Sophie Jackson is a dog lover and trainer living in the UK. She competes in agility and obedience with her four dogs.
Many dog owners wonder how to best keep their pets cool in the heat of summer. Not all dogs cope well with the heat. As caring owners, we like to find ways to help them.
Some owners choose to shave off their dog's coat in the summer, with the belief that the removal of their extra coat will help a dog keep cool. It seems to make sense, like a person taking off a layer of clothing. However, depending on the dog's coat type, shaving them could be the worst thing you do, as they may actually lose protection from the sun rays and the ability to cool themselves.
Dog coat types vary enormously. Understanding your dog's coat and the purpose it once served for the breed will help you to decide if shaving your dog will benefit them or not.
What Type of Coat Has Your Dog Got?
Broadly speaking, there are two main varieties of dog coat - long and short. However, within these categories, there is a huge range of coat types.
Short Coat Types
The shortest coat (excluding hairless dogs) is the smooth coat. Smooth-coated dogs include whippets and greyhounds, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, Dobermans, Great Danes, chihuahuas and French Bulldogs. The individual hairs of the dog's coat are very fine and lie in a single layer close to the body. Smooth-coated dogs shed heavily.
Next is the short coat, the hairs of which are longer than the smooth coat but still lie flat to the body. The hairs tend to be coarser than the smooth coat. Among those breeds considered short-coated are Labrador retrievers, beagles, Belgium Malinois and certain types of terrier. As with the smooth coats, these breeds shed heavily.
Lastly in the short coat varieties is the wire hair coat, which is mainly seen on terriers and certain sporting dogs. These dogs have a soft undercoat that sheds seasonally and a stiff or coarse topcoat. The outer guard hairs need to be hand stripped to keep the dog's coat in good condition. Cairn terriers, border terriers and the Otterhound all have a wire-coat.
Long Coat Types
The combination coat type is that where the dog's fur is made up of long silky hairs and short smooth hairs. A good example of this is the Golden Retriever, who has long hair over much of the body, but smooth short hair around the head and face. The Australian Shepherd, Papillon and Cavalier King Charles Spaniel also fall into this category.
A double-coated dog has a dense undercoat and a topcoat consisting of long guard hairs. The undercoat is designed to protect the dog from extreme weather conditions, while the topcoat also serves to protect the dog from the rays of the sun or to keep them dry in wet weather. These coats are so effective that they can make it difficult to get the dog completely wet when bathing them. Double coated dogs can either have a relative short dense coat, such as the Malamute, or short-haired German Shepherd, or have a heavier coat such as the Shetland Sheepdog and some border collies. Certain short-coated breeds, like the Labrador Retriever, also have an undercoat.
The silky smooth coat is long but single-layered. It tends to be shorter on the face and body but long on the legs and undercarriage. It can be prone to getting tiny knots. The silky coat is primarily seen on spaniels and setters.
The long or drop coat is continuously growing and is considered non-shedding, though this may not always be the case. The hair hangs close to the body. Breeds with this type of coat include the Bearded Collie, the Yorkshire Terrier and the Lhaso Apso. These dogs may be trimmed for neatness.
Curly or wavy coats are seen on breeds such as the poodle and Irish Water Spaniel. They continuously grow and do not shed and have to be clipped.
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The Purpose of the Dog's Coat
The wide variety of different coat types have developed in dogs for two main reasons:
- To protect the dog from its environment while working.
- For decorative appearance in certain breeds of a show dog.
A good example of this contrast is to look at some of the silky long-haired breeds. In many cases, the silky coat has been encouraged to become longer in show dogs for aesthetic reasons. Consider the Yorkshire Terrier in full show coat, with hair falling to the floor. That isn't to say that some working dogs do not have a silky coat or that it doesn't have a practical purpose, but in certain breeds, it has been developed to be pretty rather than pragmatic.
However, all dogs require their coats to regulate temperature, protect them from the harmful rays of the sun, and to shield them from cuts and scratches. Some breeds with very short coats, or hairless dogs, can be more prone to getting skin tears or sunburn due to the shortness or lack of coat.
Stiff guard hairs in working dogs help repel water and make it easier for dirt to fall off. While the dense undercoat in some breeds is thought to assist with buoyancy in water by trapping air (such as with the Labrador retriever).
While only some dogs have a downy undercoat, all dogs have guards hairs, even hairless dogs can have small amounts or tufts of guard hairs.
Does Shaving My Dog Keep Him Cooler?
It might seem logical that if your dog is feeling hot in summer, removing some of his coat will help to cool him. In certain breeds that never shed, such as poodles, clipping the coat is required to maintain the coat, unless the owner wishes to attempt something like poodle dreadlocks. Leaving the coat unclipped without combing or brushing results in tangles and matts.
