What is a Double Coat?
Double coats are comprised of long, guard hairs that define the dog’s appearance and which are supported by short, dense woolly hairs (the undercoat) below the surface of the guard hairs. The denser the undercoat, the fluffier the dog appears. The protective guard hairs of the coat are designed to repel moisture and shed dirt. The undercoat acts to insulate the dog from summer heat, winter cold while the outer guard hairs protect the dog from rain and wind. Double coated dogs should never be shaved; their coats act as a protective barrier from summer heat and scorching sun rays.
The Spitz variety of dogs provides the fluffiest coat of the double coated dogs. Many breeds in the working, herding and toy breeds fall into the Spitz category and even more can trace their breed’s lineage back to Spitz ancestors. They were bred to live outdoors year round in Arctic climates, and many Spitz breeds were originally developed to pull sleds.
Spitz-type dog breeds with double coats include:
The rare Chinook
The gentle and clever Icelandic Sheep Dog
The tiny Pomeranian from the toy group
Much of the Herding Group is double coated with varying lengths and thickness of coat. The double-coated herding dog breeds recognized by the AKC include:
Australian Cattle Dog
Both the Rough and Smooth Collie
Both rough and smooth coat Border Collies
Bouvier des Flanders
Both the Pembroke and Cardigan Welsh Corgi
German Shepherd Dog
Old English sheepdog
Polish Lowland Sheep Dog
Looking for some fluffy protection? These Puff Daddies are the biggest fluffy dogs on the block; you’ll find them in the Working Group:
Bernese Mountain Dog
Black Russian Terrier
The rare Entlebucher Mountain Dog
Seeking a water loving dog with some extra puff to his coat? Check out these double coated dogs from the Sporting Group:
American Water Spaniel
Chesapeake Bay Retriever
Labrador Retriever (not so puffy, but still double coated)
Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever
Wirehaired Pointing Griffon
Think of a healthy double coat as an old-growth forest.
There is a balance with different parts providing different benefits.
If you clear-cut an old growth forest, there will be immediate re-growth of a lot of young trees very soon.
Unfortunately, they won’t initially be the same kind as those you cut down.
Instead, the forest has to start from scratch and spend decades, first growing ground cover and softwoods that provide an environment for slower growing hardwood varieties.
It takes generations before the natural balance is restored.
While on a much shorter timeline, it’s the same thing with a double-coated dog. Guard hairs represent old growth, and undercoat represents ground covering vegetation.
The act of shaving a double coat removes the dog’s natural insulation and causes his system to kick into high gear.
He’ll now produce coat to protect himself from extreme temperatures, sunburn and sharp objects.
Since the top coat or guard hairs take a long time to grow, what the dog’s body produces first is soft undercoat.
That’s why we hear people say, “I shaved my dog, and it grew back twice as thick and really fuzzy!”
In reality, what happens is that the original coat isn’t restored at all.
What grows in instead is thick, prolific undercoat mixed with short new guard hairs.
We call it false coat or coat funk.
So, why is this bad? Picture this scenario:
It’s 90 degrees outside,you’re getting dressed to go work in your yard.
Are you going to put on a light cotton T-shirt and sun block or thermal underwear and a sweatshirt?
A dog’s shaved-down false coat is like that sweatshirt.
It’s dull, soft and soaks up water like a sponge. Burrs and foxtails stick like Velcro.
Above all else, it’s way too thick for hot weather.
By the time that false coat grows out enough to protect the dog from sunburn, scrapes and bites (the usual job of the top coat),
it is so thick that the poor dog might as well be wearing thermal underwear and a sweatshirt.
Remember, Mother Nature designed the undercoat to be extremely heat-retentive.
Do you take your dog to a grooming salon? You can request a bath and blow-out.
Virtually all modern professional grooming salons have high velocity blow dryers in their work areas.
These powerhouses can literally blast the dead undercoat out of your dog’s hair after a thorough bathing with minimal brushing and combing needed.
The benefit to your dog is a healthy, balanced coat you can both live with.
Sure, you could opt for the shave-down, but you’ll more than likely be back in a month or so for another “shave-down” because your dog is cooking in its own hair.
Then, if you’re like most owners who fall into this cycle, you’ll intentionally let your dog’s woolly false coat grow out all winter “for warmth,” only to have it shaved off again in the spring.
In reality, all winter long while you’re under the false notion that your dog is staying warm and dry under that thick layer of fuzz, his coat is matting, retaining water and mud and possibly even mildewing. It will stay cold and wet for hours. Do you see the vicious cycle that started?
In some cases, owners really don’t have a choice. If there’s an underlying skin condition, requiring removal of the hair, obviously shaving is the lesser of two evils.
Same applies if the coat is so matted that shaving is truly the most humane option, affording the owner a chance to start over and improve their brushing skills.
These are situations to thoroughly discuss with both your veterinarian and your groomer so you can make an informed decision.
However, if your sole motivation for shaving your dog in the spring is to “keep him cool,” you need to know that you’re actually creating a far worse situation than you think.
Aside from destroying coat integrity, shaved dogs are susceptible to a multitude of complications, including, but not limited to, alopecia, heat stroke and skin cancer, specifically Solar-induced Squamous Cell Carcinomas and Dermal Hemangiosarcomas.
Sometimes, these complications are not reversible.
In conclusion, when you shave a double coated dog, you may irreparably impair their ability to properly heat/cool themselves and protect their skin. The best way to keep this kind of dog cool and comfortable is to regularly bathe and brush them. The only reason a person might need to shave their double coated dog is if the hair is so matted, it’s the only option.