Every year, we get questions about winter grooming. I hate to sound like a broken record, but it is an important topic, and one that might not seem as easy as it should.
First thing we need to know is that a long coat is not necessarily a warm coat. Keeping any dog in a full coat requires constant combing and brushing. Whether it is a Shi-Tzu, Poodle or Golden Retriever, keeping the coat tangle and mat free is of paramount importance. A well maintained, tangle free coat is a very warm coat.
Notice I used the word comb first. It is important that a comb can freely get through the coat, right to the skin. A brush can ride over mats and tangles, but a comb will find the problem areas. Many people brush their dogs, and make them look pretty, never knowing the danger that lurks under the surface.
Mats can form close to the skin, especially where the collar rubs, or the armpits, or where a harness or coat may cause rubbing. These can spread until the dog is pelted, meaning there is one continuous mat just above the skin. You can still brush the hair that comes through this mat, but under the mat very dangerous things are happening. Sores, bacterial infections, and worse can erupt. And while there is a lot of hair there, it can never really dry out, so going outside with that coat is like going outside with a wet shirt on under your parka.
Many people leave their dogs grooming appointments longer, because they think that longer coat will keep the dog warm (which we just discussed is not true). Dematting a dog is easy when it is kept on a regular schedule, but when it gets left too long, it becomes a painful procedure, if it can be done at all. Many times the only recourse is to shave the dog to the skin. This can reveal issues hidden under the mats, as well as causing problems with the hair being released from the mat, and blood rushing back to the skin. Dogs that have been shaved off may exhibit strange behaviours, as their skin feels odd. You have to be careful to not let them hurt themselves by scraping against things, or shaking their heads.
Dematting is not only painful to the dog, it is costly. It can add $25 to $100 to a grooming appointment. Stretching the time between appointments can end up costing more, in addition to the pain it can cause the pet.
A properly groomed and maintained coat is an amazing insulator for dogs. Double coated dogs, like Goldens, Shepherds and Huskies can also benefit from a good grooming before winter. Getting out the dead undercoat (the hair that is constantly escaping your pet and hiding under and on top of the couch, chair and any other furniture in the house) is an important part of making the coat winter ready. A hearty new undercoat generally comes in before winter, to protect the dog. The dead summer undercoat needs to be removed. There are brushes (coat kings or undercoat rakes) that you can use at home to get a lot of it out, but the best way is to visit a professional groomer.
Grooming a double coated dog is a specialized procedure, and until you’ve had a pro that specializes in it do the job, you may be surprised at the difference. Grooming a double coat is more than just a bath, dry and brushout. Well, maybe not, but the key is how you bath, dry and brush, and a $50 grooming isn’t usually going to be a proper job.
Bathing a double coat requires special shampoos to loosen the coat, equipment to blast the water and shampoo to get the dog clean down to the skin, and fully rinsing the dog, again, down to the skin. Drying the dog is tougher. A “high velocity dryer” is the minimum equipment required, to get the dog dry right to the skin, and to blow out undercoat as well. Using a remote mounted dryer reduces the noise, and can get the dog drier by using dry air, instead of damp room air (which is like trying to get dry using a wet towel). Sounds simple, but not many groomers have these tools, find one and stick with them. And then a final thorough brush out of the fully dried dog with the coat king / rake.
Keeping our dogs warm and safe over the winter is simple, but not easy or cheap. Invest wisely and the pupper will be toasty and happy all winter.