Like certain people, some dog breeds could be considered a little high maintenance. Breeds such as Shih Tzu, Lhasa Apso, Poodle, and Maltese — among others — require regular grooming. For these breeds, grooming is not a matter of vanity, but a necessity. Unless regularly brushed and properly groomed, many long-haired dogs can become horribly matted. Without treatment, these mats can be painful because they pull on the underlying skin, and can lead to sores and skin infections. In addition, mats attract debris and dirt and become a safe haven for parasites. Many matted dogs become infested with fleas.
Scruffy’s extreme hair story
Working as a shelter veterinarian, I see way too many severely matted dogs. On September 11th, Scruffy, as I will lovingly call him, came into the shelter where I work. Scruffy was so badly matted you couldn’t see his eyes. He was matted from head to toe, and the mats extended down to the skin. He was so painful to the touch and terrified that I had to sedate him in order to examine and groom him. One hour later, surrounded by a “hair rug” the size of a bathmat, Scruffy was a new dog. Not only did he look much better, but he also seemed to have a new attitude as he unleashed his inner friendly puppy. Luckily, he only had a minor skin infection from the severe matting, and after a medicated bath and a week’s worth of antibiotics, his skin was back to normal.
Scruffy was lucky someone found him and brought him into the shelter, where he could receive the care he needed and deserved. Unfortunately, he is not a unique case. I see severely matted dogs several times a week. Many have severe skin infections with open infected sores that are often infested with maggots. Yes maggots! The moist oozing sores attract flies that lay their eggs in the wounds. Can you imagine having maggots crawling all over your skin and not being able to do anything about it?
The fact is, if you have a dog with long hair, he needs regular maintenance and care. Failure to properly care for your dog’s coat can lead to severe matting and skin infections. If you don’t have the means or desire to regularly groom your dog, avoid getting a dog with hair that will require regular grooming. If you notice a severely matted and neglected pet in your neighborhood, please call your local animal shelter so that they can take action.
If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian -- they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.
Dog grooming tips
Grooming your dog keeps him healthy and is also an important part of your relationship. When you're grooming your dog, you're not only keeping his coat, skin, feet, ears, and teeth healthy, you're becoming familiar with his body so that you'll notice early on if anything is unusual and needs veterinary attention.
When you're learning to groom your dog, be patient and use lots of treats. Start slowly and add more as your dog accepts what you’re doing. If you start getting frustrated, stop and come back to it later. Remember to keep it positive and fun, and take your dog to a professional groomer if needed.
Unless your dog has gotten into something smelly or dirty, he will need to be bathed only every two to four months. Bathing him too frequently will dry out his skin and strip the natural oils from his coat.
Make sure to use a shampoo that’s made for dogs. Human shampoo can be too harsh for your puppy’s skin and coat. Put a non-slip surface, such as a bath mat or towel, in the bottom of your tub (or sink, kiddie pool or wherever you are doing your bathing). Lather up the coat, and then rinse thoroughly. Be sure to rinse completely or the shampoo will leave a dull residue on your puppy’s fur. Avoid getting shampoo and water directly in the eyes, mouth, and inside the ears.
Regular brushing removes dead hair, distributes natural oils for a clean and healthy coat, stimulates the surface of the skin, gets rid of dead and dry skin, and helps you become familiar with your dog’s body.
You should brush your dog every couple of days no matter the length of his coat. Sometimes your brushing can have a specific purpose, such as removing hair mats or helping your dog shed his seasonal coat, but most often you’ll be doing general-purpose brushing or combing.
- Choose the right brush. Some brushes are general purpose and others have specific uses. If you're doing general brushing choose a general-purpose brush like a comb, pin-head brush, or the Zoom Groom. If you're planning to remove your dog's dead coat or hair mats use a brush for this purpose, like a shedding blade or a universal slicker brush.
- Let your dog see and smell the brush, then begin brushing while you reward him with treats and praise.
