This image has been circulating social media again. Every summer there’s a similar debate – should I shave my dog, or is shaving doing more harm than good?
Cutting to the chase here – it really depends on the situation. Your dog: what breed and coat type, what activities is she doing, does she prefer to keep her coat or have it shaved? And your environment: do you live in Texas or the Pacific Northwest, like me? Do you get the occasional heatwave, or is it 35C and above for months at a time?
The easy answer is to just ask your dog, (perhaps by booking a session) how their body feels after they have a shave. In many cases, the dog will go out of her way to show you how she feels about her haircut, and here are some of the behaviors you may see:
Wildly running about after grooming! This is a celebration of freedom, getting groomed is a tiresome chore for most dogs, and the initial running around is usually a celebration that the grooming is over and she’s free to move around and do what she wants again! This doesn’t necessarily mean she likes her haircut, only that she’s happy to be able to run around – don’t mind if I do!
The thing to pay attention to is: does her activity increase in the days after the haircut? Is she able to play longer? Run further? This is the cue that most tuned-in dog parents take to determine whether they *should* continue to shave their dog in the summer months. Is my dog happier when shaved?
A good indication that your dog could benefit from a shave is when you notice their activity steadily decreasing as the weather gets hotter. Contrary to what the image above indicates, a huge coat of fur does not magically cool your dog! Of course the tips of the long hairs are a cooler temperature than the skin exposed by a shave – the skin UNDER the long fur is even HOTTER than the shaved portion!
The real trick with shaving isn’t whether or not to shave, but whether to consider it as a part of your overall grooming routine! If all you do to groom your double-coated dog is shave her once a year after it has matted, well, that’s better than nothing, but you’re really not doing your dog any favors. Even before it mats, dogs with heavy double coats get horribly itchy close to the skin during a shedding cycle. In the wild, double-coated canines are running through a lot of undergrowth, getting groomed by their environment several times a day.
Our domestic dogs have possibly been bred to look fluffy, have more undercoat than they would strictly require in the wild, are never exposed to the environmental extremes of wild canines, and often live longer, healthier lives than wild animals (depending on the species and region. So you can’t beg off of grooming your big fluffy dog by pretending she’s a wolf.
The point of grooming is really about how the dog FEELS. Most double-coated dogs don’t need daily brushing (though some do enjoy it), but weekly brushing will go a long way to prevent the itchy skin and stinky “dog smell” of a big hairy dog.
I love big hairy dogs. My friend Ellie has two great ones.
We’re not just talking about double-coated shedding dogs though, I will get to the non-shedding dogs in a minute.
This idea that double-coated dogs should NEVER be shaved because the fur regulates their body temperature and protects them from the sun is too simplistic. Fur is insulation. Insulation can keep cool things cool and hot things hot. But a dog is a living being, and when a dog runs around, she is generating her internal heat.
A dog regulates her temperature not through her coat, but through panting, and my moderating her activity. Hot dogs love mud and water because it breaks the insulation of their fut and draws the heat off their skin, rapidly through their fur! Getting wet and muddy is the natural way for dogs with big coats to regulate their body temperature.
As a last resort, dogs will reduce their physical activity. This doesn’t mean your dog is content. Very often your dog is bored and miserable. It is not kind to leave a big fluffy coat on your dog, and let them lay on the tile floor in the air conditioned house all day. If she perks up when you shave her, and can spend more time doing the activities she loves, by all means SHAVE HER!
I’m going to address this info-graphic from the dog’s perspective:
Shaving does not increase exposure for heat stroke if the owner is doing his job. A newly shaved dog may feel so much lighter and happier after a haircut that they overdo it, and their body hasn’t adapted yet to regulating their temperature with an extremely short coat. Solution? Don’t shave them bald! Leave two inches of fur. In the case of a Newfoundlander, whose long guard hairs don’t grow back at the same rate as the undercoat, you have good reason to simply brush her daily, and provide a wading pool.
