Coat Grooming: How often, for how long, and can I manage this?

Is the amount of grooming a dog will require something you think about when considering particular breeds? In real life, once you have a dog, how much time do you actually devote to grooming; do you occasionally bathe, brush semi-regularly, or just go full out once or twice a season?


Do you fancy yourself a dog beautician? I do not…yet I seem to regularly saddle myself with dogs that require grooming. No – I don’t have a Borzoi – but I thought it would be nice to show something besides a Collie when talking about dogs that need to be brushed semi-regularly. A few devoted owners might even brush some of these breeds daily; daily brushing usually isn’t necessary unless you live in a context that makes it necessary, i.e. your pup is getting into brush, grass, or other hair mussing situations on a regular basis.

Collies, Borzoi, Shetland Sheepdogs, long haired Shepherds, Chows, Afghans, Pomeranians, Shi Tzus, Cocker Spaniels, Maltese…obviously I’m just doing a handful of breeds off the top of my head. This category of coat care requires a selection of brushes for both removing underhair and dealing with top coats. You can find some excellent advice online about the different available brushes and what they do. Not being a fanatical groomer (I once read a how-to grooming article by a collie groomer who had something like 30 brushes) I have two basic brushes – please don’t call the ASPCA on me – a rake and another brush for the top coat. I own more brushes than these, but these are the two I can’t live without.

Cocker Spaniels

I’ll also confess here – I have been known to cut a mat of hair out of a full coat, to thin a coat with regular scissors, and to lop off long hair just because it was too long. (I’ve done this to myself, not just my dog, so consider this your warning not to do what I do.)

I used to tell myself that I wasn’t allowed to own a Collie until I could afford to send her to the groomer regularly. In real life, I find having a longer coated breed is a combination of professional grooming and upkeep from the owner. This is a real consideration when owning a breed with long, mattable fur – are you willing to brush your dog out at least once a week, and send them to the groomer at least three or four times a year? (If you brush and bathe your dog more often, you don’t need to use a professional groomer as often.)

Standard Poodles

Then there are the breeds that grow hair rather than fur; they don’t shed more than you or I but like us they need haircuts. You can take your dog to a professional groomer or you have to buy some essential grooming equipment like clippers, very good scissors, brushes…and be prepared to do not only some upkeep on a weekly basis but some all out grooming/bathing/clipping/stripping about every six weeks. For me this was actually the group that both my rescue Cocker-Terrier mix, and all my terriers have fallen into. This group includes terriers, poodles, Giant Schnauzers, Bouviers, and mixes like the labradoodle or other dogs with a lot of poodle or terrier in them.

Kerry Blue Terriers

Then there are the short haired shedders. These dogs don’t necessarily require a lot of brushing but their smell does tend to benefit from baths and they do leave hair around the house. How much varies by breed. At the top of my shedding list would have to be the Retrievers, followed by all the other hunting breeds, and a few short haired terriers like the Bull Terrier and the Stafordshire.

I personally found it a lot less hairy to live with a Collie than I am finding life with a Labrador. Labs basically walk through life leaving a wide path of short hair. They aren’t the only dogs that leave hair behind, it just seems like they leave more of it more often. Even my sisters longer haired Shepherd, or Malamutes didn’t seem to deposit more hair than a Lab. I tend to vacuum every day – okay several times a day – anyway but with a Lab it just seems that little bit harder to keep up. On the other hand, you don’t really have to brush them. The hair falls off all by itself. This can be a trade off for some people – don’t like to groom but don’t mind sweeping or vacuuming – a Retriever might be the breed for you. Just not a Golden, cause then you’re back to brushing.

Great Dane

Short haired shedders including Boxers, Mastiffs, and Great Danes, most Hounds, Pointers, and Retrievers, can benefit from a grooming glove. I have to admit though, I know a lot more owners of these breeds who don’t bother with grooming gloves than who do. Some bathe more often, or use cloths – there is more than one way to meet grooming needs.

Vizla getting a bath

Which brings us to the really important point: Why Groom?

Grooming isn’t just a matter of beauty, which people sometimes forget. Grooming is part of maintaining the health and comfort of a dog. For example, it is when bathing or brushing even a short haired dog that you will often first notice ticks, fleas, wounds, small bumps etc. Left untreated these can cause more serious trouble with time. Careful attention to the coat of a dog is often your best early warning when a tumor or cyst is developing.

For longer haired dogs, brushing is necessary to keep the hair from becoming uncomfortably knotted; knots pull on the skin and hurt. Mats and knots also keep fur/hair from doing its work – providing protection, heating, and helping to keep sun-burn off. Knotted hair is painful and non-protective.

Irish Setter hunting

Grooming: How Often

How often you need to groom is a combination of three factors:  your dog’s lifestyle (walks on pavement, runs through brush, swims a lot, rolls in mud) the natural state of their coat (long, double coated, growing hair vs. shedding fur) and their comfort. In other words, you need to groom often enough so that your dog is comfortable and his or her hair or fur is able to do the job it was designed to do.
You need to groom often enough so that your pet’s hair isn’t matted, tangled, pulling uncomfortably; so that their skin isn’t so dirty it is under threat of becoming infected or irritated; and probably often enough that their odor isn’t an offense to those they live around.

Nitro the Lab going for a Swim
(Lil’s Dad)

Grooming needs are based not just on breed, but on where you live, how you live, and what your dog’s body/coat are exposed to. The point is, groom often enough so that your animal is always comfortable.

Of course, I would be very interested in hearing how others have adopted to their canines’ grooming needs. How often? Did you get what you expected grooming wise with your current companion? Did you spend much time thinking about grooming before acquiring the dog(s) you live with? Advice for others?

Shar Pei

And by the way – coat grooming is just part of the grooming process; small eared dogs like Shar Pei need their ears cleaned very regularly, as did my rescue Scottish Terrier; nail clipping also generally falls under grooming and ought not to be neglected. I hesitate to even mention anual glands….

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