One of the issues of discussion that comes up all too often with our beloved clients when they drop their dogs off to be groomed centers around variations on the theme of matting (tangled hair, often badly tangled) or shedding – the mess around the house from a dog blowing off its coat. Many are concerned about these problems – they affect the family and their quality of life. Matting and Shedding affect their lives, too.
When I dreamed of opening my own grooming shop, I had never imagined that I would be spending so much time just talking about the care of their dogs’ coats. As the Owner and Master Groomer at Love Fur Dogs, I am always happy to consult with clients, even though I need to maintain a full grooming schedule each day as well.
Our dog families so seem to mostly love learning about the care about their dogs. Its clear that these dogs, and other pets we meet such as cats, bunnies, etc., are truly members of their families.
Owners of dogs with “hair” are often upset about the matting and tangling.
Owners of dogs with “fur” are often upset about the amount of shedding.
And they come to us to get out the mats. And to take off all the shedding hair. (We can only take what is ready to come, of course.)
I sometimes wish that these two populations could confer. I can tell that these two types of dog owners may believe the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, as the old saying goes. But its not. Both have their problems. Both require grooming.
I have had so many deeply felt conversations with owners of these two types of dog coat, and the discomfort and expense and time that can go with either of them, I feel truly like I could record my “educational speeches” about the realities of dog hair versus fur and just replay them – the questions and problems are common, and often the same.
And if I have said it once, I have said it a thousand times: “I wish that it was required that breeders would TELL you all when you buy a new puppy what will be entailed in the grooming care, and what to expect as the dog grows up.”
But most breeders and dog sellers don’t talk about the lifetime of proper care for the particular type of coat that this dog has. They want to sell you that adorable ball of fluff and they don’t want you to think about the time, care, expense, and discomfort there is in maintaining it.
Unless you buy a hairless breed (and they have other problems, believe me!) you WILL be dealing with one or the other of these problems.
Both matting and shedding are part and parcel of owning a Dog.
In the marketing of doodles and other “designer cross breeds” (which has become huge money and is sending dog breeding into all sorts of other problems as well) they are often sold as “hypoallergenic” and “non-shedding” coats.
But to be clear, there is NO such thing as a hypoallergenic dog – anyone can be allergic to anything at any time and there are no guarantees. Allergies to dogs are generally in the dander, anyway, not the hair. Shed off skin cells is dander – in any mammal – and even a hairless dog is no protection. They are just trying to sell you something.
It is generally true that dogs that shed less are also less irritating to those with allergies, overall.
But if you have less shedding, you WILL have more matting.
And if you don’t want to deal with matting and haircut expense and maintenance, you WILL have shedding.
Pick your poison.
All dogs will either mat horribly without regular grooming (just as your own hair would, only worse because dogs have a LOT more hair!) or they will shed horribly without regular grooming, especially leading up to the summer and winter solstices.
While there are many different kinds of coat on dogs, all fall into two general categories – UDL and PDL – Undetermined Length and Pre-Determined Length genetically. Generally UDL has come to be known as “Hair” and the PDL has come to be known as “Fur”, though technically these terms could be used interchangeably. Common usage is beginning to coalesce around this differentiation, however.
Look at these breeds – can you tell which one is which?
The original and natural “dog” of course is a Wolf. Think about the coats of wolves, coyotes, jackals, dingoes, foxes, etc. This natural coat is self caring in the wild – and it is a “double coat”. There is a weather resistant top coat and an insulating under coat (and it should NEVER BE CLIPPED OFF – a topic for another blog post one day!). Constantly the under coat is shedding out, especially heavily in the weeks leading up to June and December. Shedding was found in a recent study to be triggered by light, not heat – interesting.
All natural coats like this grow to a certain genetically pre-determined length and stop. Think Labrador Retrievers. Think German Shepherds. No haircutting required. But they shed and need grooming as much as any other breed.
I have even heard some owners with the misimpression that these natural coats do not need professional care. Honestly, few owners are able to care adequately for these kinds of coats either to the degree that the dog truly needs. They need baths, deshedding, combing out, nail care, etc., too. Again, a topic for another day.
But when human beings began to domesticate the wolf, leading to the dog breeds of today, we began to genetically engineer different kinds of dog coat for different purposes.
So its important to remember that PEOPLE, not Mother Nature, created these coats. Very important to remember – WE did this, and we are responsible for it.
We created “hair”-like coats that had a single kind of hair, rather than a double coat. We created it in our own image truly because that is what we have.
And hair will grow and grow and grow until it is cut. Just like ours. And the longer and thicker it is, the more it will mat and tangle. The dog’s activities, age, and movements will also affect tangling. But imagine most women with full longer heads of hair – if they did not brush or wash their hair for a month, what would it look like?! And Dogs’ hair is MUCH more dense – thousands more follicles per square inch, hair over ALL the body, and many hairs per follicle, where as you and I only have one hair per follicle.
It would be rare to see a human being choose not to wash, trim, brush and comb their own hair for months at a time. The monthly visits we get from most of our clients isn’t just about beauty. Its about HEALTH. And comfort. And well-being. Dogs need to be groomed – hair or fur – and groomed thoroughly on a regular basis.
The commitment to groom your dog – whether you learn how to do it yourself – or rely on professionals like us – is part of owning a dog. People should not own a dog unless they are committed to having it groomed, appropriately, for its coat type.
Dogs with hair need haircuts and lots of dematting. Dogs with fur need the undercoat brushed and combed out.
When dogs come to us all matted, it is truly hard for me to tell the owners, who we know LOVE their dogs, that it seems cruel for the dog to be allowed to live for weeks and months with lots of mats and tangles – it has to be uncomfortable.
I often liken it to having 50 tennis balls sewed to your own skin and having to walk around in, and sleep on, these hard uncomfortable balls attached to your skin.
When owners want us to brush the mats out because they like their dogs’ hair long, but then only bring the dog in every two to three months (or longer) and are not able to care for them at home, we always have to explain sadly that such a grooming process is “painful and expensive” – I always use those two words to be clear to owners what they are asking.
And it is also sad how many had NO idea that the coat of the fluffy puppy they bought was going to be this much work and expense. No one told them.
To be completely accurate, fur can also mat, especially when the breed has a longer fur coat, such as Samoyeds, Collies and Shelties, even Siberian Huskies.
And Hair Coats do shed some – just very little. Hair sheds less, but does shed some. Fur mats less, but can mat some.
And almost none of the “Hair” coat dog breeders tell the new owners about the “coat change” that comes with puberty – 6 or more long months of SUPER bad matting and tangling as wispy puppy hair gives way to more substantive adult hair. Again, another topic for another day.
The dogs that do the best, and have the best quality of life, are the dogs that are groomed weekly in some cases, monthly in most other cases.
There is just no getting around it. Dogs are mammals and they have either hair or fur. Hair will mat and fur will shed.
And there is not a dog you can bring into your life and family that won’t do one or the other. Matting or shedding.