When a wire-hair terrier is groomed for a conformation show by a professional groomer or handler, the hair is not cut, it is plucked. That is, hairs are removed (no more than five or six at a time) by pinching a tuft of hair between the thumb and forefinger, or thumb and middle finger, of one hand. The other hand is used to hold the skin in the plucking area taunt to facilitate the plucking, which is done with a quick wrist movement.

This is a long, tedious procedure, particularly with the larger terrier breeds such as the Airedale. Plucking gives a much more natural appearance as only the mature, or "ripe" hairs come out with the plucking. These hairs are the ones that, in the natural state, would fall out by the process of shedding. The new growth, with a slight irregular length, stays in the coat. It is not necessary to pluck the coat of a companion dog, although repeated clipping will eventually result in a paler, softer coat. This is undesirable in a show dog but of little importance for a non-competition animal.

The grooming procedure detailed below is a semi-professional one. It will help make your dog look much better than if you hack at his coat with a scissors or shave him down to the skin.

The Wire-Hair Fox Terrier is the breed described here; the same procedure applies to the following terriers : Airedale, Lakeland, Schnauzer, and Welsh.

What you will need

Buy the best equipment you can afford, particularly the clippers. A wire-hair coat, often likened to a cocoa doormat, is incredibly harsh. The $30 clipper set sold in big discount stores might be okay for a poodle; for a wire-hair terrier you need a clipper with a proper motor, not a vibrator. The Oster ™ "Golden A5" is a popular choice.

Clipper sets are generally sold with two removable blades, but you should have three : fine, medium and coarse. In the Oster™ brand these are marked No. 10, No. 7 and No. 4. There will be instructions on how to keep the clipper and the blades clean and oiled; follow them.

The clipper and blades will be your biggest expense, but you also need good scissors. Vendors at a dog show sell high quality grooming shears and the other specialized ones you will need. Three pairs are recommended : a long-bladed grooming scissors such as your hairdresser uses, a pair of thinning shears with a medium coarse blade, and a small pair of trimming scissors with rounded tips which are used for removing ear hair. Keep your scissors clean and dry. If they do not come with a case, keep them wrapped in a bit of felt when not using them. Do not use them for anything but grooming.

The only other items you really need are a flat brush, a wire-toothed comb, and a pair of nail clippers. It is okay to buy these in the pet section of your supermarket.

One other item could be very useful : a professional picture of a champion of your dog's breed. Cut it from the pages of a dog magazine and pin it up near your grooming area. It will give you an idea of what your dog should look like when you are finished.

Finding a place to groom your dog

Grooming parlors use a waist-high table covered with a non-slip rubber mat. It is equipped with an adjustable stand to which is clipped a show lead that holds the dog's head up and keeps him from moving around. You probably will not have this at home.

You can cover your washer and dryer with a piece of marine plywood which is a bit longer than the two appliances. A strip of rubber floor runner gives a non-skid surface. The solid piece of wood keeps hair from falling alongside of and between the two units.

It is a good idea to groom the dog while he is standing on a table because a) - it is easier for you, b) - it allows you to step back to see what your work looks like, and c) - it puts you (and not the dog) in charge of the situation. This is where those commands like "Stand" and "Stay" and "NO" that you learned in obedience class come in handy.

Before you start

Bathe the dog and let the coat dry. Do not attempt to comb out a wet coat as this breaks the hair. If you have been brushing the coat once a week, it will be relatively easy to brush it out after it has dried.

Do not tug at matted clumps of hair with the comb. If you hit a snag due to matted hair, try to work it out gently, holding down the skin around the snag with your free hand. Your dog will appreciate this.

If the snag is really stubborn, you can cut it out with the scissors, particularly if it is in the "underarm' section just behind the forelegs. Be careful in cutting hair around the mouth, as this is needed for the beard and mustache. The same holds true for the front legs (entire length) and the back legs from the stifle down : this hair, called "furnishings", should be left long and full. This hair is different than the wiry hair on the body, it is actually a part of the soft undercoat. Furnishings are always left long to give a better appearance to the dog.

Clipper work

Starting with the coarse blade, and always moving in the direction the hair grows, clip the hair on the dog's back. Start at the base of the neck and work towards the tail (do not clip the tail). Clip the sides to the bottom of the rib section and the beginning of the "tuck-up". Clip the chest from the base of the neck to the area between the front legs. Do the hips down as far as the stifle. Comb the hair against the direction of growth and go over it again.

Switch to the medium blade. Clip the back of the neck, moving in the direction the hair grows. Lift the clipper slightly when approaching the base of the neck so the length of the neck hair is blended into the longer hair on the back. Starting at the hip joint, clip downward toward the stifle. Fix an imaginary line between the stifle and the hock. This is where the clipping of the leg hair stops, below that are the furnishings. Comb and clip again, as for the back.

