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A dog’s hair can come in different varieties but for the most part, they can be broken down into two categories, single coat or double coat.
A dog that has a single coat has one layer of hair. A dog that has a double coat has 2 layers.
Newfoundlands, Golden Retrievers, Great Pyrenees, Labrador Retrievers, Pomeranians, Siberian Huskies, Collies, German Shepherds, Samoyeds, and Corgis are just a few of the breeds that have double coats.
So what exactly is a double coat?
A double coat is 2 layers of hair. On the top, you will find the guard hairs and below that, you will see a soft undercoat.
Guard hairs: The top layer consists of the guard hairs. The guard hairs are the pretty hairs that you see. They act as a barrier to repel water and catch dirt and debris. Depending on the breed the guard hairs can be long, short, curly, coarse, corded, smooth or wire. Guard hairs are the stronger part of the hair and are meant to be permanent. They are normally not lost during shedding season.
Undercoat: The layer underneath the guard hairs is the undercoat. It’s softer, lighter in color, shorter and thicker than the guard hairs. The density of the undercoat depends on the breed. Newfoundlands have a thick dense undercoat. Usually, the fluffier the dog the denser the undercoat is. The undercoat has a purpose. It acts as an insulator for the dog. It keeps the dog warm in cold, wet weather and cool in warm, humid weather. A dog will usually blow most of its undercoat 2-3 times a year, depending on the breed and its environment.
Maintenance of a double coat. The thicker the undercoat the more maintenance it will need but most double coated breeds need to be brushed weekly, some daily, and more often when they are blowing their coat. If they aren’t brushed regularly with a good dog brush or rake, mats will form and the dog’s skin will not be able to breathe creating moisture which will create skin issues. In the summer months, some owners will line comb or line brush a dog that has a very dense undercoat.
Line combing is basically where you lift up the guard hairs and comb out the loose undercoat. It’s what I do with Sherman and Leroy. It’s as tedious as it sounds but once you get the hang of it you’ll move along pretty fast. Line combing is how many Newfoundland owners prepare their dogs for the summer. Removing as much of the undercoat as possible will help cool air flow through the guard hairs and reach the skin while guard hairs will keep the dog protected from the harmful rays of the sun. (Check out our post on common grooming tools used for the Newfoundland.)
Shaving a dog’s coat in the summer is a controversial issue. I think in our community we have people who tend to confuse the words shave and clip. When I think of the word shave I think of bald, down to the skin. When I think of the word clip I think of clipping the coat to a different length with clippers.
Shaving a double coat. Unless medically necessary it is normally not recommended to shave a dog with a double coat down to the skin because it can expose their skin to harmful UV rays which can cause serious burns. It can also cause a dog to overheat when they are exposed to the hot sun because instead of the guard hairs being there to deflect the sun it gets directly absorbed into the skin. If you sit out in the sun without any protection on your skin, you get sunburned and your body temperature rises. The same goes for dogs but they get hotter faster. Humans and dogs each have 3 layers of skin BUT the epidermis, the outer layer of the skin, is different.
Stay with me here.
The epidermis layer of skin is divided up into layers of dead cells. These cells are what protect us. The outermost layer of the HUMAN epidermis has more layers than the CANINE epidermis. This means that the heat will penetrate through a dog’s skin and into their bodies faster than it does on humans. This is why dogs need their coat to protect and insulate them. Not to mention that dog’s don’t sweat like humans do. If your dog isn’t going to be laying in the direct sun, this won’t be an issue.
What happens when a double coated dog is shaved?
It eventually grows back but the dog’s skin will be vulnerable until it does. The undercoat will grow back first and then the guard hairs will grow back. So the thickest part of the hair will grow back FIRST. Guard hairs protect and are meant to be permanent and take longer to grow this is why double coated puppies look fluffier than adult double coated dogs.
Think of a dog’s coat like a house. The walls (guard hairs) protect the interior of the house from getting damaged. The insulation under the frame (undercoat) regulates the temperature of the interior of the house. The insulation keeps the house warm in the winter and cool in the summer by slowing down the movement of heat. In cold weather, insulation slows down the heat from leaving the house. In hot weather, insulation slows down the outside heat from entering the house. That is what a dog’s undercoat is intended to do. Clipping a dog short in the warmer months is different from shaving it down to the skin. Many dog owners will give their dog a summer cut to keep them more comfortable but they are not shaving down to the skin.
When you have a dog that has a double coat it’s important to remember that they have it for a reason and that it requires maintenance to function properly.