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Grooming the Kerry Blue Terrier

Grooming Kerry Blue Terrier


Grooming the Kerry Blue Terrier | The Kerry Blue Terrier has a single, non-shedding coat, which is soft, silky, and wavy. This coat type is found in no other breed, and is a major characteristic of correct Kerry type. A Kerry’s coat should never be back-brushed and blow-dried to resemble a Poodle pack! A single coat, such as a Kerry’s, absolutely cannot be stripped.

Characteristics and grooming of the head are unique to the Kerry; the fall between the eyes should never be removed!

These how-to-do-it instructions for correct Kerry Blue Terrier grooming are divided into three sections:

  1. Pre-Bath: Brushing and Combing the Kerry’s Coat;
  2. Bathing and Drying the Coat; and
  3. Trimming the Coat, Using both Clippers & Shears.

Use a firm-to-medium slicker (depending on the density of the coat) to brush the coat. Part the hair so that you can see the skin (Figure 1), and brush the coat, working loose any tangles or mats. I usually begin with the tail, holding the coat flat with one hand and brushing in the direction the coat grows, working from the tail to the top of the head. For the legs, back-brush from the skin out, beginning at the top of the leg, and brush to the base of the paw. Back-brush the fall, whiskers, and beard. After the coat has been thoroughly brushed, use a coarse comb in the same direction as you brushed, except for the fall, whiskers, and beard, which should be brushed forward towards the dog’s nose and then combed. Any small mats or tangles not removed by the slicker should come out. I find that the English-made Greyhound combs and English combs with a handle (such as PSI or Richter) work better than most American combs, which have thicker blunter teeth, as it’s more difficult to get down to the base of the skin and the hair tends to slip through them.

Grooming Kerry Blue Terrier
Figure 1. Hair Parted Showing the Skin

Brush again to remove coat loosened by the comb, and comb again using a medium comb. Unless the dog’s coat is very long or matted, it should be ready to bathe. Dogs with long or matted coats can be “roughed in”—clipped or scissored before bathing and then finished after they dry; scissor-finishing should only be done after the dog has been bathed and dried. I use long, heavier shears for “roughing in.”

Grooming Kerry Blue Terrier
Figure 2. Correct Coat Texture

I do not pluck ears, but flush them instead with an ear cleaning solution, and I do not squeeze anal sacs. I recommend that new clients have their dog’s ears and anal sacs checked by their veterinarian before I groom their dog; if necessary, the ears can be plucked (controversial, as many veterinarians feel that healthy ears do not need to be plucked) and the anal sacs emptied (again, controversial, because most dogs empty them with each stool). I will not groom dogs with infected ears or obvious skin infections.

Nails can be trimmed and ground before or after the bath. (I usually do this before bathing.) Using a 40 blade, I clip between the dog’s pads after it has been bathed, as dirty feet will dull and damage your blade.

Before bathing the Kerry, I usually clip the head and ears, underside of the tail, the belly, around the anus, around the vulva of a bitch, the sheath of a male, and around and on the scrotum (I use a 15 blade) of an intact male. (See TRIMMING THE COAT.)


Even if you have clipped the dog, make sure there are no mats or tangles in the coat before you bathe it!

Bathing and, especially, drying are critical in maintaining the Kerry’s correct coat texture. Before bathing, use a protective opthalmic ointment in the dog’s eyes. I do not use cotton plugs in the ears.

I recommend using a “blue” shampoo, which brightens color and removes or reduces yellow stains. A good shampoo will not strip out the oils in the coat and will leave it soft and shiny, with body. Use luke-warm water to wet (and rinse) the dog, then soap the neck first, followed by the tail and rear, the body, legs, and finally, the head, being careful not to get soap in the eyes or ears. The fall, whiskers, and beard should be thoroughly soaped.

When rinsing, all of the shampoo should be completely washed out (rinse the head first) and the coat squeezed to remove excess water before you apply the rinse. A proper rinse should give body to the coat in addition to leaving it soft and shiny. Although I dilute the rinse, I use it full-strength on the fall, whiskers, and beard, which makes them flatter and easier to comb out.

After the rinse has been thoroughly washed out of the dog’s coat, squeeze out excess water, let the dog shake a few times in the tub, wrap it in a towel, put it on a table, and use super-absorbent towels to remove most of the water. Then put the dog in a crate and use a cage drier set on medium or low to dry the dog. This will keep the correct wave in the dog’s coat. Do not use a blaster to remove water from a Kerry’s coat!

