This entry will likely be posted as a permanent article at the top of the site. I will cover common questions and misconceptions about matting, as well as correct popular home-grooming techniques that do more harm than good.
Here’s the scene. You walk into a grooming salon for the first time with your small-breed dog in tow, both of you uncertain of how this process goes. You knew, vaguely, that some people had their dogs groomed professionally, but up until now, you’ve never been one of their number. You may bathe your pet occasionally, or maybe even religiously, and last night you grabbed the scissors and attempted to clean up the face a bit so the groomer wouldn’t think you were a bad mommy. For some reason, despite your determined chopping, your dog’s eyes didn’t become any more visible (but the top of the head was suddenly choppy and uneven, and you aren’t sure why you trimmed his chin, but too late now).
The groomer steps up, introduces herself with a smile on her face, but her calculating gaze never leaves your dog, who walks face-first into the counter, turns around, and does the same thing with the wall.
With a kind but practiced smile on her face, the groomer says, “You’re aware we will be shaving him, right?”. You blink several times, stunned, and stammer, “well, no, I just wanted a trim! Because he can’t see. I dont want him shaved!”
After much discussion, signing of paperwork (an actual document called a matted pet release!) You leave, unhappy and less than certain of what just happened.
When you return, nothing can prepare you for the sad, skinny hairless thing that is handed over to you. Gentle advice about brushing at home and regular grooming go over your head, and as you stare at your dog you wonder just why it came to this. You pay a much higher bill than you expected, and go home wondering what the point of grooming is if your pet comes home like THIS.
Matted Pet FAQ’s
What IS a Mat?
A mat is a tangle gone wrong, a single upstart of a hair that wrapped itself around a neighbor, who in turn grabbed another and another. For curly and drop-coated breeds (bichons, malteses, poodles, shin tzus, lhasas, cockers), shedding hairs die and instead of falling onto your favorite sweater, they are caught by neighboring hairs. These hairs will rarely dislodge themselves, and require the assistance of a brush AND comb to remove them. If left to their own devices, mats will spread, forming a network, then a solid mass of dead hair that can eventually cover the entire body.
For double-coated breeds (pomeranians, chows, huskies, heavy shedders), the hair will die in patterns, forming oddly-colored tufts around the hind quarters, shoulders, belly, scruff, and chest. These tufts will turn to clumps. They tend to LOOK worse than the first type of dogs, but almost invariably, their coats will brush out easier and with less damage (or shaving) required (assuming they tolerate brushing).
What’s the Big Deal?
Matted fur is not just a cosmetic offense, but an uncomfortable, often painful sensation that makes simple tasks like walking or turning the head nearly impossible. A matted pet becomes susceptible to all sorts of unsavory infections and diseases. Like people, a dog’s skin needs air to survive and be healthy. Mats restrict air and sunlight from touching the skin, which in severe cases can cause the skin to mildew and decompose. If water is introduced to the mix, we’re talking damp skin inside of a solid fur sweater, with little opportunity to dry.
The blood’s circulation to the legs and ears can be cut off (imagine feeling like your foot is asleep every moment of the day!) And the skin can die because of it. Perhaps the grossest of all is the fact that where there are mats, there are unseen mysteries.
Festering wounds are common, along with armies of fleas and ticks. Even maggots have been found. In the pawpads, sharp thorns, rocks, and “foxtails” often get tangled in toe hair, which causes the hair to form hard mats, meaning every step is like having a hard, sharp rock in your shoe. Sadly, many dogs get used to the constant sharp pains and learn to “live with it”.
But I Bathe Him All the Time!
Ah, but do you use a good shampoo, conditioner, and dry him thoroughly, before brushing his entire body til it’s smooth? No? Do you usually just shampoo him haphazardly, rinse as well as you can, then wrestle with a towel before he escapes to roll around and around on the carpet til he’s dry?
Like your hair, fur that is not cleaned, conditioned, dried off at least some of the way, and brushed out will become tangled. And what is a mat? A tangle gone wrong. When water is introduced to tight mats, they soak it up like a sponge, and dry tighter than ever.