Risk for sunburn – yes, if you’ve shaved so much the skin is exposed. With a Newfie, their skin is darkly pigmented, so it may not be obvious if the pup is trimmed too short. Honestly, this particular breed has a softer, finer coat than a rough-coated dog, and it isn’t quite as hot as a husky, a collie, a shepherd. Remember that dogs coats were originally designed to protect them from the elements while doing their job – in the Newfie’s case, doing heavy pack work in driving rain and snow. These days, pet Newfoundlanders are not exposed to the harsh winter elements, their breeding has opted for a more aesthetically pleasing, shinier silkier coat, and the human should not be allowing a freshly shaved dog to play recklessly in the sun all day. If the coat has been trimmed too short, throw a t-shirt on her until it grows out a bit. Bonus points if it’s a wet t-shirt on a hot day.
Biting insects – really? Well, maybe horseflies and mosquitoes will now have more access to your dog, but fleas and black flies will get through the fur no matter what kind of haircut the dog has. Unless you live in the North, land of the killer mosquito, it’s unlikely biting insects are going to post more of a threat to your dog once she has a shave.
Alopecia – certain breeds of dogs should never be shaved. Talk to your breeder, and talk to other people with breeds similar to your pup to find out whether shaving ruins their coat. This is not true for many dogs.
Scratching – Dogs who scratch after a shave have not been properly groomed BEFORE the shave. Dogs should always be bathed, thoroughly dried, de-shedded with a furminator or similar brush, and THEN shaved only if necessary. Shaving should never be a grooming short cut!
Just be sure not to shave her too short. I do see a few dogs shaved far too short, and this is a very uncomfortable sensation. You’re not shearing a sheep (and I wish they didn’t shear sheep as close as they do, but that’s another discussion.) The goal is to make your dog more comfortable, so start by leaving two INCHES of fur all over. Two inches is enough to protect the sensitive skin from cold floors, cool breezes, drops of water, the careless teeth of other playing dogs, and the pokes of plant life on walks.
If your dog’s coat is very dense, and the pup is clearly still very hot, then try a one inch shave. You should NOT be able to see a dog’s pink skin through a shave. If you can see the skin shining through, you’ve cut it too short. Throw a white cotton t-shirt over her when you go outside to protect her from the sun until the coat grows back enough to cover the skin.
You should not have a mentality of shaving only once. This is why some people shave far too short – they want the shave to “last”. This is insane! Do you shave your own head so your haircut will “last”? I suggest that everyone shave their head at least once, buzz it down to a ¼ inch, and you’ll experience the sensations that an over-shaved dog experiences. Sweetie and I used to shave our heads in the summer, and this resulted in us wearing beanie caps in the evenings… in AUGUST!
Don’t over-shave your dog. But! Don’t think you can only shave your dog once!
I suggest you consider shaving your dog once every two months in the hot season – and leave the coat at least two inches long at first. You can always go shorter if the pup is obviously still hot.
Checklist: Should I shave my double-coated dog?
- Is my dog uncomfortably hot? Has her behavior changed in the hot weather?
A hot dog is a miserable dog. Dogs who are too hot in the summer feel like they’re wasting their lives! They can smell all the smells, hear all the sounds, they still WANT to play and explore, but if they’re too hot for most of the day, they can get frustrated, irritable, and can get destructive or vocal when things cool down at night.
- Have I recently bathed and brushed out my dog?
If not, do this first. I suggest you bathe on a Saturday, let the coat dry completely overnight, and go at the coat with a furminator on Sunday… outside… wearing an outfit you can immediately throw into the wash!
3. Does my dog have access to cooling areas?
A kiddy pool? Frozen Kong treats? Ice cubes to play with? A cool tile floor? A patch of dirt in the shade? If not, create a cooling area, and if so, does she spend more time in the cooling area than moving around enjoying herself?
4. Does my dog tolerate shaving? Does she feel better or worse after a shave?
You can book a session with me to help answer this question if you’re not sure. (Use the coupon code ILoveMyPet).
If she hangs her head and hides after a shave, then never shave her. Provide a kiddy pool, wet cool towels, an ice pack collar or vest – there are many different things you can do to help your fluffy dog stay cool without stressing her out. NEVER laugh at or point at a shaved dog!
Always admire her, tell her what a good girl she was, have everyone in the house say how beautiful she looks, and give her a special treat to celebrate her haircut! Even if your dog doesn’t understand the words you say (many of them do!) she will definitely understand your intention and the energy behind your words.