Grooming Kerry Blue Terrier
Figure 3. A Brushed and Combed Kerry

After the dog is dry, it should be brushed and combed before trimming. If you do not want to crate-dry the dog, damp-dry its coat using a hand dryer in the direction the coat grows, combing and brushing until the coat is dry. This will retain the wave, but in my opinion, crate-drying gives better results.

Not all Kerries have a good coat; some may have naturally wooly or fuzzy coats that lack wave; some coats are thin, thick and straight, or too curly. Curly coats can be brushed when damp in the direction the coat grows to relax the curves. Puppy coats are usually thinner than adult coats, and may have looser waves. You can see what kind of coat the dog has after it has been bathed and dried. It isimpossible to manufacture wave in a straight coat, make cottony or wooly coats silky, or harsh coats soft.

Grooming Kerry Blue Terrier
Figure 4. Ready for a Clip and Trim

The numbers provided here refer to blade size. These numbers are a guide to which lengths you (or the clients) prefer, and may vary with the type of coat, the time of year, and the amount of work the client wants to do to maintain the coat in between trims.

Note: I prefer to use different blade sizes rather than snap-on combs, and I use a specific set of blades on each dog that I groom.

Before the bath, clip the belly and around the anus and genitals. Use a 10 or 15 to clip the underside of the tail and around the anus and genitals (Diag. 2). Clip (10 or 15) the hair around the vulva of a female, and the belly, including the hair around two-three pairs of nipples; clip the belly of a male, including his sheath (scissor the tip of the sheath), and continue with a narrow strip forwards of the sheath (Diag. 2). If he is intact, clip the hair around and on the scrotum with a 15. (Note: Please use a cool blade!)

After the bath, clip (30 or 40) between the foot pads (Diag. 3); clip and grind the nails if necessary. Using the 15, clip a narrow strip between the hind legs down to approximately the level of the patella (“knee”), then continue with a 7 down to the hock. After the coat between the hind legs and the inside of the hocks has been scissored, there should be a straight line from the crotch down to the feet (Diag. 1).

A correct clip on the head and neck will immediately identify the dog as a Kerry! Clip the top and underside of the ears (30 or 40), including the base of the ear around the opening. Then flush the ears with an ear cleaner. You can use a 7 blade on the top of the head, but I prefer to scissor it, as a clipper can produce a “billiard ball” effect. Use a 10 or a 15 on the sides of the skull to the corner of the eye,leaving coat from the rear corner of the eye to the corner of the mouth. The underside of the neck is clipped with a 15 from the base of the ear, arching down almost to the tip of the sternum (breastbone), with the sides of the neck clipped to form a slight arch (Diag. 4 and 7). Looking at Diagram 4, you can see that the clipped area on the underside of the neck forms a V, which widens from the sternum up to the bases of the ears. Clip the underside of the jaw, past the hair follicle and forward to the corner of the lip.

Grooming Kerry Blue Terrier

Grooming Kerry Blue Terrier

Grooming Kerry Blue Terrier
Grooming the Kerry Blue Terrier

Never remove the fall, the long hair from between the eyes!
The fall extends from slightly behind the eyes, and should be thinned and shaped to lie flat from the top of the skull, between theeyes, and forward past the nose. Let the dog shake its head, and where the fall spreads out over the sides of the whiskers, point the shears towards the nose, trimming and thinning the fall to make a straight line on each side of the muzzle. When viewed from the top, the skull and foreface should be a rectangle that tapers slightly from the skull to the nose (Diag. 5). From the side, the head should appear flat from the occiput (rear of the skull) to the tip of the nose. For correct expression, the hair over the eyes should be tapered over the upper eyelid, shorter at the corner, and becoming gradually longer towards the center of the foreface where it blends in with the fall (Diag. 6).

Grooming Kerry Blue Terrier
Grooming the Kerry Blue Terrier

Clip the top of the neck from the occiput with a 3 3/4 blade, and gradually blend the coat into the back past the withers (top of the shoulders) with a 1-inch Geib blade. Then back-brush the coat on the neck and scissor it to give an arched appearance to the neck, and smoothly blend it into the coat on the back. Blend the clipped underside of the neck into the sides of the neck and shoulders. The shouldersshould be clipped (#5-15) so that they appear flat and blend into the neck. When looking down at the top of the dog, or from its front, the neck should gradually widen into the shoulders with no bulges; there should be straight lines from the neck down to the feet.

