It would be impossible to count how many times each summer a professional groomer is asked to shave a client’s dog in an attempt to make it cooler. Here in rural Montana where the summers are scorching, I have had requests to shave almost every breed imaginable. It is a common misconception that all dogs would automatically be cooler if they had less hair.
First it is important to consider is what type of hair the dog has. All dogs can basically be divided into two groups. First we have those who need to have their cut on a regular basis, such as poodles, shih tzus, cocker spaniels, lhasa apsos, terriers, etc. Dogs in this group have hair that would continue growing longer and longer until it was cut. These breeds can be shaved with no problem. Taking off excess coat by shaving them down in hot weather will indeed make them more comfortable and cooler, and will not cause damage to the dog’s coat. However, this is not the case with the second group.
This group of dogs consists of all the other breeds, longhaired or shorthaired, whose hair grows to one length only and then remains that length. These dogs typically shed much more than dogs in the first group. These include retrievers, pomeranians, great Pyranees, chow chows, pugs, German shepherds, huskies, and the list goes on and on. Their coats act as insulators against the elements, and should never be shaved. After all, do you take the insulation out of your home in the summer to make it cooler? Absolutely not, and the same goes for these dogs as well.
The coats of the dogs in the second group consist of two different types of hair, a soft, downy undercoat, and harsher, thicker hairs called guard hairs. These two types of hairs are actually designed to mat and tangle up to form a hard shell or pelt around the animal to keep their temperature regulated in extreme weather. Without proper brushing and grooming on a regular basis, this often happens, leading the owner to the false conclusion that the coat needs to be shaved off to make the dog cooler. However, shaving the hair off of these dogs takes away their insulation from the heat, actually making these dogs hotter and more uncomfortable. Shaving also makes them more susceptible to sunburn as well.
It is important to understand that if you make the decision to go ahead and shave these types of dogs anyway, their hair will never be the same again. Shaving will change the coat forever. Not only does the hair grow back in extremely slowly, but also it grows back in much softer and sparse. The color of the coat will be different too, as the hair will be at least two shades lighter than it was before.
One of the worst things about shaving a dog with this type of hair is that the dog can develop what we call clipper alopecia. In simple terms, it just means that the hair does not grow back. This is caused by a change in the guard hairs when they are cut. Clipper alopecia usually develops first in a patch on the dog’s back, located right in front of the tail. After shaving, only thin layer of hair will grow back there, usually reaching a maximum length of about one half of an inch. Dogs that develop this condition have coats that appear to be moth-eaten. This is not an attractive sight!
Okay, so what happens if you do have a dog that is matted to the skin and appears to be too hot in this balmy weather? Seek the advice of a properly trained groomer to determine the best course of action. With the many miracle grooming products that are out there on the market, many times these coats can be saved with a couple of intense grooming sessions and some effort in daily grooming from the owner. This optimizes the dog’s coat to perform its insulating tasks properly. Occasionally, the coat truly is beyond repair and does in fact have to be shaved to start over. Your groomer can help you with this decision and give you pointers on how to avoid this situation in the future.
It is important to note that if you have a mixed breed dog, it can be difficult to determine which group the dog falls into. Most groomers can evaluate a dog’s coat upon inspection to let you know which group the dog falls into, and what course of action to take, the risks involved, etc.
As a former professional groomer, I strongly feel that it is the groomer’s responsibility to fully explain these things to clients wanting to have their dogs shaved. It is important to share knowledge with the clients to make the best decision possible for the pet in need of grooming.
COPYRIGHT 2008 Shannon Heggem