- Evaluate: has my dog’s behavior changed for the better, after being shaved?
If she is doing well after a two inch shave, fantastic! It is much more comfortable for a dog to be shaved to a reasonable coat length so they can self-regulate more easily! Your dog will still run around to warm up when she’s too cool, and she’ll still reduce her activity when she’s too warm, but for the summer months, she shouldn’t be getting too cold, and if you left her enough fur, she won’t be sunburned or overheat as long as she has access to water and shade.
Again, I strongly encourage you to opt for a longer shave, and shave twice as often to keep the coat at an optimally cool length for the summer months!
Back in the days when I had dogs, my big dog Mocha, and my little dog Happy, our summer grooming routine for each of them was unique.
Mocha was a cattle dog shepherd mix.
She had a double-coat, and she was a wash-n-wear dog, requiring very little grooming. She was not a fluffy dog like a husky or a collie, but she did have a thick undercoat that protected her 20C below freezing and she did just fine up to 30C in the heat… as long as I took care of her coat.
Mocha, being a cattle dog, tended to “blow” her coat twice a year, with the big blow being in the spring. The only time I ever bathed her was when she rolled in something too offensive to wipe off, or twice a year when she blew her coat. When I was washing her in preparation to brush her the next day, I always used lots of shampoo, because the shampoo would strip away all the oil in her coat. That oil is important for weather-resistance, but the oil also prevents the shed fur from falling out, by clumping it next to it’s neighbors. If I put off grooming her in the spring, her hind end pantaloons would begin to mat, would smell, and would get itchy.
So just twice a year I’d give her a good shampoo. The next day, I’d go at her coat with a Furminator. Furminator brushes are excellent for double-coated dogs, but it really works best on a freshly bathed and thoroughly dried dog, so the hair does not get caught in the tool, and the threads of the Furminator does not get clogged with oil and begin to pull painfully on the coat. Only use the furminator on the back, tail and pantaloons (top thighs) of your dog, not her head, belly or legs.
The furminator works by sliding over the fur that’s still attached to your dog, while grabbing on to the fur that’s loose and pulling it through. If the tool becomes clogged with hair and oil, the tool will start to drag on *all* the fur, and the dog will find the process irritating and potentially painful.
Speaking of painful, reconsider your wire slicker brush, if you have one.
Now that we have the furminator, we need to consider whether this tool is still the right one for the job. Mocha found slicker brushes to be painful and scratchy – and this is the most common complaint from dogs about grooming, aside from shampoo stinging their eyes or water getting into their ears or nose. Those corners are sharp, the ends of the bristles are sharp, and too much pressure – or the bristles being too long – are a common reason for dogs and cats to learn to hate this tool.
If you do use a slicker brush, be mindful of how you use it. Be certain you’re not pressing it right down on to the dog’s skin, and take care not to bang those corners into her face or limps. Brush only her back, chest and tail with it – never her ears, head, belly or legs.
Whether you use a Furminator or a slicker, or some other de-shedding tool, never use it on the sensitive areas and limps. Instead, use a soft brush for those, or a plastic comb. (Metal combs popular with groomers and in shows are quite pokey, and there’s no reason for us regular pet people to use them. Most cats and dogs prefer plastic combs to metal ones.)
I would consider de-shedding to be phase one of every double-coated dog’s summer grooming routine – even if you still plan on shaving her.
A good de-shedding can make all the difference, and you may even find you don’t need to shave her until it gets REALLY hot! Without all that excess undercoat, the air can move freely between the dog’s top coat and her skin, she will dry faster when she gets wet, dirt will fall off of her more easily, and sun will be able to penetrate much of the coat, preventing bacteria and moisture from building up next to the skin, causing hot spots and encouraging ring worm.
All my Mocha dog every needed was a good de-shedding twice a year, and a wipe with a damp cloth after a muddy walk. She wasn’t thrilled with her grooming days, but she was so much more comfortable afterwards. In Mocha’s case, it would have been detrimental to shave her coat. Her top coat did not grow as quickly as her undercoat, and her top coat is what protected her from the elements. Mocha would have been made very uncomfortable if I had shaved her just because it was faster than de-shedding her.
