Warming Up to Double-Coated Breeds

Warming Up to Double-Coated Breeds

In This Chapter

  • Understanding what makes a longer-haired double-coated breed
  • Handling the big hair
  • Grooming and grooming your double-coated dog
  • Sprucing up your long hair’s coat for show

It’s time to talk big hair. If the short-coated breeds are the wash-and-wear dogs of the canine world (see Chapter Warming Up to Double-Coated Breeds), the double-coated breeds probably are the biggest headaches as far as the grooming world is concerned. It isn’t so much that double-coated dogs are extremely grooming intensive, except (of course) when they blow their coats, or shed, but rather it’s what happens to their coats when you don’t care for them — mats!

When I talk about double-coated dogs, I’m referring to dogs that are specifically bred to deal with colder climates. These dogs have what I call natural to woolly coats. I say natural because they are coats like you might see on a wolf, minus the coloring — thick, with an undercoat and a top coat equipped with guard hairs that can be fairly coarse. The woolly coat is an extension of the natural coat — sort of a natural coat on steroids. These thick, heavy coats can be real nightmares when you’re trying to remove mats from them.

If you own a double-coated breed, you’re probably wondering what you’re in for, and that’s what I tell you about in this chapter. You’ll find out everything you need to do to groom your double coat and make him the best looking pooch on the block.

Introducing the Big Hairy Deal: Double-Coated Breeds

Technically many dog breeds that aren’t discussed at length here in this chapter actually have double coats. Among them are breeds like Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, and even Pugs. But unlike the hairy dudes I’m going to tell you about, those breeds are not as difficult to groom (see Chapter Warming Up to Double-Coated Breeds). Big hairy double coats are dogs that are typically characterized as having dense double coats that shed once or twice a year (see Figure 9-1). Some breeds in this category actually can shed year-round, especially in warmer climates.
Here’s the list of the double-coated dogs that I’m talking about:
  • Akita
  • Alaskan Husky
  • Alaskan Malamute
  • Belgian Sheepdog
  • Belgian Tervuren
  • Bernese Mountain Dog
  • Canadian Inuit Dog
  • Chinook
  • Collie (Rough)
  • Finnish Lapphund
  • Finnish Spitz
  • German Spitz
  • Great Pyrenees
  • Jindo
  • Keeshond
  • Leonberger
  • Lundehund
  • Newfoundland
  • Norwegian Buhund
  • Norwegian Elkhound
  • Pomeranian
  • Saint Bernard
  • Samoyed
  • Shiba Inu
  • Siberian Husky

As I talk about these double-coated breeds, you may notice a huge variation in length of their coats. Some breeds, like the Norwegian Buhund and the Siberian Husky, can have relatively short, dense coats, but others, like the Keeshond and the Samoyed can be downright woolly. So the coat length usually is somewhere between one and four inches.
Woolly coats probably are the most difficult to groom, because there’s just so much fur to deal with. Not only are wooly coats long, but they also usually have a dense, thick undercoat. If you’re talking wicked mats, you’re probably talking about a woolly dog — and dozens of breeds qualify. Woolly fur is so long and thick, you may feel like grabbing the sheep shears instead of a brush.
Figure 9-1: An Akita (a) and a Bernese Mountain Dog (b) don the bulky characteristics that come with wearing a double fur coat.


You have to brush and comb a wooly double-coated dog every day to keep his coat from looking ratty. During shedding season, you’re in for a royal headache. The undercoat becomes matted with guard hairs, making it nearly impossible to comb through.

If you’re wondering why you can’t just shave your double-coated pooch, well, doing so essentially defeats the purpose of having a double-coated breed. After all, if you didn’t like the look of the breed, why own a double-coated dog in the first place? Other more important reasons for not shaving your double-coated breed include:

Skin protection: Double-coated dogs aren’t made to walk around without their coats (truly naked) and can be more susceptible to sunburn, hypothermia, and heat stroke without them. When a double-coated dog’s fur is brushed and free of blown or shedded hairs and mats, the guard hairs (or top coat) provide shade to the body and enable air to circulate closer to the dog’s skin. With a well-maintained coat, your dog can actually remain cooler than she can with a shaved coat.

Skin health: Don’t forget that your dog needs time to regrow his coat. After you shave him to the skin, he’s starting at square one. Health conditions can impede your dog’s ability to regrow his coat, and that can spell trouble, especially with fall and winter approaching.

Caring for your dog’s coat is better for him than shaving it. The following sections explain how.


As you may have guessed, brushing is a big hairy deal with these dogs. They won’t look their best unless you brush and comb them at least twice a week. In some cases, you’ll be brushing them almost every day to remove loose fur from that undercoat, especially when they’re shedding.

