How to Full Scissor a Poodle by Hand
Poodles require regular grooming and haircuts, and some professional groomers prefer to use scissors instead of clippers for the job. It's also possible to do a scissors-only cut yourself at home, but you have to have the right tools and master a cutting technique that is fairly specific to poodles. So, stick to simple styles, and consider watching a pro do the job a few times first!
Choosing the Right Tools
1. Use a set of sharp, well-maintained dog grooming scissors.
Buy scissors intended for cutting dog fur, not human hair. Always have at least some straight grooming shears to do poodle haircuts—you can use these alone if necessary. However, it's also helpful to have curved scissors for curved cuts (such as shaping around the feet) and rounded safety tip scissors for very sensitive areas like the face.
- Straight grooming shears are typically 7–8 in (18–20 cm) long.
- Before each cutting session, squeeze 3-4 drops of scissors oil on a clean cloth and rub it over the blades and hinges. You can buy the oil along with the scissors at pet supply stores.
2. Set up a comfortable workstation with your tools in reach.
Choose a table that is at a comfortable height for you to work at, and set it up in a location that will be easy to clean—like a bathroom or warm garage. Lay a reusable mat on the table that you can easily clean off, or a plastic or paper tablecloth that you can throw away afterward.
- A non-slip rubber mat is the best option for your table, as it offers secure footing for your dog. For example, you might use a rubber shower mat.
- Set up the table so that your scissors are within easy reach, along with a grooming brush with metal pins, a slicker brush (for removing matted fur), and a grooming comb—all of these are available at pet supply retailers.
- Never leave your dog unattended while it's on the table, even for just a few moments. It may jump down from the table, which can cause injuries, including possible broken bones.
3. Start with clippers if you need to reduce your cutting time and hand strain.
Scissor cutting a poodle without the help of electric clippers can easily take 20-30 minutes or more. That's a long time for your poodle to remain calm and still, and a lot of snipping of the scissors. So, even if you want to finish the cut with scissors, consider trimming down the coat with clippers first.
- You might, for instance, go over the entire coat with the #1 length guard attached to the clippers. This should create a coat length that's pretty close to the typical Kennel Clip.
- Run the clippers against the direction of hair growth in smooth, even strokes.
- Some dogs may not like the sound or feel of clippers initially, but most will get used to it over time. In some cases, you may have no choice but to resort to full scissor cutting.
Preparing Your Poodle for a Haircut
1. Comb out your dog's tangles before you give it a bath.
If your pup has any knots in its hair, they will shrink up once they get wet, making it difficult to comb them out. To avoid this problem, work your grooming comb through your dog's hair before you bathe it. Move the comb in the direction of the hair growth, and make sure its coat is tangle-free.
- You can pick out knots and mats with a pin brush, if the comb doesn't work on its own.
Bathe your poodle in warm water with doggie shampoo. Add around 6 in (15 cm) of warm water to a tub or basin, then wet your poodle thoroughly with a cup or sprayer attachment. Squeeze out a small dollop of dog shampoo and massage it gently into your poodle's fur—be extra careful around the face. Rinse out the shampoo with clean water.
- Never use human shampoo on dogs. Buy dog shampoo from a pet supply store.
3. Dry your poodle's coat thoroughly with a towel and blow dryer.
Immediately after the bath, dry your poodle by gently pressing a soft towel against its body. Then, use a blow dryer on the low or medium heat setting, waving it back and forth over the entire coat (while avoiding the face). You want the coat to be only the slightest bit damp when you cut it.
- Dab the poodle's fur with the towel to remove surface moisture—don't rub and brush with the towel, or you'll create knots and mats.
4. Brush through the coat and remove any mats caused by bathing.
Use the pin brush to brush through your poodle's coat as usual. Work from head to tail, always brushing in the direction of hair growth.
- Whenever you come across matted fur, try to work it free with the pin brush or grooming comb. Next, try the slicker brush, which will cut through most mats. If necessary, cut the mat away with the grooming scissors.
Using the Proper Technique for a Simple Trim
1. Choose a simple, manageable haircut for scissor cutting.
There are dozens of recognized styles for cutting poodle hair, but it's best to stick to a simple style when scissor cutting. The Kennel Clip is probably the best choice, as the goal with this style is to trim the entire coat to a uniform, mid-range length.
- Another good option is the Puppy Clip, which is similar to the Kennel Clip, but leaves the hair a little longer and more poofy. Or, try the Fox or German Clips, both of which use a similar length to the Kennel Clip, but shave the hair on the tail and neck.
2. Visualize your cutting strategy before picking up the scissors.
It's hard to give a specific length for the typical full-scissor Kennel Clip, since it depends greatly on the individual poodle and its coat. Generally speaking, though, aim to trim the hair by roughly half its existing length. You can use a ruler or your finger to help guide you, but cutting poodle hair is more about visualizing, shaping, and adjusting the cut as you work.
- This is why it's beneficial to watch a professional groomer do the job a few times first!
- In terms of where to start, plan to go from the ankles up on each leg, then from either the backside to the neck or vice versa. Leave the feet, underside, genitals, and head for last (in that order), since these are sensitive areas.
3. Comb a section of hair against the grain before cutting it.
Poodle fur is fluffy and densely-curled, which means that it poofs out at all times. Before cutting a section with the scissors, use the comb to further lift and extend outward (or “fluff up”) that section. Use a few short, quick strokes of the comb to achieve this.
