How to save time and $$$ by grooming your own dog; which combs and brushes protect or remove coat, this professional shares inside tips on shedding cycles, hair control, use of tools...
COMMON-SENSE GROOMING | HAIRCOAT
Tools and Technique, Part 1
by Fred Lanting, GSD Breeder, AKC and International Dog Show Judge
Although characteristic of the German Shepherd Dog (which I have bred and judged almost since they walked off the Ark), the double coat is not unique to the GSD and the grooming techniques I have found to be best are applicable to many breeds.
The soft, fluffy undercoat is very light and somewhat flyaway, while the topcoat is coarse, heavier, usually straight, and imbeds itself into your clothes. Your Whippet’s coat may be a lot shorter than a Saint Bernard’s but dog hairs are of the same types. Tightness of curl in some breeds throws another characteristic into the recommendations for coat care but the hair coat of German Shepherd Dog’s is considered to be “normal” or intermediate, compared to the short hair of the Boxer and the long hair of the Newfoundland.
Hair loss (shedding, blowing coat)
This is an ongoing process, peaking annually. At those times, the undercoat is most noticeably affected first, and then the topcoat is lost one or two weeks later, as a rule. It is most obvious in the breeds that are commonly called “double-coated”. Click Example to enlarge) In bitches about two months away from an estrus cycle, the undercoat often is released in great hunks, especially if she is not regularly combed during this period.
This can take approximately two months for the female dog to go through its photon-induced hair-loss cycle. Males go through their own coat-loss cycles and are equally affected by length of daylight changes. The high summer temperature is not the cause; otherwise, they’d only lose the insulating undercoat and not in winter.
For grooming your dog all you need for most breeds are three simple, economical tools, so forget all those made-in-China multitudinous gadgets or expensive visits to a grooming shop. Do it yourself.
Undercoat Hairs Type, Texture
Undercoats vary from short, fine, and wavy to thick, longer with a slightly more visible bristle and waves in the bottom two-thirds. All coat types are best groomed with a good undercoat comb. These combs are usually chrome-plated or stainless steel but all should have rounded points so as not to scratch the skin,and smooth teeth for low friction, as the wavy nature of the hair is sufficient for the comb to remove the dead strands and not pull too hard on the healthy live shafts. Look for a good welding job where the teeth are held in the spine of the comb.
Hold the comb so the teeth are perpendicular to the dog’s skin, or, if the coat is a real mess, slanted a little so the teeth may be dragged like a lawn rake over the coat but not stuck into it like a shovel. Comb one small section at a time, in the direction of hair growth, using very short stokes. You will usually build up a “bank” of fuzz, fur, and some guard hairs. Pick up the mass of soft hairs with the comb and put that in a bag. When there is not much fuzz coming up and no drag at all on the comb, move on to the next section.
I find it best to start near the tail and work toward the head, so you won’t comb into the thick, uncombed areas. It’s more comfortable for the dog that way. After the entire coat has been combed through then comb backwards against the direction of hair growth, being sure the comb is perpendicular to the skin. Back combing catches undercoat hairs you will miss even with the most fastidious first combing. By removing the dead undercoat, you are also cleaning your dog because a lot of dirt and debris is loosened and removed in the grooming process.
Frequent combing will generally prevent this dirt from accumulating and a regularly groomed dog may never have to be bathed in his lifetime, barring a run through a sewer, skunk’s nest, or herd of goats.
Grooming Care Of The Topcoat
Your dog may not be a show dog but he should look like one. If you have to remove topcoat you will need different equipment than you used on the undercoat. The hard, straight guard hairs which are long enough to extend through the crinkly undercoat, usually defy combing. The teeth of the comb slide between these hairs, which are held in place not only by the skin, but also by friction or static electricity with the adjacent hairs, so the comb catches only the wavy undercoat.
The dead topcoat hairs lie side by side with the live coat, but because they are not receiving oil from the follicles, they are microscopically ragged, and have different resistance to friction.
During my employment in the elastomer/polymer industry, I discovered that certain blends of natural and synthetic rubbers have the proper hardness, resilience, and frictional properties to draw out those dead hairs with no pull at all on the live hairs. This rubbing of the live hairs stimulates oil flow, as does bristle brushing. I used to market a molded rubber grooming tool shaped like a thick doughnut, having the exact properties of friction and toughness.
You may do as well with the toe of a sneaker or a piece of shoe sole, if you can find these made from natural rubber. Substitutes made of vinyl and other polymers are not satisfactory.
Stroke the dog firmly in the direction the hair lies. Working from the head toward the tail, one section at a time, moving on to the next patch only when no more straight topcoat comes out. Unlike combing, use of the groomer does not build up a bank of fuzz unless the dog has not been combed at all and is losing his undercoat. Rather, the stiff, straight hairs of dead topcoat collect in a pile at the end of each stroke. On the throat, use gentle, upward strokes so you don’t make the dog uncomfortable with too much pressure over the trachea.
The third tool is a fine-tooth hacksaw blade. You’ve seen those curry-comb tools with the ends of the looped blade held in the handle. The main reason I don’t like those is that part of the commercial blade is drawn across the coat in the same way a knife is used to cut a rope or a piece of food. However, if you hold the straight hacksaw blade perpendicular to the direction of the lay of the hairs, and drag it like a rake toward the hair tips (generally, this is from head toward tail or torso toward toes) the fine teeth of the blade grab the split ends of dead topcoat as effectively or even better than the rubber groomer does, and you drag the hairs out from between the live non-split hairs. If you haven’t used the comb first, it’s a bigger job, so comb and get rid of what undercoat you can before tackling the topcoat.
After combing out the undercoat and grooming off the topcoat, clean the dog by wiping him off with a damp towel to remove any remaining static dust and dandruff. If you have a show coming up right away, a lanolin spray might help, but wipe it all off before entering the ring.
Related Grooming Articles by Fred Lanting: Bathing & Ear Cleaning ~ Teeth & Toe Nails
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Fred Lanting is an all-breed judge with experience in over 30 countries. He is a well-known GSD authority, handled Akitas in the 1960s and `70s, and was named an official JKC judge, a rare honor. He has lectured around the world on breeding, judging, canine movement, and CHD (canine hip dysplasia). Be sure to peruse these Dog Books by Fred Lanting
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