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.
As a long-haired dog breed, your Sheltie will shed a lot. Weekly or fortnightly brushing is important not just for his appearance but also his health.
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).
What You'll Need
At minimum you'll need five basic tools:
- A Detangling Comb to remove the loose undercoat.
- A Fine-Toothed Comb for delicate areas of fine, wispy fur.
- A Slicker Brush for the coarse outercoat.
- Nail Trimmers to safely cut the claws.
- 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 or fortnightly. The more often you groom your Sheltie, the quicker the job because less matting can accumulate.
Bear in mind that while males and females have a large molt (whopper shed) before summer, un-spayed female Shelties can also shed more at every heat cycle. 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 by comparison. 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.
By six months old, your puppy will develop the classic double Sheltie coat. That's when you need to really step-up your grooming routine. It will take longer if you've never tackled a full Sheltie coat before, but you'll soon develop your own process.
How to Groom Your Sheltie in 4 Steps
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
#2. A Fine Toothed Comb
#3. A Slicker Brush
#4. Nail Trimmers
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.
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.
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.
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.