Grooming a Poodle: Best Practices and Expert Tips

The following is an excerpt from "The Complete Guide to Poodles" by Tarah Schwartz. For more information visit the books Amazon Page.

Author Credit: Tarah Schwartz

Poodle Coat Basics

Poodles are known for their curly hair and extravagant styles, but the truth is that the Poodle’s famous coat requires a lot of regular maintenance and grooming. Even if you don’t keep your Poodle in the high-maintenance continental clip that you see in the show ring, he will still need frequent grooming to keep his coat healthy and mat-free. Sherri Hoffman of Hoffman’s Toys recommends, “Once the puppy coat is gone and the adult coat is in, Poodles should be groomed every six to eight weeks.” Many potential Poodle owners have changed their minds on the breed once they realize how much time and effort must be spent brushing their dogs. There’s always the option of sending your dog to a professional groomer, but this may not be an option for a Poodle owner on a tight budget.

A Single Layered Coat of Coarse Curly Hair

All sizes of adult Poodles have dense, coarse coats that grow in tight curls. The tightness of the coat’s curls, or ringlets, can vary from Poodle to Poodle. They are a single-coated breed, which simply means that their coat grows in a single layer, rather than the undercoat and guard hairs of other breeds like Huskies and German Shepherds. Poodles are often referred to as hypoallergenic dogs because they don’t shed, but this isn’t entirely true. Poodles do shed, but the shed hair is often caught in the curls of coat, so it doesn’t end up all over your house as with other breeds. This shed hair can lead to tangles and mats quickly if it isn’t brushed out on a regular basis.

Poodle Puppy Coats vs. Adult Coats

Poodle puppies’ coats differ from their adult counterparts in both texture and curliness. Puppies often have a wavy coat, rather than the tight curls of adult dogs. Their hair is often much softer than an adult’s as well. Between nine and 18 months of age, puppies begin to shed their puppy coat as their curlier, coarser adult coat comes in. It is essential that you brush and groom your puppy regularly during this period as mats can develop quickly.

Bathing and Brushing

Brushing your Poodle’s coat on a regular basis is one of the most important and time-consuming aspects of Poodle care. Even if you keep your Poodle in a relatively short hairstyle, you must still brush him frequently and thoroughly to prevent mats from developing. It’s also important to make sure that your Poodle is mat-free before bathing him, as bathing can tighten mats and make them more difficult or even impossible to brush out. If you do not brush your Poodle regularly, his coat will mat and the only way to remove the mats will be to shave him. When shaved, a matted Poodle coat will likely come off in one piece, similar to when sheep are shorn. Mats can be uncomfortable or even painful, especially in delicate areas such as the armpits and groin. In extreme cases, mats can become so tight that they restrict blood flow to the legs, ears, or tail. Luckily, mats are preventable with frequent and thorough brushing. Most experts recommend daily brushing, but some Poodles can be brushed three to four times per week with no problems. How often you brush your dog will depend on his individual coat, as well as his age, as puppies who are changing coats will need more frequent brushing.

Common Poodle Grooming Tools

When brushing your Poodle, it’s best to use a combination of tools. Pin brushes and slicker brushes work well for large areas, but combs are useful for delicate areas as well as to check your work throughout the coat. Be sure to brush firmly enough that you are brushing more than just the surface of the coat, but not so firmly that you scratch your dog’s skin with the brush. Poodles with longer coats can be “line brushed” which means that you part the coat into sections, or lines, as you brush, to make sure that every part of the dog is tangle-free. After brushing, you can use a metal comb to check that you’ve brushed the coat down to the skin. Metal combs are also useful for detangling and removing smaller mats. If you encounter mats that you can’t remove with a comb, you may need to use a mat remover. Use caution, as mat removers use blades to cut out the mats and can cut your dog’s skin if you aren’t careful. If you have any doubts or questions about brushing your dog, ask your local groomer for a recommendation on tools and a demonstration on proper brushing techniques.

