The long and short of it
Dog coats and brushing requirements
The foremost thing we notice in a dog is the hair on the dog’s body — its length, colour and texture. Dog hair, called their ‘coat,’ is a functional element. While it may only be aesthetic to humans, to dogs, the coat offers insulation/air circulation, protection from sunburn, water and dirt, etc.
Dogs have a variety of coats, and each type comes with its’ own grooming requirements. You can usually assign a coat type to a breed. However, due to irresponsible breeding practices and mixed-breed home litters, simply knowing your dog’s breed may not be enough to determine the coat type.
Read on for the characteristics of various coats to identify the kind of coat your dog has and maintain it well. I’ll divide the coat characteristics into 3 parts — double/single coat, long/short coat, and coat texture. Remember to go through all three to determine your dog’s grooming needs.
Note: Hair and fur are essentially the same. Shorter hair on an animal and hair on non-human mammals is called fur. Therefore, I’ve used the word hair in some places instead of fur.
Double/ Single Coat:
Single-coated dogs have one layer of fur over their skin. This fur can vary in length as per the dog’s breed and characteristics. Single-coated dogs are assumed to shed less since there is less hair to shed in the first place. These dogs do not shed seasonally. Instead, the shedding is distributed evenly across the year.
Grooming single-coated dogs is simple, but dogs with different coat lengths and textures can have varying degrees of complexity around grooming. The absence of an insulating second layer of the coat makes them more susceptible to issues with temperature changes. Therefore, only a few single-coated breeds are used as working dogs. Examples of single-coated dogs include the Maltese, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, French Bulldog, Jack Russell Terrier, Poodle, and Greyhound.
The double coat is probably the most misunderstood aspect of a dog’s coat, so it is common to see double-coated breeds in temperate climates. A double-coated dog, as the name suggests, has two coats — a soft undercoat that provides insulation and an outer coat that protects the dog’s undercoat from dirt and repels moisture.
Double-coated dogs can have a short or long coat length. Shortcoat double-coated dogs include breeds such as the Labrador, Beagle, Greater Swiss Mountain Dog, Saint Bernard, Rottweiler, and Pug. Longcoat double-coated dogs include breeds like the Akita, Newfoundland, Bernese Mountain Dog, Tibetan Mastiff, Golden Retriever, and Samoyed.
Double-coated dogs are known to ‘blow’ or shed their undercoats twice every year, between seasons. In addition to this, they shed regularly through the year like single-coated dogs. The undercoat shedding happens because the dog’s body gets rid of the old undercoat and grows a new one in preparation for the new season. While the amount of shedding varies between dogs, it is enough to be noticeable. In some dogs, you cannot even pet them without letting some loose fur out. While a woolly undercoat may seem hot, especially for any dogs living in the Indian summers, the undercoat actually helps keep the dog insulated and, therefore, cool during the summers. Therefore, you should never shave a double-coated dog down to the skin during the warmer season.
To check if your dog is double-coated, part their hair and see if the top coat is visible all the way to the skin. If it is surrounded by shorter hair, especially woolly hair near the bottom, your dog has a double coat. While many dogs have a dense undercoat, some may have a sparse or patchy undercoat.
Double-coated dogs require extra grooming measures to accommodate the woolly undercoat, depending upon whether the dog has short or long hair. Short-haired double-coated dogs should be brushed with a slicker brush or pin brush. Long-haired double-coated dogs should be brushed with an undercoat rake to get the tangles loose, followed by brushing with a wide-toothed comb. Long-haired dogs are prone to getting knots in their hair, so brush their hair/fur in sections and use a detangler, if required.
Short coat dogs:
Generally, dogs with fur lengths less than 2 inches are considered short coat dogs. Such dogs are not prone to matting or tangles and are easier to groom. Pin and bristle brushes work well for their grooming. Remember that double-coated short-haired breeds (such as the pug or beagle) shed heavily.
