A dog’s coat is an important part of his identity, but more importantly for many dogs, it is part of their health. The state of a dog’s coat can be a factor in several things, one of these being survival. A properly cared for coat will protect a dog from sunlight, wind, heat and cold but it does need to be looked after. Even though dogs are descended from wolves, they are far removed from them and their coats have developed as a result of breeding, most often for working ability.
Many dog owners with larger dogs have their coats shaved down for the summer, and sometimes in the winter as well. Most often, these dogs have what is called a “double coat”. These are coats that have a shorter, thick undercoat and then a top coat of longer “guard” hairs. When a coat is shaved down, all the hair is taken off – both undercoat and guard hairs. The idea is that the dog will be cooler when it is really hot out, or that it will make the coat easier to care for because of a belief that this eliminates shedding.
In reality, shaving down a dog with a double coat does exactly the opposite. It makes it more difficult to see the hair that is being shed (it does not prevent shedding) and it makes the dog warmer by destroying the insulating properties of the coat.
A properly cared for coat keeps a dog warm in cold weather and cooler in hot weather. When the undercoat is removed, the guard hairs stay and provide an airy covering for the dog’s skin. This keeps the heat and sun away from the skin. The undercoat must be properly removed through brushing, bathing, and more brushing. When the undercoat grows back, it provides an extra layer of insulation on top of the guard hairs. Shaving a coat down cuts down the guard hairs, and each hair follicle is damaged. This slows the hair’s regrowth, and if done regularly, eventually results in very few guard hairs.
At the same time, shaving also increases the thickness of the undercoat, which increases it’s warmth. Shaving down the coat actually increases the warmth of the dogs’ coat, because there is no top coat to protect the skin and the undercoat comes in thicker.
Think of it in relation to a bale of hay or straw. If you want your outdoor farm or ranch dog to stay warm in the winter you provide a place out of the wind with some straw or hay to sleep on. It is the air between and inside the pieces of hay/straw that keeps the dog cool or warm i.e. it provides insulation. Using a blanket for the dog to lie on actually provides no insulation because the fibres of the blanket are too close together. There is little to no air there for insulation. This is how a coat works to keep a dog from being too hot or cold.
Instead of shaving, the undercoat could be removed through regular brushing and the occasional visit to a professional groomer for trimming and bathing if needed. This will prevent the buildup of mats due to the undercoat not coming out, reduce shedding greatly. Mats can also be the cause of skin issues if they are left in too long, so brushing is crucial. Breeds that should never be shaved down are those with double coats such as herding, working, and some terrier and sporting breeds. This rule does not necessarily apply to smaller breeds with coats that will grow long if left, as the hair sheds differently and lays differently when long.
If your dog hates being brushed, there are new methods of training a dog to accept grooming without forcing him to do anything he doesn’t want to or stressing him out. If you have a puppy or are getting a new one, it is the perfect time to start accustoming her to being handled and brushed. Even an older dog can be helped to be more relaxed during grooming. This is actually a humane issue. All dogs should be given proper training to accept handling to minimize the stress a dog experiences in daily situations. Putting a dog repeatedly in a situation which causes her stress is completely unnecessary and inhumane.
You can see in the picture below how this dog’s guard hairs are a rich, deep colour but the hair on her backside is washed out. This is because the coat was getting cut down at home which caused the undercoat to overgrow. Now we are trying to repair the damage – if it can be done – by leaving it alone and taking only the undercoat out.
So, instead of removing a dog’s coat for convenience, teach him how to enjoy brushing, save yourself some money and keep your dog’s coat healthy. Now is a great time to start to be ready for spring and summer. Your dog will love you for it.