It’s hot and sticky across most of North America at this time of year. Dogs feel the heat too, so many people with furry double-coated breeds wonder “should I shave my dog for the summer?”
The quick answer is, no, you shouldn’t shave your dog in summer. And this doesn’t just apply to super-furry Northern breeds, but to other double-coated breeds as well. Herding breeds like Aussie Shepherds, Border Collies and Shelties are double-coated. So are Golden Retrievers, Labradors, Springer Spaniels, Newfoundlands, Bernese Mountain Dogs and many more. You shouldn’t shave any of these breeds in summer.
Read on to understand why double coated dog breeds shouldn’t be shaved, and why …
How Double Coats Work
Double-coated breeds have two layers to protect against cold weather. The long guard hairs form the outer layer and protect against snow or ice and even shed water. The soft undercoat lies close to the skin and keeps your dog warm and dry. In winter this undercoat can be so thick you may have trouble finding your dog’s skin.
In summer, your dog should shed his soft undercoat, leaving just the guard hairs. The job of the guard hairs in warm weather is to protect your dog from sunburn and insulate him against the heat. Without the undercoat, air can circulate through the guard hairs, cooling the skin.
Unlike single coated breeds, who have hair that just keeps growing, double coats grow to a certain length and don’t get any longer. So you can shave a single-coated breed down and the coat will grow back again without really changing it. But that’s not true for double coats.
Shaving a double-coated breed can really ruin the coat.
Shaving Changes the Coat Texture
If you shave your double-coated dog, you’ll probably notice new hair starting to grow in pretty quickly. Unfortunately what happens is that the undercoat grows first … that soft fuzzy stuff that stays next to the skin and keeps your dog warm. The guard hairs are slower growing and you’ll soon start to see them mixed in with the fluffy undercoat.
At this stage you’ll probably also notice that the texture of the new double coat coming in doesn’t feel the same as it did before. It tends to be “sticky” and Velcro-like. Your dog will come in from the yard with burrs, seeds, grass, twigs and whatever other plant life he brushes against, stuck to his coat.
This combination of soft undercoat growing with the guard hairs will also make your dog hot in summer, because the undercoat stops the air from getting to his skin and prevents the natural cooling process. The texture of the undercoat also absorbs the sun’s rays and contributes to overheating.
And in winter, the new sticky texture of his regrown coat means the undercoat will be more likely to mat, which can cause skin irritations like hot spots. It can also make it more likely your dog will develop those “felted” mats in places like his armpits, groin, behind his ears or under his chin.
Some dogs may even develop “post-clipping alopecia,” meaning the coat doesn’t grow back at all. When this happens, it’s often due to endocrine issues like hypothyroidism. One study found melatonin therapy was able to correct this type of alopecia.
Shaving Doesn’t Keep Your Dog Cool
What’s supposed to happen is that your dog sheds his undercoat in summer, leaving the guard hairs to provide your dog with insulation, and allowing cool air to circulate near his skin.
The guard hairs also prevent your dog from getting sunburned. Many double-coated dogs have pale pink skins (especially the northern breeds), and just like a pale skinned human, they’re more susceptible to sunburn. The guard hairs reflect the sun’s rays, protecting the skin from the sun.
So, if your dog has a thick double coat, and he still has his undercoat in summer, you might think that getting rid of the whole lot of it will help keep him cool.
But it won’t. First of all, whatever fuzzy coat is left after shaving will prevent cool air from getting to the skin. But the shaved coat also lets the sun through to the skin. This exposes him to the danger of overheating, sunburn and potentially even skin cancer.
Keep Up With Double Coat Grooming
The best way to help your double-coated dog stay cool in summer is to make sure you keep him thoroughly groomed. Brush or comb your dog regularly to remove the undercoat and help keep the guard hairs tangle-free. This can be a big job, so take your dog to the groomer if you can’t keep up with it yourself.
A good groomer will have the right equipment to do the job efficiently. Ask her to bathe him and then blow out the undercoat with the high powered dryers. Most will also use a tool like a rake to help remove the coat.
Just be careful about your choice of groomer and make sure she knows you don’t want her to shave your dog. Talk to the groomer who’ll be working on your dog and make sure she has experience with double coated dogs – and that she doesn’t believe in shaving!
Be very clear, because some groomers will take the easy route if you don’t give them specific instructions. Owners of double-coated dogs have been known to leave their dog at the groomer for a bath, blow dry and comb-out. But when they came to pick up their dog, they found the groomer had shaved him down.
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4 Ways To Help Your Dog Stay Cool
So, once your dog has had his undercoat removed, the guard hairs can do their job naturally. But there are other things you can do in summer to prevent your dog from overheating.
t’s really smart to carry water for your dog on summer walks. You can buy doggie water bottles with a special lid that doubles as a drinking cup. There are also portable water bowls you can fill from a regular water bottle or drinking fountain. If you see your dog panting heavily and his tongue getting wider, make sure you offer him water.
Go Out When It’s Cooler
In the height of summer it’s best to walk your dog at cooler times of day, when the sun’s not at full strength. Try to stick to shaded areas as well. Your dog will feel much better walking in the early morning or after dark.
Monitor His Activity
Some dogs who love playing games like fetch will do it all day without realizing they’re getting too hot. Watch for signs your dog should stop for a drink and a rest! If his tongue’s really hanging out and looks wider than usual, it’s time to cool down.
Let Him Get Wet
Buy a kiddie pool for your backyard so your dog can cool off. Or take him to natural environments where he can play in a river, creek, pond or lake or dig in a muddy river bank to cool off. Yes, he might get wet and filthy, but he can enjoy hours of hot weather activity without overheating.
Air conditioning and fans will of course help your dog stay cool indoors. A lot of dogs will choose to lie on a cool tile floor instead of a bed or rug in warm weather – or even right on the A/C vent!
You can also buy cooling pads for your dog and they’re quite effective. The gel ones work well and they’re nice and light compared to the water-filled ones, but just be careful if you have a chewer as you don’t want him swaliowing the gel.
Try Cooling Vests
You can buy cooling vests for dogs. These are usually some kind of technical mesh fabric that you wet down and put on your dog. It creates an evaporative effect that’s a bit like the effect of sweating in people.
Don’t Embarrass Your Dog
Do dogs get sad or embarrassed when you shave them? It certainly seems like some of them do. Let’s face it, double coated dogs look pretty silly shaved. Or maybe they just feel weird without their coats. Whatever the reason, many dogs really seem to feel uncomfortable with their new “do.”
So, keep things natural and let your dog’s coat do its work the way nature intended.
Gila Zur, Keren Regal, Emmanuel Loeb. Morphometry of skin changes in Newfoundland dogs following coat clipping, The Veterinary Journal, Volume 196, Issue 3, 2013
Desh Deepak, VK Varun and MV Jithin. Successful melatonin therapy in a rare case of post clipping alopecia in golden retriever dog. The Pharma Innovation Journal 2022; SP-11(6): 522-525