Bichon Grooming: The Pet Cut
by Marilyn Clark
The Bichon Frise (bee-shon free-zay) the "Curly Lap Dog" is a wonderful, little, white-coated dog. White-coated dogs seem to have more sensitive skin than dogs with darker-coats, so you should be careful about 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. If shampoo is left in the coat it can become dull 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 style, refer to Kiyomi's Bichon Trimming instructions. These instructions include 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 it has excellent head detail. The Oster Bichon grooming video is also good, and shows a 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 these 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 thing I suggest 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. Click here for a list of catalogs. You may want to get several catalogs to compare prices. Some pet supply stores have some of the same products but I find they are more expensive.
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 Oster blades (one exception is the Andis 3-3/4 blade). 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, it stops bleeding if nails are cut too short.
Ear Powder for cleaning the hair out of the ears. Liquid ear cleaner for cleaning dirt and powder out of the ear is optional.
Hemostats (also called hairmostats) used for pulling ear hair out you can’t reach with your fingers.
Comb — I prefer a steel comb. These combs are called Greyhound or one like it. 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, or those who know how and when to use this type of brush.
Shampoo. Use a mild, tearless shampoo made only for dogs. I use Coat Handler shampoo. I do not use any shampoo that has bluing or a bleaching agent. I find that my shampoo gets the coat just as snowy white. There are other shampoos also that are excellent for a white coat.
These items for clipping and grooming:
Clipper. A professional clipper either Oster, Laube, or Andis.
Blades: #10 for the belly and around anal opening, vulva of females, penis on males, or an #81/2 if you know your dog has sensitive skin.
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 (see note below) are Oster finishing blades. If you don’t want to spend the money for both versions buy the "F" blades. Choose #4F which leaves hair approx. 3/8" long and is used on sparse coats or for those that want leave the hair a little longer, #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. Depending on the coat type, profuse, sparse or in-between, and the kind of cut you prefer will determine the size blade you use. The #4F or #5F would be the first choices. The #7 may give a closer cut than some would like but it is a good blade to use 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 #3-3/4 blade leaves the hair longer than the #4F (3/8") blade and I use this blade for my sparse-coated bichon.
#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.
Snap-on Combs: 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.
F.Y.I. - The higher the number blade (or snap-on 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 Andis #3-3/4F 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 with the blade wash periodically.
Scissor. A quality scissor made of stainless steel. A good length would be from 7" to 8-1/2". Stay away from real 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. You may need to get rubber hole inserts that will 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. How many teeth a thinning shear has determines the amount of hair that is cut out.
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 just dryer does not do the job and you must be very careful that it does not blow HOT air and burn your dog's skin.
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, you be the boss. This is not playtime. Be firm, use 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 I like to stand on the left side of the dog (I am right handed), facing the rear, I reach over with my left hand and pick up the foot. You can support the paw with your fingers. Never bend your dog’s legs 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 your Kwik-Stop to stop bleeding.
Front paws — Still standing in the same position as doing rear nails, I reach over the top of my dog's neck to the right front paw and bend it at the ankle. On the left paw just pick it up and end at the ankle. You can also stand in front of the dog and just raise up the leg. In this position you may have more of a problem though as the dog can see what you are doing. Be sure to look for dew claws on the inside of the front legs, as these need to be clipped also. If dew claws are left to grow they will grow right into the skin. NOTE: If you know your dog has rear dew claws these also need to be clipped.
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. Keeping the ear hair out of the ear canal will keep it dry, let the air flow through, and lessen the possibility of an infection to start. Dogs with drop ears, as in the bichon, 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. Dog's 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 parting the hair, taking one section 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. Pay special attention to friction areas that have a tendency to mat more easily, such as the inside of the rear legs, under the arm pits, chest hair. The chin hair, sides of face, and I find a lot of dogs with tiny mats along the edge of the ears. Be sure and use your comb along with the brush.
People who do not know how to brush a bichon's coat will brush the top hair only, leaving the undercoat to mat. Learn to use the correct pressure and carefully brush to the skin without scraping it and causing brush burn. 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 cornstarch 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, use your comb to comb down to the skin.
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. You may prefer to use a conditioner, this is up to you.
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 its 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. 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 also be sure to rinse all soap out of head.
I check the anal glands in the bath. Sometimes they need emptying and sometimes not. 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. NOTE: This is not difficult to do, so if you want to do this ask your vet to show you how.
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.
Note: During normal brushing and combings, brush and comb up and out for a fluffy look.
