After another long Upstate winter, a lot of us are putting our overcoats away for the season or getting them cleaned up after a hard use in the salt, snow, and rain. Lucky for us, we can put our coats in the washer. Our dogs, however, wear theirs year-round and need us to help keep them in good shape, clean and mat-free.
You already know what matting is and that frequent brushing is the best preventative. But did you know that there are quite a few different methods of brushing, and that the kind of coat your dog has dictates what brushing method you should be using?
First, the basics. You may have heard your mom tell you not to brush your hair when it’s wet; the same thing applies to dogs. Brushing a coat when it is dry is crucial to keeping it in good condition. Wet hair breaks more easily and is harder to untangle. Often wet or damp hair will feel matted and the brush will not go through it. But you’ll find that once it’s dry, brushing is much easier. A clean dry coat is even better, as dirt, static, and the natural oils in the coat will cause the hair to clump together and the undercoat to hold on tight. This is why periodic baths in between grooms are a good idea – it will make brushing at home so much easier!
Let’s talk about the curly or wavy coated dogs.
Poodles, poodle mixes, and any dog whose coat has some level of kink or curl to it fall into this category. You’ll need two types of tools for these coats – a simple metal comb, and a slicker brush.
The technique you’ll use is referred to as “line brushing”. In essence, you’ll start at the bottom, hold the hair up with your hand to create a part, and brush with the slicker brush just below the part. It’s important to work in short, light strokes and you don’t need a lot of pressure! To check your pressure, use the slicker brush on your own arm. You want to push firmly enough that the hair is being brushed, but not so firm that you leave scratches on your arm. Brush the hair just below the part and begin working your way up, pulling more hair down as you go, so the part moves further up the dog. If you encounter a mat, use the “pat and pull” method: part the hair just above the mat, and use the slicker brush to gently pat the mat and pull away and slightly down. Continue doing this in short quick strokes and it will untangle the mat – be patient, it can take a while!
Each dog’s tolerance for this will be different. Most dogs are okay with one or two small mats being de-tangled. When you are done with a section, check your work with your comb. If you encounter an area where the comb gets hung up, don’t yank! Return to the pat and pull method over that area working specifically on the tangle you’ve found. When the coat is fully brushed out, the comb will glide through and, when you run the slicker over the coat, it will glide smoothly without any friction from tangles. This process can be time consuming if not done regularly, but if you break it into 10-15 minute sessions on different parts of the dog every day (for instance a front leg one day, other front leg the next day, etc..), it can be relaxing for you and the dog.
The second coat type is the drop coat
This type of coat is seen on shitzu’s, lhasa apsos, maltese, etc. and is fine, straight or slightly wavy, and very prone to static. The tools you’ll want for this job are the slicker brush, a pin brush, and comb. Ideally, with daily brushing, you’ll just need the pin brush to keep the coat tangle free.
The pin brush is gentle on the skin and coat, and doesn’t break strands, so it’s a top choice for drop coated dogs in full coat (hair that flows to the ground). For most other dogs, you’ll want to use the regular metal comb daily. If you find a mat or tangle, use the line brushing and pat-n-pull method detailed above.
The third coat type is the double coated breeds
These dogs, like newfoundlands, shelties, and golden retrievers, have a smooth outer “guard” coat and a soft, fuzzy undercoat. These breeds, while they shed year round, they have a “blow out” of coat twice a year – a period of massive shedding. The trick is making sure the undercoat is removed as it sheds, otherwise it gets impacted and matted to the guard coat, which can result in the dog needing to be shaved. We never want to shave double coated dogs unless absolutely necessary! A long-toothed basic metal comb is your best friend for these breeds, and a slicker can be helpful too. Both tools will grab the loose undercoat and pull it out. You can use the line brushing method if the dog’s coat is super thick, but often just a regular brushing from top to bottom daily is all that’s needed.
In all breeds, pay special attention to the friction areas – behind the ears, between back legs, armpits, under the collar, the tuck up of the belly. These areas will get matted much faster as the friction of regular movement creates static. Bellies also get matted fast as belly fur gets wet when the dog goes outside in the damp grass or snow. Making sure not to apply lotion to your own hands before petting your dog will stop the “love mats” from forming – those big mats that happen on the top of your dog’s head and neck where you love to pet them!
If you find yourself in need of cutting out a mat, use caution! The safest way to do it with scissors is to put the comb between the mat and your dog’s skin, then scissor over top of the comb. The comb acts as a guard to ensure you don’t accidentally catch your dog’s skin in the scissors.
If you are doing a top-notch job of keeping your dog brushed out but find their bangs and the hair around their eyes is impeding their vision, give your groomer a call! Most groomers offer a quick and easy face trim to keep your dog’s face looking cute in between grooms.