How did we ever live without the metal combs? Not only do they save time, but they also make our work more consistent. And with the longer lengths, latest wide blades, and wide comb attachments, it just keeps getting better.
When using combs, you need to ensure that the dog’s coat is clean, rinsed and thoroughly brushed to achieve the ideal finish. Sometimes a good finishing spray can help condition the coat, so the attachments guide the hair even better.
Another key to using combs is to remove the dead undercoat of the dog you are grooming. If there is excess dead layer left, it will not allow the accessory to pass smoothly. Dead hair is normally what gets caught between the blade and the comb. Now there are times when I can run 1½” longer. the comb attachment reverses the legs of a standard poodle before brushing, but that’s normally with a regular client between three and six weeks. The trick to getting by is to condition the coat, use a sharp blade under the attachment and make sure your clipper’s blade lock is working – otherwise the blade and comb will come loose.
For the majority of the dogs I groom, I brush them completely before using my accessories. If a gray dog comb runs smoothly through the coat, I’m usually good to go. If it doesn’t go through easily, I’ll spray the coat with a finishing spray and use an undercoat rake on the area – yes, even on poodles and especially doodles.
Another key factor for a clean cut comb is to not only use a sharp blade, but also a blade of the right size. When all we had were plastic comb attachments, we could use anything from a #40 blade to a #9 blade. With the metal comb attachments, however, you can’t use a #40 blade as the way it lines up with the teeth of the metal comb attachment will cause your blade teeth to break off. Use a #9, #10, #15, or #30 blade under the metal combs and you should be fine.
There are a number of reasons why you might feel the guide slipping or catching the coat between the blade and comb. It may not be the blade or the attachment, but rather the blade drive of your mower that is the problem. When the blade drive is worn, your blade’s knife isn’t pushed as far back and forth and doesn’t slide as far over the teeth causing it to drag or even streak. I find the wear is more noticeable when using the comb attachments compared to using a single blade.
When you find the comb is snagged, first make sure the entire undercoat is brushed and combed. Then check your blade and blade drive by switching to another mower to see if it cuts better than the other mower. If there is no change, I would take a new blade and try it on the mower I started with. If it still lags, it’s time to replace my mower’s blade drive. Last Christmas I was so busy that after going through all of these steps and realizing that all my hard drives needed to be changed, I pulled out the old reliable corded mower. Sad but true!
Using comb attachments makes life easier in many ways, including helping you accomplish what the breed standard states or what will make the dog you’re working on look more proportionate when trimming the body. For example, when working on a slab side dog that should have a nicely arched rib, you’re going to want to create the nicely arched rib with hair. It doesn’t require much thought; you know you need more hair on the sides of the dog than on the back or chest. In this case, I’ll go over the body first with the longer comb (say 1 inch), then I’ll come back and use a ½ inch. Comb over the topline and underside or chest to blend into the side layer.
In fact, I’ve now incorporated steps to minimize my blending and finishing work. I start by clipping the body with the longer blade to add or create a rib spring. Then I cut the legs normally, leaving one or two combs longer than the body. I’m going to invert first, then use a finishing spray and comb up and through the coat. Then the second time on the legs is done with the laying of the coat or down. Now I’ve been all over the dog with my comb attachments. I will then use my 10 inch. poodle comb, spray again with finishing spray and comb the entire coat in one go. I put the shorter comb I used on the chest and topline, and I remove the coat from my corners, inside all four legs and underarms, blending to create parallel straight lines.
This passage on the dog is to finish and blend. When I’m done, the dog needs very little scissor work to finish it. Remember one important thing: you should always follow the coat growth pattern, whether you go with or against the coat pattern or growth pattern. This is important to avoid lane lines.
Go back first
Another great tip that I use daily for many breeds with flat coat types is to use the combs in reverse first. Start by taking a comb attachment a size or two longer than the desired length you planned when cutting with the coat layer, and work in reverse. This saves you from having to comb the coat multiple times to get your finished product. It is faster to go reverse first with the longer comb than to use the original blade length choice with the grit. Remember to spray the coat with a finishing spray or water, then paint upwards and against the coat before doing your second pass. I usually only go over the dog twice using this method. The finish is normally very clean and natural looking.
If I feel a drag in reverse, I’ll take an undercoat rake and pass it once. It lays better and the dead coat I take out that day is a rug less tomorrow.
An example would be a #4f bladed teddy bear trim with comb attachments on the legs. I would use a ⅝-in. or ½ in. attaching the comb in reverse/against the coat coat once and use a #4f blade with the coat coat. This leaves a clean, even finish, which lasts longer because you’re lifting the coat in reverse instead of going with the coat and smashing it down over and over again.
Another trick is to cut the dog’s legs after finishing with the combs upside down before using the #4f blade to go over the body with the coat coat. Combing them out before doing your second pass will give you great blending and a faster finish.
Another favorite trick I use for some of my poodle lamb trims is to use a longer comb. For example, I’m going to use a 2-in. comb attachment on a perfectly brushed top knot, or the 1 ½ in. comb accessory on small dogs. I normally blend all the way down the neck, only going with the coat layer. While doing this, make sure your head is parallel to the ground. Then, cut your bun as usual. It speeds things up.
I also use the longest attachment to deal with long haired tails, including those of a poodle. An example might be to use a 2-in. attachment of the comb with the growth of the coat, then scissors. Another good example is a Shih Tzu teddy bear trim, where I trim the lower two-thirds of the ears with a #3f blade on the outside and a #10 blade on the inside. Then I round the head with a ¾ inch comb with and against the coat layer. For the body, I’ll use the ⅝-in. against, then a #3f or #4f with the lay of coat. I normally use the same comb attachment I used on the head and run the comb attachment I used on the legs over the tail, with the lay, leaving a pipe cleaner effect.
As you can see, metal combs can be incredibly useful in a variety of situations you will encounter in the salon. If you haven’t already, you have to try them. And remember: practice makes perfect. BP
Chris Pawlosky has been a Certified Master Groomer, Professional Trainer, Breeder, Grooming Show Judge and successful pet store and grooming store owner (The Pet Connection) since 1985. For 20 years she was responsible National Training for Oster Professional Products, where she developed new educational initiative materials to educate in schools and conventions around the world. Pawlosky is currently working with Judy Hudson to produce the Grooming Teachers – a service through which the two industry veterans share their many years of grooming, competing, conditioning and handling dog shows with groomers across the country. through Facebook and through an interactive website where visitors can access webcasts and videos on all things grooming.