How to Groom a Sheltie

Shetland Sheepdogs have luxurious double coats which come with the responsibility of routine grooming. Here's my step-by-step guide to de-shedding the undercoat, brushing out tangled mats, and trimming the paws and claws.

Jump to section: Grooming | Nail Trimming | Brushes | Bathing

How to Groom a Shetland Sheepdog

How to Groom a Shetland Sheepdog

The Sheltie Coat at a Glance

Before we start, here's an overview of the main areas of heavy tangling (among the long wispy fur) and heavy shedding (among the thick fluffy undercoat).

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

The major Tangle and Shedding Zones of your Sheltie.

What You'll Need

I recommend these five basic tools:

  1. A Detangling Comb to remove the loose undercoat.
  2. A Fine-Toothed Comb for delicate areas of fine, wispy fur.
  3. A Slicker Brush for the coarse outercoat.
  4. Nail Trimmers to safely cut the claws.
  5. Pet Scissors to trim any knots and tidy up.

How Often Do Shelties Need Grooming?

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.

Bu comparison, Sheltie puppies hardly shed at all. The fur is relatively short, while the fluffy undercoat is underdeveloped. Grooming your Sheltie 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.

By six months old, your puppy will have the classic double Sheltie coat. That's when you need to really 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.

How to Groom Your Sheltie in 4 Steps

Expect a deep groom to take the best part of an hour, and perhaps longer if you've never tackled a full Sheltie coat before. With practice, though, you'll develop your own process that speeds everything up.

Step 1: Remove The Loose Undercoat

The most effective way to groom a Sheltie's undercoat involves line brushing. This means parting the double coat down to the skin and systematically combing out the densest fur.

Start at the back of the neck, part the fur horizontally, and use your mighty dematting comb in small strokes. Expect your comb to fill up with thick gray-white fur. This is the loose undercoat, and it needs to come out to help your Sheltie's skin breathe.

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.

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: Detangle The Wispy Fur

Now use your fine toothed comb on the long wispy fur behind the ears, under the armpits and legpits, and along the soft underbelly.

Grooming Shelties problem areas

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

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. Professional breeders loathe to cut out knots because it can leave unsightly patches in the fur; to prevent this they often brush out these areas daily.

When the mat is close to the skin, snip very carefully. And avoid pulling the fur taught as this can draw 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. 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

Every 3-4 weeks, 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. This 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

Use a pair of guillotine-style dog nail clippers, starting 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.

Never make large cuts because the blood-lined quick grows with the nail. (If you need to trim overgrown nails, make small cuts once a week, giving the quick time to recede.)

Sometimes you can see the pink quick through white claws, which is why it's best to start with these, then mimic the same cut on the opaque black claws.

If you're worried about cutting the quick on your dog's black nails, just make several smaller cuts. Look for changes in the interior; a gray or pink oval in the claw immediately precedes the quick, so don't cut any further than this.

Styptic powder contracts blood vessels and relieves pain in minor wounds

Styptic powder contracts blood vessels and relieves pain in minor wounds.

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. There are no dew claws on the back legs, no matter how hard you look for them.

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.

5 Tools I Use to Groom My Shelties

Here's a little more detail about the specific tools I use to groom my Shetland Sheepdogs.

#1. A Detangling Comb

I find this the best type of comb for stripping out the undercoat. This is always the most time-consuming part of grooming, so you want to have the right brush for the job. I have one exactly like this 2-in-1 Detangling Comb which can be used liberally in both long and short strokes.

A wide-toothed detangling comb can reach deep into the undercoat

A wide-toothed detangling comb can reach deep into the undercoat.

#2. A Fine Toothed Comb

I use a trusty old fine toothed comb for the wispy areas where the fur tangles easily and I need precision. This Pet Comb is basically a flea comb but is super versatile for the many different types of fur on your Sheltie.

A fine-toothed comb is ideal for the ears, leg joints, and underbelly

A fine-toothed comb is ideal for the ears, leg joints, and underbelly.

#3. A Slicker Brush

This is for the outercoat, to remove knots, debris (like food scraps if you're Howard Woofington Moon) and distribute the coat's natural oils. This Slicker Brush has retractable bristles for cleaning and storage so the pins are less likely to become bent.

A slicker brush detangles and clears the coarse Sheltie outercoats

A slicker brush detangles and clears the coarse Sheltie outercoat.

#4. Nail Trimmers

There are a few varieties of clippers but I find guillotine nail trimmers are the easiest and quickest to use. Remember to make vertical cuts whenever you can to prevent splintering the claw.

Guillotine-style nail clippers are quick and easy to use

Guillotine-style nail clippers are quick and easy to use.

#5. Scissors

Regular scissors are fine for Sheltie grooming as long as they're sharp and precise enough to make small snips. You can also get pet scissors with rounded edges like these Pet Safety Scissors so you don't accidentally poke him with a sharp point.

Pet scissors often have rounded tips for safety

Pet scissors often have rounded tips for safety.

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 recommend PerfectFur Dog Shampoo.

Use a dog shampoo designed for double coated breeds

Use a dog shampoo designed for double coated breeds.

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.

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Rebecca Casale, Creator of Sheltie Planet

Rebecca Casale is the founder of Sheltie Planet and Science Me. Meet her famous Shetland Sheepdogs Howard and Piper and download Shelties: The Complete Pet Owner's Guide.