Hairless dog breeds also exist, and these may either be completely devoid of hair or have sparse hair in some areas of the body. The Chinese Crested dog is an example of such a breed. Hairless dogs lack the protective barrier that hair provides and require dedicated care and protection, especially from the sun and water-related infections.
Long coat dogs:
Unlike short coat dogs, dogs with long coats are prone to matting and tangling and require extra care for their grooming. Long coats may be silky or coarse. Coarse long-coated dogs have undercoats, and an undercoat rake + wide-toothed comb should help. For dogs with silky long coats, pin brushes work well. Slicker brushes can be used on both kinds of long-haired dogs.
Regardless of the type of long-haired coat your dog has, ensure you brush them regularly, even daily, if you can. Detangling sprays are often handy, especially with dogs like Afghan Hounds, which have very long hair. To keep it easy for you and your dog, work on your dog’s long hair in sections.
Dogs with smooth coats have short hair that almost looks like shiny skin. These may be single or double-coated and shed accordingly. While such dogs require the least amount of grooming, it is advised that you brush them regularly and bathe them on schedule. A bristle and pin brush combination is suitable for such dogs. The Dachshund and Great Dane are some examples.
Also called ‘broken-coat dogs,’ wire-coated dogs (such as Terriers) have a soft undercoat and a bristly, wire-like top coat that protects them from harsh weather conditions. Such dogs shed less but are prone to tangles and matting. More often than not, wire-coated dogs require professional grooming services, especially when being groomed for dog shows. For regular brushing at home, use a combination of detanglers, slicker brushes and stripping combs.
Dogs with curly, fleece-like coats, such as the Poodle, are supposed to shed the least. Their thick, soft curls rest close to the body and grow really fast, because of which, they need to be taken in for a trim more frequently than other dogs. A soft, curved slicker brush can help keep their coat fluffy, when used against the direction of the fur,
Corded-coat dogs such as the Puli dog look like a walking mop. These dogs have natural ‘dreadlocks,’ which take a tremendous effort to maintain. Such dogs shed less since any loose hair gets trapped in their ‘dreadlocks.’ However, this can lead to matting and parents of such dogs need to ensure that their coat does not get matted. Breeds such as the Poodle or Havanese may also be given this look through grooming services. Dogs with corded hair need to be groomed at least once a week to maintain their coat and ensure they are safe from infections that can go undetected under their dense coat.
Heavy-coated dogs such as the Chow Chow have a thick, bushy coat, which may be a short, long or combination coat. Their coats require a lot of care and brushing.
Where do Indies fit in?
Everywhere! The Indian Pariah dog is claimed to be double-coated. However, many of the dogs we see on the streets are single-coated. Due to so much variation in climate and geography across the country (and subcontinent), we have smooth, single-coated Indian breeds like the Rajapalayam and Chippiparai and heavy, double-coated ones like the Gaddi dog. Besides this, our indies, as we know them today, are the result of years of mixing with foreign breeds. So as far as these dogs go, you cannot be sure what you will get.
My suggestion to anyone bringing home an indie puppy is to get a pin and bristle brush to begin with. This should see you through the first couple of years, by when your dog should have grown into their adult coat. If your dog gets a double coat, you’ll need a slicker brush. If their coat grows longer, you’ll need a detangler and an undercoat rake (if double-coated too). Flea combs and other special tools may be purchased as required.
Hair is a big part of our lives, and it is equally essential for our dogs too. As we’ve seen earlier, it’s a lot more functional for them, especially for working dogs. A dog’s coat changes as they grow up, and if you have a mixed dog, you’ll probably enjoy a spectrum of coat types and textures. Bailey, my dog who’s an indie with Spitz and Labrador characteristics mixed in (I think so), started off with a curly puppy coat, which changed to a smooth coat when she was a teenager. She now has a long coat, and I notice more and more undercoat every season. As a result, I have a bristle and pin brush combination and a slicker brush and undercoat rake combination, which I have invested in recently. My Kong zoom groom is there for the more massage-y brushing sessions. Let’s see how many more brushes and combs I need to get her.