Family and strangers alike will tell you to shave down your double coated dog each and every summer but should you?
Last summer, I went walking with my neighbour and her Alaskan Malamute. Craving some attention? Then I would recommend walking a 95 lb Malamute through downtown Toronto! Apart from being told that Harper is the “biggest husky”
dozens of people had ever seen and being the subject of 50 Instagram photos (#AlaskanMalamute – she made sure they got it right with the hashtag), I was surprised by how many strangers told her that she needed to “shave him down for the summer.”
Alaskan Malamutes have a double coat, which means the coat consists of two layers. Closest to the skin is a dense undercoat of short hairs, typically with a woolly texture, followed by a top coat of longer hairs called guard hairs. If you own a double coated breed like an Australian Shepherd, Chow Chow or Pomeranian – you have probably been asked already when you are going to give them their summer buzz cut. While your dog’s breeder has probably told you countless times not to – you may wonder why it’s best not to shave a double coated dog. There are actually many good reasons not to and the following are some of the most important.
Unless medically necessary, it is not recommended to shave a dog with a double coat 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. That’s right – shaving a double coated dog won’t help cool them off.
Without their guard hairs (the top layer) there to deflect the sun, its rays have direct access to their skin. It’s like if you were to sit out in the sun without any protection on your skin, your body temperature would rise and you would also get sunburned. The same goes for dogs but they get hotter even faster than humans.
One reason why dogs heat up quicker than we do has to do with skin. Both humans and dogs each have 3 layers of skin but the epidermis (the outer layer of the skin) is different. The epidermis layer of skin is divided up into layers of dead cells and 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 with humans. This is why dogs need their coat year round to protect and insulate them. Not to mention that dogs don’t sweat like humans do but rather regulate their body temperature by panting and through sweat glands on the pads of their paws and on their noses.
Evolution created the double coat on certain breeds to help them better deal with the climate surrounding them and the job they were bred to do. Fur on a regularly brushed double coated dog acts as a thermal regulator that both slows down the process of heat absorption in hot weather and insulates the body, protecting it from cold weather.
If you own a double coated dog, you probably noticed that your home seemed more like a dog hair snow globe than a house just a few weeks ago. That’s because spring shedding is nature’s way of making the double coat more suitable for the upcoming hot weather. Spring shedding gets rid of unwanted undercoat and leaves the guard hairs.
The job of the guard hairs in the summer is to protect your dog from sunburn and insulate against the heat. Once the undercoat has been shed, air can circulate through the guard hairs, cooling the skin
. You can use a thermometer or even just your hand to test this out. On a bright, hot, sunny day- your unshaved double coated dog’s back will feel much warmer to the touch than the skin on his belly will. You can even part the guard hairs and feel how much cooler the skin is!
You now know why we shouldn’t shave our double coated dogs, but what happens if you do?
Your dog’s breeder will be the first to tell you that if you shave your double coated dog, you will soon notice new hair starting to grow quickly. Unfortunately, what happens is that the undercoat grows first-the insulating “fluff” that stays next to the skin and keeps your dog warm. The guard hairs grow in slower. This combination of soft undercoat growing with the guard hairs will also make your dog hot in summer, because as you now know, 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 lead to overheating.
Once the guard hairs start to come through, you’ll notice that the texture of the new double coat coming in doesn’t feel the same as it did before. It may feel sticky and Velcro-like, which means every burr and twig in the yard will be coming in with your dog. Many who have shaved their double coated dogs down report that the coat never looked or acted the same. The new guard hairs became coarse and made grooming their dog much more difficult as the coat would tangle and mat more easily. In Conformation dog shows, shaving down a double coated dog usually means the end of the dog’s show career.
So next time someone asks you why you don’t shave your dog to cool them down, you can feel confident in your decision and help educate others when you politely tell them, “My dog’s double coat helps regulate her temperature year round. After she sheds in the spring, the air can move under the guard hairs to cool her body and the guard hairs protect her from sunburn. If I shave her down, the hot insulation fur will grow back and she won’t have any guard hairs to protect her from sunburn, so she can overheat and burn her skin! It surprises a lot of people, but this is actually the best thing for my dog.”
Then let them take a picture of your gorgeous pup for their Instagram and continue on with your walk.