Caring for your double coated dog
Caring for breeds with double coats.
Some dogs are single coated and others are double coated. If you have any of the following breeds, they are classed as double coated:
- Bichon Frise and all the hybrid mix and designer breeds that have Bichon in them such as Cavachon, Maltichon, Poochon, Yorkichon, Westichon, Chi-Chon, Cock-a-Chon, La-Chon.
- Poodle, Toy Poodle and all the mix and hybrid mixes and designer breeds derived from them, including Labradoodle, cockerdoodle, Cavapoo, Poochon, Golden Doodle, Schnoodle and all the rest.
- Miniature Schnauzer and mix breeds
- King Charles and mix breeds (not the brindle or brown King Charles which have single coat)
- West Highland Terrier and mix variation
- Shih-Tzu and mix variations
- All Husky types incl Akita, Samoyed, Siberian
- German Shepherds
- Golden Retrievers
The difference between single and double coats
Single coated dogs such as Jack Russell Terriers have just one coat of hair, which is called the guard hair. They do not have an undercoat so when they shed this hair just falls to the ground. This is why you will always hear owners of single coated dogs complain about hair all over the house. On the plus side, l have not heard anyone ever complaining about a Jack Russell getting matted!
Double coated dogs have what it says: a double coat of hair. They have the top coat which is called the guard hair and you will feel that the texture is kind of coarse. Then they have an undercoat. This is a fine fluffy coat almost like the stuffing of a pillow. Many owners have reported seeing wild bird using this for their nest and it is for a very good and clever reason. The function of an undercoat on a dog is for insulation. It is a fact that ALL dogs shed. Do not let a breeder tell you any different. Some just shed less than others, but ALL dogs do shed. When a double coated dog shed, the soft undercoat falls out. The difference between a single coat and a double coated dog is that the double coated dog has the barrier of the top coat so instead of falling to the ground; the hair gets tangled up into the topcoat. Hence these dogs are called hypoallergenic because their hair does not fall around the place causing allergies. But it has to go somewhere!
Frequency of shedding
Most dogs shed heavily twice a year: coming into the summer they lose the heavy winter undercoat and then again coming into the winter they lose the light summer undercoat. This coincides with the seasons of the year but as many of our pets live indoors with us most of the time and we have the heating systems on to keep the air at a level temperature, the dogs stop shedding just twice and now do it all year long creating a constant battle with matted coats.
Function of the undercoat
The function of a dog’s undercoat is for insulation. Think of the insulation in a house’s attic. In the winter it keeps the house from freezing and in the summer it keeps the house from overheating. A dog’s undercoat is no different. Next think if the insulation in the attic was not spread evenly to cover all the areas, it would not be any good. And again, a dog’s undercoat is no different. It only works it purpose if it is well brushed out and not matted. When kept in a brushed out condition your dog will not freeze in winter and will not overheat in summer. This is why for example a Samoyed Husky can withstand a hot summer. Some coats even have a waterproof function protecting the skin from getting wet.
Risks of a matted undercoat
Some people think to leave a dog matted during the winter is better than shaving the dog bare. But this is a mistaken misconception. Your dog will be much better off shaved than left with big clumps of mats. These mats are health hazards and can cause your dog severe pain and illness. When it mats up, it pulls tighter and tighter and pulls the skin causing pain. Such a tight mat will suck up water like a sponge and because it is so thick and tight it does not dry out. This will cause skin infections and related allergies. Parasites such as ticks and fleas will hide between the skin and undercoat and you will not be able to see them. I have even seen maggots infested eating away the skin of dogs without owners knowing it.
Risks involved in shaving a matted coat
When taking your dog to the groomers with a matted undercoat, the first thing you have to remember is that it takes extra time. You will have to be patient and leave your groomer as much time as he or she needs to do a proper groom. Please do not call back until you are called, which will put extra pressure on your groomer that already has a lot to do trying to help your dog.
With a groom where the coat is not matted, the blade usually glides through the hair with one stroke. With a matted coat, the hair is caked onto the skin and it is more of a pulling-peeling motion than a gliding motion, having to do this repeatedly until the hair eventually comes away. It happens easily that the blade overheats and can cause a blade burn while your groomer concentrates not to cut your dog’s skin.
Nicks and cuts
With the hair so caked to the skin, it is very difficult to see where the skin is and to tell apart between hair and skin. You should be expecting a few nicks and cuts which can happen very easily, not for a lack of skill on the groomer’s part but because of the difficulty of the groom. Even a little movement from your dog during the groom can cause an accidental nick. If this happens it should be watched closely. It usually heals up in three days provided your dog does not lick at it which will cause infection.
The closer the mats are, the tighter the shave has to be to get rid of it. I find especially around the genital, tummy and inner leg areas and inside of the legs if a very short blade had to be used the following happens: About one week after the groom your dog’s hair will be grown to the point where it protrudes through the skin. Very much like it happens in us humans; the hair can irritate the skin, causing an itchy rash. The difference between us and our dogs are that we do not lick at it. The itching from growing hair will cause your dog to lick and bite at it, and a constant licking will make the skin red and eventually cause an infection which at worst you will have to go to the vets and get an antibiotic, a cream and a antihistamine. Please do not blame your groomer for this. This is a direct result from not visiting the salon soon enough.
