The Long & Short of Your Dog’s Coat
With Aubrey Bird
We all have questions about our dog’s coats, how much to bathe and what can we do at home to keep our dogs looking and feeling good. Recently we chatted with Aubrey Bird, a local dog groomer about some of the most commonly asked questions.
What are the basic types of dog coats?
There are 6 different kinds of dogs coats, however one of them is hairless (like a Chinese Crested) so really there are only 5. These include:
1) Smooth coat (like Pit Bulls, Rat Terriers, Smooth Coat Dachshunds, etc).
2) Wire Coat (terriers like Wire Haired Fox Terrier, Airedale)
3) Double Coat (these are your shedding breeds, Golden Retrievers, Labs, Border Collies)
4) Curly Coats (Poodles, Bichons)
5) Long Coats (also known as drop coats) (Yorkshire Terriers, Shih Tzus, Maltese)
Dogs with hair, like Yorkies and Afghans – do they require special care or treatments?
All coats with the exception of hairless and smooth coat, require regular maintenance. Dogs with long/drop coats (like Yorkies and Afghans) require a thorough brush out and comb every 2-3 days. When left long these coats require a lot of work at home, as well as visits to the groomer every 3-4 weeks. Curly coated dogs require just as much work when left long or in show cuts. Many pet owners prefer shorter cuts for both of these types of coats (under 2 inches long) which cuts down greatly on home maintenance and upkeep. With these kinds of “pet trims” you probably only need to brush once a week and visit to the groomers every 6-8 weeks. Wire coat dogs are slightly easier because their hair doesn’t mat as easily and the under coat is more easily brushed out. These dogs can either get their hair cut, which is the most common choice, or hand stripped.Hand stripping is when you remove the dead undercoat by hand or with stripping tools. It is generally thought to be better for the coat but usually very expensive and requires frequent visits to the groomer to maintain.
Maintenance of the last type, double coats depends on the breed. Generally I recommend a de-shed treatment for these breeds (as well as shedding smooth coat dogs). A de-shedding treatment uses low-shed shampoo and de-shedding conditioner which loosen the follicles of the hair. This allows for us to more easily brush out and blow out (with the hand dryer) the undercoat. When done regularly (every 8 or so weeks) a de-shed can cut down tremendously on shedding at home. The coat becomes accustomed to coming out during the grooming visits. When the undercoat has been left to build up for too long sometimes it can mat, which unfortunately usually has to be shaved.
What soothing treatments can you recommend?
The most common mistake I see with trying to find something soothing for a dog’s itchy skin is using oatmeal shampoo. Oatmeal shampoo is very soothing for dry skin, but most of the time itchy skin can happen from allergies or a skin condition (like yeast). Since most oatmeal shampoo has perfumes it is not great for allergies. Also, if the skin has any yeast the oatmeal in the shampoo will actually feed the yeast making the skin worse. In general your best bet for an itchy dog is a hypoallergenic shampoo. It is usually the most gentle without any perfumes or dyes. I have also had good results from shampoo with tea tree oil. It can be very soothing for itchy skin.
How often should dogs bathe?
Most dogs only need a bath every couple weeks. Dogs are not used to regular bathing like people so over bathing can dry and irritate their skin. I don’t recommend bathing more than once every 7-10 days (unless otherwise recommended by a vet). If you don’t bathe the dog enough, the dirt and oils can build up and cause problems too. Generally once a month is perfect for most dogs. Owners who are going to bath dogs at home should always be sure to brush the dog thoroughly both before and after the bath. If you bathe a dog with tangles those knots are only going to get tighter which can lead to mats.
What can owners do at home or a quick touch up?
