Bichon Grooming: The Pet
by Marilyn Clark
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The Bichon Frise (bee-shon free-zay) the "Curly Lap Dog" is a wonderful little white-coated dog. Because white-coated dogs seem to have more sensitive skin than darker-coated dogs, care must be taken when brushing, bathing, and grooming. I bathe my Bichon every two weeks with a mild, tearless shampoo made only for dogs. It is also very important that the shampoo is rinsed completely out of the coat. Shampoo left in the coat can dull the coat and cause skin irritation.
These instructions are for the shorter pet cuts and for the novice groomer. If you would like to attempt the all hand-scissored show cut, refer to Kiyomi's Bichon Trimming instructions. These instructions also have wonderful color pictures. The Michael Kemp Bichon Show Grooming video, produced by Sonnen, is also a good source for the hand-scissored style. The Bichon is hand-scissored in great detail in this video and has excellent head detail. The Oster Bichon grooming video is also good, and shows a shorter hand-scissored pet cut and a pet cut using clippers, but the video does not go into great detail.
These instructions will seem overwhelming at first, but once you start it will all fall into place. If you groom now, or have only basic knowledge of grooming, you're one step ahead, and my instructions may help you further. If you haven't a clue about how to go about grooming, but would like to learn, I suggest first reading several books on grooming and getting a video. Try your library for the books. Otherwise, both are available through catalogs. In any case, read the entire instructions before beginning. Don't get discouraged, even professionals need many hours of hands-on to get good. The more you groom the better you will get, and remember, if you make a mistake it's only hair and it will grow back.
One good thing to do is to take notes, you'll be glad
you did. Get a notebook and as you groom, jot down anything that
you think will help you further. You may be able to write something
I've written in a way that you will better understand it.
Draw yourself little pictures. Next time refer to your notebook
as well as the instructions.
You can order your grooming supplies from a grooming catalog (for a list of catalogs go to Pet Supply Catalogs). You may want to get several catalogs to compare prices. Some pet supply stores such as Pet's Mart or Pet Care have some of the same products.
In order to have your efforts look professional you should have
professional grooming equipment. It will make a big difference
in the appearance of your dog. Yes, it's expensive, but once
you have the equipment it will last for many years. I use the
Oster A-5 Clipper and the blades I refer to are used with this
clipper. Other clippers have their own blades, but the sizes
are universal and supposed to be interchangeable.
You will need these items for doing the basics:
Nail Clippers. I use the guillotine type.
Kwik-Stop or Styptic Powder, optional, it stops bleeding if nails are cut too short or you can use some flour or cornstarch.
Ear Powder for cleaning the hair out of the ears.
Hemostats (also called hairmostats) used for pulling ear hair out you can't reach with your fingers.
Comb- I prefer a steel comb, one end has teeth closer together, the other further apart.
Slicker Brush or a good quality Pin Brush. Both types of brushes should have a rubber base that gives. Be sure and get a soft-wire slicker brush. I use the Ever Gentle brand that has an aqua handle. Some slicker brushes have very hard wires that can hurt your dog. The stiff wire brushes should only be used by experienced groomers who know how and when to use this type of brush.
Shampoo. Use a mild, tearless shampoo made only for dogs.
These items for clipping and grooming:
Clipper. A professional clipper either Oster, Laube, or Andis.
#10 for the belly and around anal opening, vulva of females,
penis on males, or #8-1/2 if you know your dog has sensitive
The next blades are called skip tooth blades and they come in two versions. The 4, 5, or 7 used on the first pass to "rough in" a pattern. The #4F, #5F, or #7F are finishing blades. If you don't want to spend the money for both versions buy only the "F" blades. Choose #4F which leaves hair approx. 3/8" long and used on sparse coats, #5F which leaves hair approx. 1/4" long, or the #7F which leaves hair approx. 1/8" long. These lengths are approximate. Dogs with straighter hair will look shorter because the coat lays flat. The #7 blade gives the closest cut. I usually only use the #4F or #5F and I refer only to these two blades. Depending on the coat type and what kind of cut you prefer, you may want to get the #7 blade. This blade would also be used on a heavily matted dog. The skip tooth blades are only for body work and under no circumstances are to be used on your dog's face, ears, or genitals.
Note: Andis' new
#3-3/4 blade leaves the hair longer than the #4F (3/8") blade.
#40 or #30 (see Cut #3 for explanation of these blades) for between
the foot pad and for use with the snap-on comb ONLY.