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, I call it "all off" instead. Use the #F blade of your choice 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 Andis #3-3/4F blade. If you feel your dog’s coat is profuse you can use the #4 or #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 the closest 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 Adam's apple to the breast bone are clipped. 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 sometimes also called a Panda, or 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 THESE BLADES ON THE GENITALS OR 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 around 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, try not to 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 the testicles.
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 — Read this whole procedure before you begin. Before you start clipping feel the teeth of the blade you have chosen. 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. 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 #3-3/4, 4, 5, or 7 instead of the #F.
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. With clipper running spray with Cool Lube to cool.
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 the hair against the lay of the coat then clip.
When you're done clipping begin using your comb (not brush) to comb hair around the rear end up and out, 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 comb 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 blade of your choice, 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 Adam's 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 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.
Leaving the Neck Coat: The Oster Bichon Video shows Cut #2 in which the head hair is blended from dome of the head down the neck, and neck sides to the withers, all blending into the body hair. This is all hand-scissored. I only leave the neck coat when doing Clip #2.
If you leave the neck coat start clipping the body hair from the withers down to the tail. The withers start where the end of the neck meets the body. Be careful where you decide the withers are. I can use my dog’s elbows as a guide to follow from that point over to the withers. If you start too far up on the neck you may end up having to clip it all off. If you start too far onto the back you can still cut some off later.
Start clipping from about 2" under the ear and just above the shoulder, down to about 1" above the elbow on the front legs. Then starting at the same spot (2" under the ear) clip horizontally along the side of the neck slanting to the withers. Clip the hair on the other side the same way. This ends up being somewhat a wedge shape. You will hand-scissor the neck hair when doing the head. Clip the rest of the hair along the rib cage stopping half way into the tuck up. Clip hair from 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. Note: You may also clip all the chest hair, but 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.
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.
Hand-Scissoring: Once you’re satisfied with your clipping work, you can begin scissoring the leg coat. Hand-scissoring is an art. It can take a long time to develop this talent. Practicing will certainly help. Your grooming book pictures and especially a video on grooming Bichons would come in handy at the point of hand-scissoring the leg coat. You can see in the video how the groomer stacks the hair with the comb and how the scissor is held. The video also shows in what direct the hair is cut.
The proper way to use your scissor is to put your thumb in thumb hole (rubber insert, if needed, for a snug fit) and ring finger in the other hole (rubber insert if needed) and small finger resting on finger rest. The index and middle finger rest on the shank for control. When scissoring move ONLY the thumb. Practice scissoring around a ball or something curved. Move only your thumb to open and close the blades.
The front legs should look tubular and the rear legs tubular but softly following the leg angulation right above the hock. Do not cut angulation to the skin, only angulate slightly. Look at your dog in profile to see how much you’re scissoring. Do not press into the hair with the scissor, it should just ride on the hair. Don't use your brush now use only your comb. As you scissor, your scissor will be pushing hair flat, so you have to continuously scissor, comb hair up, scissor, comb hair up, etc.
Note: You may be tempted to pull at hair that is hard to reach with your scissor. Do not do this because you will pull the skin too and may cut it.
I start with the rear legs, you may decide you want to do the front first. Before you start to scissor you must "stack" the hair (see Using Your Comb). Start stacking the hair from the bottom of the leg right up the leg to the thigh. You can hold your scissor parallel to the leg coat, and begin scissoring. When you are finished look at dog from the rear. Are your dog’s legs poofed out away from the body? They shouldn't be. The hair should flow from hips, which are blended into the body coat, down legs in a natural line. Comb hair up in the inside of the legs. Scissor taking a little off at a time. Stand back and look, the inside space between the legs should appear to be "A" shaped.
On the front legs, the line should flow from the shoulder right down the side of leg. Remember the legs are cylindrical. Make sure your dog is standing when scissoring the legs or you will not get the proper line. Always, and continuously stack the hair. You can scissor the rear of the front leg without picking up the leg, the same for the inside and the outside (remember to think of the legs as having four sides but without corners). If you wish, you can pick up the front leg to scissor the top. Hold the leg with your thumb and first finger at the side of the large foot pad. Stack the hair on the top of the leg, scissor a little at a time, stack hair, scissor some more. You may have to bend your head and look at the leg in profile to get it even. Be careful not to scissor the top of the paw flat or your dog will look like it’s wearing slippers. You can also scissor the hair horizontally without holding the leg. Scissor whichever way you can do it the easiest.