Bathing Tips

Toy poodle bathing
Photo Courtesy – Lonnie Clay

When bathing your Poodle, it’s crucial that you make sure the dog is completely mat-free before shampooing. Shampooing, especially with warm water, can tighten mats and make them harder to remove. It’s also important that you wash the dog down to the skin and rinse him thoroughly. Choose a shampoo that contains more natural ingredients. The fewer chemicals in the shampoo, the less likely your dog is to have a reaction. Shampoos without chemicals may produce less bubbles, so if your shampoo isn’t as sudsy as you’d expect, don’t worry, your dog is still getting clean. No matter what type of shampoo you use, be careful when washing your dog’s face. You want to keep the shampoo out of his ears, eyes, and nose. Once you’ve scrubbed your dog and are sure that you’ve reached the skin, it’s time to rinse. Shampoo left in the coat can cause irritation and itching so it’s important to rinse thoroughly. A good rule of thumb is when you think you’ve gotten all of the soap out, rinse one more time just to be sure.

The Importance of Drying a Poodles Coat

Professional groomers use high-velocity dryers to dry the majority of the dogs they work with. With Poodles, this is an important step of the grooming process. Drying a curly coat with a high-velocity dryer or brushing the coat as it dries under a low-velocity dryer will help to straighten the coat. The result will be the fluffy, luxurious look you see in the show ring. Without a dryer, a Poodle’s coat will dry in especially tight curls. If you do not use a dryer after bathing your Poodle, it’s important to brush him thoroughly once his coat dries. Otherwise, his curls may develop mats, especially if he has a longer coat.


Poodle being groomedIf you’ve never clipped a dog yourself before, it may be worthwhile to have a professional groom your dog for his first few haircuts. This will give you an idea of what your dog should look like after being clipped, but the groomer will also be able to get your dog used to the process. A nervous groomer and a nervous puppy are a recipe for disaster, so it’s best to start on a dog who knows what to expect from the process. You may want to ask a professional groomer for advice on the best techniques to use on a Poodle. Your dog’s breeder may also be able to give you advice on clipping your Poodle at home. Grooming is a skill that can take years to develop, so don’t be disappointed if your first few haircuts don’t look like a professional job.

Clean the Coat Before Using Clippers

Never use your clippers on a dirty coat. Even if your dog isn’t covered in mud, the dust and dander in an unwashed coat can cause unnecessary wear and tear on your blades, reducing their life span. Clipper blades can last a long time if they are properly cared for, so be sure to take good care of them. As you clip your dog, check the blades every so often to see if they are getting hot. A hot blade can burn your Poodle’s delicate skin. If your blade becomes hot quickly, you may be working with a dull or dirty blade, so it may be time to clean or sharpen your tools. Cleaning and oiling your blades after every use will also help them last longer.

Clipping Best Practices

When clipping your Poodle, use a gentle hand and light pressure. Too much pressure can force the dog’s skin into the blades and you may cut him. This is especially important in delicate places such as the face and feet. Most groomers recommend clipping with the grain of the hair, rather than against it. For especially close clips on the face and feet, you may need to go against the grain, but for the dog’s body and legs, going with the grain is best. As you clip, you may find that brushing the hair against the grain and going over it again with the clippers will result in a smoother, more even clip. Use extreme caution when clipping areas with thin skin such as the groin and ears. Never clip against the grain of the hair in these areas. The delicate skin is incredibly easy to cut if you aren’t careful.

Different Hairstyles

The most well-known Poodle hairstyle is the continental clip. This is the extravagant style you see in the show ring. It’s one of two acceptable styles for adult Poodles competing in conformation. The face, feet, hind end, legs, and tail are shaved closely, with the exception of poms on the ankles, hips, and end of the tail. The poms on the hips are often referred to as rosettes. The chest, neck, and head area of the dog are long and scissored into shape, rather than clipped. The hair on the dog’s head, known as the topknot, is pulled into a ponytail.

English Saddle Clip

The English Saddle Clip is the other style that is allowed in the show ring for adult Poodles. The front half of the dog is trimmed similarly to the continental clip. The tail and ankle poms are also the same, but there are additional poms on the dog’s knees. Instead of the hip rosettes of the continental clip, this area is trimmed into a sort of short blanket shape.

Puppy Clip

For puppies under a year old, the only style accepted in the conformation ring is the puppy clip. This is also the most popular style for pet Poodles. With this style, the face, feet, and base of tail are shaved closely, much like with continental and English Saddle clips. The dog’s body is trimmed to roughly the same length all over. The dog’s topknot is long and rounded and the ears are left long but tidy.

