Creating a Happy, Colorful, Handmade Home & life on the shores of lake superior

April 21, 2014

How to Give your Dog a Terrible Haircut

It's that time of year when we think of baby animals and their infinite cuteness - so it was serendipitous that I recently received a photo of Szuka's newly-born siblings.  Don't they look like little lambs?!?

Coincidentally, Szuka's looking a little more like her fresh off the farm sibs, thanks to the hack job of a hair cut we gave her (which you might have spotted on my new Instagram account): 

Komondors develop these amazing cords but they need a lot of maintenance to get them looking so neat (otherwise they just look, and smell, like a brown tangle of weeds).

photo source
We decided to keep Szuka clipped short (a puppy cut), but we'd been on the fence about taking her to the groomer for her first haircut, or cutting her fur ourselves.  The only time we brought her to a groomer (we had a coupon for a free bath), she ended up looking like a husky poodle: 

She hates getting a bath, or having her nails clipped, but she's stoic about it.  We do both of these things ourselves at home to make it less stressful for her (and save a little cash).  Hubs thought clipping her fur at home would be a good idea for these reasons, but I really didn't want to have to trim around her starfish.

Look at those sad eyes
When the temperatures became a little more mild, Szuka started to boil and panted all day long.  Outside she would throw herself down, spread eagle, in the snow to cool off.  She was so, so wooly! 

And she had started to develop matted areas, despite our best brushing efforts:

We could see other chunks starting to look more plaited all over her body.  Her long beard was also starting to look (and feel) perpetually damp and dirty.  Hubby calls it her "wormy dirt beard," and she likes to rub it all over us.

I finally decided to just bring her to a pro, only to find that there was a weeks-long waiting list at every groomer!  Well, that made up our minds: DIY!  Szuka did not enjoy the process, but she was a champ.

Major problem, though: the clipper attachments (to determine hair length) wouldn't go through her coat so I used the clippers without one to remove some bulk.  Even then, her coat was just too thick, so I had to use the clippers without an attachment for the whole haircut.  I eyeballed it, which you just know had disastrous results.  A couple of really short patches, a few weirdly long chunks.  It took two evenings to groom her and give her a bath.  After a crushing defeat in a totally fair round of "1-2-3 not-it," Hubby had to tackle the bum region.  He's a champ too.

She looks a little ragged, but she's SO happy now without that bulky fur.  Even though there's still snow on the ground and it's been cool, she's still warm.  Frankly I think she'd be happy totally bald.

Here's a comparison of the before and after:

For the foreseeable future, we're going to keep clipping her ourselves.  It took a lot of time, but Hubby and I are nothing if not adventurous DIYers, and I'm sure we'll get the hang of it.  Here's what did (or could have done) to make it easier:
  • We invested in the best clippers we could buy at Petsmart ($170.00 on sale)
  • We worked together and took our time, calming her with a steady supply of hotdogs
  • We clipped her in the bathroom, with the door closed, and continually swept up the hair into a plastic bag (baaa, three bags full)
  • We clipped most of her hair dry (because it was easier), bathed her, then tackled clipping the bum region - that's probably my most valuable tip: wash the bum!!
  • We kept grooming scissors on hand to trim any stubborn, matted areas (we like scaredy cut scissors because they have a rounded tip for safety)
  • We should have brushed her more thoroughly before trimming
  • We shouldn't have waited so long - we will have to trim her more regularly so it's easier
  • We could have worked on a surface, like a table, to make it even easier to clip her belly and legs
There are special circumstances that make bathing her, trimming her nails, and clipping her feasible: Szuka is very patient and doesn't fight us, making DIY grooming safe for her and us.  Have you clipped your own dog's fur?  Any tips for us noobs? 


  1. Szuka looks pretty good! Our dog has short hair (we think pitbull/jack russel terrier mix) so we just trim a little bit off the end of her tail to make it look less scraggly.

    I would love to hear some nail clipping tips. What kind of clippers do you use? How often? etc.