Once you think you are done with the legs, study them, one against the other. Are all the legs in proportion to each other? The front legs aren’t skinnier than the rear ones are they? Make any adjustments that are necessary. If you did cut them too small, make a note of it for next time.
With dog standing scissor across at the front of the paw. Scissor around paws with scissor slanted at a 45 degree angle. Scissor all hair hanging on table. Round off the corners created when scissoring across the front of the paw. Do not scissor up the side of the foot. Paws should be like cat paws, tight, no nails showing.
Stack the hair between the legs. Lift one front leg and look underneath at chest hair. Scissor chest hair underneath even with body (always know where the dog’s skin is). Scissor or blend with thinning shears so it is even with body hair. See Doing the Head at the end of Cut #3.
Using a Snap-on Comb
Cut #3 - Using the #40 or #30 blade put a snap-on comb over it. In this cut your dog must be mat free as the snap-on comb can get caught in a mat and come off leaving the #30 or #40 blade which cuts very, very close. Clip hair as in Cut #1. Clip over entire body including legs. See how this leaves hair longer? On second pass, do as before. BRUSH THE HAIR AGAINST THE LAY OF THE COAT, clip, brush hair against lay of coat, clip, continue until there is no more hair that can be clipped off.
Clipping with a snap-on comb leaves the hair a little choppy, so when you're done clipping, COMB hair up and out and scissor lightly over the coat for an even appearance. Look at your dog in profile, you can see all the uneven hair. Scissor any uneven ends that are sticking up. This cut would be a good style to practice scissoring on. Do paws as in Cut #1. Clean up any other stray hairs. Continue on to Shaping the Head.
SHAPING THE BICHON HEAD
There is very little scissoring on the head, but keep it in proportion to the length of the body coat. If you decide to do a short body you will need to trim the head shorter to keep it in proportion to the body. You would not want a huge head and a short body coat. The Michael Kemp video is excellent for learning how to scissor the bichon head properly.
Shaping the head, as in shaping the legs, takes a lot of practice. Don't get discouraged if your dog doesn't look exactly like a bichon. Use a picture of a Bichon head so you can refer to it while scissoring. NEVER, NEVER use the clippers on the face.
Eye Area:To get the Bichon deep-set look around the eye you don't want to scissor the hair flat at the stop (the forehead). Comb head hair up and out from the stop through the top of the head, letting the head hair fall over the eye area. At all times be sure you know where the point of the scissor is at. Trim the hair between the eyes where the stop meets the muzzle. Leave a distinct thin line here, but don’t trim flat to the skin as this will lengthen the muzzle. Keeping the rounded look in mind, trim away any hair that hangs too far over the muzzle from the stop. You want to leave a rounded visor here. Carry the roundness from over the eye area at the stop on up to the top of the head. Take a little off at a time, stand back take a look. Continuously comb the head hair up and scissor. The length of the head hair should be about the same length as the chin hair, this will give the roundness of the face.
Cut away any hair hanging into the eye to expose the eye cleanly but still leaving a little visor. Using your thinning shear trim off a very little hair just above the inside of the eye to expose the darker halo, notice that the skin is darker in this area. Do not cut any hair beyond the outer corner of the eye. Study a picture of the Bichon head and eye area. Kiyomi’s web site for trimming the Bichon is an excellent source for how a hand-scissored Bichon should look. Look at the pictures at the end and see how the eye area is trimmed.
NOTE: If you do not want the full amount of hair hanging over at the stop just trim it all shorter. My dog has a wavy coat, not the typical curly coat, so at the eye area it's hard for me to get the Bichon look around the eyes. The wavy coat tends to lay flat instead of standing up so I trim this hair shorter but still keep the roundness of the Bichon style head.
Trimming the Head and Neck: The head and neck hair is one piece (if you did not leave the neck hair see the next paragraph). There is also no division between the head and ears. Comb hair on top of head up and out. Comb through hair on sides of face. Begin scissoring the top of the head. Don’t cut straight across. You can start on the top and go down the side or start at the ear and go over. Whichever way you choose, trim with the domed look in mind, taking off a little at a time. Continue from the top of the head down the back of the head gradually sloping to the withers. Continuously comb hair up looking for any unevenness. Lift ears out of the way and scissor coat on the sides of neck and then blend the hair at the sides of the neck and at the withers with your thinning shear so it blends into the body coat. There should be no definite division between the neck and body coat, or neck and head piece, or head and ears. You can also thin out sides of face, top of muzzle or the hair at each side of the muzzle with your thinning shear if it sticks out unnaturally.
