How to Win the War Against Dog Shedding
Whether you're getting ready to adopt a new pet or are used to all your furniture and rugs covered in fur—learning to control dog shedding is an important aspect of pet care. Loose hairs can get matted; mats can make your dog uncomfortable. Luckily, there are shedding remedies: regular bathing and brushing to remove dead hair.
The No-Shed Myth
Despite what you've heard, all dogs shed. They just shed at different rates. It helps to understand the four phases of canine hair growth. The anagen phase is when hair grows to its genetically predetermined length. Second, the catagen phase is a transitional phase when hair stops growing. Telogen is the resting, third phase that lasts until the exogenous phase, when old hair sheds to make room for new growth.
Dog shedding season differs by breed. Some dogs shed completely only once or twice a year. Other dogs shed hair from different parts of their bodies at different times, so it seems like they're constantly shedding. When a dog's coat spends more time in the anagen phase, it seems like he barely sheds at all.
"To better understand how coat type affects shedding, you need to understand how a dog's hair grows," says groomer Dawn Squadrito, owner of Hairy Poppins, a mobile grooming service in Loxahatchee, Florida. "Hair texture hasn't got anything to do with shedding patterns. But if not regularly brushed, a wired or curly coat is more likely to trap dead hairs than a smooth coat."
The Canine Coat
To combat your dog's shedding you should understand the kind of hair you're dealing with. Dogs' fur varies in length, texture, thickness, and hair-growth patterns, and fur can vary on different parts of a dog's body. Find your coat match first using this quick guide:
- Smooth coat: Their hair is sleek, shiny, and close to the body. Some dogs with shorter smooth coats need to be brushed daily to reduce shedding. (examples: beagle, boxer, bulldog)
- Double coat: They wear a short, thick undercoat beneath a longer topcoat of guard hairs. Double-coated dogs with wiry guard hairs—such as the Lakeland terrier—need their coats to be hand-stripped to remove dead hair by the root. (examples: Border collie, Labrador retriever, Siberian husky)
- Wire coat: Hair texture ranges from coarse and wiry to smooth. These dogs shed less than many other breeds, but you still need to remove tangles as necessary. (examples: Airedale terrier, Brussels griffon, Scottish terrier)
- Silky coat: Their hair is long, straight, and silky. Such coats require daily brushing. (examples: cocker spaniel, Irish setter, Yorkshire terrier)
- Curly coat: Coats range from tight curls to wavy fur. Corded coats are a variation of curly. Grooming needs vary dramatically between breeds, so check with a professional groomer for the best approach. (examples: bichon frise, poodle, Portuguese water dog)
Along with a range of hair types, dogs display a variety of shedding patterns influenced by seasonal conditions such as hours of daylight and temperature. "They're also governed by hormones, metabolism, reproduction cycle, and age," says certified master dog groomer Christina Pawlosky, owner of Pet Connection in Warren, Ohio. "And with some dogs, the longer the hair grows, the less often that dog will shed."
Research grooming requirements for your dog so you know what type of shedding patterns to expect and how to combat them year-round, Pawlosky says. If you've adopted a mixed-breed dog, use a DNA test to determine primary breed makeup, which will give shedding clues.
Make Brushing Enjoyable
Start your war on shed hair early by establishing a grooming routine soon after acquiring a new puppy or kitten. The same goes for an older dog, although it may take a little longer to convince him that being groomed is a pleasurable experience. Tasty rewards help confirm that being brushed and combed is something to enjoy.
Your success rate for a grooming session will depend on timing and your pet's state of relaxation. In other words, don't pick up a brush or comb when you get home from work when your dog expects to go on a brisk walk. If your pet is restless, don't force the issue; simply reschedule. Before a meal can be a good time because your pet will be receptive to treats. He can get the rest of his meal after the grooming.
Let your pet indicate the space where he most enjoys being brushed. Cats often like to lie on the floor, a counter, or your lap. Your dog may enjoy being brushed outside on the lawn or patio or inside while he's hanging out on the couch.
From a practical point of view, it may be a good idea to set up a table outside on the patio or in the garage, so you don't have to bend down to do your work. Cover the table with a towel, yoga mat, or other surface your dog feels secure standing on.
When the Fur Flies
Regular bathing and brushing greatly reduces a pet's accumulation of dead hair and prevents it from landing on your favorite chair or pair of black pants. "It's a good idea to brush before a bath and again afterward," Squadrito says. "I also like to use a rubber-backed curry brush in the tub to loosen the hair. It's an inexpensive but very effective tool. And most dogs love the gentle massage [it provides]."
You may need more than just one dog shedding brush. If your dog has curly hair or a thick double coat, he may require a slicker brush and spray conditioner to remove dead hair and tangles. Fortunately, most grooming tools spell out specifically what type of coat they are best suited for, so take time to read packaging descriptions or seek advice from a professional groomer.
Keep your dog's comfort in mind. "It's important to find tools that are gentle on the skin; repetitive motion can cause irritation," Squadrito says. "A deep-conditioning shampoo followed by a conditioner helps soften skin so hair is released more easily."
A version of this article first appeared in Happy Paws Spring/Summer 2020.