If you want to have an all-over fluffy appearance, described
in Cut #3, you can use a snap-on comb over the #40 or #30 blade.
Snap-on combs come in a variety of sizes. When you order one
choose the one that cuts the length that you prefer. These combs
are inexpensive, so you may want to get several different sizes.
The combs are easy to use. Experiment a little.
For general information, the higher the number blade (or comb)
the closer the cut. My combs are labeled #1, #1-1/2, and #2.
The #2 snap-on comb on a #40 or #30 blade cuts closer than the
#1-1/2, and the #1-1/2 cuts closer than the #1. The #7F blade
cuts closer than the #5F, #5F cuts closer than the #4F, etc.
The #4F blade will leave the hair the longest, and my snap-on
comb #1 leaves the hair the longest. There are some combs that
will leave the hair even longer. If none of the blades or combs
leave the hair as long as you would like, then you must hand-scissor
the coat to the desired length.
Cool Lube. Spray it on a hot blade and it will cool it immediately.
Blade Wash to clean your blades. Directions are on the can or see the end of these instructions. You should wash and oil your new blades before use. After each grooming I vacuum any hair off my blades, and wash them periodically.
Scissor. A good quality scissor made of stainless steel. A good length would be from 7" to 8-1/2". Stay away from very cheap scissors they will not last and most importantly they do not cut hair properly. If possible, try the scissor, feel how it feels in your hand. Also, you may need to get rubber hole inserts. The inserts give your thumb and finger a snug fit for better control.
Thinning Shear. I would strongly recommend getting a thinning shear. This shear is a must for blending and thinning. They also are great for cutting out mats and gives a more natural appearance. Use a thinning shear just like a regular scissor.
Your scissor must be very sharp to give a good cut. If you know a barber or a groomer you can ask them where to get your scissors sharpened. There are also ads in the back of dog magazines. Be very careful you don't drop your scissors as this can put a nick in the blades and get them out of alignment.
Dryer. A high velocity dryer will make all the difference in the world in the look of the coat. At the very least, try one of the smaller dryers such as Super Duck. A human hair dryer just does not do the job and you must be very careful that it does not blow HOT air.
Grooming Table. A grooming table with grooming arm and
noose is a must to control your dog. A kitchen table, washer,
or dryer is too dangerous if you cannot restrain your dog properly.
Consider even making your own grooming table.
So, for Basics you'll need:
Nail Clipper, Kwik-Stop, Ear Powder, Hemostats, Comb, Brush, Shampoo
And, the Equipment you'll need:
Clippers, Blades, Snap-on Combs, Cool Lube, Blade Wash, Scissors,
Dryer, Grooming Table
Choose a spot for grooming that has good lighting. Let your dog know that this spot is for grooming not playing. Ok, let's start,
and you be the boss. This is not playtime. Be firm, using a
firm tone of voice.
Clip Nails. Do this always before the bath, if nails should bleed the blood won't get on a clean coat. If you do get blood on a clean coat, peroxide and water will get it out. Also, Kwik-Stop can stain the coat. Most Bichons have white nails so you can see the pink quick through the nail. If you're afraid of clipping the nail too short just clip the tip of the nail where it begins to hook. Be aware though, that each individual dog's nails grow differently, so it's best to clip nails more often, rather than take the chance of hurting the dog by clipping too short. Believe me, they will not forget it, and it will take a long time to regain their confidence.
To clip the rear nails you can just stand behind the dog and bend the paw at the ankle. I like to stand on the left side of the dog (I am right handed), facing the rear, I reach around the top of my dogs body with my left hand and pick up the foot. You can support the paw with your fingers. Never bend your dog's legs or paws in an unnatural angle. Before you pick up your nail clipper use your free hand to pull the hair away from the nail so you have a clear view. Clip the nails being careful not to clip into the quick, clip a little at a time until you see a dark round spot in the nail, that will be the quick. If you do clip too close, use Styptic Powder to stop bleeding.
Front paws - I either bend the paw at the ankle, still standing in the same position as doing rear nails, or stand in front of the dog and just raise up the leg. Be sure to look for dew claws as these need to be clipped also. If dew claws are left to grow they will grow right into the skin.
Most dogs hate their nails cut. If your dog pulls its legs back,
do not yank the legs forward, you can pull a muscle in the leg.
Have patience and be gentle, but be very firm.
Cleaning the Ears. This needs to be done to allow air flow to enter the ear canal, therefore keeping the ear dry and avoiding the possibility of an infection to start. Drop-earred dogs are especially prone to ear infections.
