Think twice before shaving your dog this summer! | TheUnion.com

Think twice before shaving your dog this summer!

Nancy Bynes
Submitted to The Union

Spring is here and summer is just around the corner. For us, it's almost time to trade thermal underwear for the more comfortable tank tops.

What options have you explored to help your fur-bearing family members deal with the rising temperatures? The time to start thinking about it is now.

When I started grooming professionally in the '70s, spring was known as "sheep-shearing season." Shaving off all that winter coat was a quick remedy for the over-heated dog. Indeed, for some types, this is an ideal solution, but not for all.

Two types of coats

With the exception of hard-coated terriers, dogs come in one of two coat types: single-coated and double-coated. Examples of single-coated breeds are poodles, shih-tzus, bichons, etc. This type of coat will continue to grow longer and longer, much like human hair, with genetics being the final determination in reference to length.

Double-coated or fur-bearing breeds have coats that grow to a predetermined length. These breeds have a hard, protective outer coat (guard hairs) and a soft, dense undercoat. Their coats are designed to shed snow or ice and provide maximum protection against freezing weather.

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While the outer or guard hairs get wet, the undercoat works to keep the dog's ski dry. Examples include: Pomeranians, Chows, Golden Retrievers, Australian shepherds and Newfoundlands.

Single-coated breeds can be clipped down to the skin, and the coat will grow back pretty much as it was before. The same is not true for double-coated breeds. In fact, if your sole motivation for shaving your dog in the spring is to "keep him cool," you need to know that you are probably creating a far worse situation than you think.

Think of a healthy double coat as an old-growth forest. There is a balance with different parts providing different benefits. If you clear-cut an old growth forest, there will be an immediate regrowth of a lot of young trees very soon.

Unfortunately, they won't initially be the same kind as those you cut down. Instead, the forest has to start from scratch and spend years, even decades, first growing ground cover and softwoods that provide an environment for slower growing hardwood varieties. It can take generations before the natural balance is restored.

While on a much shorter timeline, it's the same thing with a double-coated dog. Guard hairs represent old growth, and undercoat represents ground covering vegetation.

The act of shaving a double coat removes the dog's natural insulation and causes his system to kick into high gear. He'll now produce more coat to protect himself from extreme temperatures, sunburn and sharp objects.

Since the top coat takes a long time to grow, what the dog's body produces first is soft undercoat. That's why we hear people say, "I shaved my dog, and it grew back twice as thick and really fuzzy!"

In reality, what happens is the original coat isn't restored at all. What grows in instead is thick, prolific undercoat mixed with short new guard hairs. We call it false coat or coat funk.

So, why is this bad?

A dog's shaved-down false coat is like a smelly sweatshirt. It's dull, soft and retains water like a sponge. Yes, it may even mildew. Burrs and foxtails stick like Velcro, and above all else, the shaved-down false coat is way too thick and heavy for hot weather and will grow thicker every day.

Of course there are cases where even the most skilled and experienced groomer doesn't have a choice, such as a coat that is so matted that shaving is truly the most humane option. Or possibly an underlying skin condition, where the veterinarian requires removal of the top coat for the topical treatment. Both situations need to be thoroughly discussed.

Aside from destroying the coat integrity, shaved dogs are susceptible to a multitude of medical risks including, but not limited to, alopecia, heat stroke and skin cancer, specifically Solar-induced Squamous Cell Carcinomas and Dermal Hemangiosarcomas.

Sometimes, these complications are not reversible.

If you take your dog to a grooming salon you can request a bath and blow-out instead of a shave-down.

Virtually all modern professional grooming salons have high velocity blow dryers in their work areas. These powerhouses can blast the dead undercoat out of your dog's hair after a thorough bathing with minimal brushing and trimming needed.

The benefit to your dog is a healthy, balanced coat you can both live with.

A good professional groomer would be more than happy to demonstrate the best methods and tools to help owners improve their brushing/combing skills.

We all want our clients healthy and comfortable!

Nancy Bynes is a nationally certified master groomer with over 40 years of experience. She lives in Nevada City.

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