Grooming with clippers for beginners

Clipping their own dog is usually where most owners draw the line.

However, given a bit of preparation and practice, clipping a dog is definitely achievable at home by just about anyone. Though perhaps not to the same standard as a professional.

In this quick guide we will cover some of the things you need to know before you start going to town on your dog.

Holding the clippers

Avoid holding the clippers in the palm of your hand as it doesn’t allow for an adequate level of control and you run the risk of cutting or nicking the dog.

Instead, hold the clippers in your hand much like you would a pencil, between the thumb and fingers. Try to balance the weight of the clippers equally between each end, grasping them roughly in the middle in order to keep your wrist firm but flexible allowing for greater wrist movement and finesse.

Position yourself in a way that will allow you to pull the clippers toward you as you work for maximum control. 

Tipping the blade

As you work it’s important to maintain a degree of “tip” between the blade and the dog.

Imagine a quarter circle protruding up away from the dog's body, 90 degrees (top of the line) to 180 degrees (bottom right).

Generally speaking the closer the blade cuts, the higher up the quarter circle you need to tip the blade.

So a #40, #30 and guard combs should be positioned at a 180 degree angle, almost flush with the dog’s body. A #15 blade at 130 degrees, a #10 at 140 degrees and so on.

Setting the coat up for clipping

Before you start clipping it’s important the fur is clean and dry.

When drying a coat in preparation for clipping keep in mind that the coat should ideally be as straight as possible. Preferably with no curls or waves.

Back brushing

As the name suggests, back brushing is when you basically brush the coat against the grain to get it to stand up and expose the underlying bulk of the fur.

When back brushing, the whole pad of the brush should touch the skin but keep the pressure light to avoid scraping and potentially hurting the dog.

Back brush the coat once and make a pass with the clippers to clip most of the bulk then back brush a second time to achieve a smoother finish.

Body roll

For breeds of the drop-coat variety, i.e. Shih Tzus and Yorkshire Terriers, a technique known as a “body roll” is often more effective than back brushing when using a medium to long guard comb.

Essentially, the body roll is when you stimulate the dog to make them shake causing the coat to stand up, setting in its most natural position.

Sometimes a dog will naturally shake itself when placed on the table, however, if they don’t you may gently blow in their ear to bring on a natural shake.

An alternative to this would be to stand behind the dog and grasp a small area of the coat low down on either side of the rib cage. Quickly and gently tug one side and then the other to make the skin and coat rock back and forth.

Clipper burn

Clipper burn is a result of clipping too close to the skin or in one area too much. The skin becomes red and inflamed, not to mention fairly uncomfortable for the dog.

Making sure your clipper blades are sharp is one of the best ways to avoid clipper burn. As is your technique when clipping – move at a slow but steady pace.

Clipper burn is usually best treated with a soothing ointment or spray designed to treat it.

Clipper blades

Fine Tooth Blades

You can tell a fine tooth blade by the letter F, i.e. 4F, 7F.

Fine tooth blades are best for finer and softer coats (fluffy breeds), and leave the coat with an even and smooth finish.

They work best on a coat that is well-kept; regularly brushed and clipper trimmed, but aren’t very effective in trimming dogs that are matted or with very thick undercoats near the skin.

Fine tooth blades are generally recommended for people new to grooming.

What's the difference between ‘F’ and ‘FC’?

F and FC blades are the same thing, it's just that some brands call them F, and some call them FC.

Skip Tooth

A skip tooth blade is designed to feed hair into the cutting blade more effectively making them better for rough trimming prior to washing and for dogs with matted or thick fur close to the skin.

While they may also be used to deliver a finished cut you will generally end up with a more layered look, albeit still neat and tidy.

These types of blades require more experience to use properly and safely.

Blade materials

Most clipper blades for dogs are made from stainless steel or ceramic, and are infused or finished with elements such as titanium, carbon, silver or chrome. Different materials and elements give the blades varying properties.

Carbon-infused steel, for example, gives the blade a harder cutting surface that requires less sharpening. A chrome finish provides a degree of rust resistance. Silver is used for its antimicrobial properties to help limit the growth of bacteria and mold.

Ceramic blades generally stay a lot cooler than steel blades when used over long periods as they conduct less heat.

Clipper blade edgings

Clipper blades for dog grooming come in a number of different edges designed to suit a number of different purposes.

Ultra edge blades made of carbon infused steel provide a harder cutting surface to help extend the life of the blade.

Ceramic edge blades usually stay a lot sharper for longer as opposed to steel edged blades in addition to staying cooler.

Show edge blades are designed to create a smooth finish on the coat without leaving tracks. As the name suggests, they are primarily used on dogs competing in the show ring.

Wide blades are becoming increasingly popular with commercial dog grooming as they allow for increased speed while maintaining good results. Traditionally these blades were developed for horses and other large animals with only size being produced. Today, wide blades are available in a number of sizes, i.e. 7F through to 4F.

How to determine the length of blade to use?

Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that the higher the number of blade, the more fur it will cut off.

The type of coat you are clipping and the area of the body play a role in selecting a blade. (this is a good resource showing preferred blades by breed)

Essentially, for areas which require special attention such as the ears, paws, genitals and inner thighs it is generally recommended to use a #10.

In hot climates or during the summer a shorter trim may be preferable, in which case a #7F is a good option.

Clipper blade to length reference table

Blade number


Target length

Recommended coat type



1/2" long (13 mm)

Terrier type (harsh coated)



1/2" long (13 mm)

Wide variety



5/16" to 3/8" long (9.5 mm)

Terrier type (harsh coated)



5/16" to 3/8" long (9.5 mm)

Wide variety



1/4" long (6 mm)

Good for overall clipping and matted fur



1/4" long (6 mm)

Matted fur



1/8" long (3.2 mm)




1/8" long (3.2 mm)

Great for a wide variety of dogs, especially terrier and sporting types.


Close cutting length

3/16" long (2.8 mm)



Close cutting length

5/64" long (2 mm)



Close cutting length

1/16" long (2 mm)



Close cutting length

3/64" long (1.2 mm)



Very close cutting

1/50" long (0.5 mm)



Extra-fine cutting

1/100" long (0.25 mm)



Ultra-fine cutting

1/125" long (0.25 mm)



Close cutting

1/32" long (0.79 mm)

Clipping between the toes and feet