We’ve all had this request: “Make him as short as possible.” I know that for many dog owners, it’s that they don’t want to pay for grooming, and they don’t want to brush the dog. I always ask why they want the dog shaved — and I’ve learned that there are other explanations.

A frequent one is: “I want him to be cooler.” I always explain that the dog will NOT be cooler, but they (the owners) might feel cooler looking at the dog. The dog will still pant, and may even be hotter. If they don’t keep the dog’s feet cool and provide enough water, the dog will be hot — especially if the dog is black.

I’ve had owners tell me they’ve been shaving the dog forever, which is fairly obvious, as the dog has clipper alopecia, and the veterinarian has never said anything. I am dismayed that more veterinarians don’t say anything, but I’ve also had veterinarians actually tell me that shaving does NOT change the coat texture. What we do, when they insist we shave the dog, is charge triple of what we would for the same size dog to shave their double coated dog.

“He sheds too much.” I guess the owners never expected the dog to shed, and won’t brush the dog. I had owners come in with a Labrador Retriever they wanted me to shave because he shed. I took my Furnminator tool to the dog, and the dog didn’t lose any hair. I bathed the dog in the Furminator deshedding treatment — virtually no hair loss. I didn’t shave the dog, but when the owners returned to pick the dog up, the dog exploded hair. This is flight shedding, a ‘reptilian’ response to excitement. Many pet owners tell me the hair is right around the door when they come in. I ended up shaving the lab with a #9 backwards.

I have a feeling many people go out and buy cuddly non-shed pups, and the breeders/sellers say nothing about brushing or they sell them pin or bristle brushes. The dog gets to the coat changing stage and matts, so they stick the dog in the basement or the yard, or they bathe the dog and realize they are in over their heads. But they don’t have the money to have the dog groomed… and abandon the dog.

Well, let’s just say we have somewhat normal pet owners as clients — how short is short? When I learned to groom dogs in the last century, short was a #7 and long was a #4. Rarely did people use snap-on blades. Now that people do use ‘duck’ blades (that’s what we called them, as they were manufactured by Double Duck) short seems to be a #1 and long seems to be a C. I guess it depends on your clientele.

I work for a Miniature Schnauzer breeder and she shaves her non-show dogs with a #15 backwards and leaves a hula skirt – and wonders why her dogs are always having skin problems and are matted. I’ve shown her what I do, using a #0 on the legs, but she is of a mindset that goes back to mid-20th century.

When I learned from Don Doessel (who started Lou & Seme Auslander in Miniature Schnauzers), he taught us to use a #10 on the body. In the early 1970s, Oster came out with the #9 blade, and Schnauzer breeder Joan Gutowski started using it. She told us that her dogs had fewer skin issues leaving the coat a bit longer, and I’ve used a #9 as my default on Miniature Schnauzers since then. In the last century, there was some indigenous knowledge that was said: To fix a cottony coat, shave the dog backwards with a #40. This was said to work on Poodles and terriers. I am not sure if it really works.

On my small Poodles, Shih Tzus, etc., my default “as short as possible” is a #4 on the body, #1 (or 5/8) on the legs and head. I have 2 default ‘head’ trims: very short Bichon (meaning very short and round) or Teddy Bear, which is shorter from corner of the eye to corner of the ear, with ear leathers blended into the topknot and a somewhat short beard.

I do not put Poodle topknots with a scissored line between the topknot and the ears on any kind of dog other than a Poodle, unless the owner specifically asks. Most people don’t want their dogs to look like Poodles, and nothing says Poodle like a defined topknot and long ears.

With the spaniels, it depends on the coat type and texture. I usually rake out the undercoat so it doesn’t get stuck in the blades, and go for what looks natural, usually a #5F. The owner can then tell me if it’s too long or too short.

I avoid clipping the hair on a dog’s legs shorter than a #4. If the owner tells me the dog will be swimming or out in the country and ticks are an issue, generally a #4 is short enough to check for ticks, but still protect the dog from scrapes and bites. This doesn’t mean I don’t ever do it shorter, but I know shorter won’t look good for most dogs.

I had a client with a Miniature Schnauzer who was said to be very particular, and he didn’t want the dog to look like a Schnauzer. I was new to the shop and trying to determine what it was he did want. He took the dog swimming and camping, and he didn’t want long eyebrows or a long beard, and he wanted it short. I did a #9 on the body, # 4 on the legs, #5 for the ‘skirt’, and gave the dog a Welsh Terrier head – very short eyebrows and scissored the face short, slightly longer than a #4. He was delighted.

These days, a lot of novice groomers are being taught to shave dogs – and they think they are learning to groom. Shaving is not grooming. If you get out of the habit of scissoring, setting up the coat with a comb and looking at what you’ve actually done, you really aren’t sending out a very good groom.