Double-Coated Breeds

by Jodi Murphy, Master Pet Stylist, www.jodimurphy.net

Article excerpted from Dog Grooming Simplified—Straight to the Point, a  new grooming instruction book by Jodi Murphy with over 400 beautiful color photos including those presented here.

Wild animals develop a winter and summer coat based on daylight. As the days become shorter these animals will develop their heavy winter coats. As the days become longer they will start to shed their winter coats preparing for the warm weather. House pets, on the other hand, are exposed to artificial light and do not develop this exact cycle. Pets tend to shed all year round; however, the majority of the shedding does occur when the days become longer and pets are exposed to natural sunlight for longer periods of time.

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Shedding double-coated breeds, like the Golden Retriever for example, can be done easily and effectively during the bathing process. A warm bath can facilitate the release of undercoat by slightly dilating the hair follicles. This seems to be the prime time to remove undercoat. Brushing the coat while it is wet and soapy will remove a tremendous amount of coat. This can be done using a slicker brush. An undercoat rake can also be used if necessary. Brushing with the flow of water during the rinse process will also facilitate in the removal of excess undercoat. Once the coat is brushed thoroughly during the bath, applying a cool rinse is beneficial, as it will constrict the hair follicles.

Undercoat is a soft and downy type of hair. When dogs are washed with shampoo the undercoat becomes saturated and will take longer to dry than the guard hair. Once the excess undercoat is removed during the bath, the dog will dry very quickly.

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This shedding procedure is not only extremely effective in the shedding process but is also healthier for the groomer. The common method of brushing out dirty, dry undercoat or force drying the coat with a high velocity dryer as a means of a shedding technique is very messy. The undercoat, dander and allergens are blown out and are easily inhaled. With the described shedding method, the undercoat is left wet in the bath tub and is easy to clean up.

Caution should be taken when brushing a wet coat, as the pins of a slicker brush can reach the skin more easily than when brushing a dry coat. Applying too much pressure to the brush could cause irritation to the skin.

The lifestyle of the pet should be given special consideration before using these shedding techniques. Pets who are exposed to cold temperatures for long periods of time or actively participate in the field work that they were bred for may need the excess undercoat to protect them from the elements.

Shaving Double-Coated Breeds

Most pet owners who own heavy double-coated breeds, like the Golden Retriever, are concerned that their dogs are very hot during the summer months. They do not understand the function of the double-coat. It is our job as pet care professionals to educate our clients before shaving a double-coated breed.

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The undercoat serves as a type of insulation for dogs. It keeps them warm during the winter months by holding in body heat. They don’t shed quite as much in the winter because they need the coat to keep them warm. When the warmer season approaches and the days become longer, these breeds will start to shed profusely. They are shedding their winter coat preparing for the summer heat. If they held onto their coat, they would be extremely hot during the summer months. Many of these breeds need assistance from groomers to remove the excess undercoat during the shedding season. Once the undercoat is removed and is maintained regularly, the dog will stay cooler. The pretty guard hair that these breeds have regulates their body temperature, keeping them cool and protecting their skin from the sun.

The double-coat serves to protect the dogs from weather conditions, cold water temperatures and rough terrain when performing the various jobs that they were bred for. Many of these coats have an oily protective coating that acts like the down of a duck and repels water. The undercoat insulates and prevents the water from reaching the skin. This is very important for water retrieving dogs. Of course, when these breeds are bathed with shampoo, the detergent will gradually break down the natural oils and the coat will become saturated. This is why it seems difficult to completely saturate these breeds when bathing them.

When these breeds are shaved, their natural cooling mechanism is destroyed. They do not have protection from the sun’s harmful UV rays or the guard hair that serves to control their body temperature. Once shaved, the undercoat that was in the hair follicle still remains there. When the coat is clipped very short, the follicles can become clogged with undercoat. The dogs may lick the irritated skin and before long a hot spot or skin irritation can be triggered.

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Dogs have numerous strands of hair in each follicle. It is believed that the follicle consists of only one guard hair and a multitude of undercoat hairs. When clippering a dog short, many of the guard hairs can be damaged and will be replaced with undercoat. In addition, undercoat grows at a much more rapid rate than guard hair. This is why after clippering these breeds it seems as though the coat grows back thicker with more undercoat.

Canine alopecia is a hair loss disorder that results from mange, infection, trauma, immune disease and endocrine system abnormalities as well as other underlying health conditions. Once double-coated breeds are shaved, “post-clippering alopecia” can be triggered. This disorder is most prevalent in the Pomeranian, Chow Chow, German Shepherd, Samoyed, Sheltie, Collie and Keeshond although it can happen in any heavy double-coated breed. This is often seen several weeks after the pet has been shaved as new growth is starting to appear. The coat will grow in leaving patchy areas of baldness. Canine alopecia has been linked to certain health issues including trauma to the skin, yet it is uncertain why some breeds that are shaved develop post-clippering alopecia and others do not. The dogs that do develop this disorder after being shaved may never grow their full coat back again.

These are the concerns and should be relayed to the pet owner. It is ultimately the pet owners’ decision as to whether or not they want to have their pet shaved. However, it is the groomers’ decision whether they want to perform the groom and be held responsible in the event that a skin and/or coat issue does arise after the groom. To alleviate any concern, a release form may be presented to the pet owner prior to the groom.

When shaving body patterns or performing complete shavedowns on any breed it is recommended to use blade lengths ranging from 7F, 5F, 4F or longer. Using blade lengths shorter than a 7F on body patterns can be detrimental to the skin. All dogs are different. Some may grow coat back perfectly fine with no irritation from clipping, while others may develop skin or coat issues.

In the event of a medical issue and/or old age, the pet’s veterinarian may recommend to have the dog shaved. In this event, the health and comfort of the pet should be the deciding factor. If clipping is preferred, it is recommended to completely shed the coat using a slicker brush and/or shedding rake before shaving. Carding the coat after the shavedown will help to remove the remainder of the undercoat.

Snap-on combs of various lengths can also be used for a shorter trim as an alternative to blades.

Available on DVD:  “Deshedding: Theory & Techniques” at www.jodimurphy.net

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