Silky Terrier Grooming

Silky Grooming

Silky Terriers are actually very easy to groom. Really. It’s all about knowing what to do and having the right equipment.

Of course, as you contemplate the mass of tangles, burs, and bits of stick that your dog has managed to accumulate over that last (it feels like) teensy period of time, exchanging the dog out for, say a Miniature Pinscher doesn’t seem like such a bad idea. Okay, you know that I am joking, (maybe). But seriously, there must be a way of bathing, brushing, and trimming your dog so that he or she still looks lovely but isn’t a pain to groom. That is the subject of this article.

Many pet owners say to me, I couldn’t possibly groom my own dog. I have a local groomer who will do this for me. That, of course, is fine, and I’m sure your dog will come home clean and sweet-smelling. But will the dog come home easier to maintain than before, and even more seriously, will they come home with a (gasp) bow in their hair? So part of what I am teaching you can also be taught to your groomer.

Grooming Equipment

Your local pet store has, I am sure, fine products in many areas. However, they do not have the quality of combs or brushes you need for your dog. Even if you don’t plan to do it all yourself, you should have the following:

Silky Grooming

From the top: a pin brush, a natural bristle brush, a bristle brush with a nylon shaft in the middle of the bristle bundles, a rat-tail comb, a medium-sized Greyhound, and a metal face comb.

  • A good pin brush for tangle teasing. My favorite for this is #1 All Systems, which can be purchased from among many other pet supply websites.
  • A natural bristle brush, with or without plastic centers. If it has plastic centers, the plastic should not have a knob at one end. These can be purchased at a local hair salon retail store or online. A natural bristle brush is good for brushing your dog’s coat out once it is free of tangles. If gotten on-line, I recommend the Denman brand. The best is Mason Pearson but they are extremely expensive.
  • A Greyhound-style metal comb. Good is #1 All Systems or Chris Christiansen – you want a fairly expensive comb because the good ones will have few or no burrs to catch coat. Source is any good online pet website. The purpose of a comb is to check for tangles, not pull them out. You also need a metal face comb and a rat tail comb which helps put the part in.
  • A small, soft slicker brush. I like #1 All Systems, You want a small one, but softer than the pet store type. These are good for brushing out feet hair. Get from a pet supply website.
  • A nail clipper. Get the kind for the biggest breeds. They are more powerful and therefore easier even on small toenails.
  • A 4” or 5” scissors. There are several retailers which sell decent ones. If you get inexpensive scissors there, get a couple of them, as they probably won’t last long. The more expensive scissors do last longer. You can get scissors with blunt ends if you’d like, it will give you confidence that you’re not about to stab your dog. By the way, you won’t stab your dog, but it can take a while to gain this confidence.
  • A 4” or 5” thinning sheers, teeth on one side only. These can be purchased from a hairdresser’s retail store. It’s fine if you get a great deal on a pair, but you might want to get a couple pairs. The cheap ones often work fine, but sometimes don’t. This might be an item to buy at a dog show.
  • An ionizing blow dryer.
  • A good set of pet hair clippers. There are many on the market. A good brand is Wahl.
  • Do you really need a grooming table? If you aren’t going to show, no not really, but you need a comfortable table to groom your dog on. If you are planning on showing your dog, it’s vital to have a standard-size grooming table at home and a sturdy ring-side grooming table.
  • Midwest makes good grooming tables. The best ring-side table by far is the Master Equipment Versa Competition Dog Grooming Table.

Even if you don’t want to show, you definitely need some sort of non-slip surface, so your dog feels secure while being groomed.

A non-slip bathmat works well for this. A grooming arm can be quite helpful. Silkys can be wiggly and twisty and turny. A grooming arm holds at least their head in place. You clamp it on the edge of a table or grooming table if you have one. You can get one at a pet supply website or Amazon.

So you’ve got all your equipment. Probably spent more than you intended. (Don’t worry – it will all last a long time.)

Now what?

Well, there are two old sayings in grooming:

  1. Never brush a dog that’s dry.
  2. Never brush a dog that’s wet.

Yeah, I know. Pretty annoying. But actually, there’s truth in both statements.

It’s true that one should never brush a dry dog. Tangles can be formed around dirt that will literally wash out once your dog is bathed. And especially males can get, well, sticky. You’re better off washing that out before brushing the coat.