Sporting Clip

The sporting clip is also a popular style for pet and sporting dogs. It’s one of the more low-maintenance clips because the hair is kept shorter than in the other styles. The face, feet, and base of the tail are clipped closely, and the dog’s topknot is trimmed to an appropriate length. The rest of the body and legs are trimmed to the same length, usually less than an inch long. This clip is ideal for owners who don’t want to spend hours brushing their dog each week. This clip is not allowed in the conformation ring, but is acceptable for Poodles competing in other sports.

Lamb Clip

Another popular and relatively low-maintenance style for pet Poodles is the lamb clip. As with other styles, the dog’s face, feet, and base of the tail are clipped short. The dog’s topknot is rounded and long enough to balance out the rest of the dog’s body. The body is clipped closely and the legs are left longer so that they resemble sturdy columns. The difference in lengths is blended so that the coat appears smooth with no harsh lines.

Other Creative Clips

With Poodles, there is no limit on the creativity you can express through your dog’s haircut. Some owners choose to keep the ears closely clipped, while other prefer long ears. There are even different styles of moustaches that you can try out on your dog. Unless you are competing in conformation, you can clip your Poodle into any style that works for you. The texture of the Poodle’s coat even allows it to develop cords, similar to breeds such as the Komondor and Puli, so if you are looking for a unique style you may want to try cording your dog’s coat. Corded Poodles can also compete in conformation, as long as their cords adhere to the continental or English Saddle clips.

Trimming the Nails

There are two methods of trimming your Poodle’s nails and which one you choose will be based on what works best for you and your dog. Traditional scissor-style nail clippers are the more popular method. Most groomers and veterinarians discourage owners from using guillotine-style nail clippers because they can crush and damage the nail. Nail clippers are easy to use and come in different sizes for different-size dogs. The downside to nail clippers is that you can inadvertently cut the nail’s blood supply, or quick, rather easily if you aren’t careful. The other method of nail trimming is to use a nail grinder. Nail grinders are a small electric tool that grinds your dog’s nails down just a layer at a time. This can make it easier to keep an eye on the nail’s quick to make sure you don’t go too short. Grinders also make it possible to round off the dog’s nails, reducing the chances of you or your furniture getting scratched. The downside is that the grinder’s spinning head can easily grab hold of a Poodle’s long hair, so care must be taken to keep the hair out of the way. Some dogs are uncomfortable with the noise and feel of the grinder and some don’t like the pressure on their nails from the clippers, so you may want to try both methods to see which one your dog prefers.

Don’t Cut to Much

Poodle hair cutBefore you trim your Poodle’s nails, take a look to see if you can locate the quick inside the nail. If your dog has dark or black nails, you may not be able to see it. If you can see the quick, take note of how far down the nail it extends and try not to cut this far into the nail when you trim it. You’ll also want to make sure that your Poodle is adequately restrained before you start, especially if this is a new experience for him. A wiggly Poodle is difficult to trim and can hurt himself or you. An elevated surface may also make things easier for you, especially with Toy and Miniature Poodles. A grooming table with an arm and lead is ideal. Regardless of the method used, when you take your dog’s paw, brush back any hair that could get caught or make it difficult to see. With your grinder or clipper, take just a small layer off the nail at a time, rather than one big cut. As you trim, you may begin to see a dark circle developing in the center of the nail. When you see this dark circle, stop trimming. This is the end of the quick and if you cut any further, you will find blood. If your dog is new to nail trimming and has stood patiently for you, praise and reward him. You want to make this a positive experience so he’ll behave again in the future.

Importance of Regular Nail Trimming

Your Poodle’s nails will need to be trimmed regularly, but the exact time frame will differ depending on how fast his nails grow and where you walk him. Dogs who are walked on pavement will often grind their nails down enough that they don’t need trimmed that often. Dogs who exercise on soft surfaces such as sand or grass may need more frequent nail trims. Some owners choose to trim their dogs every week or two, while other do it monthly. It’s up to you how often you trim your dog’s nails, but keep in mind that long nails can have an impact on the dog’s ability to walk comfortably, so be sure to keep them at an appropriate length. If you are struggling to trim your dog’s nails yourself, you may want to take him to your vet or groomer for regular trims or ask them for advice. Nail trims are typically quite inexpensive, so many owners just opt to have someone else do it for them.

Brushing their Teeth

As with your own teeth, the only real way to make a difference is to brush them daily. Daily brushing will help prevent the buildup of plaque and tartar and increase the length of time between professional dental cleanings. Excess tartar can cause painful inflammation in your dog’s gums and release harmful bacteria into his bloodstream. He can develop painful abscesses, leading to tooth loss and systemic infections. However, periodontal disease is easily preventable with regular at-home dental care. With practice, the process of brushing your dog’s teeth will only take a few minutes and can easily fit into the busiest of daily routines.

