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Not All Dogs Benefit From A Summer Haircut or Shave Down

It would be impossible to count the number of times each summer a professional groomer is called upon to shave a client’s dog in an effort to make him cooler. Here in rural Montana, where the summers are hot, I’ve been asked to shave just about every breed imaginable. It is a common misconception that all dogs would automatically be cooler if they had less hair.

First it is important to consider what type of hair the dog has. All dogs can basically be divided into two groups. First we have those that need to be groomed on a regular basis such as poodles, shih tzus, cocker spaniels, lhasa apsos, terriers, etc. Dogs in this group have hair that will continue to grow longer and longer until it is trimmed. These breeds can be shaved without a problem. Removing excess hair by shaving in hot weather will actually make it more comfortable and cooler and won’t damage the dog’s coat. However, this is not the case with the second group.

This group of dogs consists of all other breeds, long-haired or short-haired, whose coat grows to a single length and then stays at that length. These dogs usually shed much more than the dogs in the first group. These include retrievers, pomeranians, pyranhas, chow chows, pugs, german shepherds, huskies and the list goes on and on. Their coats act as insulators against the elements and should never be shaved. Do you end up removing the insulation from your house in the summer to make it cooler? Absolutely not, and the same goes for these dogs.

The coats of dogs in the second group are made up of two different types of hair, a soft, fluffy undercoat and harder, coarser hairs called guard hairs. These two types of hair are actually designed to tangle and tangle to form a hard shell or covering around the animal to keep their temperature regulated in extreme weather conditions. Without proper brushing and grooming on a regular basis, this often happens, leading the owner to the false conclusion that the coat needs to be shaved to make the dog cooler. However, shaving these dogs’ hair removes insulation from heat, which makes these dogs hotter and more uncomfortable. Shaving also makes them more susceptible to sunburn.

It is important to understand that if you decide to go ahead and shave these types of dogs anyway, their hair will never be the same again. Shaving will change the coat forever. Not only does the hair grow back extremely slowly, but it also grows back much softer and thinner. The coat color will also be different, as the hair will be at least two shades lighter than before.

One of the worst things about shaving a dog with this type of hair is that the dog can develop what we call clipper alopecia. Simply put, it just means that the hair does not grow back. This is caused by a change in the guard hairs when they are cut. Clipper alopecia usually develops first in a patch on the dog’s back, just in front of the tail. After shaving, only a thin layer of hair will grow back there, usually reaching a maximum length of about half an inch. Dogs that develop this condition have coats that appear to be moth-eaten. This is not an attractive sight!

Okay, so what if you actually have a dog that’s matted to the skin and seems to be too hot in this balmy weather? Seek the advice of a properly trained groomer to determine the best course of action. With the many miracle grooming products on the market, many times these coats can be saved with a few vigorous grooming sessions and a little effort in daily grooming from the owner. This optimizes the dog’s coat to perform its insulating functions properly. Occasionally, the coat is truly unfixable and actually needs to be shaved off to start over. Your groomer can help you with this decision and give you instructions on how to avoid this situation in the future.

It is important to note that if you have a mixed breed dog, it can be difficult to determine which group the dog belongs to. Most groomers can assess a dog’s coat after inspection to let you know which group the dog falls into and what course of action they should take, the risks involved, etc.

As a former professional groomer, I feel strongly that it is the groomer’s responsibility to fully explain these things to clients who want to shave their dogs. It is important to share knowledge with clients to make the best possible decision for the pet that needs grooming.

COPYRIGHT 2008 Shannon Heggem

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