Grooming Kerry Blue Terrier
Grooming the Kerry Blue Terrier
Grooming Kerry Blue Terrier
Grooming the Kerry Blue Terrier

The body can be clipped with a 1-inch, 3 3/4, 4, 5, or 7 blade, depending on the length of coat the client wants. The back should be trimmed to appear level. It should not slope either up or down towards the tail, and should not have a dip or roach in it (Diag. 7). The front of the tail can be clipped (5 or 7) or scissored. Blend the underside of the tail in with the front. The tail should be as straight as possible (the longer the tail, the more curve), high set, and taper slightly from the base to the tip, which is rounded. The tail should not resemble a finger, a dagger, or a sausage!

The ribs should be almost flat, “deep rather than round,” and the coat on the brisket (chest) should be down to the elbows, following the curve of the brisket to the loin, and curved into the coat on the front of the hind legs (Diag. 7). Use a curved shear to round the coat on the ribs into the brisket; the Kerry should not have a skirt on its sides. The brisket is moderately deep; it and the loin are not exaggerated (as in a Greyhound).

Back-brush the legs and, using a 3 3/4 or 1-inch blade, lightly clip the coat below the shoulders and down the hips. Then scissor-finish the legs; the coat length should be longer than the body coat. When the dog is standing, facing you, there should be a space between between the front legs, approximately the width of a medium-sized male hand, that is in balance with the dog. The Kerry should not have a wide “bully” front or a narrow “two legs out of one hole” front. Trim the coat on the elbows so that they don’t stick out when the dog moves.

The coat on the front legs should be rounded, with a straight line from the shoulders down to the feet.

From the side, the coat on the hind legs should curve, showing the angulation of the rear legs (Diag. 7). There should be a “shelf ” below the tail, and the hocks should extend out behind the body when the dog is standing naturally. From the rear (Diag. 1), there should be a curve from the base of the tail down into the legs, which from the rear appears straight. There should be space between the hind legs. The coat on the inside of the hocks is usually trimmed short, but is longer on the back of the hocks, which are perpendicular to the ground (Diag. 1 & 7).

The coat should be long enough so that the feet are not visible; the pasterns should be straight. The coat should be rounded around the base of the front and hind feet (Diag. 8).

After the coat has been clipped and trimmed, lightly mist it and scissor to even it. Put the dog on the floor, let it shake, and scissor any loose hairs or bulges. You can use a damp sponge on the fall, the body coat, and lightly down the legs. I use water mixed with a squirt of conditioner to mist and sponge the coat. There are also products that can add body to the thinner coats.
Now you have a Kerry that looks like a Kerry should look!


There are differences between a pet trim and a show trim. For show trims, the body and legs are scissored rather than clipped, and the coat is usually longer based on the substance of the dog, its coat type, and its size.

In show trimming, a dog is initially observed both standing and moving, followed by a hands-on evaluation—usually more complete than that of a judge in the show ring. The purpose is to create an illusion of “the perfect” Kerry, both standing and moving, and you must know what its virtues are as well as its faults. A good trim will accentuate the former and hide the latter. A correct dog that is balanced, with a good head and length of neck, correct tailset and carriage, body and legs, and a correct coat, is easier to trim than one with a lot of problems to cover up. Kerries are a “moderate” breed. Look at the standard; that word is used over and over.

The head is an important component of Kerry type, so let’s begin there. “Long, but not exaggerated, and in good proportion to the rest of the body. Skull flat with very slight stop, moderate width between the ears, narrowing very slightly to the eyes. Foreface full… not falling away appreciably… little apparent difference between the length of the skull and foreface… Cheeks – Clean
and level…”

In other words, when looking down on the top of the head, you should see a rectangle that tapers slightly from the back of the skull to the nose (Fig. 7). If the dog is cheeky, shave the cheeks with a 40, allowing some hair to fill in below the cheeks. If the dog is skully, clip the skull with a 30 or 40, allowing 4-6 days for regrowth, then blend with a thinning shear.

