Laddie's World
Grooming Your Collie

    Next, I'll introduce grooming. Grooming is a very important part of your collie's over all good health. How can grooming affect a dog's health? Imagine this...

    A family collie spends most of his day outside roaming the woods behind the house. One day he walks through a thorn bush and a small thorn gets caught in his fur behind his ear. Because the family didn't brush him regularly enough, the thorn eventually became entangled into his fur so tightly that it began to work its way down to the dog's skin until it was cutting into him. The sore began to open wider and fester causing the dog to feel a constant pain behind his ear and more pain when ever the fur in that area was pulled by scratching or the tugging of his collar. The pain in time is so annoying and so constant that the dog becomes depressed and easily irritated to the point where he spends most of his time either lying in hidden corners or pacing uneasily. It even hurts when he eats since some jaw muscles pull the ear when he chews. A neighbor and their daughter come over to visit and being a collie, the dog comes over to see the little girl. As the little girl begins to pet the dog a button on her sleeve catches in the mat behind the dog's infected ear and as she pulls away the dog feels excruciating pain and on instinct to protect himself from the pain lashes out and bites the little girl. The family is sued, the dog is given to a shelter with a bite record and is put down and the girl spends the rest of her life believing that dogs like the one that bit her are all bad which is a terrible shame since otherwise the well trained, socialized and healthy collie can stand a lot of rough behavior from children.

   I'm sorry to say that this was not a hypothetical situation.

   So how does one go about keeping something like this from happening to their own collies? Well, at the very least weekly brushing is a must for the owner of a rough collie to keep your dog's coat from developing knots and mats that could become to difficult to handle with just a comb. I get a quick brushing with a pin brush five minutes everyday and on Saturdays I get a very thorough 45 minute going over which includes ear cleaning, nail filing, teeth brushing and brushing with progressively finer toothed combs. Shedding season requires a little more daily brushing to keep the loose fur in check. If you can't stand the occasional long fur on your clothes, don't have the time to groom a rough collie properly or don't have the money for regular visits to a grooming shop than maybe you should consider a smooth collie. The only way they differ is in their shorter coat.

   Let's begin our bath shall we?
  BRUSHING:  Though it helps to have access to a grooming tub and supplies like my mom, it isn't a mandatory requirement. The first step to grooming your rough collie is to thoroughly brush him from top to bottom to remove any loose undercoat, dirt, tangles and especially mats. If a mat is left in until after a bath and drying, the mat will shrink and become tighter and tougher to remove. It may have to be cut or even shaved out and that can ruin your collie's look.

   The areas to be especially thorough in checking for mats are behind the ears, the rear behind the back legs (britches), under the elbows of the front legs, the entire belly area and the neck area where his collar sits. Especially if he wears a wide or large collar. The wider the collar, the more likely it is to bunch and roll the fur beneath it. It also helps to know on which side of his body your dog prefers to spend most of his sleeping time. Sometimes after sleeping on the same side for an extended period time the fur will bind together from his moving, just like long human hair will.

When brushing your collie, begin at the rear and bottom. Lift all the fur up and brush in a downward motion only a little bit at a time. This is the most thorough and collie friendly way to brush us. If you try to brush a large portion in one shot you will miss a lot of undercoat and may end up painfully yanking on your collie's skin. If your collie's coat isn't especially thick you may be able to get away with a typical pin brush and a medium tooth comb. Other wise you will probably at the very least need a 'double coat shedding rake', a firm or hard slicker brush (be careful not to brush to hard, we don't want a brush burn) and a wide tooth comb (double coat combs do the best job).

   If your collie has any large thick mats that can't be removed with the other stuff, than you may need a de-matting rake. If you need a de-matting rake please use it carefully. Don't grab the whole mat with it and yank. Take hold of the fur above the mat firmly so you don't pull our skin and with gentle little "rakes" work on a tiny bit of the mat at a time. If the mat is really huge, it may seem time consuming but the pain you will spare your dog and the beauty he will maintain will be worth it. This is only a small list of things available to give your collie the look you want. Believe me there are a million more out there!

