Grooming a Lhasa Apso

An article detailing our experience of learning how to groom Elsa, a Lhasa Apso with a naturally long, non-shedding double coat, including tips and techniques we have developed along the way!

As first time dog owners everything was new to us when Elsa came into our lives. Her puppy coat was still quite short, soft and fluffy and she had the most beautiful little curls on the tips of her ears.

We knew that a Lhasa Apso would need daily (yes, daily!) brushing and regular trips to the groomer but nothing could prepare us for the challenges ahead…

As a puppy in the midst of teething the last thing Elsa wanted to do was sit still and be brushed. She had a very short attention span and even less patience. Nipping our hands and biting the brush was much more fun for her.

We would do our best to give her a quick brush and managed to quickly discover that by keeping her mouth occupied with a treat we could escape with our fingers intact. We juggled brushes, treats and thought we were doing a great job… it wasn’t so difficult after all…

In this phase we also took Elsa to a groomer for a puppy groom to get her used to being handled by a professional – it was nerve-wracking as we didn’t know how she would react but she came out looking fluffier than ever, leaving behind a slightly nibbled groomer who wasn’t overly impressed, although she had done a really good job! We were given instructions to train her to get used to being gently held by her muzzle/chin. So far so good.

Elsa’s first puppy groom at Barkers, Wilmslow

We decided to try a different groomer next time around and to our horror she came out with her full fringe shaved completely off! It grew back quick enough but we were a bit apprehensive about having her fur cut again at this point. It was a few months until we took her again and in this time her puppy coat grew, a lot!

Remember the fur will always grow back!

We continued brushing daily but found that combing was difficult and instead we used a standard slicker type brush with short bristles. This was our first big mistake. Because Lhasa Apso’s are double coated, underneath the outer coat that we were brushing, large, dense matts had already formed in the under coat around her front legs and in the fine wispy hair behind her ears. The picture below makes me cringe because you can actually see how matted she is by her shape, particularly the big chunks around her legs!

When we finally realised the matts had formed they were already so dense that we never thought we’d be able to brush them out. They were like balls of cotton wool stuck close to her skin. Having her hair clipped short did cross our minds… Interestingly, we learned that shaving a double coated dog could actually do more harm than good as the diagram below explains:

STRUCTURE OF THE COAT ON A DOUBLE COATED DOG (IMAGE CREATED BY BROOK WILKINS)

We decided to persevere and looked to the internet for help. YouTube was a very good source of informative videos about how to remove matts from fur. We also found that there are lots of tools available to help from ‘matt breakers’, combs with rotating teeth to various sprays and conditioners. With these tools in hand and reassurance from others who had been through similar with their long-haired Lhasa’s, we soldiered on. As her coat continued to grow it seemed to get worse before it got better but with continued patience, regular grooming at home and with a professional groomer, I am very pleased to tell you that we did manage to get through this awful phase!

Now that she has her adult coat it is much easier to maintain. Here are a few of the things we have tried and tested and would recommend, along with some of the tips and tricks we have picked up along the way…

Essential Items

Invest in some good quality shampoo and conditioner

One thing that we found quite quickly was that bathing her with certain shampoos could actually make her coat even harder to groom. We have tried a few different brands since but our favourites are:

  • Pet Silk, particularly the Brazilian Keratin range. Click here for more information.
  • Chris Christensen Spectrum 10 range as well as the Thick N Thicker Foaming Protein. Click here for more information. 
  • Secret Weapon conditioner is fantastic and smells amazing. They also make a lovely facial wash called Foam ‘n’ Away, great for keeping tear stains at bay.

We also found that a mixing bottle is very useful as these products need to be diluted.

Dog Soap is a relatively new product but we think that it’s fabulous! Even though we thought that it might dry Elsa’s fur out, it actually does the opposite! It’s great for when we just need to wash her paws/ legs off after a muddy walk, and saves us mixing the shampoo when we need to grab something quickly.

Grooming Sprays – Detangling & Conditioning

Spraying the coat while it’s wet will generally speed up drying time and protect from heat damage. They can also be used in between baths to soften and condition the coat if it feels dry which helps when brushing. There are lots of these sprays available, a few of our favourites are:

  • Pet Silk leave-in conditioner.
  • Pet Silk Brazilian Keratin oil is also a great coat smoother.
  • Chris Christensen Precious Drop (Conditioner)
  • Chris Christensen Ice on Ice (Conditioner/ Detangler/ Sunscreen)
  • Chris Christensen Liquid Silk Protein
  • Hypknotic by Secret Weapon (not pictured as we’d run out!)