Shaving Mocha would not have helped her skin – the unshed undercoat would still have been next to her skin, being smelly and itchier than ever. Without the guard hairs, the undercoat would fall out in some places and mat in other places. She would have been itchy, too hot, and too cold most days.
So you can see how understanding your dog and her coat is what really determines her grooming needs.
If you’re not sure, take the checklist in stages.
This brings me to non-shedding dogs, whose grooming needs are completely different than double-coated dogs.
The easy answer for non-shedding dogs is take them to a professional groomer four times per year. Be sure your dog is happy to see her groomer, and remind the groomer not to cut her too short. Many groomers opt for a closer shave because they believe the owners will be happier with a cut that “lasts longer”. Assure them you want the experience to be positive for the dog, and you want her feeling lighter, fresher and happier, not exposed after her grooming. If your dog is used to feeling everything from the chill of the seat belt buckle to the heat of your hand a second before you touch her because her coat is too short after the groomer, she’ll come to hate going to the groomer! So make it a positive experience, and always be sure she feels great about herself and in her own skin every time she visits the groomer.
Again though, you need to consider the coat of your dog. With my little dog Happy, I had a couple of challenges. He didn’t tolerate being handled by strangers without a muzzle, he didn’t enjoy car rides, and we didn’t have a groomer within 2 hours of our home. For a few years there, we didn’t even have a car!
So I groomed Happy all on my own. I even wrote a post about it.
Happy needed grooming every six weeks because his coat was incredibly fine as well as fast growing, and partially non-shedding.
What? Partially non-shedding? Yep, that’s a thing. It happens with designer cross-breeds like Happy, who was a papillion crossed with a toy poodle. Happy enjoyed none of the weather-resistance of the papillion’s undercoat, but none of the skin-protection of the curry poodle coat. His non-shedding fur was long and silky, and his shedding fur was short, curly-ish and prone to matting in his armpits and crotch. Oh, and his belly fur grew long very quickly, and if it grew too long, he would pee on it. I discovered this the second day I had him, when I realized he smelled like pee and that his first Mom must have just bathed him right before handing him over to me. Oh Happy, this little dog taught me so much, including how to groom a cantankerous little fear-biter!
I had to desensitize Happy to grooming, by working on it with him every day for the first six months I had him. It literally started with me showing him the scissors and then giving him a treat. Then placing the scissors next to him, and giving him a treat. I did have to muzzle him and restrain him once to cut his belly fur that he was peeing on, for hygiene’s sake, but that was only necessary once. By the time I needed to trim his fur the next time, he tolerated my ministrations with grudging acceptance, and no longer bothered to growl or snap.
Happy would *never* tolerate a shave. It terrified him. I don’t know who groomed him before I got him, or how they did it, but the sound of a shaver sent him into a blind panic. So Happy got scissors.
The other reason I only ever scissor-cut Happy was that he was an *extemely sensitive* dog who needed at least three inches of fur on his back to feel safe. His coat was very fine, even with the undercoat, and he needed the extra inch of protection from the wind, the sand, and just his general environment. He was the kind of dog your could pet with a couple of fingers, not your whole hand, because he was so sensitive to touch pressure.
I would keep him trimmed quite short on his legs, as he didn’t really feel cold on his legs as much, as long as his body was warm, and his leg fur loved to pick up every leaf, stick, and clump of dirt he encountered. Happy’s haircut was determined mainly by hygiene and his sensory needs.
If you have a dog that really hates grooming, I *strongly* encourage you to book a session with me to get to the bottom of it. Maybe your dog is sensitive like Happy and just needs a scissor grooming, maybe a part of it is hurting her, or maybe there is something simple you can do to make things better for her!
Grooming is such an important piece of a dog’s quality of life – and whether you have a pup who needs grooming every six weeks, or only twice per year, it’s so important for your dog’s comfort and enjoyment to get it right!
And hey, if you’re interested in learning how to communicate with animals yourself, you can join my growing class!
I already have a few one-to-one mentoring sessions booked for September and I’m *so* looking forward to hearing how my friends in learning are progressing!
If you have any questions about shaving your pup in summer, please post a comment!
Happy summer to you and your animal friends!