Toothbush and Tooth Paste Options

You will find a variety of toothbrushes and toothpastes at your local pet store or favorite online retailer. Toothbrushes come in a range of sizes and shapes to suit every type of dog. Most doggy toothpastes are flavored to encourage them to tolerate and even enjoy the process. Try out a few different types to see what works best for you and your dog. You may prefer silicone toothbrushes that slip over your finger, or you may want one that’s shaped more like your own toothbrush. Your dog may not enjoy getting his teeth brushed at first, but with consistency and positive reinforcement, he will learn to stand or sit patiently while you work.

Professional Teeth Cleanings

Even if you brush your dog’s teeth daily, he will still need to see his veterinarian for professional dental cleanings. Most vets recommend cleanings every six to 12 months. Small dogs have a tendency to build up tartar more quickly than larger dogs, so Toy and Miniature Poodles may need more frequent cleanings than Standard Poodles. Your dog’s diet and whether he chews on toys or treats will also affect how often he needs his teeth cleaned. It’s best to ask your veterinarian for specific advice on your dog’s dental care schedule.

Cleaning Ears and Eyes

Poodles can be prone to ear infections because of their long, hanging ears and the hair that often grows in the ear canal. Moisture can have a huge impact on your dog’s ears so be sure to clean his ears after every bath or swim. Some groomers and vets also recommend plucking the hair from the ear canal to aid in the circulation of air in the ear. If you notice your dog scratching at his ears, or his ears appear to be red or swollen, it may be time to visit your veterinarian. A simple ear swab will tell your vet whether the infection is due to yeast or bacteria. Treatment usually consists of an ear wash, medication, and possibly antibiotics.

Poodle hair drying
Photo Courtesy – Lonnie Clay

When choosing an ear cleaner, avoid cleaners that include alcohol. Alcohol can cause a burning sensation, especially on inflamed, irritated ears. Soak a cotton ball in your chosen ear cleaner and squeeze out the excess. Use the wet cotton ball to wipe around your dog’s ear canal. Use your finger to wipe the cotton ball as far down your dog’s ear canal as you can without hurting him. Your finger is too large to do any damage, so as long as you are gentle, you shouldn’t hurt your dog. If his ear is infected, he may be more sensitive, so you may need to be extra gentle. Do not use cotton swabs as they are small enough to reach deep into ear and you may seriously injure your dog’s ears. Be sure to wipe up any excess cleaner with a dry cotton ball when you are done.

Some Poodles, especially Toys, are prone to tearstains under the eyes. Larger Poodles can also develop tearstains, but they are more common in small dogs. Tearstains are caused by an overgrowth of yeast and you may notice reddish-brown discoloration and an unpleasant smell. Although there’s no way to completely prevent tearstains, they are easy to manage. Clipping your Poodle’s face short can help, but so can regular cleaning. Shampooing this close to your dog’s eyes is not a good idea, but there are plenty of safe products to use in this area. As with ear cleaning, wet a cotton ball in your chosen eye cleaner and simply wipe away the moisture below your dog’s eyes. Frequent cleaning will prevent yeast buildup and reduce the staining and odor.

When Professional Help is Necessary

Adult Standard Poodle sitting
Photo Courtesy – Anita Wright

Professional help is available whenever you want it. If you don’t want to do any of your dog’s grooming and your budget allows, you can have a professional groomer bathe, brush, and clip your dog. If you’d rather do everything yourself, you can also ask a professional for guidance on the proper products and techniques. You may find that you don’t mind brushing your dog at home, but the thought of clipping him makes you uncomfortable. Plenty of Poodle owners would rather have someone else do the dirty work of caring for their dog’s coats, so don’t be afraid to give your local groomer a call.

Groomers are also experienced with difficult dogs. They know how to calm an anxious dog and get the job done with a gentle touch. Many groomers welcome difficult dogs because they know that they can gain the dog’s trust, and after a few grooms they become much easier to handle. It can be helpful to take your dog to the same groomer every time, so they can develop a relationship. Your dog may be a bit nervous the first couple time he visits the groomer, but soon he’ll be excited to see his new friend and be pampered.

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