By the way, I find that there are two kinds of tangles.

  1. Dirt tangles. See above.
  2. Scratched or rubbed tangles combined with dirt. These won’t wash out but still, they benefit from being cleaned and conditioned before being brushed out.

If you brush a wet dog you pull at the hair follicle when it’s vulnerable, stretching it and weakening it. So don’t brush a dog that’s wet.

Ideally, you brush a dog when he’s damp, either from a bath or by being lightly sprayed with a leave-in conditioner. You can use a regular human conditioner, diluted until it’s almost water, a human leave-in conditioner diluted about half and half, or a doggie leave-in conditioner. It’s better to brush a dog after being bathed though, if they are at all dirty. By the way, how often should you bathe your dog? Basically when he needs it, but as a general rule, it‘s a bath and a brush once a week.

So let’s talk about bathing your dog. First of all, you are absolutely right that dog hair has a different PH than human hair. Therefore you must never use human hair products on a dog, right? Well…. There are wonderful dog-only shampoos and conditioners. I like a product called The Coat Handler. I’ve also heard that a product line called Plush Puppy from Australia is very good. All these products cost about $65.00 for a half-gallon of concentrate. However, the Pantene line of Sleek and Shiny or the Sunsilk smoothing shampoos and conditioners do almost as good a job as the expensive stuff. You wouldn’t think they could work well because they were developed for humans, not dog hair, but I’ve used them for years and they work great. Go figure.

Onto the bath

I always bathe my dogs in the sink. A hose attachment is very helpful for this. If you don’t have one, make do with a plastic cup until you next need to replace your sink fixtures. Then get a faucet with a hose attachment.

A note about ears and eyes:

First, it’s a good idea to put in eyedrops before you start. Why? They protect the eyes from getting full of soap. Your dog will not like soap in his eyes. Trust me.

Even with a prick-eared breed, it is not a good idea to fill the ear canal with water. Fungus can easily grow in such a dark, wet environment. So before you start the bath squirt a small amount of Swimmers Ear, made for kids that swim a lot, into each ear and follow up with a small amount of cotton wool. This will go a long way towards keeping the ears healthy and fungi-free.

So you’ve shampooed your dog and rinsed it out. Always use a conditioner and don’t be stingy especially if your dog is tangly. It’s very helpful to have your dog sit at least five minutes, or even better ten minutes in the conditioner, at least once a month. How do you keep him in the sink that long? How to do this without getting soaked yourself? Entertain your dog. Tap dance. Whistle Dixie. And when that fails, threaten death and destruction if he jumps. And don’t leave his side (I bring a book) so he knows you can make good on your promise.

So he’s shampooed and conditioned. You’ve wrapped him in a towel and put him in his crate to dry off a bit. (He does have a crate, doesn’t he?)

Now what?

You can hear your dog shaking vigorously, turning around in his crate, shaking again, rubbing his beard dry against his towel. When he is at least well wicked, in other words no longer dripping, you can decide – to blow dry or not to blow-dry? I almost never blow-dry my dogs, other than when I’m getting ready for a show. I don’t think the heat is good for their coat; any more than I think that a woman should blow-dry their hair every day. But I think everyone, even pet owners, should know the right and the wrong way to blow-dry their dog. Because he will really only look his most gorgeous after being blown dry. And wouldn’t that be fun every once in a while?

So your dog has been wicked and is standing at table level on a non-slip surface. Show people have special tables for this, but really, a good bathmat on a study flat surface will do. Show people also have a wonderful contraption called a stand dryer, which is basically a big blow dryer on a stand with wheels. They are great but very expensive. I also use a good human blow dryer. My favorite kind is the one that “ionizes”. Why do I like it better? I think it does a better job, even though I have no idea what “ionizing” is.

When you blow-dry a long-coated dog you want to spray on leave-in conditioner. Joico Leave-In Moisturizer is great for day-to-day work. You can also soak your dog’s tangles in Neutrogena Leave-In Conditioner and if things are awful, nothing is better than Cowboy Magic (but it will need to be washed out after, as it contains silicone). The Australian company Plush Puppy has a product called Swishy Coat that is great to smooth tangles and to brush out a dog when you are ready to go in the show ring. I am sure there are other good products out there and I would be interested in hearing about others’ experience with this.