Elsa sometimes suffers from tear-stains, usually when the air is very dusty, or when the fur around her eyes needs trimming. You can buy products like this one below that help reduce the fur discoloration. We don’t need to use it very often but this one seems to do the trick:

  • Pet Silk Tear Stain Remover
  • espree Tear Stain Aloe Wipes
  • Eyebrow comb – this is a very handy tool for brushing the fine hairs around her eyes to remove any eye ‘goop’. It can also be used to brush on the tear-stain remover.
[Interesting fact: water bowls can harbour bacteria that cause fur staining so, if you are using a ceramic or plastic bowl, switch to using a stainless steel one, it really does help!]

Grooming Tools

Shops like Christies Direct and Petcetera sell a really good range of grooming products and tools.

Everyday Brushing

  • Tangle Teezer – Excellent for removing matts gently and for everyday brushing, particularly around the face and ears.
  • Rotating tooth comb – Unlike combs with fixed teeth, these don’t snag in the hair which makes it much easier to brush through.
  • Slicker Brushes – Great for removing dead under-coat and giving the outer-coat a sleek finish.

Removing Matts

  • Matt breakers – There are various different ones available but we’ve found that these two have have been most useful; the small tool is perfect for splitting apart big matts, and the rake style one is good for gently teasing out knots, particularly in areas that are difficult to reach. As long as you brush in the direction of the hair growth you won’t cut the outer coat when using these tools.
  • Scissors – Sometimes small knots just need to be snipped out! Luckily Elsa has so much fur that the odd snip here and there doesn’t really show. We also use these to trim between her eyes (never had the patience to grow this fur out). Also useful for trimming between her paw pads as this is an area where quite hard, dense matts can form. We’d recommend getting blunt ended scissors for obvious safety reasons.

Finishing

Pet Silk also make ‘Top Knot Gel’ which is great for keeping Elsa’s bows in place or fixing any flyaway fur.

Training

We started by giving Elsa treats so that she would associate grooming with something nice. When she was a little puppy we found these fantastic treat licks, a sort of gravy filled roller-ball dispenser, that she would happily lick while we brushed her. As she got older we started giving her a dental chew while we brushed her as we usually do it in the evening to get rid of any tangles, matts, leaves, mud, slugs (yup!), plant seeds, twigs and whatever else she has picked up over the course of a day! As she got older she grew more and more tolerant and, by keeping on top of her grooming with daily brushing, we can usually have her done in about 10 minutes.

Elsa is very headstrong and when she was younger we had to double up; one person to hold the treats and Elsa from wriggling too much, the other to brush! We have never tethered Elsa while brushing her and always let her have a break if she seems to be getting stressed out at all. It took us almost a year to pluck up both the courage and Elsa’s willingness to let us cut the fur on her face between her eyes, but we got there in the end!

She still doesn’t like us trimming the fur between her paw pads so we are slowly trying to get her used to this as she gets some really nasty hard matts here. They can usually be loosened by standing her in the bathtub to soak her paws with some conditioner.

 As with all training: patience and persistence are key so don’t give up!

For advice and help with general training we would highly recommend Zak George’s Dog Training rEvolution videos on YouTube.

Brushing and De-matting Technique

Although Lhasa Apso’s are classed as a non-shedding breed; the loose, dead downy under coat does fall out. This is why it is important to make sure that you brush through both layers, not just the outer one.

Here is what we have found works best for us and Elsa: 

We start by making sure everyone is comfortable. We have a bench that we put Elsa on that we can stand next to and a non-slip mat for her to stand on.

A quick once-over with the Tangle Teezer smooths the outer coat and will generally give us an idea of whether there are any matts that need addressing. Then, starting with the rear/ back legs, we gently start brushing with the rotating tooth comb, making sure to part the fur in sections so that the comb runs through the full layer of fur including the under coat.

Working around her rear, across her back, hind legs and then moving towards her front legs, chest and finally her head, we continue to part the hair out into sections running the comb through the full length of the fur around her whole body. This whole process takes about 10-15 minutes if the coat is relatively matt-free.

Areas like between her chest and front legs can be quite tricky as they are usually the parts that get matted the worst. Grooming her in an elevated position (on the bench) makes these areas much easier to get to, and sometimes approaching them from behind the leg or underneath the body makes brushing even easier.

Once combed, we then run the slicker brush over her fur to remove the rest of the loosened under coat.

Small Matts
If you hit a snag that the comb doesn’t easily brush through try turning the comb and gently pull it through the troublesome area vertically. If this doesn’t pull the knot out easily then you’ll need to grab the matt splitter and run it vertically through the matt. Then, once broken apart, use the Tangle Teezer to gently tease the fur apart by brushing outwards from the middle of the matt in various directions until the loose fur is removed.