The basics

Here are the basics of how to brush your double-coated dog:
1. Look for tangles or mats and remove them using detangler solution and a medium-toothed comb (see Chapter Caring for Your Canine’s Teeth, Toes, Ears, Face, and Ahem, Other Areas for specific instructions).


The best way to deal with mats — especially with a double-coated dog — is to not let them form in the first place. You can do that by brushing and combing your dog regularly. If you take care of your double-coated dog’s hair, it’s probably going to look good and be free from tangles and mats.

2. Backbrush, or brush against the lay of your dog’s hair, first using a slicker brush and then again with a medium- or coarse-toothed comb — depending on the thickness and length of your dog’s coat.

Using a slicker brush removes the loose hairs, and using a comb helps you make sure no tangles are present and removes more hair.

3. Brush your dog’s coat with the lay of the hair using a slicker brush.

Be sure to get all the way to the skin as you brush your dog this way.

4. Go over your dog’s coat with a flea comb both to look for fleas and remove tangles.

You can best use a flea comb by parting the coat, starting at the root, and combing through.

5. Depending on how hairy your dog’s pads are, you can either leave them natural or clip them by running electric clippers with a No. 10 blade over the paw pads to remove any excess hair.

Don’t clip the hair between the pads — just any excess that otherwise may get in the way or inhibit a neater appearance.

Grooming easy-going wash-and-wear dogs

As you’re brushing your huge and hairy dog, you may be wishing for (or dreaming of) a washand-wear type pooch. Well, being the sadistic author I am, I’ve decided to list those just plain easier-to-groom breeds right here in this sidebar amid your long-coated agony: 

– Basenji

– Chinese Crested (for those who think bald is beautiful)

– Dalmation

– Doberman Pinscher

– Great Dane

– Mastiff

– Pharaoh Hound

– Pointer

– Rhodesian Ridgeback

Nonetheless, you love the look of your longhaired, double-coated breed, don’t you? I do, too. I have Alaskan Malamutes. Still, we’re allowed to look longingly at the easier-to-groom breeds — don’t you agree?
These steps are merely the basics of brushing out a double-coated dog. If your dog is shedding, you’re faced with much more to do — keep reading!

Surviving shedding season

Double-coated dogs usually shed out their undercoats once or twice a year. Occasionally, depending on the breed and the geographic climate, you may see double coats shedding year-round. (Lovely, isn’t it?) Dogs that shed year-round usually are found in temperate climates (think south).
When the shedding season starts, you know it . . . oh boy, do you know it! Shedding starts innocently enough. Cotton tufts of hair poke through the top coat here and there. Usually you first find it around your dog’s flank. When you see that, you need to watch out! You’re going to have to start brushing and combing every day to get rid of all that excessive fur; otherwise, you’re going to be hip deep in it.

Technical Stuff

If you own an intact female dog, she usually blows coat, or sheds, right before or during her heat or season. In fact, that usually was the sign I looked for so I knew when one of my intact females was ready to come into season. (I’ve since spayed them all.) But some females don’t follow this menstrual schedule, or they blow their coats only after their season, so you can’t rely on this hint as a solid tip.

There isn’t a comb, slicker brush, or other grooming device made that can hold as much hair as a big dog releases when blowing coat. I swear when they’re in full blow, they cast off enough fur to knit three more dogs. A good tool to invest in (if you haven’t already) is a shedding blade (see Chapter Training Your Dog for Grooming). These blades pull hair from the dog with a single stroke, depositing the hair on the ground. Then, you can bag up the hair and throw it out or hand it to someone who spins dog hair — I’m serious; see the nearby “Puttin’ on the dog: Spinning dog hair” sidebar. Just never use a shedding blade on your dog in the living room, or you’ll be wishing you hadn’t. You’ll end up going through many vacuum cleaners.


Some people recommend bathing a dog in warm water to loosen the hair and facilitate shedding. Although this works to a certain degree, you’re more likely to have clogged sewer pipes and a tangled mess for a dog if you do it. Better to bite the bullet and brush and comb out your dog before and after bathing. Having a hair strainer in your drain helps, though.

Start where the problem is worst, and use the shedding blade to pull the hair out in a downward motion. Most double-coated dogs are pretty tolerant of having their coats pulled in this manner, but they may not be as tolerant when you pluck the tufts from their coat. I’ve also noticed that Zoom-Groom combs also pull loose hair out with minimal problems.
After you get a fair amount of fur pulled off the dog, bag it up as soon as possible. I use grocery store bags that I can tie off and throw away. They help keep the hair problem under control. Or you can use a shop vac to tidy up.