At this point, I settle myself in a good chair next to the table, a towel on my lap. I put my dog on my lap, belly up. Yes, he will need to get used to this position, and a typical small dog may not consider it dominant enough. But let’s think about this – who’s the boss? A hint: “my dog” is the wrong answer!

So, like I said, put your dog on the towel, belly up. You will blow him out from the bottom up, belly and legs first. Once he gets the idea, most dogs like this and find it relaxing. Blow him out thoroughly and don’t leave damp spots – if you do this may cause frizzies later. At this point, let’s talk a bit about tangles. Tangles happen. They happen to dogs with gorgeous long coats and short scruffy coats and everything in between. So the first step when you see a tangle is not to beat yourself up. You and your dog will be fine. Trust me.

Now for a bit of physics.

The loosest part of a tangle is at its bottom. So you want to loosen it up from its bottom. When you dig your brush into the top of a tangle and power downwards, you are actually tightening the tangle and will pull out more hair that way. Your dog will do anything from eyeing you reproachfully to rapping your knuckles smartly with his teeth because it hurts. So get out tangles from the bottom, and work your way upwards. I have a girlfriend who can turn a Silky Terrier with nothing but dreadlocks into one with dead straight hair shimmering like a waterfall, using nothing more than a strong nylon brush. She settles in on a sofa in front of the TV, sits the dog on her lap, and gently works each tangle loose from the bottom up. She also has satellite cable so she can be adequately entertained for the hours and patient hours this takes. I am not so patient. I like to use a Scalpmaster pin brush; it has a hard cushion with a short pin shaft. An alternative that works well, especially on the dogs’ legs, is a slicker brush. These are commonly used on poodles and have a thin bent metal shaft. In recent years, several manufacturers such as Chris Christiansen and Number One All Systems have come out with small slicker brushes that are nicely sized for small dogs.

I will occasionally run into tangles that I can’t loosen, either because they are too tight or they are in a sensitive spot and my dog is howling in distress. I can either put my dog in a crate for a while until everybody calms down, or I can slice the tangle. I take a pair of scissors, hold them open so I am using one of the blades like a knife, and move it down through the tangle. Yes I will lose some hair this way, and professional groomers probably have their teeth bared at me right now, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.

A note here about combs.

Combs are good for checking for tangles but they are lousy for getting rid of them. They pull extra hair out and will leave your pooch plotting revenge. (Dogs are good at that. Not a good idea.) So repeat after me: I will never use a comb to pull a tangle. I will never use a comb to pull a tangle. I will never use a comb to pull a tangle. Only loosen tangles with a good pin brush or slicker brush. A comb can sometimes be used to bring the tangle out of the coat after it is loosened.

Obviously, all this information about how to detangle a dog can be used as well if you decide not to blow-dry him. In that case, keep him in his crate until he’s just barely damp, put him on your non-slip surface, spray lightly with the leave-in conditioner, and let the games begin.

Once your dog’s belly and legs are dry and tangle-free, put him on your table and continue blow-drying him from the top down. Make sure to really get under the topcoat to dry everything and watch out for areas like behind the ears and on the cheeks and neck. Okay, he’s dry and tangle-free and he doesn’t hate you too badly. Sit back and enjoy your handiwork Your dog looks lovely. Tell him that he is the most gorgeous creature that ever lived. Give him a treat – heck, give him two. But wait – even though he’s gorgeous, his feet look like small dinner plates!

How do you trim a Silky Terrier?

The idea of trimming a Silky, even one that is never going to see the inside of a show ring, is to make your dog look like his hair just happened to grow that way. First of all the ears: Take good trimming clippers (those are clippers with a very fine blade), Oster and Wahl make good ones, and run them first with the grain of the hair on the back of both ears. On the outside edge of both ears is a fold about 2/3 down. Trim to that. On the inside edge, you can trim down to the head. So there will be a line of hair at an angle on your Silky’s ear running from the point where the ear meets his head to the ear fold on the outside. Make this even for both ears. Then clipper the inside of the ears, all of it.

You’ve turned on the clippers and your dog is screaming in panic? There is no need for a straight jacket for him or full body armor for you. Clippers make a strange noise and they tickle (unlike nail clippers – more on that later). Place the clippers on the back of your dog, the business end away from him. Let him feel the vibration as well as hear the noise. Take your time. If you were in a panic would you like someone to rush you? Then do a little bit at a time. Silkys are many things but they are not dummies. They will figure out that this is not an instrument of torture.

