Nothing brings out a bigger online groomer debate than a discussion about warm weather shave downs. Over the years, I have mostly taken a “no shave” stance. However, as of late, I’ve started seeing things from a different point of view.
I live in a suburb of Houston, TX. It gets very hot, and it’s quite humid living 60 miles from the Gulf Coast. Dogs around here spend lots of time in the water, and sometimes the heavier coats of certain breeds don’t dry properly. This creates the risk of mildew and a variety of skin issues including yeast and staph infections. Even weekly and biweekly appointments aren’t always enough to prevent these dangers, as many owners also live in the country and their dogs run through fields and underbrush. And on top of all of that, concerned owners have the mindset that their dog is wearing a fur coat and must be hot because he’s always panting.
As an experienced groomer I know that everything can go wrong, especially with a double coat shave down. Sometimes coats take longer than expected to grow back. Other times, coats grow in patchy. If you go too short, your dog can experience clipper burn or have permanent damage done to the coat. Believe it or not, there is a balance. There is a way to make the owner happy, clip the coats short, keep the skin healthy, and have a proper coat grow back.
When shaving down a coat, you must prep the coat. You don’t want to just take a 10 blade and go to town with your clippers. First, I thoroughly brush the coat. Even though the dog is being shaved, it’s important to remove the undercoat. Double coated breeds are prone to shedding so you must remove excess coat manually with brushes, metal rakes, combs, carding knives etc. There is a tool for every breed. I start with the coarse shedding tool and work down to the finer tools. Be sure to check the skin often while shedding, keeping an eye out for skin irritation. I’ll sometimes use my forced air dryer on a dry dog to remove loose coat.
Next, I put the dog in the tub for a deep cleansing bath. I like to use a rubber curry during the lathering stage. The rubber curry will help to remove more coat, and if I see that the skin is irritated, I will follow up with a medicated shampoo. After the rinse, I take the time to condition. At any point during the bath, you can use your forced dryer to remove more coat while the dog has either shampoo or conditioner on it. In fact, in some cases you can skip the dry de-shed and go straight to the tub using the shampoo/conditioner and high velocity dryer technique. This really helps to keep the mess in the tub, so cleanup is easy. Be sure to rinse all product from the dog’s coat before drying completely.
Once the bathing and drying process is complete, I’m ready to start my shave down. When I do a shave down, I don’t like to see skin. The shortest I ever take a coat is with a 7F. Anything shorter than a 7 is likely to expose skin. This in turn can cause irritation and make the dog susceptible to sunburn. Going super short also gives the optical illusion of faster growth.
I always groom in the direction that the coat grows. I don’t like to reverse shave. Many like the reverse shave technique so that they don’t leave clipper lines. However, if you remove the undercoat properly, you won’t have clipper lines. Depending on what the owner is looking for, it might be a longer “shave down” with a #0 snap on comb for dogs like Collies and Golden's. Whatever blade you’re using, be sure to brush the coat back and clip. You’ll want to brush back and clip the same area several times to be sure the coat has a smooth finish.
I urge clients to continue regular grooming/bathing schedules while the coat is growing back. During the “grow back” time, I continue to card/rake the coat every time the dog comes in for a bath or groom. I’ve found that following these steps keeps the skin healthy and the hair follicles clear; that combination produces a healthy coat.
Owners like their double coated dogs shaved for a variety of reasons. The dog is too hot, sheds too much, or it just looks unkempt. Whatever the reason, I'd rather do this for my regular client than lose them to someone who might not take the time to do it right.
Which stance do you take? Drop comments and questions below!