If you show your shih tzu, you'll need the services of a professional groomer to keep your dog's coat in top form. If you don't show, you might manage the job yourself using brushes, combs and scissors. Keep quality shampoo and detangler on hand. One thing's for sure with a shih tzu -- that long hair always grows back, so you'll have plenty of opportunities for practice.
Since grooming is part of a shih tzu's life -- show dog or not -- get your puppy accustomed to brushing soon after he arrives. His full coat won't come in until he's about a year old, so prepare him beforehand. Using a comb and bristle brush, start brushing his head. Hair on the ear areas is prone to tangles, so brush carefully. On the body, mist him down with water, then use the brush first, finishing with a comb-out.
Standard Coat and Trimming
The American Kennel Club standard for the shih tzu describes the breed's double coat as luxurious, long, flowing and dense, with just a slight wave permitted. The hair on the top of the dog's head should be tied up. The only trimming allowed is on the bottom of the coat, the feet and around the rear end for cleanliness. Too much trimming is considered a fault in the show ring. Let a professional groomer do the trimming whether your shih tzu shows or doesn't -- the dog will need occasional trimming around the eyes, mouth, anus and genitals.
Shih Tzu Bathing
Plan on bathing your shih tzu more often than other breeds require -- at least once a month, and more often if he plays outdoors frequently and gets dirty. Long-haired shih tzus require bathing at least every two weeks; for show dogs baths are a weekly ritual. If your dog is dirty, his hair is more likely to mat -- the bane of the shih tzu coat. Not only are mats unsightly and hard to remove, but if left in the coat they can cause skin infections. If your dog has mats, remove them before giving him a bath. Wet mats tend to set. After the bath, dry your dog with towels, replacing wet towels as needed, for about 20 minutes. You can then finish the job with a hair dryer set on low heat, brushing the dog as you dry him.
The shih tzu's double coat is a recipe for matting, tangles occurring when the topcoat and undercoat join together. Follow up your standard brushing and comb-out with a wide-tooth comb to make sure you've gotten rid of any mats-in-the-making. Besides behind the ears, mats are most likely to form around the legs and neck, so pay special attention to these parts. In the case of a bad mat, it's easier to simply cut out the mat rather than detangle it. If signs of infection appear, take your shih tzu to the vet for an examination. A severely matted dog requires professional mat removal by a groomer or a veterinarian.
You don't have to groom your shih tzu completely every day, but comb and create a new topknot, and clean your dog's face and eyes, daily. Using a rubber band to create the topknot not only helps keep hair out of your dog's eyes but also prevents hair from falling into his food. With your hands, check carefully for any potential mat formation.
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.