove all the dead fur from the Sheltie undercoat. It's most effective when the undercoat is shedding in chunks.
A pin brush - typically used on medium and long-haired dog breeds (it's pretty useless on short, sleek coats) and ideal for dogs with sensitive skin. A pin brush removes dead hair that your Sheltie will otherwise shed on the furniture. They are great on wet fur too, as most other brushes can cause hair breakage when wet.
A slicker brush - Sheltie groomers use a slicker brush to remove mats and dead hairs from both the inner and outer layers of the thick coat. They are also often used as a finishing brush to distribute the natural oils through the coat for a silky, smooth finish.
Thinning shears - to remove extremely stubborn mats without 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 them to walk.
Nail clippers or a nail file - to trim the toenails which will otherwise grow long and cause serious problems walking, leading to arthritis. The guillotine style featured here are the easiest to use and perfect for small to medium dog breeds.
Your Sheltie puppy won't require much work as his fur is short and he's yet to develop his undercoat. When you see the classic thick Sheltie coat start to develop around 5-6 months - that's when you need to begin a Sheltie grooming routine...
Howard and his Sheltie undercoat after a thoroughly good grooming!
Start with the Sheltie undercoat: part the fur until you can see his skin and carefully work your fine undercoat rake through the woolly fur. Spray it with water or detangler to help ease out the mats. If he's shedding, your comb will quickly fill up with soft undercoat - as you can see here! I work through the undercoat thoroughly inch by inch, getting all the loose fur I can and building up a nice big pile of it in front of Howard. It's quite satisfying!
(I found a new way to deal with the undercoat, it's called the FURminator. Read my full review of this patented new grooming tool.)
Then I roll him onto his back to brush the soft underbelly where the hair is very thin and has 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. The other problem area is behind the ears, where you have both a thick undercoat and long wispy outer coat to contend with. In fact, I give this area a quick daily brushing because after a week it can become very knotted and a nightmare to detangle, which is when you're more tempted to get the scissors out.
Take your pin brush and part the coarse, wavy fur on the hind legs to get the deep mats out. This part all depends on the dog; Piper has a relatively thin tail and very little dense fur to get tangled up back there. At the other extreme, Howard has masses of dense, coarse fur which gets matted if I don't stay on top of it. When it gets really thick in the winter I use the thinning shears on his hind legs and this makes life easier all round. You should be able to get the pin brush through the hind legs and tail without running into knots - otherwise, you have more work to do!
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 process takes anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes depending on the time of year and how much undercoat your Sheltie is sporting.
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).
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 easy to see on white nails.) If you cut the quick, it causes bleeding for several minutes and can be extremely painful - so take care! 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 clipped sideways and crushed, causing splintering. Make sure the cutting blade faces you to minimize the risk of cutting the quick.
Trimmed and clipped
With black claws, you can't see the quick, so cut it in several smaller cuts, getting closer to the quick each time. When you see a gray/pink oval in the claw, you can stop cutting as this immediately precedes the blood-lined quick. Alternatively, use a nail file to wear the nail down gradually and avoid any painful experiences.
Don't forget to clip the dew claw! This is a finer, thumb-like nail on the inner surface of the paw, further back than the others. Usually the nails on the back feet are shorter and need less trimming than the front feet, and there are no dew claws on the back legs either.
Overgrown hair between the paw pads also 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. Also 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 the leg to the first joint. Slightly trim any excess fur to keep him looking neat and stop any dirt accumulating there.
Peter with puppy Howard after a bath
Only bathe your Sheltie when he needs it - for our boys this is only every 1-2 months, or slightly more often if they get muddy.
This may sound dirty but Shetland Sheepdogs keep themselves clean by licking and grooming themselves every day. If you wash them too often yourself it will strip away the natural coat oils, causing dryness, flaking and itching.
Use warm water to shower your Sheltie in the tub and get the water right against his skin - otherwise the waterproof outer coat will protect him like water off a duck's back! Be extra careful not to get any water in his big, gaping ear holes too - use cotton balls to be safe. Make sure you only use a shampoo and conditioner that is designed for dogs, as human products have different pH levels which can damage your dog's skin and coat. Wash the shampoo out thoroughly.
Afterwards, gently pat him dry with a towel but don't rub him excessively or you'll loosen the undercoat. Allow him to dry off naturally indoors - don't send him outside if it's remotely cold. 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.
It's an annoying truth that when you have pets, you also invite fleas into your home. Fleas can live happily in the Sheltie undercoat, sucking blood which causes dreadful itching and laying up to 4,000 eggs which just 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.
Finding the best way to deal with fleas and ticks comes from first hand experience - and usually involves regular use of insecticides 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 three methods below. I have tried and tested a lot of flea treatments when Howard kept getting reinfected as a puppy. Other flea treatments include flea collars (fine for puppies by less effective on adults), flea shampoos (only temporary action), and flea sprays (effective but very messy). I often resorted to laying him on his back and picking the damn things off myself! They are hardy little buggers - the best way to kill them is to literally decapitate them between your fingernails... So the important thing I've learned is that it's easier to take measures to prevent fleas, than to deal with a thriving infestation.
Frontline is the best flea treatment because 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 Howard and Piper regularly. It is proven to kill 100% of fleas within 12 hours and continues to kill fleas and ticks for one month, and sometimes longer.
A flea bomb like Hartz Flea & Tick Home Fogger effectively kills fleas, ticks, flea eggs, larvae and mosquitoes in the home - and 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.
That concludes my mammoth article on grooming Shelties! If you found this useful, please take a moment to bookmark it, post it on Facebook, or share it with your dog lover friends. This article How to Groom a Shetland Sheepdog actually applies to just about any long-haired breed, especially those with double coats.
Becky Turner is the creator of Sheltie Planet. She lives in New Zealand with her partner, Peter, and their son, Fox. Becky is 100% owned by Howard and Piper Woofington Moon, the Shelties who inspired this site. Visit them on Facebook or The Sheltie Planet Forums.