Clip the hindquarters and beneath the tail, working carefully around the anus. The hair here should be very short so excrement does not cake in this area. You may want to use a small trimming scissors. For a female, it is a good idea to support the stomach with the palm of your free hand and keep your thumb over the sex to avoid unwanted cuts. If your male is castrated or is a monorchid it is tempting to try to mask the fact by leaving long hair in this area. Don't. It looks messy and doesn't fool anyone, human or canine.

Holding the dog's chin firmly in your free hand, position the clipper just behind the soft part of the nose. Clip straight up towards the eyes, past the eyebrows, and continue the length of the head to just between the ears. Do this in one firm, steady motion; your dog will shut his eyes as the clipper approaches.

Clip the area around the ears, then clip the cheeks from below the eyes to the jaw line. Do not clip the facial hair between the corner of the mouth and the tip of the nose except when clipping the top of the nose as directed in the above paragraph. Starting at the ends of the jaws, clip the front of the neck downward to the base, blending to the longer hair previously clipped with the coarse blade. Do not clip the beard on the chin.

Change to the fine clipper blade. Holding your dog's front paws in your free hand, lift his front legs so he is standing on his hind feet. Run the clipper up the inside of the back legs from the stifle to the area around the penis (for a male) or the entire stomach (for a female). Pay attention to the nipples for both sexes. Clip forward to the bottom of the rib cage where the coarser hair begins. For a male, have him stand on all four feet and then pull the foreskin over the tip of the penis with your free hand. Clip the scraggly hair on the shaft. You can snip the hairs from the end of the foreskin with the small trimming scissors.

Clip the outside surface of the ears, working from the top downward to the tip. There is a double fold of skin at the back of the ear; pay attention not to nick this. Clip the hair over the jawbone at the base of the ear. On the inside of the ear, start at the tip and clip downward. Use the blunt-tipped trimming scissors to clean hair growing in the ear cavity.

Scissor work

You are almost finished. All that remains are the tail, head, legs and feet. Using the long-bladed grooming shears, cut the hair on the tail as close to the skin as possible. Cut straight across the end; do not leave hairs extending from the tip of the tail. Use the scissors to blend the long back hair at the base of the tail.

Comb the eyebrows forward over the eyes. Starting at the outer edge of the eyebrow, cut straight across the eye as closely as possible. Your dog will automatically shut his eyes when you do this. If necessary, clean hair from the corner of the eye with the small trimming shears.

Use the thinning shears to thin the mustache and beard if they are especially bushy. Comb the hair around the mouth forward. Holding your dog's muzzle firmly with your free hand, cut the beard and mustache evenly with the end of his nose. Use the short trimming scissors to cut scraggly hairs around the soft tip of his nose. You may also want to trim along the upper edge of the lip, leaving the outer hairs of the mustache long.

Using the long grooming shears, trim the edges of the ears by holding the length of the edge between the index and middle finger of your free hand, then guiding the scissors by resting them on the knuckles of your fingers.

Brush out the furnishings on the legs again. A terrier's legs should look round and solid. The feet should be entirely covered with hair. Normal practice is to not clip or cut the furnishings at all. However, if the furnishings are "ripe" or if your dog romps in mud, you may want to trim the furnishings a bit. "Ripe" means "ready to shed"; when the shedding actually starts the furnishings will sometimes be uneven, or ragged. In grooming circles this is called "rotten" (beyond ripe). During this period a dog does not look his best and is generally not shown. Furnishings like this, being undercoat, are often cut quite short.

If you are going to trim the furnishings, use very short cuts with the grooming shears. Comb out after every few cuts. It is better to take the furnishings down a fraction of an inch at a time. You may also want to use the blunt-end trimming shears to remove unwanted hair from between the toes. Press your thumb firmly into the bottom of the foot, into what would be the arch in a human foot; this will spread the toes. If the hair covering the toes is really long, you may cut it on a level with the bottom of the foot. Never expose the nails; that is for poodles. Finally, cut the hair in the "armpits" as this is where most matting occurs.

Nail Clipping

Clip the nails, particularly the dewclaws. Reach from behind the dog and pull the foot back towards you. If he cannot see what you are doing he will be more tractable. If he gets hysterical or if you are squeamish about this, it might be better to have a vet clip the nails.

Above all, if you make a mistake remember the dog groomer credo : "Hair grows".


When I was much younger I wanted to own a full service dog kennel. To learn the business, I spent my free weekends and holidays working in one for more than two years. This is where I learned to groom. I never did own a kennel but since then I have always groomed my own dogs and those of friends. Knowledge is never wasted.

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