Densely Matted Fur
If you find an area that is densely matted, use a combination of the matt splitter and rake tools. A grooming spray will also come in useful here. Hold the fur as close to the skin as possible so that you don’t pull the fur while removing bigger matts. Once the matted area is loosened, again use the Tangle Teezer to gently tease the fur apart by brushing outwards from the middle of the matt in various directions.

Don’t forget…

Teeth
Regular brushing can prevent plaque build-up and dental issues. We brush Elsa’s teeth 2-3 times a week. We found that dog toothbrushes were too big for her small mouth so we improvised with a children’s toothbrush which is a much better size! Dorwest ‘Roast Dinner Toothpaste‘ has a gritty texture which helps to keep plaque build up to a minimum.

Paws
We keep Elsa’s paws in good condition by using paw wax on warm/ cold days to protect against the elements.

The paw butter is a nice conditioner, but we don’t find that she needs to have this on all the time, it’s more of a post-bath treat!

 Bathing & Drying

Elsa is allowed to run around, play and get dirty just like any other dog. In fact, we usually go out of our way to let her get exceptionally dirty on bath days! She loves water so taking her to the beach is a real treat, but she also likes go paddling in brooks and streams. On the whole, the damp British climate is a challenge when trying to keep her fur clean and dry but it’s not impossible.

Regular bathing helps to keep her fur in good condition. This is easier than it sounds; we simply put her in the bath – shower, shampoo, rinse, condition, rinse and she’s done! We squeeze as much water off her fur before wrapping her in a towel. Microfiber towels absorb a lot of water, the one pictured below is particularly good.

Drying her is much more time consuming… She usually likes to run around like a maniac when she is wet, but once we can get her onto her grooming table we spray her with a conditioner/ detangler and then begin to dry with a hairdryer and the Tangle Teezer brush to gently part the fur and speed up the drying process.

The outer coat dries much faster than the under coat so it’s important to keep parting and brushing the fur while drying to make sure you dry both layers otherwise you may have some issues with the under coat matting if left to dry naturally without any brushing.

Elsa has always enjoyed being dried. When her fur is wet it’s also a lot easier to see and remove areas of matted fur and check her skin for any potential issues including parasites like ticks.

The whole process of bathing and drying takes us about an hour, so this is something that we only do when she really needs it. In between these full baths we will often wash off her feet, face and rear as necessary which is much quicker!

We have sometimes been asked if her rear gets messy when she ‘does her business’… and generally the answer is no (unless she has had an upset tummy which is not very often)! This area also gets trimmed regularly, groomers call this a ‘hygiene’ trim.

When it snows, little snowballs will stick to her fur too! To remove these we usually just soak in warm water then dry her legs off.

Find the right professional groomer

We can’t take all the credit for Elsa’s beautiful coat – she is regularly clipped by a groomer to keep her coat at a practical and manageable length; something best left to a professional. We have tried a few different groomers over the past couple of years…Some have been really good with her, others have shaved random chunks of fur, or Elsa has seemed unsettled in the salon so we have stuck with places where she seems most happy in herself too. Fortunately we have had more good experiences than bad. We’d definitely recommend trying different grooming salons to see where your dog feels most comfortable, and who can style your dog’s hair the way you like it.

Cut by Paws & Co Staffordshire Ltd

Here are a few of the groomers we have reviewed on the blog so far, click on the links below to go to the individual posts:

A few other general tips:

  • After a full brush and de-matting session we can find that she is just as bad the next day, sometimes worse depending on what she’s been up to! We eventually learned to accept that she’ll always have a few tiny matts no matter how much we brush her. The important thing is not to let a tiny matt develop into a bigger problem, so keep on top of them. Even if you can’t get every single one out, try again later or the next day.
  • Elsa’s coat definitely became easier to groom over time as we learnt how to handle her grooming and the coat texture changed with the growth of her adult/ outer coat.
  • Regular brushing is also important because you learn about the shape of your dog’s body and will be able to recognise any changes such as weight loss/gain, lumps, bumps and parasites like ticks quickly.
  • Sometimes applying flea/worming treatments like the liquid spot on types can cause the fur to become matted. It’s important to keep these areas brushed but to allow the solution to be fully absorbed before bathing (check with your vet).
  • Keeping cool in summer can be a challenge but, as with any dog, we make sure that we don’t overexert Elsa on hot days. We always have plenty of cool water available for her and keep her in the shade when we are out and about.

We are very proud of Elsa’s beautiful coat and the hard work always feels worthwhile when she is complimented by admirers.

A particular highlight was when she won 1st place at Dog Fest North 2016 in the first heat of the Good Hair Day category and then went on to win the overall category for Best Turned out Dog of the Day!

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