- If, for instance, you're working on one of the legs, fluff up all the hair on that leg, from above the foot to below the shoulder.
4. Point your scissors in the direction of hair growth when cutting.
In some ways, cutting poodle fur is more like trimming hedges than it is like cutting the free-flowing hair of many other dog breeds. This means you want to use the scissors to shape the coat as much as to trim the individual hairs. To do this shaping, follow the contours of the coat in the direction of hair growth with the scissors.
- You might occasionally cut against the grain (the direction of hair growth) to snip away any noticeably long patches, then do the bulk of your snipping in that section with the grain.
5. Remove small amounts of hair with short, quick snips of the scissors.
Do not try to lop off large chunks of fur with the scissors—you'll just end up with an uneven mess of a haircut. Instead, open the scissor blades only about 1 in (2.5 cm) apart for each snip, and keep the blades opening and closing quickly as you work. Snip off no more than about 0.125 in (0.32 cm) at a time, even if you want to trim more.
- Always remember—it's easy to trim off more hair as you go, but you can't put more back on!
- The constant movement means that scissor cutting can be very tiring for your hand. You may need to ice it down afterward!
6. Keep the dog calm and offer lots of praise.
It's difficult for any dog to remain still during grooming, and some poodles can be particularly anxious during haircuts. Whenever the dog moves, stop snipping immediately and offer praise like “Good girl—you're doing such a good job.” Resume cutting when they calm back down.
- If you can, ask a friend to keep your dog calm and under control while you do the grooming.
- Take your poodle out for a long walk before the bath and haircut. They'll be more calm and less energetic.
- In some cases, you may need to complete the haircut over multiple sessions.
Trimming Your Poodle Section by Section
1. Work your way down each leg to start the trim.
Comb against the grain of the leg hair to fluff up the coat, then snip against the grain (if needed) to cut away any particularly long patches. After that, work with your scissors pointed toward the dog's foot, snipping quickly and evenly to remove and shape the hair in small increments at a time.
- Scissor trimming a poodle requires continuous visualization and comparison of what you've cut so far and what needs to be cut. You want the coat on all 4 legs to end up with the same shape and contour, for instance. In all honesty, lots of practice is the only way to master this skill.
- Work on just the legs for now—leave the feet and armpits for later.
2. Keep trimming from hindquarters to neck, or vice versa.
It's up to you which end you want to start at. In either case, poof up the coat with the comb, snip against the grain as needed, and cut with the grain to do the bulk of your trimming and shaping.
- If you accidentally trim a small section too short, try to taper the surrounding hair so that the problem spot is less noticeable. Or, scissor trim the entire coat shorter to match.
3. Blend the tail into the body, or create a pom-pom on the tail.
With the typical kennel cut, a rounded pom-pom is shaped on the end of the tail, while the base of the tail is trimmed very short with clippers. However, if you want a simpler and scissors-only look, taper the length of the hair on the tail with the scissors. Match the length of the body at the base of the tail, and go shorter as you move toward the tip of the tail.
- To get the traditional pom-pom look, use electric clippers with the lowest guard setting to trim the base half of the tail, then use the curved and/or straight scissors to round off the hair on the other half.
4. Scissor your poodle's feet carefully, or resort to using clippers.
In most cases, poodle feet are shaved below the ankle using clippers with the lowest guard attached. If, however, you want to use just scissors on the feet, clip from the ankle downward and taper the length shorter as you work toward the bottom of the foot. Use the rounded safety tip scissors to trim any hair between the toes or around the foot pad.
- If you do decide to use clippers, shave from the ankle downward over the top and back of the foot, then slightly taper or round off the hair right above the ankle bone with scissors.
- You can use the straight scissors on the feet, but be extra careful not to snip or poke the sensitive skin between the toes or on the pads.
5. Work slowly and deliberately as you trim the underside of your poodle.
Most dogs are very sensitive to contact on their undersides and near their genitalia, so plan to stop and start regularly as you calm and reassure your poodle. In terms of cutting the hair, the process is generally the same as trimming the rest of the body—poof out the coat with the comb, then cut with the grain using quick, even snips.
- To access the armpits, you'll have to raise one leg at a time. Keep the dog's other feet securely on the table, and offer lots of encouragement and praise as you work.
- Unless you're very confident in your skills with the straight scissors, use the rounded safety tip scissors in the armpits and around the genitalia.
6. Shape and carefully trim the hair on the head and face to complete the cut.
There are many different styles you can choose for the hair on the head and face, but focus on creating symmetry and even shaping no matter the style you choose. Use the curved scissors to create an arc between the outer edge of each eye and the base of each ear—this will keep the hair out of the eyes. Also, if you want a pom-pom look on top of the head, use the curved scissors to shape that area as well.
- Use the rounded safety tip scissors to trim hair around and between the eyes, nose, and mouth. Work very slowly and carefully, and stop whenever your dog moves.
- The face is the toughest area to get “just right” as an amateur dog groomer. Watch a professional groomer work several times, and ask for advice and tips, before trying to do it yourself.
- If you use clippers, make sure the blade stays cool so you don't burn the dog's skin.
- Make sure you don't brush too hard—otherwise you can brush burn the dog.
- Be extra careful around the eyes and ears, so you don't poke or nick them with the scissors.