Many people skip getting their dog groomed during the winter. There's an assumption that if you want the hair to grow long, you don't get it cut. So maybe you don't get your dog's hair cut. But you still need to brush and comb it. Otherwise, mats will happen.
Imagine this: you don't brush your hair for a few months. But you let it get wet from snow and rain. When you decide it's time to tidy up, do you think you're going to be able to get a brush through your hair easily? And you know that feeling of having some of your hair pulled too tight? What happens to your dog's fur is much the same. The difference he can't tell you or do anything about it.
So many times I'm asked to keep the coat long. I think we've all seen stories from owners that are upset because their dog has been shaved very shortly. While every situation is different, my guess would be that most of those times the dog had mats and couldn't be brushed out. It's not a matter of laziness on the groomer's part. It can be very painful for a dog to be dematted. Imagine again if that was your own head after months of not brushing it. There's a saying that groomers have. Humanity before Vanity. That's exactly what shaving a matted dog is. It's more humane to shave off the mats instead of trying to comb them out.
Often people don't realize that their dog has mats. Or they brush the dog frequently so they don't realize the mats are there. The thing is, without using the proper brush, and going over it with a comb, you don't know if you are getting all the way through the hair to the skin. You may be only getting the top layer, so your dog could look great, even feel good to the touch, but underneath that top layer there could still be mats.
Here's some of the problems that mats can create. Mats can hold urine, feces, even food close to the skin which is going to cause irritation and possibly even cause an infection. I wish it hasn't happened, but I've had to shave matted animals only to discover that underneath a thick mat is an open wound. Tight mats under the belly or armpit area can restrict movement. I've also seen dogs that had their legs attached by thick mats to the belly. Heavy matting on the feet can hide overgrown toenails that can curl into the skin. Mats can fleas or even larvae.
Mats behind the ears and even the armpits are common. And a few mats here and there aren't a problem. If your groomer ever tells you your dog needs to be shaved down and you're unsure, ask to see the problem areas. A general rule of thumb is that if we can't get a comb through the dog, a long blade to keep the length of the dog isn't going to work.
When I hear that shaving a dog short is just a groomer being lazy, I get upset. Because the truth of the matter is, we don't want to have to do that. As groomers we appreciate a well kept coat. But the other reason is because it isn't laziness. It's actually more work. It's more time consuming, for one thing. It can mean the difference between being able to groom 2 more dogs in the time is takes to groom one, so it affects income. Shaving a matted dog requires taking care to not pull at the skin when removing mats. It requires constant changing of clipper blades to make sure there's never a hot blade near the skin. Which in turn means wearing down more blades faster, meaning having to pay to have them sharpened more frequently. Many places will charge extra for dematting a pet or for having to do a full shave down due to mats. Just taking the mats off can change even more problems. One problem that can arise from a dog having matted ears is that the mat is constricting blood flow, which is going to cause the skin to become thinner and more likely to become injured. Shaving the mats off can cause blood to flow rapidly to that area causing a hematoma, a collection of blood pooled in an area, If the dog shakes his head, that thin skin can easily tear. That's something that can sometimes be prevented, but not always.
How can you prevent mats at home? Use a comb. For small mats you can sprinkle some cornstarch on them and that will help break them up. There are also detangled sprays available that you can buy. If you aren't able to devote that time to your pet, consider keeping them short for winter. They'll be ok. If you feel like they'll be too cold to go outside, use a coat for them. But take it off when they come in. And if you like to keep your dog in a sweater, make sure when you take if off you comb them out again. Sweaters are a common cause of mats on the belly and armpit area. If you really don't want to keep your dog short, and you still don't have the time to maintain the coat at home, consider having more frequent grooming appointments for a bath and brush out. Talk to your groomer about the best option for your lifestyle and the health of your dog.
Thanks for reading!