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October 20, 2008

Winter Grooming Starts with a Groomer

By: Emily Refermat

As the days cool, you may notice a difference in your dog’s coat. It’s not unusual for the loose under coat to shed a bit as the warm winter coat arrives, but before you rush out to buy a FURminator® deshedding tool consider if you will be doing more damage than good.

All dog coats are different, both in looks and requirements for grooming. Some pups need hair cuts, like their owners, while most just need regular brushing to keep their fur glossy, clean and unsnarled. Making sure the hair is loose and free of debris also keeps the skin underneath clean. Minor daily or weekly grooming can mean less hassle as the seasons change.

“It’s much easier to manage a clean (maintained) coat, not just one bathed and groomed twice a year,” said Kathy Marsala, manager at Pampered Paws, Wauwatosa. While brushing at home is important, Marsala warns potential home-groomers that there’s more equipment and knowledge that goes into grooming than they might expect.

There are all sorts of grooming tools on the market. Many are available to anyone, from undercoat rakes (like the FURminator), which pull out the loose hair, to de-matting rakes that break up the tangles and knots, not to mention the high speed blowers that can blow the loose undercoat out. But the true advantage groomers have is knowing the different coats and skin types and which tools to use on them. “The FURminator is excellent for a loose under coat, but you can easily overbrush with it. A professional knows when to stop,” explained Marsala.

She tells the story of a Huskie owner who brought her dog in. The dog’s fur was badly damaged. According to Marsala, a healthy coat is supposed to lay flat, appearing even all over the body. There should be no shiny versus dull areas. Additionally, the undercoat should not be visible. If the outer coat is broken away with damage, the undercoat (not just the hairs falling off during shedding) will be visible.

Marsala could tell her Huskie client did not have a healthy coat. She soon found out that the owner was using an undercoat rake daily and it was breaking the pup’s fur. “It took quite a while for the coat to recover,” Marsala acknowledged.

Ask a Groomer
This doesn’t mean that no grooming should be done at home, but Marsala encourages owners to talk to a groomer about what kinds and how much they should do. “If you want to buy some home grooming tools, groomers can answer how often to do it at home, how often to get it professionally done, the type of equipment to use (on their dog’s coat specifically) and show you the proper techniques,” said Marsala. Overusing a matting rake in a certain area or over brushing in one spot are examples of how easy it is to cause damage, she warns. And not combing out the coat before a bath can pack mats tighter, making them harder to get out and possibly trapping dirt next to the dog’s sensitive skin.

Most dogs would benefit from being professionally groomed every three months, said Marsala, with at-home brushing and cleaning in-between appointments. Groomers see lots of dogs sporadically before the holidays and in the Spring, but regular grooming can help avoid the intense shedding owners dislike at these times. “With regular maintenance for double coated breeds, you’re not going to see big times of blowing (the coat),” said Marsala.

Grooming in the Spring
And in the Spring, when the weather warms and you’re thinking about what to do with your dog’s very hot looking fur coat, Marsala says don’t cut it. “This tricks the undercoat to grow more,” she said. And because dogs don’t sweat through their skin (just their pads and tongue) it doesn’t help them. In actuality, says Marsala, it ruins the coat and keeps them from being the beautiful dog you had before. The only shaving Marsala does sometimes on large breeds is the belly, groin and around the legs. “It’s so when they lay on cold surfaces, it cools the blood in those areas faster,” said Marsala.

There are a lot of things to consider as you run your hand through your dog’s hair and scratch behind his ears. But right now, with the holidays soon approaching doesn’t your canine pal deserve to look his very best? Give that coat a good shine with professional advice and some at home know how.

Emily Refermat is a dog lover and long-time writer who just isn't content without a pen in hand and the prod of a cold nose.

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