Grooming Kerry Blue Terrier
Figure 7. Correct Front Trim on Head

Scissor the top of the skull, and pointing your shears forwards, lightly scissor the fall so that the entire head appears flat (Fig. 6). Avoid close clipping right before a show; that “eight ball” look will immediately draw the judge’s attention to the head. Pull the
whiskers out from each side and trim off the coat that is flaring out from the muzzle. You can also use thinning shears to reduce the volume of coat if the dog has thick furnishings. Scissor a line from the corner of the eye to the corner of the lip. Lightly scissor the coat under the eye, so when you look down on the head you will not see a bulge or an indentation below the eye. Clip under the jaw to the lip (right around that little hair follicle). If the dog has a short muzzle, you can clip a little further forward than that. Taper the beard so that it increases gradually in length and tapers to a point. For ashort-headed dog, long face furnishings that extend out from the nose will make the overall appearance of the head look longer. But a huge clump of untapered beard can make the head look short. The face furnishings should be in balance with the head and the rest of the dog. Avoid the “billy goat” look. From the side, the head should also appear rectangular, with the beard tapering gradually to the end of the whiskers.

Grooming Kerry Blue Terrier
Figure 6. Correct Side Trim on Head of Mature Kerry

The ears should be “…carried forward close to the cheeks with the top of the folded ear slightly above the level of the skull.” If the ears appear too low, the coat on top of the skull can be closely scissored. The tips of the ears and part of the leather should touch the side of the skull right above the corner of the eye. If the ears are too high (“flying”), leaving coat on the underside of the flaps could give the illusion that the tips are touching the skull. Trim closely around the edges of the ears, particularly if they are large.

Eyes: “Dark, small, not prominent…” Trim from the outside corner of the eye, tapering so that the coat gets longer as it reaches the inside corner. This will make a large or round eye look smaller, and the coat over the eye will make a light eye appear darker. (Diag. 6).

The Neck and Sternum (Fig. 8): The neck is “Clean and moderately long, gradually widening to the shoulders…” It should have a definite arch. Using a 15, clip from the underside of the jaw down the underside of the neck, and from the base of the ear down to—or just above—the tip of the sternum. If the dog has a long, clean neck, clip down to the sternum. A short neck can also be clipped that far down, unless the dog is ewe-necked and has a bulge above the sternum. In that case, clip down to approximately the middle of the bulge, and gradually taper the coat so that the neck appears straight from the head down to the toes. Even though the legs are naturally under the body, we fill in with coat to give an illusion of a straight line (the “straight terrier front”), even though the sternum slightly protrudes. Some trimmers are now showing the prominent sternum, with the forelegs slightly under the body, which is the case with the long-legged Kerry. The coat on the top of the neck graduallylengthens as the neck joins the withers, and is blended into the body. If the dog has an arched neck, well-laid-back shoulders, and a short body, the coat does not have to be overly long. With a short neck, the coat gradually lengthens over the withers into “the middle of the back,” which gives the illusion of a longer neck and shorter body. An arch can be created by clipping an exaggerated arch on the side of the neck and trimming the coat on the top of the neck (Fig. 5 and Diag. 7).

Grooming Kerry Blue Terrier
Figure 8. Properly Clipped Neck

The shoulders should be flat. Looking down at the dog, there should be a straight line from the top of the neck, which gradually widens; there should be a straight line from the shoulders to the front legs to the ground. For a heavy, bulging shoulder, scissor or clipper the shoulder flat, being careful to fill in with coat where the neck meets the shoulder.

The shoulders blend into the back, which should be “short, strong, and straight (level)…”

The back does not include the loin, which is that area from the end of the ribs to the point of the hip (ilium). The back plus the loin equals the body. Too many call a dog “long-backed” when the length is in its loin; the dog should more correctly be termed “long-bodied.” Body length is measured from the point of the shoulder to the “pin bone” (ischium) of the hip, which is below the tail and forms the “shelf.”


Trim the coat so that the body appears straight and level from where the shoulders blend into the back to the tail. If the tail is low-set, leave more coat on the front of it, blending the coat into the croup; the area from the ilium to the tail. Hold the dog’s tail up and blend in the coat; you should not see any puffiness or bulges, nor should you when the tail is relaxed.

Grooming Kerry Blue Terrier
Figure 5. The purpose is to create an illusion of ‘a perfect Kerry.