When you’ve clippered the ears, you can trim the edges with scissors. Just run your scissors around the ear edge where you have clippered.

The true secret of grooming a Silky or really any dog in your home is – take your time. If one procedure takes him to the edge of panic, don’t immediately do another. Give him a break. Then go back and do the next action. Groomers don’t have this luxury but you do. After the ears, you can take on the tail. How to achieve that typical short Silky flag? Stand your dog on your grooming table perpendicular to you, his face to the left if you are right-handed. Put your left index and middle finger down each side of the hair on the back of his tail. With your scissors in your right hand, trim up from the anus with your fingers as a guide. There will be some missing bits to trim but this will give your Silky a nice flag. Using your scissors trim the hair around his anus, also you can trim some of the tan hair up from the base of his tail. This keeps the “dingleberries” (bits of dried poop caught in the hair) down.

Okay, now onto the feet! If the second you touch your dog’s feet, he glares at you and acts like you’re about to sneak off with his favorite bunny toy, I recommend a muzzle. Now before you cry out at the meanness, the cruelty, the inhumanity, consider this. All a good muzzle does is let your dog know that certain actions are currently physically impossible. You don’t want to be spending half your time working on your dog’s feet dodging his teeth. It’s a waste of time but even more so you are teaching your dog that going after you is acceptable behavior, as long as he doesn’t connect. I use an inexpensive nylon muzzle.

First, I like to use my clippers and trim around the pads of the feet and also the space behind the pads up to the knob above the front feet. On the back feet, clipper between the pads and just a bit behind the pads. You can clipper all the feet if you want to, or you can scissor them with thinning shears.

Here are the pros and cons for each:


Pro: Your dog will bring in less dirt to the house because he has less hair on his feet.

Cons: 1. Dogs can be very sensitive and downright ticklish on their feet. It can be a battle of wills to get the job done. If you are showing your dog, trim the feet with scissors. 2. Your dog will look pretty naked on his feet until the hair grows in a bit.

How To: Clipper the front feet to the “ankle” front and back, removing as much hair as you can. On the back feet, clipper in front up to the ankle, and on the back of the back feet, clipper almost all the way up to the hocks.

Scissoring: Pros: 1. Your dog will look more like a show dog.

  1. He will tolerate the scissoring better than the clipper.

Con: Scissoring will not cut the hair as short as when you clipper, so your dog will track more dirt into the house.

How To: You scissor in the same basic pattern as you clipper. When you use thinning shears in general, cut the hair in the same direction as it grows. This will avoid cutting lines, and if well done, the dog looks like his hair just happened to grow that way. Only his hairdresser will know for sure! Leave enough hair over the toenails to cover them, and trim around the edges of the feet with regular shears to tidy things up.

Most owners tell me they don’t want to trim their dog’s toenails. I can understand this. I have good friends that tell me they do the job with a small circular sander called a Dremel, which can be purchased, from either a pet supply house or most hardware stores.

So how to do toenails?

A toenail has a curve in it. You want to cut at the curve or a bit above and always at an angle toward the dog. I like to trim my dogs at the latest when they sound like tap-dancers because the toenails are hitting the floor, and this affects their feet and therefore their posture. I don’t think that’s a good thing. If your dog hates getting his nails trimmed, do one foot at a time. Then take a break. Some are docile on this subject but most (of mine anyway) are not. I have a feeling it’s kind of like getting your legs or eyebrows waxed. The lady at the salon told me that it didn’t hurt either. She lied.

As anyone who has trimmed nails knows, there is a blood vessel running down the middle of each toenail. The end of this vessel is called the quick. You want to avoid this if you can because if you nip the quick, you will make your dog’s toenail bleed. But understand that if this occurs, you don’t need to head for the emergency room. Just put your dog in a crate for a while on newspaper or an old towel. The bleeding should stop by itself within about a half-hour. If you want to you can pack the nail with styptic powder, but I put styptic powder once on a torn toenail of mine and howled for a half hour. That stuff stings!

So, there you have it. Your dog is now shiny clean, gorgeous, and with that sparkle in their eye indicating the inevitability of mischief ahead. The sparkle is all theirs, the rest you have done yourself. Good job!



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