However, even with these breeds, shaving the coat back to the skin can cause problems and does not necessarily help your dog be cool in the summer.
The first thing to consider when you are contemplating shaving your dog is that what you are actually doing is removing the top or guard hairs of the coat, the very hairs that help to protect the dog's skin from damage.
The guard hairs protect the dog's skin from dangerous UV from the sun; without them, there is a risk of sunburn. Dogs have finer skin than humans and burn a lot easier than people. Repeated sunburn, even if mild, can lead to skin cancer in dogs.
Dogs that have no guard hairs are also more at risk of overheating. People tend to think of a dog's coat as if it is a woolly jumper, but that is not the case. While it does keep them warm in the winter, in the summer it acts like a sunshade keeping the delicate skin cool and safe from UV. Shaving it off removes that protection.
The dog's coat also protects against biting insects in the summer. Without it, it is easier for insects and mites to latch onto the dog's skin.
Lastly, shaving the coat can also lead to it growing back poorly or coarser. The coat may never appear as healthy and full as before.
Never Shave a Double-Coat
Many people with double-coated dogs are understandably concerned these dogs will suffer more from the heat than single-coated dogs. Some double-coated breeds come from countries which are very cold, which adds to the concern as the breed may struggle in summer.
In reality, the double-coat is a very clever piece of evolution that keeps a dog cool in summer and warm in winter.
The outer guard hairs of the double-coat act as mentioned above, and shaving them away reduces the dog's protection against sunburn, overheating and insect bites. The undercoat is dense, fluffy and sits close to the skin. It provides insulation in winter when it is thickest, but in summer it naturally begins to shed and thin out.
Removing the excess undercoat by regular grooming with a comb or slicker brush will instantly help your dog keep cooler by enabling cool air to circulate beneath the guard hairs.
A double-coated dog that is regularly groomed will cope well with heat as the guard hairs deflect the sun from the skin. Your dog might feel hot on the surface of his fur, but plunge your fingers beneath and his skin will feel cooler. In fact, many double-coated dogs cope better with heat than single-coat breeds with shorter coats.
Do Any Dogs Benefit From Being Shaved in Summer?
While the general advice from dog groomers is that shaving a long-coated dog, especially one with a double-coat, does them no favours in the summer, there are occasional exceptions to the rule.
This might be a dog with a skin condition or other medical problem that seems to be happier shaved. It could be the dog has such issues with being groomed that the only way to maintain its coat is to have it shaved off. And some single-coated breeds are regularly shaved down, such as Lhaso Apsos and Yorkshire Terriers.
However, most dogs are best left unshaved in summer, particularly if they have a double-coat.
If your dog has to be shaved, perhaps for a medical reason, then it is important you take care of their skin.
- If the shave is very close to the skin, you should apply sun cream to prevent burning.
- Keep your dog out of the full sun and monitor them for overheating.
- Spraying with a dog-safe insect repellent will protect from bites as they no longer have their coat, and watch out for grass seeds which can pierce exposed skin.
- Be aware that your dog's coat may grow back poorly, and while it is growing it may be more prone to matting or knotting, so regularly brush or comb the dog.
Ultimately, the decision to shave a dog in summer comes down to the owner's choice, but the remarkable canine coat makes it largely unnecessary and counterproductive for keeping your pet cool.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Sophie Jackson (author) from England on August 10, 2020:
Hi Luke F, I'm afraid my knowledge of rabbits is limited. But my understanding is that rabbits evolved in warmer climates and therefore should not need to be trimmed to cope with the heat. However, they can get flystrike if their get dirty rear ends, so it may be appropriate to trim the area around their back end to prevent this.
Sophie Jackson (author) from England on August 10, 2020:
Most long coats do grow back, but sometimes they grow denser instead of longer. For instance, in spaniels, if you shave the coat it may grow back curly. Occasionally the coat does not grow back as expected. My double-coated sheltie had to have his neck shaved to draw bloods and the fur has never grown back right. It still looks like he has a slight bald patch.
Luke F from Corpus Christi on August 04, 2020:
Hi! Nice article, I was wondering if you had any thoughts about bunnies being trimmed heavily to help them thrive in outdoor hot areas better. Our dog and cat already have short hair so not helpful for us there lol. Thanks for sharing.
The logician on August 03, 2020:
I have a question though. I once had a long haired chihuahua. His fur was long but kind of shorter in some areas while shaggy in others. I decided to shear it all of to see if it would grow back nicer. It never did grow back.
Does a long haired chihuahua never shed or grow back fur that is shaved off or was this just an isolated incident?