Owners should brush their dogs at least once a week regardless of the breed. There is a brush for every coat type (including smooth coat dogs, a rubber curry brush is the best for them) and the brushing is not only good for the coat but good for the skin as well. It stimulates the follicles and oil glands keeping the skin and coat healthy. Plus it makes things a lot easier on the groomer. The dog realizes brushing is not a punishment. For dogs that only get groomed every 8 weeks or more i would recommend visiting your groomer between visits just for a bath, brush out and nail trim. It is very important to trim the dog’s nails every 4-6 weeks. If left to grow too long they can curl and grow in to the paw pads, or cause the dogs toes to strain unnaturally and cause arthritis. This is something that some owners feel comfortable doing at home, but if not that is a quick and easy service your groomer can do. I don’t generally recommend owners attempt any trimming or home grooming other than that. I have seen too many dogs with cuts or injuries from owners who attempt it on their own. Also, i am happy to, as i’m sure most groomers are, do a touch up in between grooms. Usually after a couple weeks a dog will already need the hair trimmed around it’s eyes but perhaps the rest of the dog isn’t ready for a groom. I always ask that my clients call to ahead to make sure i have time, but i am happy to just trim that hair really quick for them. It helps make sure the dog doesn’t get any kind of eye infection and has a neater appearance. (Plus trying to fix someone’s “home groom” is never fun or easy).
What do you recommend for cleaning up around the eyes?
Eye discharge is actually an internal issue partially caused by iron. You can use a warm, damp wash cloth as well as a small flea comb to clean in the corners of the eyes, however this is a temporary fix. There are over the counter solutions like Angel Eyes, but i don’t usually recommend using it because it has a low dose of antibiotics in it. I have seen very good results from home remedies though. First, make sure all food and water bowls are stainless steel or porcelain, this limits bacteria growth. Second, make sure you’re giving your dog a good quality food with limited additives. Third, if you still have stains, start giving your dog bottled spring water. This has less minerals and additives than tap water and usually eliminates the staining after 4-6 weeks.
What should owners be careful about with adornments like bows and hair bands?
Unless your dog is prone to taking out bows and chewing/eating them there isn’t too much to worry about with bows. Sometimes when a bow is left in for a long period of time that hair can mat, so just make sure to brush the hair before putting any bows in and remove the bow once a week to brush it.
Which dogs “blow their coats” in summer ?
Double coated dogs like Goldens and Labs “blow their coats” in most areas of the country, however not usually in Florida. In my experience most dogs just shed year round here regardless of the season since we don’t have too much temperature change. However with a regular deshedding regimen this shedding can be greatly reduced.
Is shaving your dog a good idea?
Shaving a dog that is either a curly coat, wire coat, or long/drop coat is perfectly fine. Their hair is always going to grow back and it is not going to hurt them at all. Some dogs who have a lot of hair and then get shaved can act different for a few days after just because they feel different and probably more vulnerable. The only real risk with shaving these dogs is sunburn. Especially with the white dogs like maltese and bichons. There is a doggy sunscreen you can get if they will spend prolonged periods outdoors. Shaving double coat dogs or smooth coat dogs is never recommended and is a very bad idea. This is another place where i see a lot of misconception. People think their dog will shed less and/or be cooler in the summer and neither of these is true.
A Golden or a Lab will continue to shed after it has been shaved, the hair will simply be shorter. Sometimes the coat can not properly fall out/shed because the strands of hair are too short/light to fall out. This causes the follicles to become clogged and subsequently the hair will not grow back. Shaving the coat will not make the dog any cooler either, quite the contrary actually, it will make them hotter. These dogs have two coats for a reason, the undercoat works as a heater and insulator and keeps them warm in the winter (this is the shedding coat they lose in the summer). The top coat works like an air conditioner and protects them from the sun and heat. When you shave these kinds of dogs you are removing both coats leaving them vulnerable to the sun. It is quite common for these kinds of dogs to overheat after they have been shaved. The best thing for them is to do the de-shedding treatment. It removes the undercoat (the heater) while leaving the top coat (A/C).
Aubrey Bird is a Sarasota dog groomer with Bayside Pet Resort and Bayside Pet Spa, she has been a groomer for more than 6 years and is a mom to a Standard Poodle named Eva, a Dachshund named Brown dog, Cairn named Toby, Bichon named Yogi, and coparents her boyfriend’s pups a Lab named Lamar and Bull Terrier named Mya. Before that she was a chemist, but Aubrey tells us “Let’s face it, grooming is way more fun!”