How to Groom a Sheltie

Shelties have luxurious double coats which demand regular grooming. Here's my step-by-step guide to de-shedding the undercoat, brushing out tangled mats, and trimming the paws and claws.

How to Groom Your Sheltie in 4 Steps

Here are the main areas of heavy tangling and shedding. Expect a deep groom plus paws and claws to take the best part of an hour.

Take note of these heavy tangling and shedding zones when you groom your Sheltie

The major Tangle and Shedding zones of your Sheltie.

Step 1: Remove The Loose Undercoat

The most effective way to groom a Sheltie's undercoat is line brushing. Part the double coat horizontally down to the skin and systematically comb out the densest fur. I use a wide detangling comb with long and short pins to strip out the undercoat over most of the body. Other Sheltie owners swear by the undercoat rake, although I feel like I get more precision with a detangler.

When there's no more resistance and no more loose fur coming out, move down an inch and repeat the line brushing, moving all the way down his back to his little furry butt. Then target the undercoat on his chest, ribs, and thighs. Your comb will fill up with satisfying clumps of soft fur. This loose undercoat needs to come out to help your Sheltie's skin breathe and prevent painful mats.

The back thigh area has particularly dense, coarse fur and it's easy to get lost in it. Make sure you brush as deep as you can, otherwise this area can accumulate serious clumps of knotted undercoat.

Grooming the Sheltie undercoat

A light grooming of Howard at two years old.

Step 2: Precision Comb The Wispy Fur

Now use a fine-toothed comb on the long wispy fur behind the ears, under the armpits and legs, and along the soft underbelly. A smaller tool here allows for precision combing of those small, sensitive areas. 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.

Grooming Shelties problem areas

The wispy fur behind the ears needs more frequent grooming to prevent impossible mats.

Step 3: Trim Out Any Mats

Mats that are too difficult or stressful to comb out can be trimmed out with safety pet scissors. When the mat is close to the skin, snip very carefully: avoid pulling the fur taught as this can draw the 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. Follow the direction of the hair growth. This removes light tangles, debris, and loose hairs, while distributing the natural oils for a smooth finish. The slicker brush can also reach deep to stimulate the skin and improve circulation.

How to Trim Your Dog's Nails

Once a month, trim your Sheltie's nails and the overgrown fur that extends between the paw pads. The aim is to keep his nails just short enough that they're not touching the ground. Overgrown claws arch a dog's toes backwards, forcing him to walk on the back of his paws, which puts extra strain on the tendons which ultimately causes limping and arthritis.

Sheltie Paws before and after grooming and nail clipping

Sheltie paws: before and after fur and nail trimming.

Step 1: Trim The Nails

Using a pair of guillotine-style dog nail clippers, start with a white claw which is found amongst the white fur. Trim only the hook of the nail with the cutting blade facing you. Make the cut top-down, because trimming dog's nails sideways can causing crushing and splintering.

How to trim dog nails: cut the hooked part of the nail and avoid the inner quick

Trim only the hooked end of the dog nail and avoid the inner quick.

Make small cuts of 1-3mm and beware of cutting into the blood-lined which quick grows with the nail. You can see the pink quick through white claws which is why it's best to start with these if possible, then mimic the same cut on the opaque black claws. Look for changes in the interior of the black claws; a gray or pink oval immediately precedes the quick, so don't cut any further than this.

Remember to trim your dog's dew claws on the front legs. These little rascals are thin thumb-like nails on the inner surface of the leg, a few inches up from the paw. When overgrown, they curl right round in a circle. Shelties don't have dew claws on the back legs, no matter how hard you look for them. However if you have a mixed breed, it's worth checking because some other breeds do!

Step 2: Trim The Fur Between The Paw Pads

Now trim down the overgrown fur on the bottom of the paws until it's flush with the pads. Use a sharp pair of small to medium sized scissors, but be careful not to angle them inwards. Doing so risks cutting the hidden webbing between his pads. This is just like the webbing between our fingers and toes and would surely be painful to injure.

Step 3: Tidy Up The Paws and Legs

Finally, mainly for aesthetics, trim the fur around the outside of the paw into a nice neat arch. On the hind legs only, brush the fur backwards from the paw to the first joint on the leg. Trim away any long fur into a straight line, but don't cut too close to the leg.

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.

Choose a dog shampoo that's designed for dogs with double coats to help exfoliate the skin while loosening old undercoat to reduce shedding. If your Sheltie has dry or sensitive skin, consider a hypoallergenic shampoo for thick coats.

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.

Watch your Sheltie shrink - Deborah White Duffy

Watch your Sheltie shrink - Deborah White Duffy

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 a Sheltie takes a lot longer than doing your own hair because there's just so much of it. This is where the backache comes in, as you'll be bending over and holding your wriggly Sheltie still for at least fifteen minutes straight.

Toby quite likes his bath by Kim Zikmund

Toby quite likes his bath - Kim Zikmund

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. Voila.

When to Groom Your Sheltie

While professional breeders admit to grooming their Shelties every day, a more realistic goal is to brush your pet Sheltie weekly. The more often you groom your Sheltie, the quicker the job because less matting and undercoat can accumulate.

Bear in mind that while Shelties have a large molt (a whopper shed of their fur) at the beginning of summer, un-spayed females also shed more heavily at every heat cycle (every 6-8 months). At these times, you'll need to groom your Sheltie more frequently to address the extra loss of undercoat.

Sheltie puppies hardly shed at all. The fur is relatively short, while the fluffy undercoat is underdeveloped. Grooming a puppy is a matter of running a comb through his fur once a week, with more focus behind the ears and under his leg joints.

There's not much involved with grooming the Sheltie puppy coat at 4 months old

Grooming is a quick job in puppies.

Around 5-6 six months old, your puppy will start developing the classic double Sheltie coat. That's when you need to step-up your grooming routine.

Howard had long tangly fur and a thick undercoat by 8 months old as seen here

Howard had long tangly fur and a thick undercoat by 8 months old as seen here.