    1. Thanks!

      I think we are lucky with the nail clipping because she is so relaxed. We clip them every two weeks. I'm not at home right now, but when I get back I'll check on the brand and leave a comment here. We tried a quick finder one and it was terrible - didn't work at all. Now it's just a plain pair, no bells and whistles.

      Next time we clip her nails I'll take some photos and write up a little post. At puppy school, they told us the most important tip was to get them used to having their feet played with. So just cuddle a dog and touch their paws, giving a few treats at the same time so they associate having their feet touched with good things. We did that from an early age so she doesn't seem bothered by having her feet touched. We sit down and cut her nails, with her lying beside us. I pet her and calm her, while Hubs cuts them. Once she fell asleep! We are so lucky. I had a jack russell terrier once - she FOUGHT me when it was nail clipping time. She just screamed, it was so stressful.

  2. I have a cocker spaniel who's hair grows about as fast as a human's. I've been clipping his hair for about 6 years now and I still hate doing it, but he always comes back traumatized from the groomer's, so it's worth it. I too, bought some heavy duty professional grade clippers for him and they have paid for themselves several times over. It's definitely not the most fun job.
    He only lays still for about 20 minutes and then gets pretty squirmy. The biggest issue I've found, aside from from hair getting everywhere, is keeping the clippers cool. I frequently oil them and I also keep an ice pack nearby to cool the blades when they've been going a while.
    Luckily his hair is pretty straight so I don't encounter too many mats. Also clipping on a table or countertop makes it much easier on your back!

    1. Those are great tips keeping the clippers cool!! Next time I'll try the ice pack idea. We bought the cooling oil but didn't use it much because it was so messy. When they got hot we'd stop and tidy up some fur or tackle some knots with scissors. So thanks so much for sharing that!

      Szuka was the opposite of squirmy, she'd lay down but then it was hard to get some parts because she refused to roll over or stand up. That's when some bald patches happened: she slid down into a little ball mid-cut. Her default is to lie down, she does it at Petsmart too if I take too long choosing something: she takes a nap.

      I'm sad your pup comes back traumatized from the groomer's. A friend had a cocker spaniel when I was young - I remember the hair grew SO fast!! Such a gorgeous breed.

  3. Aww, Szuka is such a stunning dog! I love whenever she pops up on your blog. :)

    I have a Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier: they lack an undercoat meaning they don't shed or blow their coat like a normal dog. The catch is he must be brushed AND combed. Because I want to keep my guy in a traditional cut with long fur, I "line" brush and comb him 5 times a week (15 minutes a session). He could get by with only being brushed twice a week, but I prefer the brushed out look. :) In my basement, I have a grooming table, which is priceless not only for brushing, but for nail trimming, teeth brushing, and keeping his behind tidy (um, one of his nicknames was poopy butt...).

    Anyway, I lurk on a professional groomers forum where I learned about 'Les Poochs' brushes; they're German-made and the quality compared to a brush from Petsmart is unbelievable. If my guy gets a matt, the brush breaks it up without pulling or pain. I'm unfamiliar with Komondor and their fur-type, but perhaps a different brush could help with the matts.

    1. Thanks for saying that, Sarah! We're so smitten with her so of course I love looking at photos of her, but I've worried that I include too many Szuka-snaps. I'm really working hard to make sure my instagram account is not a Szuka-gram bonanza. She just literally stands in the way of any photos I take, and horns in on any DIYs - hard not to include her :) Happy shes makes you smile too.

      Thanks so much about the tip! I'm definitely going to check out that brush. It sounds like you log a lot of hours brushing and combing, so if this brush makes your job easier we need to give it a try as well. I've also never heard of that forum, so I plan to lurk there a little and pick up some more tips. Thanks again!!

      Ahh, poopy butt. When she walks by, I lift up her tail to make sure her derriere is clean. I do this so routinely, I don't realize it's the weirdest thing until I accidentally do it when we have people over. I'll lift her tail and ask, "is your bum clean?" and then catch horrified expressions when I answer myself, "nope".

