Shaving a Double Coated Dog
Today’s topic is about shaving a double coated dog, Australian Shepherds in particular. Aside from advice for working with a barking dog, I think I get more comments/feedback on my dog shaving video than on any other. People either thank me for saving them oodles of money by sparing them from summer grooming bills or they scold me for encouraging people to shave their double coated dog. Doing a google search will not clarify matters much – those who say ‘don’t shave’ will reference the sources and reasons why; and those who say it isn’t a problem will do the same. This is only my experience with my dogs.
Double Coated Dogs
“Closed, double coated breeds have noticeably longer guard hairs, which lay down over the undercoat, sort of like a blanket. While the outer, or guard, hairs get wet, the undercoat works to keep the dog’s skin dry. Examples include golden retrievers, Australian shepherds and Newfoundlands (Poppy’s).” This groomer believes in NOT shaving double coated dogs and she gives a great explanation why one shouldn’t. However, I had been shaving Trooper for 6+ years before the first groomer told me I shouldn’t. His hair always grew back and he never suffered while it was absent.
Here’s a photo of the two types of hair in a dog’s coat (from dyson):
The two types of hair on a double coated dog.
So pre-Sydney, my experience with Trooper had always been that shaving an Aussie is a fine idea. We then adopted Sydney and I discovered the variation that can exist in two dogs of the same breed. They are both double coated, yet their hair behaves very differently. Trooper’s hair sheds all the time and floats in the air, landing on my clothes and counter-tops. If I try to brush him, either with a regular brush or undercoat rake, very little comes off (relative to Sydney). Sydney’s hair sheds, clumps together and then blows behind whatever is on the floor (i.e. dresser, kitchen table, etc). When I brush her, huge amounts of hair come off. Another difference, which may or may not be related to their hair type, is that Trooper hates being brushed (the brush seems to yank his hair and doesn’t look comfortable) and Sydney lovesssssss it.
When we added Sydney to the clan, I decided to start shaving them at home to save money. (Side note – boy am I glad I did that! I have suffered some sticker shock since moving to Silver City, NM. Whereas in CT, grooming would cost me $35 (bath) or $50 (shave down); here it costs $55 (bath) or $100 (shave). For my two 40 lb-ish dogs!
The shaver we originally purchased is no longer available, but this one is similar.
Since shaving the dogs myself, I have NEVER had a situation where their hair did not grow back in properly. Therefore, my experience tells me that shaving a double coated dog is a-okay. At least these particular two, double coated dogs. And while they do look a tad ridiculous when they’re “naked”, it works for our purposes – playing, hiking, traveling; NOT showing.
If there is water to be found, Sydney will find it.
That Summer & The Sydney Mistake
I shaved the dogs a few weeks prior to making the video where I gave instructions on how to shave your Australian Shepherd at home. Trooper’s hair grows fast so his coat was semi-ready for the video shoot a few weeks later. Sydney’s had not grown in when I decided to shoot the video (you can see/read it here). If you compare the dogs’ coats in the video, you’ll see that Sydney’s is much shorter. I didn’t realize how close to her skin I was shaving in the few spots I used to demonstrate and this ‘over-shaving’ is likely the source of “The Sydney Mistake.”
Trooper’s coat came in and was shaved probably 2 more times that summer. Sydney’s did not. (cue scary music) I got really really worried, did lots of research online, considered having her shaved down to reduce the awful unevenness, and spoke to several groomers. I watched our shaving video and saw how close to her skin I took the coat and realized this was probably the mistake. Maybe I burned her? Maybe I damaged the equilibrium that exists in growth between the two hair types. I don’t know.
What Groomers Told Me
I received completely contradictory pieces of advice. My favorite groomer told me that Sydney was doomed to ugly hair. The bald spots would “never” grow back. They see it all the time and those dogs just get shaved all year long to prevent the fuzzy, non-guard-hair-coat from growing in. She said my only options were let it be (and Sydney would be ugly) or keep her shaved so nobody could tell I had butchered her hair.
Several other groomers said the same thing. On the day before our move, I decided to get Sydney bathed by a groomer (our stuff was already packed) and get their opinion on her while she was there. This groomer also had an Aussie and he said that he keeps her shaved all year long. Her coat grows in (and looks fine) and he shaves her again. He told me that Sydney’s hair is going to be fine – it’ll grow in at different rates, the spots that are near-bald may take up to 6 months and it may help her overall appearance if I give her gentle trims along the way (i.e. keep the long parts short so her naked parts aren’t so pronounced.). He also said to brush her A LOT (I’ve read it helps stimulate hair growth).
Very relieved with this news, we took our leave of CT. It was early November, so I wasn’t worried about trimming her hair again soon. I figured I’d let the growth process take whatever time it needed and eventually she’d be whole again.
Sydney’s Hair Status After a Year
Sydney’s near-bald spots stayed near-bald for about 7 months. Despite her rather shaggy/fuzzy appearance, she received compliments during the entire transition. I trimmed her once along the way, but only because the hair around her neck was so long it was interfering with her collar. She also kind of looked like a lion because everything else was so short.
About a year after her super-close-shave, and now living in Silver City, I decided to get them cleaned up. I had Sydney shaved but kept long and Trooper was shaved close. Prior to dropping the dogs off, I asked her if their coats showed signs of damage. She pointed out that Trooper’s pants where a tad dry but otherwise, they looked fine. She also has an Aussie and never shaves him. But she does get the request to shave double coated dogs all the time.
This photo was taken a few weeks ago and is probably the best one to observe that the double coat on both dogs is completely grown in and healthy.
I recently had them groomed again – bath and brush-out, no shaving. They came home looking absolutely marvelous and show-worthy. Their coats are healthy and intact and I do a much better job these days of raking and brushing them out. But honestly, I often think about shaving them again – this time with more skill and knowledge. We’re in and out of the forest, water, cacti and brush every single day. We hike through mud and raging rivers. The dogs’ coats get messed up immediately after grooming. So why bother with all the brushing when they could just be short haired and less maintenance?
[Brushing and raking is still important – but it’s a lot less time consuming when the hair isn’t as long and tangled.]
With regards to whether or not to shave a double-coated dog? It’s up to you. Read about potential downsides and understand if you go too short that you can slow the hair growth. Observe your dog and do what works best for both of you.
For more information, I highly recommend reading through the comments on this reddit post. Groomers, owners and haters all chime in. Also, this article lists every possible question/answer/myth about shaving double coated dogs and is definitely worth a read.