- Keep your sessions short at first and increase the length of time as your dog learns to enjoy it.
Regularly trimming your dog’s foot hair keeps tar, rocks, ice balls, salt, and other debris from geting caught in the feet.
Use a scissors to trim the hair growing over the top of your dog’s foot and around the paw pads so that the hair is level with the paw pads. Do not try to trim in between the toes.
Since dogs' nails grow in a curve, letting them get too long will cause their toes to splay or twist when they walk. This can be very uncomfortable and can lead to broken toes. Regular nail clipping can prevent this and reduce the risk of torn nails. It can also save on wear and tear of your floors and carpeting.
Nails should be checked and clipped about every two weeks. If you can hear them click as your dog walks across the floor, it's time for a trim.
- Pick a pet nail clipper that feels comfortables in your hands, has a clear line of sight to where the blade is cutting, and a sharp blade.
- Keep a jar of styptic powder handy to stop the bleeding in case you accidentally clip the quick (the vein at the bottom of the nail).
- Start slowly. In the beginning, let your dog sniff the clipper, hear the sound it makes, and feel it against his paw and nail before you start clipping. When you’re just starting out, it may take a week or longer to do all four paws. Keep the sessions positive and reward your dog with lots of treats and praise while you’re clipping.
- Clip off the tip of the nail, being careful not to clip the quick. If your dog has clear nails, you will be able to see the quick through the nail. If your dog has black nails, clip off a little at a time, looking at the nail tip straight on after each clip. When you start seeing a pale oval in the tip, it means you are near the vein and should stop clipping. If you clip your dog's nails on a regular basis, you will notice a hook develop at the end of the thicker part of the nail. The hook portion is what can be clipped off.
- Don’t forget to clip dew claws if your dog has them!
How to distract your dog while you trim their nails
Keeping the inside surfaces of your dog’s ears clean feels good to your dog and helps prevent ear infections. Also check the outside surface of your dog's ears for wood ticks, fleas or anything else unusual.
Clean your dog's ears about once a week.
- Use a cotton ball or a piece of gauze with ear cleaning solution, or a baby wipe wrapped around your finger. Don’t use water because it doesn’t evaporate very easily.
- Wipe the inside surface of your dog’s ear, going down only as far as your finger easily fits.
- Don’t use Q-tips or try to put anything further down the ear canal or you will risk causing an ear injury.
- If you notice an unusual smell or a discharge coming from your dog’s ears, let your veterinarian know.
Regular teeth cleaning will save you vet expenses and eliminate the stress of having your dog anesthetized for cleaning procedures. Dogs can suffer from many of the same dental problems as humans (i.e. cavities, gum disease, tartar buildup, etc.). Bacteria from gum disease can get in your dog’s bloodstream, causing other health problems.
Clean your dog’s teeth two to three times per week.
- You may need to start by getting your dog used to brushing by rubbing his gums with your finger and then moving on to a brushing tool.
- Use a piece of gauze wrapped around your finger, a finger cap scrubber made for pet teeth cleaning or a toothbrush designed for dogs.
- Use toothpaste formulated for dogs, baking soda or just water. Do not use human toothpaste because it foams too much and can upset your dog’s stomach.
- You only need to clean the outside surface of the teeth. Your dog’s tongue will keep the top and inside surfaces clean.
1. Don’t rush. ❌
Would you appreciate it if your hair stylist or nail technician were in a rush? No. And Bella wouldn’t, either. Hasty grooming can cause stress and even result in life-threatening mistakes—just ask PetSmart.
2. Don’t restrain Fido by gripping his fur. ❌
This, like tethering, should never be used during grooming.
3. Don’t use scented shampoo. ❌
Perfumed bath products can irritate dogs’ sensitive skin and noses. Choose an unscented shampoo, like this one from 4-Legger.
