That Summer ‘Do

It is hot in Calgary today.  HOT.  My pale ginger self is hiding inside in front of the A/C as I type, and I am probably still at risk for sunburn.

According to the always-trusty The Weather Network, it is currently 28°C, with a “feels like” of 34°C.  That’s 93°F for our friends south of the border.

Pre-cyst, we used to take Moses for a nice long swim to cool down. We hope to resume that activity post-cyst.

As the hot summer days go by, advice abounds about how to help our pets cope with the heat.

There are the obvious precautions:

– DO NOT leave your pets in a hot vehicle for any length of time

– Ensure your pets stay well-hydrated and have constant access to fresh, clean drinking water

– Be careful about over-exercising your pet on hot days, and if necessary, plan walks for early morning or late evening when it’s not so warm.

– Learn the signs and symptoms of heat stroke so you are able to monitor your pet

– Consider the summer-time uses of Musher’s Secret and help protect your dog’s pads from hot pavement

There are lots of options to consider for keeping your pet cool and comfortable in the summer.  And there are lots of things to be cognizant of to keep them out of potential danger.

But there is one trend I cannot get on board with.

Quite some time ago – last summer or perhaps even the summer before – I came across a female Great Pyrenees throughout the normal course of a warm Saturday in June.   I don’t remember the dog’s name, but I will never forget the encounter for two reasons:

1.  The dog was overweight.  I mean, extremely overweight.  I’m guessing she could’ve easily shed 30+ excess pounds.  But that’s a soapbox for another day.  My main concern today is…

2.  The dog was shaved.   Fully and completely shaved.  Head to toe.

She looked kind of like this... only fat.

So I naturally (and mistakenly) asked the owner if the dog had some sort of medical condition that elicited the shave.  After all, there are lots of legitimate reasons for shaving a double-coated dog, including a skin condition or a surgical procedure.

Moses himself is sporting a bit of a shave job these days.

And there are lots of legitimate reasons for shaving and cutting the fur on several breeds of dogs – because it’s not fur at all.

Breeds such as the Poodle, Bouvier, Bichon Frise, Schnauzers, and Portuguese Water Dogs (among others) are single-coat breeds that actually have hair, not fur.  They’re sometimes called non-shedding or hypoallergenic dogs, but that is a bit of a misnomer because they actually shed hair as much as you or I would.  (Well, maybe you.  I actually shed quite a bit and have been the sole demise of more than one vacuum.)  Though they do have less dander than fur-shedding dog breeds.

These dogs require regular haircuts to keep all that hair under control.

Umm... no comment. (Photo credit: http://www.pics24h.com)

But to my original inquiry about the Great Pyrenees, the owner simply explained it was her “summer haircut”.

And it took every fibre of my being to restrain myself.  Because it’s not polite to lecture complete strangers.

I suppose some people conclude that because some dogs get haircuts, their furry dog must be in need of a summer shave to help keep them cool.

And to that I say:  WRONG.

Yes, double-coated breeds such as the Great Pyrenees and the Newfoundland do have a lot of fur.  But they should absolutely NOT be shaved (barring an extreme matting situation or one of the legitimate reasons noted above), and nothing would make me cringe more than coming across an intentionally shaved Newfoundland.

OH THE HUMANITY. (Photo credit: Flickr - 2-Dog-Farm)

So I suppose the ridiculousness of shaving these dogs kind of speaks for itself, doesn’t it?  I mean look at that guy.  Can’t you just feel his shame?

But what many don’t realize is that you are actually doing your double-coated dog a huge disservice by shaving them in the summer.  And any groomer worth their salt will do their best to talk you out of it.

The Groomer, out of Ottawa, Ontario, lays out the very important reasons not to shave your dog on their website (on the main page, no less), advising that just like your dog’s fur insulates them from the cold in the winter, it also helps keep them cool in the summer: insulation from the heat and sun is also provided by the double coat.

It is important to remember that dogs do not sweat like you or I.  They sweat from the pads of their feet, period.  So while you and I may want to shed layers to help air out our perspiring bodies, that is not the case for dogs; they will be cooler with their natural summer coat.  Even a black Newfoundland like Moses.

Precious Paws Grooming from Guelf, Ontario, also addresses this issue, including the added concerns:

– a shaved double coat can sometimes grow in thicker than it was before (kind of defeats the summer time purpose, doesn’t it?)

– sometimes it doesn’t grow back properly or evenly (or even the same colour), and if the undercoat grows back faster than the outer “guard” coat, the undercoat is more likely to mat and create need for another shave – a vicious cycle – since it is the guard coat that prevents matting (that last part is credit to The Groomer).

– you are now putting your dog at risk for a sunburn (aloe vera, anyone?)

– their thick coat also protected them from biting flies and mosquitos, a defence they would no longer have if shaved (the Edmonton Humane Society has a safe-for-dogs, homemade bug repellant recipe here.)

– not used to being shaved, they can sometimes scratch excessively, irritating the skin or creating hot spots

– behavioural changes in dogs not used to being shaved have been reported, and anecdotes I found online seem to report resulting in increased insecurity in some dogs (however, whether or not that should be attributed to a bad grooming experience is probably a discussion to be had)

What can happen when you shave a double coated dog, in this case, a Pomeranian. Having been repeatedly over-groomed, this poor guy developed alopecia (uneven growth/bald spots). (Credit: http://www.thoughtfulpawsgrooming.com)

And if you’re shaving to reduce shedding, The Groomer advises that even with the shorter ‘do, the shedding will continue – it will just be shorter fur on your clothes and couch.  And since you have interrupted their natural shedding cycle, you may actually cause more shedding.

And lastly, for those water dogs such as the Newfoundland – that rely on their oily coats for increased buoyancy – shaving them can impact swimming.  Heck, some say they’re not even supposed to swim for a couple weeks after a bath until those natural oils come back to aid their swimming abilities.

Instead, to keep your double-coated dog cool and comfortable in the summer, keep their fur clean and brushed.  Brush regularly to take out the excessively thick or dead undercoat, but don’t shave it off.   You can even take them to the groomer in the early summer for a thorough bath, blow-dry, and brush-out to get rid of as much dead and excess undercoat as possible.

And remember that mats WILL result in a hot and uncomfortable dog.

But that should be your only grooming concern, so save your money.  Otherwise, keep them out of the heat by using the usually recommended techniques like keeping them out of the direct sun and well-hydrated.

Not sure if your dog has a double coat?  Check before you do anything drastic!  Commonly known breeds with double coats are, according to this source:

– Newfoundlands and other long-haired mastiff-types such as the Great Pyrenees and Tibetan Mastiff

– some herding breeds, such as the German Shepherd or rough-coated Collie

– Spitz-type dogs like the Siberian Husky, Malamute, Akita, Samoyed, and Pomeranian

– some terriers, even though their outer or “guard” coat may be quite wiry – examples include the Tibetan Terrier and Cairn Terrier (I should note the source includes Wheaten Terrier in their list, and I think that’s incorrect)

– some sporting dogs, such as retrievers (both the Golden and the Labrador varieties)

So please, stop the madness.  Back away from the razor.

And if you thought an inappropriately shaved DOG was pitiful... (Photo credit: whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com)