Squirt a puff of ear powder in each ear. This powder makes the
hair feel tacky so it's easy to grab. Take your fingers and pluck
out a little hair at a time. Use your hemostats to grab the ear
hair you can see but can't reach with your fingers. Don't
go too deep or pinch the ear skin, grab only the hair. If you
don't feel comfy using the hemostats save them for later when
you gain more confidence. You can use a liquid ear cleaner on
a cotton ball to clean out the powder and any dirt off the inside
of the ear. Use a different cotton ball for each ear. F.Y.I.
- Dogs' ear canals are in the shape of an "L".
BEFORE THE BATH
Bathing and drying a dog with mats will only tighten the mats making them impossible to comb out. Brush and then comb your dog down to the skin. Brush by taking one section or layer at a time. Hold down the hair right below the section you are doing with your other hand to keep it out of the way. Be careful you don't press too hard with your wire slicker brush to avoid scraping the skin and giving your dog brush burn. People who do not know how to brush a Bichon brush the top hair only, learn to use the correct pressure and carefully brush to the skin without causing abrasion. Try your slicker brush on yourself, feel how it feels, it will feel the same for your dog.
If you encounter a mat, hold the mat close to the skin, insert the end tooth of the comb into the mat, you can then try working the mat loose. You can also try using Liquid Slicker or Stuff, but it won't get out mats that are very thick and that have been washed and dried. If you don't have a dematting formula you can try a little constarch and try to work the mats loose. I use my thinning shear to cut out mats that can't be worked loose with the comb. I would rather cut out a mat than cause the dog any unnecessary pain. Once your dog is mat free, comb down to the skin.
F.Y.I. - Always brush or comb against the lay of the coat, brushing
or combing up and out, rather than down. You'll be surprised at how fluffy the
coat will look.
Some groomers like to "rough-in" the pattern before the bath, eliminating as much hair as possible, therefore having less to wash and dry. I only start clipping after the bath, a dirty coat can dull your blades.
Put a rubber mat in the tub and secure your dog so it does not jump out and injure itself. Use a good quality shampoo. I do not use a conditioner on a Bichon coat because it makes the coat too soft and it will not stand up for scissoring.
Avoid getting water in your dog's ears. You can try using cotton in the ears, I find that it falls out. Using a gentle spray, wet dog thoroughly using warm water. Make sure your dog's head is facing down so you don't get water up it's nose. You can hold the ears tightly against the head, or cover the ear hole with your thumb and rinse one side of head at a time, at the same time push the head down. Cover the dog's eyes with your hand while pushing the head down when rinsing over the muzzle. Some people save the head for last, do it whatever way works best for you. When shampooing do not scrub as this may create tangles that can become hard to get out. Squish the shampoo into the fur in a massaging motion. After shampooing be sure and rinse, rinse, rinse. Using a very gentle spray rinse all soap out of head.
I also clean the anal glands. This does not need to be done every time the dog gets a bath. Unless you know how to do this, it is best to leave this to your vet to lessen the chance of injuring this delicate area.
When you are done bathing, towel dry the dog by blotting and
pressing the towel against the coat. Don't rub the coat
with the towel to avoid creating tangles. Once again, use your
comb, comb the coat through before drying to make sure there are
no tangles or mats.
Using your Ever Gentle slicker brush or pin brush, brush the coat
at the air flow with quick, light strokes, but brush the coat
UP AND OUT AGAINST THE LAY OF THE
COAT. This is called "fluff drying". You
must straighten the coat if you want to get the "powder
puff" look. Dry one area at a time, don't jump around.
Make sure all the coat is separated and dry to the skin. Don't
forget to dry the bottom of the paws. When drying the head try
not to direct the air flow directly into the ear hole or at the
eyes. If the coat is starting to dry before you can straighten
it, spritz it with a little water from a spray bottle. A final
comb out and you're ready to begin clipping.
CHOOSING A STYLE
There are three styles of cuts I'll give you instructions for.
Cut #1- Shaved Down
(Lamb Cut). This is really not as drastic as it sounds. You
will be using a #4F or #5F blade for all body work, including
the legs. Only the head and tail are left long. My dog has a
wavy coat, not the usual curly coat, her coat is also not very
thick so I use the #4F blade, but I think the new Andis #3-3/4
would be ideal for a sparse-coated dog. If you feel your dog's
coat is profuse you can use the #5F. You don't want to take off
so much hair that you can see the skin. Because the coat is cut
all-off you do not have to worry about mats on the body or legs.