Trimming the Head Only: If you did not leave the neck hair you just have to blend the back of the head into the neck. Don’t cut the back of the head flat. Trim from the dome of the head down the back of the head keeping the back nicely rounded. Where the end of the back head hair meets the neck you can blend with your thinning shear. Stand back take a look. Do a little at a time.
Chin and Ears: You may need to trim some chin hair if the head looks too huge (see note below). If you wish, you can shape the chin using your thinning shear for a more natural look. Make ears lay flatter by flipping up ear and using your thinning shear, take a couple of cuts out of hair at the sides of the face and then comb out hair. Let ear drop again and see how it lays, you may need to thin even more hair. Use your thinning shear to trim any uneven hair off the bottom of the ear or hair sticking out at the sides of the ear. Stand back take a look.
Note: Some people prefer the round head and some prefer more of a bell shape. The length of the chin hair should be about the same length as the head hair to create roundness of the head. On the round head simply cut the chin hair more rounded. In this case also trim the ears shorter to keep the round flow from the chin up into the ear.
If you want more of a bell shape.you can cut across the bottom of the chin. Trim the ear hair only slighly at the outside edge not making the ear any shorter than the chin hair.
Some Finishing Touches
Scissor off any little stained hairs at the mouth.
Using your thinning shear, carefully trim any stained hairs at the inside corner of the eye.
Comb through the tail hair and still holding the tail put it in the position the tail would be carried on the back. Check to see if there are any straggly hairs, if there are you can clip these off, without shortening the tail hair. Also, on the underside of the tail, at the base, scissor the hair off for about 1.
Spray some good smelling spray on the coat, add a bandana or bow. Walla, you’re done!
Are you satisfied? Does your dog’s head look evenly rounded or bell-shaped? Does the top of the head look domed, not flat or pointed? Does the back of the head have a rounded appearance, or did you flatten the back of the head too much? Does the top of the head flow nicely into the ears with no division? Do the ears look too bushy? If, so, don’t forget to use your thinning shear at the sides of the cheek to make them lay flatter and take a little off the side of the ears. Look at the pads, did you get all of the hair trimmed off and did not leave any long pieces hanging over the feet? Look at the body, are there any straggly hairs that need to be trimmed? If you left the neck coat, does it blend neatly into the body coat? Comb completely through the body, head, ears, tail, looking for anything you have missed.
If your dog jumps around or pulls it’s leg away from you when doing front legs, hold up one leg while doing the other.
If your dog does not hold head still while doing the head, grab hold of the chin hair with one hand, keeping a firm hold, begin scissoring.
If you get blood on a clean coat use a cotton ball that is saturated with peroxide and water.
If your dog will not stand when you need him to, put something under his belly.
To get a good perspective of the scissored head, hold the dog up in front of a mirror.
Refer to a picture of the dogs anatomy and a Bichon head.
Brush hair up and out against the lay of coat for a powder puff look.
The higher the blade number the shorter the cut.
Always know where you are clipping and scissoring. Clip only with the lay of the coat, never against.
Older dogs overheat faster than younger dogs. Make sure your dryer does not get too hot.
Bathe one day, clip the next to avoid stress. Make sure your bath water is not too hot.
You can tell when a blade is dull simply by it not being able to cut hair anymore. If your blades should get dull, you can get them sharpened by sending them to a shop that specializes in doing this. You can find such a business in the back of dog magazines or even on the internet. Blades usually last a long time, especially if you have only one dog.
To clean your blades. Put blade on clipper, pour a little wash in a bowl, with clipper running, put blade in wash only to cover blade. You will hear the blade running faster as it cleans, do this for about 15 seconds. Take blade off and put on a piece of paper towel. Wipe it off, put a little of the blade oil (1-2 drops) that came with clipper on it just where the blade slides back and forth.
Use Cut #1 or #3 for an older dog. It's faster, and they don’t have to stand so long. Scissoring requires that the dog stand. Practice scissoring on Cut #3.
In the end, these instructions are guidelines for you to follow. You may prefer to clip your dog very short with a #7 blade (Kennel Cut). You may also prefer a shorter face and ears. It’s up to you to give your Bichon a haircut you will be able to maintain with ease. You will develop your own style of grooming as you go along.
If you decide to go ahead and groom your own dog, have patience and have fun doing it.