   The next couple of steps can be done at any time during a good cleaning. My mom does this before the water part.

   EARS:   Clean your collie's ears carefully and gently using a cotton ball or soft cloth. NEVER USE A Q-TIP! No exceptions. Any dog or puppy has only to flinch once and his ear drum could be punctured. You can use a store bought solution made for cleaning ears, hydrogen peroxide or a little rubbing alcohol. All three of these dry fairly quickly with a minimal amount of air. ONLY use the rubbing alcohol if your collie's ears are not sensitive, red or raw and opened in any unusual way or if there are any other conditions present other than perfect health. We all know how much alcohol can hurt so please don't subject your collie to any unnecessary pain. We're just too sensitive for that.

    When cleaning the ears, use your thumb or finger on the cotton ball or cloth and only reach down as far as it comfortably fits into the ear canal. Do not push any further down as the cloth or cotton ball can  become lodged or you can injure the ear drum of a dog with a short ear canal. Gently wipe up and out any dirt or loose hair until the ear is clean. If your collie's ears are red, raw or opened, has a foul smell coming from it or appears to have an unusually large amount of wax built up especially of an odd color... STOP THE BATH and CALL YOUR VET! There could be an infection or some other problem that may need medication and could be made worse if any water or soap came in contact with it.

   TEETH: Yes, we collies will greatly benefit from regular teeth cleaning just like you. And you benefit too as our breath will not be quiet so funky when we get close for kisses! Sorry folks but I recommend NOT using a toothbrush or toothpaste made for people. Even a baby toothbrush can be too much for our sensitive gums and some of the ingredients in your toothpaste just aren't healthy for us dogs. Use a toothbrush or a finger brush made for dogs or even a washcloth set aside for this purpose only. There are several good brands of dog toothpaste which come in different flavors like chicken and mint. YUMMY!

   If your collie has never done this before than let him smell it and taste it first and don't overdue the experience. If he wants to chew on it a bit, let him. It will help give him a sense of ease and confidence that this isn't a bad thing. As he gets better you can begin to actually brush.

   Gently take hold of his muzzle and with praise for good behavior, begin to brush just like you would your own teeth. If he still wants to chew the brush you can take hold of his lower jaw firmly but don't pinch or squeeze tightly and with your thumb and fingers on either side gently push in some skin from the back of his jaw onto his molars. Your thumb and fingers should be completely covered by the skin so they don't actually touch his teeth. Your thumb will help hold open his jaw and the feel of his gums on his teeth will keep him from wanting to bite down hard. Remember, short and sweet for the first few times. Give him time to get used to it and understand that you are not trying to hurt him. Mom always lets me have a quick drink of water afterwards and then gives me a quick shot of doggie breath spray.

   NAILS: This can be tougher than anything else to do on us. Many collies are so sensitive about their feet that it takes a professional groomer or vet to clip them. In the worst case scenario, a dog may even have to be fully tranquilized for the job. That can get expensive. Fortunately most collies have light colored nails and this makes the job easier for whoever does it. Here's why and how.

   A dog's nails have three parts to them. The outside hard shell, an inner more porous shell and a nerve typically called 'the quick'. In the picture to the right the quick area is colored yellow. The more porous shell surrounds that. The idea is to trim the nail just before the nerve so you don't hurt the dog. The trimming spot on this paw is denoted by the red lines across the nails.

   With white or light colored nails the blood vessels of the nerve are usually visable to some degree and the clipper can be positioned fairly safely. Dark colored nails lose this advantage and it can be nothing more than a guessing game of taking off only a little bit. If your collie does have dark nails carefully remove a little snip at a time, checking after each one, until you begin to see a change in the inside texture of the nail. It will begin to look a bit more soft and may even be a lighter shade of the surrounding hard shell. Stop there and move on to the next nail.

   The nails can grow at different rates for different dogs and breeds and it must be remembered that the quick grows also. In collies the outside shell grows fairly quickly while the nerve takes longer, but don't be fooled into thinking you can do it next time around. You might not be able to take off as much if that quick grew. Dogs that are walked several times daily on concrete or asphalt may not need their nails clipped more than once a month or so. Collies, like me for instance, who get exercised mostly on grass may need to have their nails clipped every two weeks to keep them nice and short. Follow up your trimming with a little filing on the sharp edges and viola! All done the nails!

