Hot dog? As the summertime approaches, we are often faced with many choices in regards to keeping our furry friends comfortable in the heat. As I write this, my little bi-black Shetland Sheepdog Nova lays contentedly out in the warm San Diego sunlight, taking in the rays. It is a common question we face when we are out and about, “are you going to shave her? Don’t you think she’d be more comfortable if you shaved her?” It is inevitable that the question arises. “Won’t it help with her shedding?” The answer I always give to all of these questions is “no,” but why?
Dogs do not regulate temperature the same way that people do. Unlike humans, dogs do not perspire except through their paw pads. They cool themselves by panting, also known as respiration. As such, coat function for dogs is infinitely different from what we would expect.
Double coat refers to a dog with two layers of thicker coat. Northern breeds like Samoyeds and Huskies are double coated, but less commonly known is that many herding breeds and golden retrievers are also double coated, as well as many other breeds (for a complete list, visit this link). The first layer is the undercoat which is composed of fine, fluffy hairs close to the skin. This is the part of a double coated dog that sheds. In the winter months, dogs will grow more undercoat to help insulate them and keep them warmer. What is not as well known about the undercoat is that in the summer, the undercoat is more sparse and it serves to hold up the topcoat and help trap air and cool them down. The topcoat is made up of tougher guard hairs that do not shed. They protect your dog's skin from harmful rays of sunlight and bug bites.
Here is a thermal image of a dog with a portion of its body at 24°C (75.2°F) and the clipped portion at 30.8°C(87.44°F.)
It’ll grow back! A common misconception with shaving a dog is that “it will grow back.” This is not always the case. More often than not, shaving a dog even once will alter the way the coat comes back for life. Often, the topcoat will not grow back, leaving only undercoat and a scruffy, unkempt appearance. You may then have to shave your dog continuously for the rest of their life. Not only that, but you have removed the dog’s natural ability to protect themselves, and additional care may be necessary.
I know this from experience, because before this was knowledge to me, I did it. I thought my childhood Sheltie would be more comfortable in the heat if she was shaved. I regretted it when her coat grew back. The coat grew back very coarse, and was difficult to brush. She matted extremely easily and it became a style I had to maintain for her. I shaved her for the rest of her life after that.
There are plenty of alternative options to help keep your dog cool this summer. The best way to is by taking your dog to the groomer regularly (every 4-6 weeks is ideal). Your groomer will bathe your dog and blow out the undercoat with a high powered dryer, and may use a rake to help shed out excess undercoat. Be sure to tell your groomer explicitly that you do not want him to be shaved, some groomers will take easier routes if you do not tell them.
You can also help by brushing your dog daily to remove any additional excess undercoat and keep your dog cool and content.
5 Ways To Keep Your Dog Coo On top of your regular grooming routine, here are a few other things you may want to do to help your furry companion beat the heat.
- Offer plenty of water. Carry it with you. A properly hydrated dog is a cool dog. There are plenty of options for dogs to make your water more portable. You can buy a dog water bowl that attaches to a water bottle and collapsible bowls. If you are walking with your dog and you notice his tongue getting wider as he pants, it is time for a water break.
- Regulate activity. Many dogs will play beyond the point of exhaustion. If you see your dog getting worn out and pushing himself too hard, make him take a water break.
- Go swimming! Not every dog likes to swim, but most will take advantage of a shallow kiddie pool filled with water. You can encourage a less than enthusiastic dog by tossing his favorite toys in the pool as well as standing in the pool yourself to show him that it isn’t so bad. For dogs just learning to swim, I recommend a life vest. Contrary to popular belief, not all dogs know instinctively how to swim, and a life vest can give a shy pup confidence in the water!
- Consider outdoor misters. For dogs that spend a lot of time outside in the summer, you may want to consider installing a misting system in your backyard. These can be found at most major home improvement stores and are an affordable option to cooling not just your dog, but yourself as well!
- Cooling mats. There are plenty of options for commercially available mats designed to keep your dog cool. They have water based mats as well as gel mats.These are not the most durable mats, however, so a word of caution to owners of dogs who have a tendency to chew things.
Sources: https://www.dogsnaturallymagazine.com/why-you-shouldnt-shave-your-dog-in-summer/ http://animatch.ca/blog/why-you-shouldnt-shave-your-double-coated-dog https://albertnorthvetclinic.wordpress.com/2013/05/30/shaving-your-dogs-coat-should-you-or-shouldnt-you/