In the show ring, the Shih Tzu practically floats across the floor in his traditional long coat. Outside the ring, however, your little boy can wear his hair any length you like, including cropped short. Regardless of length, his coat requires regular care to keep it clean and tangle-free.
The Long and Short of It
The iconic and only show-approved Shih Tzu haircut is a flowing floor-length coat, but your little squashed-nose pup can look adorable in any hair length. His grooming needs are essentially the same no matter the length of his hair -- but the longer it is, the longer your grooming sessions will be. Running a brush over a dog with a puppy cut will take a fraction of the time it would take to brush out a dog with show-length hair. Keep this in mind when deciding on a style for your pooch.
A Brush With Greatness
Beauty takes dedication and work, meaning your Shih Tzu doesn't just wake up looking fabulous. You need to brush him regularly to keep him mat-free. The longer the hair, the more often you'll need to brush. Use a pin brush or slicker brush to go through his coat and smooth out the tangles. Get all the way down to his skin, brushing one small section at a time. Mist his coat with a detangler spray to prevent breakage, and work out any mats you find using copious amounts of the detangler and the edge of a comb. Work slowly, from the ends of the matted hair toward the skin, so you don't yank his hair as you work out the mat. Take breaks frequently.
He's not generally an outdoorsy, rough-and-tumble type of dog, but your Shih Tzu will get dirty eventually. How often you bathe your pup depends mostly on the length of his hair. The longer the hair the quicker it gets dirty, meaning you'll need to wash him every few weeks to keep him clean. Pooches with shorter hairstyles can go as long as three months between baths. Regardless how often bath time occurs, the key is to be thorough in each step. Wet him to the skin, making sure his entire coat is soaked, including his underside. Apply dog shampoo and massage it into the entire coat, making sure to get into the various nooks and crannies, such as his pits and private areas. Rinse, then rinse again. And once more for good measure. Any shampoo that's left on his skin can dry and cause itchiness and irritation. Applying conditioner helps keep his hair smooth and tangle-free, so be sure to get through his entire coat. Rinse, rinse and rinse some more. Dried conditioner causes the same itchiness and irritation as dried shampoo.
Scrub-a-Dub, Part 2
Once you have the rest of his body all squeaky clean, you can focus your attention on his head and smooshed face. The slightly bulgy nature of your pup's eyes make them vulnerable to injury, so take great care when washing his head to keep water and shampoo out of his face. Tilt your pooch's head upward and use a cup or shower sprayer to keep water just where you want it instead of just dousing him over the head. After placing cotton balls inside his ears to keep water out, wet the outer ear flaps, the top of his head and his beard, then carefully massage a small amount of shampoo in. Rinse thoroughly, keeping your pup's nose slightly tilted up to prevent water and shampoo from splashing into his eyes or nose. Wipe his face with a damp washcloth free of shampoo or soap. Squeeze the excess water from his hair before wrapping him in a soft towel to soak up more moisture. Don't rub him with the towel, as that can introduce tangles. Let him air-dry, or use a hair dryer on a low-heat setting as you brush his hair smooth.
Leave It to the Professionals
Not every aspect in grooming is a do-it-yourself type of thing, so you'll still need to seek the help of a professional every few months. If your pooch sports a shorter haircut, he'll need to have it tended regularly to keep him looking neat. A Shih Tzu's hair grows continuously, so even long-haired pups need the occasional trim to keep the hair around their muzzles, eyes and paws short, and tidy up the body length so it doesn't drag behind them like a wedding gown train. Visit a groomer to keep your pup trimmed neatly and to have his nails clipped. Shih Tzus grow hair in their ears, which can irritate them and encourage infection, so have your groomer pluck that hair out during your pooch's visit.
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