Puttin’ on the dog: Spinning dog hair

You may be amazed (and amused) to discover that like wool, dog hair can be spun into yarn. The fur is called chiengora, (SHEE-en-gora) which is just a fancy term for dog hair. (That way your mom won’t balk when you hand her a chiengora hat for Christmas.
Here are some Web sites that cover knitting with dog hair. These Web sites are for information only; I don’t specifically endorse any of them:

– Handspinning Dog Hair Homepage – www.mdnpd.com/pd/default.htm

– VIP Fibers – www.vipfibers.com/index.php

– Betty Burian Kirk Dog Hair Yarn Custom Spun – www.bbkirk.com/Dog%20Hair%20Yarn.htm

– Wolf Tales/Wolf Yarn – www.inetdesign.com/wolfdunn/wolfyarn/

One book a knitter friend of mine recommends is Knitting With Dog Hair: Better A Sweater From A Dog You Know and Love Than From A Sheep You’ll Never Meet by Kendal Crolius (St. Martin’s Griffin, 1997). My friend considers it the bible of dog-hair knitting.


Bathing can be easy or a big hairy deal when it comes to double-coated dogs. The double-coated dogs that I deal with consider bathwater akin to a near-death experience, so they can be really difficult in the tub. The good news is that with proper brushing and coat care, you don’t really have to bathe a double coat as much as you do a single coat or a short-haired dog. All that brushing and blowing out their coat gives long-haired, double-coated dogs a better chance of keeping clean (or at least cleaner).
Some people swear that many of the dogs with natural coats don’t have a doggie smell. I can’t swear that’s true, because my first dogs as an adult were northern breed dogs (Samoyed crosses, Keeshonden, and Alaskan Malamutes), but I do notice that some shorter-coated breeds have a houndy type smell. So, maybe there’s something to that natural-coat characteristic.

How often and when, really?

How often you bathe your double coat depends a great deal on how dirty he gets and how often you brush and comb him. Most people get by with a bath once a month, but your mileage may vary. Here are some factors to keep in mind when deciding when to bathe a double-coated dog:

– You can bathe your dog as much as you want provided you use a pH-balanced shampoo for dogs. You won’t ruin his coat by bathing him too often. Forget that old wives’ tale.

– If your dog gets dirty digging a hole or getting into other filthy things, it’s time for a bath; otherwise, the dirt will just cause mats.

– Bathing your dog will take a fair amount of time, because he needs to be brushed, bathed, dried, and then brushed again, and you may even want to add a clipping session or two. That mean’s you need to plan ahead for your pup’s baths.

The basics

After performing the pre-bath brush (see the “Brushing” section earlier in this chapter), follow these step-by-step bathing instructions:
1. Wet down your dog thoroughly with tepid water in a tub that’s an appropriate size for your breed of dog.

When bathing your double-coated dog, be sure to wet your dog all the way to the skin. Some coats are so dense they keep water away from the skin, so be sure to feel all the way down to the skin to make sure your dog’s all wet.


A handheld shower head or tub faucet attachment is ideal for wetting down dogs if you have good water pressure.

2. Using a pH-balanced dog shampoo, thoroughly lather up your dog’s entire coat except around the face and eyes — which you must do separately with a wet cloth.
3. Rinse your dog’s coat thoroughly.

Be sure to rinse the residue from the skin and undercoat.

4. Apply a good conditioner for dogs.

One made to keep the hair from tangling is good. No-residue conditioners are good, too.

5. Rinse really well.

Feel for any soapy, slimy spots next to the skin, and continue rinsing until they are gone. Although billed as no-residue conditioners, these products will leave a residue, if you don’t rinse them out.

6. Dry your dog thoroughly. (See the section on “Drying” your long coat later in this chapter.)
7. Brush out your dog’s coat thoroughly.

Preventing tangles and mats

A double-coated dog’s fur may easily tangle, or it may not, depending on how fine or coarse his hair is. The tricks to preventing tangles and mats from forming include keeping the following points in mind when grooming your double-coated dog:

– Brushing out your dog’s coat before bathing is imperative. Yes, I know, she may be filthy or stink beyond belief, or she may be shedding worse than anything you’ve ever seen. Brush and comb her; otherwise, after you get that double coat wet, it will mat and tangle worse than a preschooler’s hair. Do you and your dog a favor and brush and comb her out before her bath.

– Detangler solution is your next best friend. Removing all mats, foreign objects (twigs, burrs), and blown coat before you bathe your dog prevents tangles from forming after the bath.

– Use a mat rake and mat cutter to eliminate tangles that can become serious mats.

– Use a coat conditioner that prevents tangles and matting.

– Rinse your dog thoroughly when bathing. Any leftover residues will attract dirt and cause mats.

– After bathing, always blow-dry your double coat in a clean area where he’s unlikely to pick up more dirt that can cause tangles.

– Dry your dog thoroughly. Wet hair picks up dirt and thus causes tangles.


