Defeating the Undercoat

Summer is here, and if you’ve got a fluffy dog they probably already hate the weather and you’re wondering how to help them. Depending on the type of coat they have, shaving may be a bad answer.

Many dogs are double coated, which means they have thicker sleek “guard hairs” and another layer of fluffy soft undercoat. The undercoat keeps them warm and insulated but it also clumps and sticks together into horrible mats very easily. Unless they’re just matted beyond hope or need surgery, most groomers and dog professionals don’t like to shave a double coated dog, especially if they have long fur. This is because the guard hairs grow much more slowly than the undercoat and if the follicles are irritated by a close shave they may not grow back at all.

Sometimes this is just a cosmetic problem, but depending on your dog’s coat and lifestyle, those guard hairs could be really important. Without the guard hairs to separate the undercoat you can end up with a dog that must be shaved or he just instantly mats up. Since their skin is normally protected by a lot of fur, many fluffy dogs also develop skin irritation or sunburn when they’re shaved.

Of course, many people shave their Huskies or Goldens without a problem every year, but even if you’ve been successful before you don’t have a guarantee your dog’s coat will grow back correctly. My fluffy dog, Biscotti, has had a few encounters with cuckleburs that required me to closely cut portions of his coat and getting it grown back out was a nightmare. Shaving him is definitely not an option, but all that fur is hot!

The real culprit is the undercoat, not the long topcoat, and for your dog’s comfort in hot weather that’s what you want to focus on getting rid of. The quickest and easiest way to get all of it out is to have him professionally groomed. They’ll brush, wash, and condition him, but most importantly they’ll use a forced air dryer and blow all the loose hair away.  Professional grooming can be expensive but if you’re willing to do it yourself, many self-service dog spas have all the tools you’ll need and are much more affordable. They’ll also have a large selection of brushes for you to try and see what’s most effective and comfortable for you and your dog.

To remove your dog’s undercoat at home you’ll want to use something made for deshedding. I use an undercoat rake on Biscotti and it’s much more effective at fluff removal than a normal brush. I’ve noticed that FURminators tend to be  popular with owners of short- and medium-haired dogs, but I don’t like them for very long-haired dogs. There are various styles of bladed brushes to break up mats and make it easier to brush everything out without cutting. If you do have to cut something out, try to do it as far from your dog’s body as possible.

If your dog’s coat is causing other problems, such as picking up plant life or taking forever to dry after swimming you can trim problem areas without shaving your entire dog. Because most of the guard hairs are preserved and the undercoat is probably shorter anyway this isn’t likely to cause the same problems as shaving.

Grooming can be very confusing because many sources of information online are concerned with maintaining a certain look or breed standard. Most people just want their dogs comfortable and would like to keep the ridiculous shedding to a minimum.


By Laura-C

Hopes to someday train her dogs not to be douchebags.

2 replies on “Defeating the Undercoat”

Leave a Reply