  4. Such fellow feeling here! When I had my much-beloved West Highland terrier, I learned that quick and determined action, with short breaks, was the only way. This meant he sometimes ran around with one ear trimmed till I could catch him again and do the other one. I found sewing scissors to be the very best, so kinda had to shudder at the idea of clippers.... But Westies have real hair, not fur so much. Seriously, I would suggest using scissors to get down to the length of hair you want (less heat, less noise, less distraction for the pup) and then zoom in with the clippers for the finish. But I haven't dealt with the kind of "mop" you've got.

    About groomers: beware anyone who says the words "puppy cut"! In my case, it meant they didn't really have a clue what kind of haircut my dog needed, so they'd just make him look like a Schnauzer. The time he came home with a bow between his ears and one on each hip, he went straight under a chair and refused to come out for the rest of the day. Utter mortification! And expensive, as you say.

    Just one last observation, re "the bum" - I found a shower massage attachment to be a huge help. The gentle setting really soothed my dog, making it easier to get him to stand still and let me get him clean.

    You'll figure it out as you go... But know we're all out here cheering for you!

    1. Thanks for the tips!! I'm certainly open to trying with scissors next time - I have a lot to learn and that might be a great way to remove some bulk, like you said. I'll try it - I already have sewing scissors! The grooming scissors we got are itty bitty, just for little mats here and there.

      We do use our removable shower head (it's just barely long enough) but just on the regular setting - I'll have to check if there's another setting. We've been there for months but I find our shower portal so horrible I take the world's fastest showers. No time to look at settings, lol.

      Awww, your poor guy! It's so sad his terrible haircut mortified him.

  5. Your Szuka is so lovely, even if her haircut didn't turn out as planned. I was going to make the same suggestion as Oona- trimming the bulk with scissors to facilitate clipping with a length guard (sorry, had to just make up that name- don't know what that's called). I've never groomed a dog (I've only had short-haired) but we always had poodle or poodle-X growing up and my mom would give them puppy cuts herself. This is the technique she used and she got pretty good at it. We had a miniature apricot poodle but she never had a traditional poodle cut. Her look (size excepted, miniature poodles are a medium build) was similar to Szuka, colouring and coat, both when it was shaggy or in a puppy cut.
    Good luck mastering the grooming- it's a valuable skill to have for more than just saving money (although a worthy reason). But as mentioned, "professionals" don't always do a great job and it can spare your dog some anxiety of the process. If she allows you to do it, even though she doesn't enjoy it, you may spare her any potential future trauma that could make grooming near to impossible.
    Aaaw! Poopy bum- another thing our poodle had in common with Szuka. Good luck with any future rounds of 1-2-3 not it. Hilarious!

    1. When Szuka was smaller, everyone thought she was a poodle mix - a labradoodle was the most common guess. The coat is very similar. Happy to hear your mom got so good at it - that motivates me to keep practicing! Do you want to hear something totally strange about her bum? I actually airbrushed her bum in the photo of her leaping. I really didn't want to disturb any readers who may have been scrolling through the photos eating a chocolate chip muffin. The fur on her nether regions is discoloured, partly from the oils in her skin, from sitting on her bum, and, well . . . let's just say it was a little browner than the rest of her.

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  7. With a dog with hair like that you really have to brush him every day especially where mats tend to crop up. My dogs hate getting groomed by me. I finally broke down and bought a special table attachment that helps keep my dogs from sitting. You can buy it on Amazon. It is adjustable for the height of your dog. If it only has one collar on it you need to buy a second one for his back end. Also, putting the dog on a table covered with a towel of something larger helps keep the hair from getting all over, protects the table, and keeps the dog from sliding around.

    1. I can't heave her onto a table (she's 93 pounds) but something to keep her standing would be great. She'll lie down and won't budge, so she gets these lopsided haircuts. Thanks for the tip!!

  8. I had no idea that was a Komondor! I've only seen them corded. How cute is she!

  9. My baby Sugar has the same coat!!! I swear I am going to start selling the wool to pay for the grooming. Two words....Goat Shears!!! They sell them at Tractor Supply...a little more than the dog clippers you guys purchased..but the ONLY shears that will work!!!

    1. Thanks for the great tip!! I will see if I can find some in town.


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