4. Don’t bathe your dog too often. ❌
Give Bella a bath only when necessary, such as when she’s gotten dirty or smelly by rolling in something—washing dogs’ coats strips them of their natural oils and can cause skin and temperature-regulating issues. Make sure bath time takes place in a warm setting, as bathing in cold weather can cause a dog’s body temperature to drop. Always towel-dry your dog—a blow dryer can be terrifying to dogs and also cause them to overheat.
5. Don’t overwhelm your dog by trying to do too much at once. ❌
If your dog grooming to-do list includes a bath, fur trimming, nail trimming, toothbrushing, and more, don’t make the mistake of trying to squeeze this all into one session. Instead, divide grooming tasks up into more frequent, shorter sessions. And end each one on a high note—don’t wait until your dog is becoming stressed or restless. You want Fido to walk away thinking, “That was fun!”
6. Don’t cut nails too short. ❌
Trimming nails too short is painful and can agitate even the calmest pup. Dogs’ nails contain a blood vessel called the “quick.” Cutting into the quick can result in a great deal of bleeding and pain. If you’re not sure where the quick is, just cut off the tips of the nails, and do it more frequently. If your dog’s toenails get “hooks” on them, just trim them off. Never try to trim nails while Bella is jumpy—wait until she settles down. If your dog finds nail trimming particularly stressful, try trimming just one nail at a time. If you’re new to trimming your dog’s nails, ask your veterinarian to demonstrate the procedure before you attempt it yourself.
7. Don’t use nail clippers with a guard. ❌
Some canine nail clippers come with a guard designed to prevent over-trimming, but the downside to them is that they will block your view. Use your finger as a guard instead, or clip Fido’s nails with his paws resting on a hard surface, such as the floor or a table. This will act as a guard. Make sure you purchase quality clippers, like these from Millers Forge.
8. Don’t forget to clean your dog’s ears. ❌
Don’t use Q-tips unless your veterinarian recommends it. Instead, use an ear cleaner to clean your dog’s ears periodically if they need it—this will help to prevent painful ear infections. Try this ear cleaner from Halo, or ask your veterinarian for a recommendation. Just remember not to let your dog’s ears get wet during bathing. Water and shampoo in the ears can cause painful and dangerous infections.
9. Don’t neglect your grooming tools. ❌
Toenail clipper blades should also be sharpened regularly and replaced at least every few years. Dirty or dull blades won’t cut well and can pull and tug at your dog’s nails.
10. Don’t give up. ❌
It might take a while for you and your dog to get comfortable with home grooming, and that’s OK. But, if you feel a professional groomer is what your furry friend needs, choose a local groomer who comes highly recommended, preferably a mobile grooming service that can groom your dog at home if available. Research your options online—read through ratings and reviews. If you’re unsure, ask your veterinarian for a reference. And make sure the groomer you choose will allow you to stay with your animal companion throughout the grooming process.
Remember, you are your dog’s biggest advocate and protector. By becoming a knowledgeable, confident groomer, you’ll avoid the heartbreaking injuries and fatalities that seem to be common at places like PetSmart and Petco. Help us spread the word:
Have you had a nightmare experience with grooming services at PetSmart or Petco? Use #PetSmartGroomingNightmares or #PetcoGroomingNightmares to share your animal companion’s story on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram—urge your family, friends, and followers to stay away from these big-box pet store chains.
The Ins and Outs of Doodle Grooming
Labradoodles, Goldendoodles, Bernedoodles, Aussiedoodles – oh my! The list of quirky names for these dogs goes on and on. Simply put, a Doodle is a cross between a Poodle and another dog breed. Doodles vary in size, shape, color, and coat texture, all depending on their mix.
Because Doodles are a relatively new breed of dog (developed in the 1980s), there has not been enough time to develop predictable characteristics from the parents to pass down to their offspring. Most Doodles end up with one of two types of coats: wiry shedding coats that may have tight curls or a high maintenance soft curly type of coat that can be found in Poodles. It’s important to know what combination of hair types your Doodle has to properly maintain it’s coat and avoid matting!