   Just a quick note... there are three different kinds of nails trimmers. The first and most common is the scissors type (#3). Basically its just a big pair of shears with two curved blades and a spring so they pop open. They usually have the added feature of a nail stop... a little piece of metal that can be moved in front of the cutting blades so that the nail doesn't go to far through.

   The second type, the guillotine, used to be very popular up until several years ago. There are two handles that you squeeze together causing a single blade to come down on a nail threaded through a little metal oval.

   The third is a little more tedious and a little more unusual but its popularity is growing. It looks similar to a hand held Dremel rotary tool and can be either electric or battery operated and often has two speeds (#2). A sanding wheel is affixed to the end and spins quickly, effectively sanding down the nail. This has the benefit of keeping the edges of the nails from being as sharp as with regular trimming tools and thus eliminates the need to have a separate nail file (#1). My mom uses it on my nails and though it takes longer my nails are always as short as they can possibly be without pain. It does take some getting used to though.

   If by chance you should accidentally nick the quick, don't panic. Apply a small pinch of styptic powder (which is usually yellow in color) to the bleeding part of the nail and apply gentle pressure until the bleeding stops. If you don't have styptic powder you can use a tissue or paper towel and though I've never heard of anyone else doing this my mom once used a little bit of flour when she had nothing else handy. Its best to try to keep the dog from running around afterwards so the quick has a chance to fully scab up.                       

   SOAP and WATER: Now that we've gotten all the preliminary toiletries out of the way, lets get to the actual bath. Whether you are using a grooming tub, regular bath tub, tin tub or just the ground outside, it can be helpful to secure us with a leash or grooming loop so we can't jump out of the tub or run off when you start watering us down. Collies aren't known for being water dogs and it usually takes early socializing with it so we feel secure. I don't personally enjoy baths but with thoughtful training and patience my mom has helped me learn to tolerate it. I will retrieve things out of the water if mom asks me to, but you won't see me going in because I want to!

   If you know how and feel comfortable doing it, this is the time to express your dog's anal glands if they need it. Most dogs express them naturally every time they defecate but occasionally a dog will have a problem and if they aren't released they can become impacted and rather irritating and painful. I have never needed it done and because if it is done improperly you can injure the dog I'm not going to cover this. You can request a professional groomer to do it if you take your dog to a grooming shop or you can even have your vet show you how to do it on your next visit.

   When wetting us make sure to use luke warm to warm water to soak us thoroughly. Hot water will raise our temperature and even burn us and cold water doesn't get as much dirt off. The texture of our coat is made to be keep moisture away from our skin and it is very common for a collie to come in out of a rain storm looking soaked but our skin is still perfectly dry! Put the nozzle of the hose against the coat so we aren't frightened by the spraying water and let the pressure force the water down to our skin. Please don't spray the water into our face as the spray can send water up our noses, sting our eyes and get water into our ears. To wet our faces just put some water into your cupped hand and rub it on or you can bring the hose nozzle up to the top of the dog's neck and use your hand to guide some of the stream onto our face where you can rub it in.

   You can put cotton balls loosely in our ears to keep the water out or just fold the ear down over the ear canal when the water gets close to either of them. There are also eye drops that can be purchased to use during a bath to protect the eyes but if you are very careful and your dog's eyes are healthy you might not need them at all.

   Once we are completely soaked you can add the shampoo. No human shampoo please. It isn't pH balanced properly for our skins and can do more harm than good so only doggie shampoo will do. There are a zillion different kinds out there but I'll mention only a couple. For light colored coats like mine you can use a shampoo that says "for white coats". It is usually blue in color and the longer it is left on the better it works to really highlight those light touches in the fur.
   For dark or black coats you can use a shampoo that says "for black coats" on the black areas and the white coat shampoo on the white areas. For sensitive or dry itchy skin you can use an oatmeal shampoo or a hypoallergenic shampoo. If your dog is overly sensitive to perfumed shampoos use the hypoallergenic shampoo or even a very mild puppy shampoo.