If the dog does not have a level topline, or if the back is roached or arched over the loins, you will have to trim the coat shorter over the roach, leaving it longer on either side of it.

The body coat should make the dog appear “well covered but tidy.” The length should be sufficient that the texture is obvious, but not so long that it flops around when the dog moves. If the dog is tall and/or well-muscled, the coat can be shorter, while a smaller or more refined dog can carry more coat to give the illusion of more substance or size.

The coat on the body should be blended into that on the ribs (“deep rather than round”); take more coat off a fat dog or one with barrel ribs, and blend the coat into the brisket. If the dog’s brisket reaches the elbows (it may not in puppies, immature dogs, and some adults), trim the coat shorter; if it doesn’t, leave the coat longer down to the elbows and between the front legs to give the illusion of a deep chest. Taper and blend the coat gradually into the loin. The Kerry should not appear “wasp-waisted” or have an exaggerated drop in chest with a high-curved loin as in a Greyhound. From above, there should be only a slight indentation over the loin. The Kerry’s body should not resemble a sausage!

The Front Legs: From the side, there should be a straight line from the shoulder down to the ground (or trim to show a slightly prominent sternum); from the front, a straight line from the neck to the ground. If the dog has a wide “bully” front, trim the coat short on the shoulders and on the outside of the front legs; leave more coat on the inside of the front legs. If the dog is narrow, take more coat off between the legs. The coat on the feet should be rounded; the feet should not be obvious and should blend into the legs; the pasterns should be straight. If the dog is long-bodied, leave more coat on the back of the front legs and the front of the hind legs.

Grooming Kerry Blue Terrier
Grooming the Kerry Blue Terrier

The Hind Legs: Looking down on the dog from the front, there should be a straight line to the ground, with no “chaps” or “bloomers.” From the side, there should be a “shelf” formed by the angle of the fused ilium and ischium. The shelf curves outward under the tail; the ischium articulates with the upper leg bone (femur) and the femur with the lower leg bones (tibia and fibula) to produce the curves seen in the rear leg. This is probably one of the most sculptured areas in the Kerry. If the dog doesn’t have much shelf, build one with coat. The same for the stifle (knee) area; carve curves with coat! Make sure the curves of the front and back of the hind legs match. The lower leg bones articulate with the hock, which should be short and upright. If the dog “digs its hocks,” fill in the area with coat where the hock slants under the body. Looking at the dog from the rear, there should be a space between the hind legs, and they should appear straight from the body to the ground
(Fig. 9). The hocks should turn neither in or out, and the feet should point straight ahead. If the dog is close behind, take off more coat between the hind legs; if it is cow-hocked, take coat off the top, turned-in part of the hock, filling in at the bottom of the hock. Trim coat off the outside of the foot to make the foot appear that it is pointed straight ahead. If the dog is open-hocked, with too much space between the hocks and the feet pointing inwards, fill in the space between the hocks with coat, and trim coat off the insides of the feet.

Grooming Kerry Blue Terrier
Figure 9. Properly Trimmed Rear (Notice the right leg still needs to be trimmed.)

Hopefully your dog will not require most of these corrections.

The more you work the coat, the better it will look; you will eliminate dead coat and dead-ends in the coat. Quoting the late Horace J. “Jud” Perry, a top handler and breeder (Kearnach Kennels) in the 1940s-80s: “A coat that is kept trimmed and clean will grow as it should, and will fit the body with no fluff and very little shake to it. I once heard the fit of a good Kerry’s coat described ‘like a properly fitting corset’.”

Therefore, begin preparing your show Kerry with regular bathing and trimming. The more you do it, the better your dog will look. With a good diet, and a shampoo and rinse with moisturizers in them, there should be no adverse effects of frequent bathing and grooming. Your dog will have healthier skin too.

This also applies to pet grooming. Even if you are not showing your dog, it will be healthier, happier, and more beautiful if bathed and groomed regularly.

Grooming Kerry Blue Terrier
Figure 10. Proper Movement and Color for a Kerry 18 Months and Under

I would like to thank my longtime friend and excellent groomer, Carol Basler, for her suggestions on using Diagrams as well as how to brush-dry a Kerry coat and retain the wave.

Grooming the Kerry Blue Terrier
By Margo Steinman