Most dogs grow a heavier coat in the winter even if they spend most of their time inside. Granted, dogs who spend more time outside grow a thicker coat, as do breeds with a naturally thick coat such as Akitas, Siberian Huskies, Samoyeds and others. Many breeds with medium or short coats also develop a thicker or heavier coat during the winter as it helps protect them from the colder temperatures and unpleasant weather.
This heavier coat means that come spring, there’s going to be hair everywhere. Plus, thick coats can become matted as hair that loosens in the spring catches on the remaining coat and tangles. Some undercoat becomes felt-like - comparable to the fleece of a sheep – if it’s not brushed out as shedding begins. Spring means not only the traditional spring cleaning for your home, but spring cleaning for your dog’s coat as well.
Brush, Brush, and Brush Some More
The first step in refreshing your dog’s coat should be brushing. No matter what kind of coat he has – short, medium, long, undercoat or not – brushing is good for it and removes the loose hairs.
One of my Australian Shepherds, Bashir, has a very thick undercoat (see photo). My middle dog, Sisko, has an undercoat, but not nearly as heavy as Bashir’s. Then my youngest, Bones, hasn’t fully developed his adult coat so right now he has little undercoat.
All three dogs need regular grooming, but Bashir requires much more brushing than the younger dogs to get all of the old undercoat. I do this over several brushing sessions; I don’t want him to get tired of the grooming, dislike it, or get bored, which might happen if I tried to do it all at once.
What type of tool you use to brush your dog depends on your dog’s coat. If you aren’t sure, ask a breeder or a local professional groomer. It’s important to make sure your grooming tools – brushes, slicker brushes, rakes, or combs – are gentle on the skin and do not scratch him or make him sore. Feel the tools with your fingers or brush them along your skin; if they hurt or scratch you, they will hurt your dog as well.
Brush in the direction the hair grows. If you encounter a tangle or mat do not try and force the brush through it. Don’t pull the mat out either; that hurts. Instead, use your fingers to untangle the hair. If that doesn’t work, use a tiny dab of hair conditioner (yours is fine) and work that into the tangle, then comb it out.
If your dog has large tangles and mats, take him to a professional groomer. Shaving might be required as working out large mats can be difficult and painful.
Bathe, Condition, and Brush Again
After you have thoroughly brushed out most of the coat that is being shed, then it’s time for a bath. As you shampoo your dog, give him a fingertip massage so you can feel his coat and skin. If you feel a couple more tangles in the coat, make sure to work in some conditioner after you’ve rinsed the shampoo out.
The fingertip massage can also feel for any lumps, bumps, cuts, scratches, ticks, or other problems that might have been hidden under the winter coat. It’s often much easier to find these by feeling them with your fingers than it is to see them. Once you feel as issue, you can take care of it yourself or decide if a trip to the veterinarian is required.
After the massage, rinse out the shampoo. If your dog has a thick coat, a rinse of white vinegar (rubbed into the coat) and then rinsed out will make sure any remaining shampoo is gone. Shampoo that remains in the coat can cause skin irritation.
If your dog’s coat looks a little worse for wear after the winter weather and warm dry temperatures in the house, use a conditioner on his coat. Follow the directions as they vary according to the brand. Most are supposed to be worked into the coat and then ask you to wait a few minutes before rinsing.
Dry your dog with a towel and then keep him wrapped up in another dry towel for a little while if he’ll cooperate. Just make sure he doesn’t get cold as he’s drying. Some dogs will accept the blow dryer; if your dog does, set the temperature to warm rather than hot.
When your dog is washed, massaged, conditioned, and dried, it’s time to brush again. Bathing your dog loosens up any remaining winter coat so shedding will resume.
Spring is a good time to take a good look at your dog; not just his coat, but all of him. As you brush and bathe your dog, look at his ears. Are they clean? Has he been scratching at them? Are his eyes clean and healthy or do they look red? If he’s older, do his eyes look a little cloudy? How about his toenails; do they need to be trimmed? Examine him in detail all over and then, if needed, contact a professional groomer or your dog’s veterinarian for help.
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