But if the mats are very thick these blades will still have a
hard time getting through them. The #7 blade would then be used
as it will cut through mats, but remember it will give a close
cut. It's best for you, and especially the dog, if there
are no mats.
Cut #2- Modified Puppy Cut (Panda). Only the body and the chest from the Adams apple to the breast bone are clipped using the #4F or #5F blade. The legs, chest coat, and between the front legs are hand-scissored. This is the cut I use on my dog and the one I prefer. The Oster Bichon Video shows this style, but with the chest clipped (see note).
Note: You may clip the
entire chest if you wish, but do not clip between the front legs.
Cut #3- a fuller
version of Cut #1. This cut is also sometimes called a Panda,
and Teddy Bear, or Puppy Cut (a true Puppy Cut is hand-scissored).
This cut uses a snap-on comb of your choice over the #30 or #40
blade (I use #30 blade). The #30 or #40 blades are only used
for the pads or with a snap-on comb over them. DO NOT USE ALONE
ON THE BODY. I use #40 for pads and #30 with snap-on combs, but
you can use either for the pads or either with the snap-on combs.
Always clip genitals first while your blade is cool. Use the
#10 blade or #8-1/2 for sensitive skin (do not use any other blades
for these areas), clip hair on both sides of anal opening about
1/2" so poop falls clear and does not stick to hair. If
your dog scoots around on its butt after using the #10 blade,
next time use the #8-1/2. On females clip the vulva avoiding
blade contact with the opening. This is easiest to get at by
just lifting rear leg up and to the side, at a natural angle,
and then the other leg. Be careful you do not clip any tail hair. Raise dog up by the front legs, rear
legs are on the table, clip underneath to first or second set
of nipples. Be sure you always know where you are clipping.
Move hair out of the way if you can't see clearly.
Clip penis of males. Raise dog up by front legs with rear legs still on table, or lift leg up, and to the side, in a natural angle. Be careful you do not clip any tail hair. Start at the base of the penis, clip to tip without touching opening, then clip both sides. Clip hair on top and about 1-1/2" in front of penis for hygiene. Once again, do not touch vulva, penis, or anal openings with blade.
Note: If you are grooming
an unneutered male you must be careful of the testicles when clipping.
There is no excuse for nicking the genitals. When you use a
scissor near the genitals you can shield these areas with your
hand to avoid nicking them.
Grooming of the Pads: The hair between the large rear pad will sometimes become matted with stuff your dog walks on. Take your fingers and feel between the large rear pad, you can feel if the hair is matted. You need to cut out this hair with your clipper regardless if it is matted.
Hold the foot as when you clipped the nails. You can take your
thumb and press down just below the large rear pad, and press
down the other pads with your fingers. This will separate the
pad somewhat so you see where you're clipping. Use the
#30 or #40 blade to clip hair between only the large pad, NOT
the four little pads. Don't dig down with the blade, gently scoop.
Be very careful so you do not go so deep that you cut the skin
in the inside of the pad. You can carefully skim over the other
pads on the paw to eliminate some hair on top.
ABOUT USING YOUR COMB
Use your comb as follows when grooming: Insert the comb in the hair as if you were going to comb the hair down as you normally do, but instead, comb the hair up and out. Another way to describe it is, insert the comb in the hair and flip the hair up as you take the comb out, this is called "stacking" the hair. Using your comb in this way you will be able to make the hair stand up for scissoring and also see any unevenness of the coat.
Another way of using your comb is to insert the comb in the hair, comb through, but not completely. Leave just the amount of hair you want to scissor off at the other end of the comb. Scissor along the comb. This method would be good to use in delicate areas like the tuck-up (where the front of the rear leg joins the body).
If you have a comb with narrow teeth at one end and teeth further
apart at the other, use the end with the teeth further apart for
the Bichon coat. This end of the comb will get through a profuse
coat better than the other end.
BEGIN CLIPPING A PATTERN
Cut #1- Use the #4F or #5F. Read this whole procedure before you begin. Before you start clipping feel the teeth of the blade. They are very, very sharp, and because the teeth are separated you can catch skin in the teeth. Be very careful how you clip. Clip only with the lay of the coat, never against the coat. Also, if your blade does not seem like it's cutting properly check to be sure it is not clogged with hair. Bichon hair can clog a blade in a short time.