   Once you have the shampoo on the dog work it into the coat with gentle squeezes rather than  rough scratching. This will keep his coat from tangling while in the tub and making the job tougher. Squeeze or massage in the direction that the coat lays lifting each handful up (don't yank please) so the soap gets down to the skin. Don't worry so much about lathering up the soap as much as getting it all the way down to the skin. Remember, just because there's lots of bubbles doesn't mean we're clean. (I may not look very soapy in my less than glorious picture, but its there.)

   When you begin the dog's face, put just a tiny bit of shampoo in your hand and gentle wipe it on our face. Careful not to get it in our eyes. If your dog tends to move around to much for really careful face washing then try just using a washcloth with water or hypoallergenic baby wipes. There are doggie wipes on the market that can be used for our face, touch ups between baths and are great for cleaning young puppies.

   So now the dog looks half drowned and soapy to boot... what's next? The rinse off of course! Just the same as when you watered us down the first time keep the hose nozzle close to our skin. Start at the top of our neck and work your way down gently squeezing the soap and water out as you go. The reason you start at the top and work down is because you don't want to push the dirt and soap into an area that was already rinsed clean. You don't need twice the work!

   Quick tip!!! To keep your dog from shaking the water off before you are done, gently hold a good portion of his fur and skin by his head and tell him "Not yet" or "No shake" or any other phrase you want. When you are done rinsing, let go of your hold and back up quickly saying "OK! Shake it off!" Chances are he will as soon as you let go. Praise him when he does and in time he will respond to your cues for shaking and not shaking just like any other command.

   Now that your dog is squeaky clean, it's time to dry him off. Force dryers from a grooming shop are great for blowing off a lot of water and fur loosened by the warm soapy bath, but since you probably don't have one you can begin drying him with a towel. Try to avoid rubbing the fur against the grain to much. It can knot the fur and break the ends. Get as much of the water off as you can with the towel. If you have a hair dryer with a cool setting you can then use that to dry a dog faster. As usual go with the lay of the fur. Using a wide tooth comb or brush, carefully lift up small portions of fur and dry them with the hair dryer. DO NOT USE THE HOT SETTING OF THE HAIR DRYER. The heat can burn our skin and if not that it can burn our fur and make us dry and itchy. Either way it isn't fun for us dogs.

   Are we dry yet? Good. Now we have a final brushing out just like before the bath and any final trimming to make us look gorgeous. If your dog has a problem or fear of slippery floors like linoleum, I suggest trimming the fur between the pads of his feet so the pads have better contact with the floor surface. You may find that giving your dog a sanitary trim around his/her private areas will keep them cleaner when they relieve themselves. Any additional trimming is up to your tastes. My mom only takes enough off to give me a neater appearance. She also likes a neat face and trims off the whiskers above my eyes, on my cheeks and under my jaw. She leaves the whiskers by my nose on but neatens them just a touch.

   If your dog has dry or itchy skin you can apply a light misting of doggie re-moisturizer directly onto the skin. Something with tea tree oil or vitamin E can work well.

   Now that you're all done, remember to wait a little while before you let your dog outside to play. Especially on a muddy kind of day. If you forget, you may have to start all over again!

   Special thanks to groomer Kirsten Buckley-Hidalgo for helping us with the grooming photos.


1. Ordinary pin/bristle brush - most collies will have a coat too thick to use this on for good loose fur removal but it is great for lifting and aerating the coat.
2. Hard slicker brush
3. Wide tooth comb
4. Medium tooth comb
5. Flea comb - great for light combing on face and upper ears (or removing fleas if your collie should have them!)
6. Electric clippers with #10 blade - for removing fur between paw pads and sanitary trims.
7. 2 speed nail sander with coarse sanding drum
8. Thinning shears - for trimming and thinning areas that shouldn't look trimmed or thinned.
9. Curved shears - for curved look trimming... great for trimming paws.
10. Straight shears - for straight line trimming and cutting.
11. Shedding or undercoat rake medium tooth