If you have a sopping wet dog in your tub, grab the towels and start drying, blotting and squeezing as much water from the thick coat as you can. Hint: You’ll need plenty (a lot) of towels.

Preventing collar marks

One big problem with double-coated breeds is the marks that collars can leave on their necks. If you’re a conscientious owner, you know that you must have a collar and tags on your dog at all times so you can identify him if he accidentally slips away from you and so he can then be returned to you. The problem is that most collars rub the fur in such a way that a mark is left where the collar was worn — even after you clean up and brush out his coat.
Many show dog owners don’t make their dogs wear collars, preferring instead to rely on microchip or tattoo identification of their dogs. However, this form of identification can be risky, because many people don’t know to look for tattoos and microchips. Someone may find a dog and not bother to take him to a vet or humane shelter, because no tags were present and the person who found him may not be aware of microchip IDs. Another issue with microchips is that the devices that read the information on the chips haven’t been standardized; not all readers read all microchips. So if you decide on microchipping your dog, be sure that it is a common microchip. Check with your vet.
You can keep a collar on your dog without ruining his fur. Rolled leather collars do a minimal
amount of damage to the neck fur. They come in buckle and slip styles (ones that tighten when the collar is pulled on), and you can use either type. Be aware, however, that when these collars get wet, some of them can stain your dog’s fur.
As a note or warning: You should never leave a slip-style collar on an unattended dog.

After your dog is no longer dripping, move him to your grooming table and doggie blow-dryer and start drying. At first the coat will be too moisture-laden and heavy to comb or brush as you’re drying it, but as it begins to dry, you can begin combing it with a medium-toothed comb and then eventually move to a slicker brush. Lift the outer hair with the comb so that you can dry your dog’s top coat and undercoat.
As you dry your dog, be mindful of how you’re using the brush and comb. Like blow-drying your own hair, a dog’s hair follows the style you set as you dry. So, for example, if you want a stand-up coat, you have to backbrush with a comb to get it to stand up away from the lay of the hair. If the coat is to lay flat, you brush with the grain, not against it.
After your dog is dry, backbrush his coat with a comb and a slicker brush, and then brush the hair forward.

Preparing for Show

Getting a double-coated dog ready for a confirmation show isn’t necessarily a big deal if you maintain his coat, but the process is time-consuming.


When showing your dog, understanding the breed standard and the correct coat type your dog should be wearing, if you will, are essential. A good place to look for breed standards is on the Internet at www.akc.org.

The list that follows contains the basics of what you have to do to get your dog ready for the show:
  • Trim your dog’s toenails.
  • Brush out your dog.
  • Remove any mats.
  • Bathe your dog.
  • Dry your dog.
  • Brush out your dog again.
  • Clip stray hairs and trim your dog’s coat to keep the clean line that is allowed by his breed standard.
  • Use coat dressing to spruce up you dog’s coat, whenever appropriate.
If you want to show your dog, you’ll need to know some of the finer points of getting your dog’s double coat ready. I tell you about them in the sections that follow.

Mousse and a spritz — Conditioning the coat

Plenty of good coat conditioners are available to get dogs ready for show. Most, like coat dressings and bodifiers, are used to add volume to your dog’s hair. Texturizers also are available to give your dog’s coat the proper feel.

Technical Stuff

You need all this stuff, because using it has to do with giving your dog the proper coat type. For example, certain breeds are supposed to have what’s called a harsh coat. That means the dog’s coat feels a little stiff to the touch and is weatherproof. When you bathe and condition your dog frequently, that feel can be lost because of coat maintenance, or the dog’s coat simply may not have the right feel. Whatever the reason, you need to adjust the coat so that it feels as close to the way the breed standard dictates as possible, and that requires some coat dressing.

Coat conditioners won’t make a bad coat perfect, but they will improve it tremendously, especially when you do all the other good-grooming tasks correctly. Coat conditioners won’t necessarily make your dog into a show winner, but they will keep you from losing badly because your dog’s coat looks awful.

Making the hair stand up

Now that you’ve conditioned your dog with enough mousse and coat texturizer to saturate her coat, you may be wondering just how to get her fur to puff out like the other show dogs you see. If you have a dog with a stand-up coat (meaning, she puffs out naturally), you’re in luck! Your dog has a natural show coat. But if yours doesn’t puff, here are some tricks you can try to make your dog look like she has a stand-up coat:

– While your dog’s coat is drying, use your blow-dryer against the lay of the hair and backbrush your dog’s coat (using a brush or comb) to puff it out.

– Spray bodifier over your dog’s coat, backbrush again, and let the coat air dry.

– If the hair starts to lay back down, use a bodifier or water mister to spray on the coat and backbrush the hair as required.

All of these tips are legitimate tricks you can use to get your dog’s hair to stand up and look pretty for the show.
by Margaret H.Bonham