In all three styles of cuts you're going to do two passes over the coat, on the first pass you don't have to be perfect, you're just "roughing-in" the pattern. Just clip all the long hair off. If you got both versions of blades this is where you would use the #4 or 5 instead of the #4F or 5F.
Lay one finger across the base of the skull (you can feel the bone which is called the occiput), start clipping below your finger to avoid clipping into head hair. Lay your clipper blade flat against the coat, remember the teeth are very sharp so you don't want to point the teeth down. You don't have to push hard, let the clipper do the work. Start clipping with the lay of the coat from base of skull to base of tail. Try not to clip a few inches then stop, then clip a few inches and stop, this will leave a ridge where the clipper stopped (it will be especially noticeable in straight-coated breeds). Do one stroke. Start another area next to what you just did, overlapping the area.
Start clipping with the lay of the coat on the rib cage. Clip very carefully when you get to the tuck-up (where the front of the rear leg joins the body). Refer to a picture that points out each part of the anatomy of a dog. The tuck-up is just thin skin and can get caught in the blade teeth, also be careful of the hock (the protruding bone on the lower back of the rear leg). Feel these areas of your dog, know how they feel.
Clip the rear legs. Think of the legs as having four sides.
Be very careful of the hock area on the back of the rear leg.
Clip each side and on the front of the rear leg clip right off
the foot. Clip from base of ear off the shoulder and down the
side of the front leg. Clip the inside front, back and top, again,
clip right off the feet. Clip from the Adams apple to the end
of chest. Lift the legs to get at areas you have a hard time
reaching, but don't lift legs at an unnatural angle. Raise your
dog up by its front legs with rear legs still on table and clip
underneath. When clipping the underside like this, be very careful
of the skin under the front leg (arm pit) and tuck-up skin (where
the rear leg joins the body). Just clip off all the long hair.
Keep on feeling your blade against YOUR skin to feel if it is
hot. Spray with Cool Lube to cool if it is.
SECOND PASS for Cut #1, Cut #2, and Cut #3. THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT TO GET A SMOOTH FINISH. BRUSH the hair AGAINST THE LAY OF THE COAT, begin clipping the same areas over again. Keep on brushing against the lay of the coat and clipping until no more hair comes off. See how even it looks? The trick is to brush hair against the lay of the coat then clipping. Now your done with clipping.
Using your comb (not brush) comb hair around the rear end up and out and carefully hand-scissor. Lift leg so you can see the bottom of the paw, as when you clipped hair away from pads. Comb paw hair from top and sides of paw down, scissor away any hair hanging over the pads. Be very careful you don't nick the pads. With dog standing, scissor a rounded look on the feet. I cut the hair of the paw straight across in front then round off the corners. This works best holding your scissor at a 45 degree angle. Comb hair up and out on top of paw, scissor rounded just on the edges. If there are any mats between the toes scissor them off with scissors or thinning shear, don't try and get them out.
Use your #10 blade to trim off hair that may be matted under
the front leg pit. Examine your clipping work. Comb through
the coat, if there are any stray hairs use your scissor to trim
them off. You're looking for a neat body coat with no
stray hairs. See Doing the Head at the end of Cut #3.
Cut #2 - Using the #4F or
#5F blade clip the body hair as in Cut #1 but do not clip legs.
Clip from the Adams apple to the breast bone. Do not clip between
the front legs. Read everything first before starting Cut #2.
If you're leaving the neck coat go to those instructions, if not, start here. Lay one finger across the base of the skull (you can feel the bone which is called the occiput), start clipping below your finger to avoid clipping into head hair. Clip down the top of the back to the tail. Clip along the area that you just did overlapping that area. When you get to the top of the thigh instead of just stopping the clipping at this point blend off. Usually you can use the anal opening as a guide for where to blend off at the top of the thigh. Clip from under the ear straight down to about 1" above the elbow. Clip along the rib cage to about 1/2 way into the tuck-up area (remember this is thin skin, know where you are clipping). Clip from the Adams apple down to the breast bone. This chest line should match up to where you stopped 1" above the elbow on the legs. The line should be even from one leg across the breast to the other leg. Do not clip between the front legs. Raise the dog up by the front legs with rear legs still on table, clip hair underneath starting from elbows and clipping down the belly.
Note: You may also clip all the chest hair , but do not clip between the front legs.
Second pass. BRUSH
THE HAIR AGAINST THE LAY OF THE
COAT and reclip same areas. Continue brushing against
the lay of the coat and clipping until no more hair comes off.
Bichon Grooming: The Pet Cut Part 2