The smaller the dog is, the more this is prone to happen. When the ears are matted, the mats restrict the blood flow to the ear. When the mat is shaved off, a surge of blood rushes back through the ear. The next factor is that all that hair is gone and the ear is feeling very light, making your dog’s ears feel funny. Most of the times there are clumps of hair inside the ear cavity and these have to be plucked out as well. A combination of blood rush, irritation from cleaning the ear cavity and feeling funny causes your dog to constantly shake his or her head. The shaking is no problem and should stop within a day or so, but the trauma that it causes the ear from being slapped against the head can cause the ears to bleed. You might notice it straight away or even a few days after. There will be bleeding on the very tips of the ears. Unfortunately there is nothing you or the vet can do about this and because the ears constantly move, the scabs that form will constantly break and will take a long time to heal. This also, is not negligence on the part of the groomer.
Because you cannot see the skin you will be unaware of any underlying problems. Often only when the coat comes off you will see the damage that mats have caused. This can be any or all of the following: urine and faeces burns, dander, skin rash, skin allergies, hot spots, sores, cuts and sores from embedded objects such as stones, twigs, thorns and parasites. Be prepared for anything. Usually a few days of fresh air on the skin heals it up, but worst case you will be advised to visit the vet.
It often happens that a dog that had to be shaved down acts strange when he or she goes back home. This can include going into their beds, hiding, not wanting to come for cuddles or even not wanting to eat. If a pet does not come to the salon regularly he/she might think that they have been punished. Also, imagine being dressed in two layers and have your winter coat on and being made to walk down the street in just your underwear…your pet will feel the same awkwardness after a shave down and will take a few days to adjust. Whilst it is undeniable that not all groomers are kind, this is most certainly not an indication of your groomer being cruel or a result of sedating your dog. By law, only veterinarians are allowed to administer sedation. If you find a groomer independent from a veterinarian that sedates your dog, this is breaking the law.
An added behavioural problem is aggression which is fully understandable if your dog is scared and getting hurt from having to get mats removed. This will result in your dog having to be muzzled and restraint which is not a nice experience for your groomer or your dog.
All the above ads a lot of time and stress to a groom and some groomers asks up to ten euro extra. If your groomer does not charge you extra, consider leaving a tip behind which will be much appreciated, considering the time spent on your dog that could have been spent earning more money on grooming another dog.
How can you avoid problems?
Start at a young age.
The younger you start bringing your dog to the salon the better for them. As soon as they had their final shots they are welcome and safe to visit a salon. As pups they are open to learning and exploring and not yet set in their ways. They will think of the salon as a new place to explore and by the time they are set in their ways they will accept the salon as part of their routine. Your pup will ease into salon routine as they will most probably start off with only a wash and dry and a face trim. There will be no pulling at a matted coat which will give them a negative connection to the salon. They will get to know the groomer and my aim is for them to love and trust me. The added advantage is that l will become part of their health care circle as I will notice any changes in health or behaviour with regular visits Please do not wait any later than six months as this is the age that your dog will have its first shedding. The best favour you can do for your dog’s future is to visit the salon often from an early age to avoid problems.
Bring your dog often
Once or twice a year is not enough. At a frequency of once or twice a year, your dog does not get the opportunity to bond with grooming staff. Each time they come in it is like their first time, and if they do remember, all they remember is being tortured with blades peeling at them, brushes pulling at mats, nail clippers cutting out ingrown nails and having to stand still for longer than a usual groom takes because of all of this. How can you expect your dog to love coming to the salon in these circumstances?
Don’t wait until it is too late
Some breeds should never ever be shaved because it damages the guard hair and it never grows back the same way again. These include German Shepherds and all husky breeds. They need a lot of brushing at home. If you brush religiously, you can get away with salon grooming three to four times a year. Please do not expect a miracle if you bring your dog only once a year.
If you are one of the owners that like to keep your dog in a short coat, then your dog will be well use to being shaved down and will not display behavioural problems which are associated with full coats that are badly matted having to be shaved off. You may bring your dog as often as every six weeks which is how long any groom will last before it grows back and gets scruffy again.
If you prefer a little bit of a longer woolly coat, you have two options. The one is to keep your dog in full coat. This requires daily grooming on your part and you will need to bring your dog at least every two weeks to the salon for grooming. Playing in puddles getting wet and playing with other dogs will immediately mat the coat. Skipping even a day brushing will show. Do not feel a failure if you cannot manage this, there are literally only one out of thousands of clients that are able to manage this.
Keeping your dog trimmed to a manageable length is my best recommendation. For this to work out, you will need to work in four week grooming intervals. With a bit of grooming at home, you can bring your dog back to the salon in four weeks time. We just do a wash and blow dry, making sure there are no little mats. We remove any shedding and re-shape the face and trim the bum. We also clean and pluck the ears and trim the nails if needed.
Four weeks after that you should make another appointment. Now your dog has two months since his/her last trim. We will trim the coat back again. This way your dog will never have to be shaved bare and will have a good length of coat which is beautiful but also manageable.