Commonly Combined Hair Types
Poodle Hair Type: Harsh and curly
Similar to a Brillo pad texture, this is the classic Poodle coat type seen at dog shows. It’s easy to shape and style.
Poodle Hair Type: Soft and curly
Most often kept in cords (cultivated and well-maintained dreading done on purpose) for dog shows. This type of coat is relatively “non-shedding” in that their shed coat does not drop out of their coarse outer coat and end up on the floor. The shed hair is contained in the coat and requires constant brushing to keep it tangle and mat free.
Golden Retriever Hair Type: Double coated
Known as a double coat, they have a slightly coarser outer coat and soft undercoat used for insulation from cold and heat. This type of coat sheds moderately and constantly, typically with two heavy shedding times a year.
We’re using Golden Retrievers as the third most common hair type example, but Cocker Spaniels, Old English Sheepdogs, Black Russian Terriers, Bernese Mountain Dogs, and others are also used to make a wide variety of Doodle mixes.
Matting is something we see regularly with Doodles no matter what type of coat the dog has. A tangle will form and new hair growth rises up to meet the existing tangle, tangling the hair even further and causing the hair to become matted. Mats can be very painful for your dog because they pull on the underlying skin and can lead to sores and skin infections.
Here’s an example of a very matted Doodle that the groomer had to shave. The photo above was taken mid-way through the matted shave. You can see in the lower right hand corner the hair was shaved to 1/2″ comfortably and carefully. The top portion of this Doodle’s coat had appeared to be brushed out, but you can see the main matting line just below the groomer’s thumb. This matting was so complete and even that it gave the impression of being the skin itself! Beneath the matting is the untangled new growth that is growing up into the existing mat. Below that you can see the blueish line of the dog’s actual skin.
- top of coat
- bottom of coat
The groomer carefully shaved the dog and removed the matted pelt. The top layer is entirely brushed out but under it is a layer of tight matting, so severe that this whole area came off in one piece! The hair is so tightly tangled that it created an illusion of skin and the owner was unaware that they were not actually brushing out completely.
Regular Grooming is Key
Matting can be avoided with proper and regular grooming maintenance. To help figure out your dog’s grooming needs, we recommend bringing in your dog to have its coat type evaluated by a groomer. The groomer can help guide you on what to expect and how often you should be getting a professional groom or brushing at home.
- For coats longer than 1-inch: professional grooming should be done every 2-4 weeks with daily brushing and checking with a comb at home.
- For coats shorter than 1-inch: professional grooming should be done every 6-8 weeks with 2-3 brushings at home per week.
- Line brushing is a relatively simple method of grooming that leaves a dog’s coat looking and feeling soft and full. It can be a time-consuming process, but consistently line-brushing your dog’s coat will help it remain healthy and free of debris, knots, and mats.
- Starting at a leg is the best way to understand line brushing. Put one hand on the wrist joint of your dog’s front leg and slide up until there is a clear line created of hair you are holding up and hair that has fallen down (this should just be the hair on the paw and below the your hand). Using a slicker brush, brush everything below your hand. When that area is brushed out, check your work for matting with a comb, if you find a tangle, switch back to your slicker and work the tangle out. Slide your hand up slightly to release more hair and repeat until the leg is finish. Repeat on all legs, then move to the body.
- Check and brush areas of high friction between grooms. These are often the ears, tail, throat latch, arm pits, collar line (where the collar sits), and where a harness would sit if your dog wears one. Use a slicker brush and greyhound comb for best results.
- If you’re having trouble keeping up with at home maintenance, our groomers would be be happy to get you on a schedule for a brush out at Furr every week to two weeks to keep a longer style.
Common Doodle Cuts
The Puppy Cut
Outside of show rings, “puppy cut” means one uniform length on the body, but does not specify the length itself. Most groomers will recommend somewhere between 1/2″ to 3/4″ to keep the dog slightly fuzzy, but eliminate a lot of the work at home for owners. This can be a relatively low maintenance groom, depending on length chosen.
- Bladed Body, Fuller Leg
Bladed Body, Fuller Leg
This is often times used to give the illusion of length, hide imperfections, or create a more sculpted appearance. A short length is used on the body itself and the legs are left longer.
- Round Teddy Bear Head
- Full Teddy Bear Head
Teddy Bear Head
This is an umbrella term for a commonly used type of head trim. It’s left slightly longer than the body to create some distinction and then rounded in. Ears can be left long or guard combed for less maintenance and a fluffier, more kept look. A round teddy bear head with shorter ears leaves a younger, puppy-like finish. A full teddy bear head with slightly neatened ears leaves a shaggier finish.
- Squirrel Tail
Tails can be one of the most highly matted areas. A squirrel tail is trimmed to one length leaving a fuzzy, bottle brush tail that requires much less at home maintenance. Nicknamed the squirrel tail, it’s usually left about 2-inches long and helps prevent matting.
Your Dog's Coat is Matted — What Now?
If you've found a mat or area of matting while brushing your dog, there are a few things you can do depending on the severity of the mat.
Brushing or Cutting Out Mats — Do or Don't?
You can try to pick at the mat with a comb or slicker brush, but this can be very painful for your dog. If you've ever had someone try to brush out a knot of hair on your head, you know what I'm talking about! Unless the mat is very small and loose, brushing isn't your best option. Not only can it be very uncomfortable and painful for your pup, but it can create a negative brushing experience that will sour any future attempts at brushing.
- If brushing out a mat, spray on a small amount of detangling conditioner spray and try to loosen it a bit with your fingers.
- Once you've isolated the mat by hand from the surrounding fur, grab a slicker brush or grooming comb.
- Hold the base of the mat firmly with one hand to prevent the brushing from pulling painfully on your dog's skin.
- Start working on the mat at the furthest point from the skin rather than trying to brush from your dog's skin outwards.
- Use very small strokes with the brush, take frequent breaks, and give your dog some yummy treats!
Pro Tip: For brushing sessions with your pup, use a Licking Mat smeared with peanut butter or wet dog food that they can work on while being brushed out. Not only will this help with the extra wiggly dogs, but it also helps build a positive association with brushing time.
If you're thinking about cutting out the mat with scissors at home — put the scissors down! Do not use scissors to cut out mats unless you are properly trained, have the proper grooming scissors, feel comfortable doing so, and have a good blood-clotting powder handy. Using scissors instead of clippers to trim out any matting often results in injury to your dog. You never want to pull the mat up from the skin and then cut underneath, as their extended skin can get snipped off as well. If that happens you’ll need to go to the veterinarian for treatment and medication to prevent infection (which can be costly), plus your dog will be much less willing to be handled the next time.
Use Grooming Clippers to Shave Out Mats
Instead of scissors, use grooming clippers to shave out the mat. My favorite clipper to use for mat trimming (and paw pad maintenance) is the cordless Bravura Lithium clipper from Wahl (picture below). The battery lasts quite a long time, its 5-in-1 blade allows for different trimming lengths, and not having to worry about a cord makes at-home trimming quick and easy.
Don't pull or raise the skin as you trim out the matting. To help prevent obvious shaved spots in their coat, hold the end of the mat firmly with your fingers and work at the mat with the clippers from the base outwards and peel it off in layers with the blade. This technique only works for isolated mats, such as mats behind the ears — if your dog has more widespread matting over their body, it's best to see your groomer for a full body trim rather than try to remove them at home.
In the case of severe matting, your best bet might be to set up an appointment with your veterinarian for a sedated clipping. This can spare your pooch some serious discomfort, distress, and emotional trauma, as well as make the process safer for everyone involved.