Okay, Okay, You’ve Scared Me. WHY Must You Shave Him? Can’t You Just Take Half Off?
When a pet’s coat has formed a solid mass, shaving is the only humane option. A blade must be safely wedged UNDER the matting, against the skin, and when the coat is solid, there is no way to save some of it. Even when the pet is not yet solid all over but has many solid areas (chest, collar area, belly, hips, legs, tail, ears), for the sake of an even coat, it is best to just start over and let it all grow back the same length.
Sometimes a coat is in bad shape, but could still feasibly be brushed out without causing pain to the pet. Some experienced groomers will attempt this, however be prepared to be charged FAR more than you would for a shave down, understand you may need to spread the dematting over several days, and be aware that if you yourself have never (or rarely) brushed out your pet THOROUGHLY, chances are his tolerance level for brushing will be non-existent. In my opinion, no good groomer will risk stressing the dog, injuring it, or being bitten herself to save a coat that you yourself have not made the effort to maintain. Forcing an inexperienced pet to sit through even the most gentle, careful dematting is risking your pet being conditioned to believe that the groomer’s is a noisy, stressful place where his hair is pulled for hours on end, his legs, feet, face, and tail are handled in ways he’s not used to, and for all he knows, there’s no guarantee he’ll ever see his owner again. This pet will likely never trust a groomer or a brush again.
Fine. Shave Him. How Can I Avoid This in the Future?
By purchasing a brush and comb recommended by your groomer. Maybe not that day, as he won’t need it, but in a few weeks as he starts to look plush again. If the groomer’s recommendations are too pricey, write down the type of tools (slicker brush, metal greyhound comb) and look on amazon.com… they are ridiculously well-priced.
When you brush, dont just brush his back. Starting at the back leg (either one, i prefer the right) and brush the foot, the ankle, the leg, then the hip, with the grain of the hair. Then the back, side, belly, shoulder. Now, front foot, leg, and all around, keeping a firm grip. Then the chest, under belly (watch out for genitals, and have the groomer shave.Between the rear legs and lower tummy). Now do the other front leg, and follow the same process back down to the opposite rear leg you started with. now run the comb over every inch and if you can comb all the way to the skin with no catch, you can move on to the tail and ears and face.
On the face, you can hook your fingers trough your pet’s collar from underneath (under his chin) or you can gently but firmly grasp his chin hair while you brush around the top of his head and his cheeks. You hold him this way to keep him facing you and to keep him still, which protects his eyes from those bristles. Many puppies and i.experienced dogs dislike being held this way, but it is the safest way and the most effective. Your groomer will thank you, because this is how we hold them while we use sharp scissors and close-cutting clipped blades around their eyes and face. Lots of gentle soothing and NOT GIVING IN will eventually make your dog submit… but this may take weeks of daily practice. Stick with it!
He Wont Let Me Brush Him/He Cries Like It Hurts/He BITES Me!
Practice and take it slow. Dont brush his entire body out, do a foot before breakfast and give a special treat he never gets any other time. Do the leg half an hour later, more treats and praise. Spread it out over a day. Be patient! Consistency is key! My Silky was a holy terror for brushing when i got him at 6 months, and while he’s still not perfect, he is safe to groom!
I Dont Have Time For All That/He’s an Outside Dog Anyway/He STILL Wont Let Me Brush Him!
Opt for a shorter, manageable length every 4 months and keep your appointments. If you want him to be long, about 1.5 inches and up, be prepared to pay someone else to brush and maintain that length once a week-once a month, and LISTEN to your groomer’s recommendations regarding appointment frequency.if she says every two weeks, dont wait 6 weeks and cry when he’s shaved down again. This is YOUR DOG, your responsibility, and if you must have him in a certain style, you must be prepared to do the work and keep appointments. We’re groomers… not miracle workers, and your pet is not the only one we must complete in a timely manner.
ONE MORE THING!
If your pet has EVER bit, injured, or attacked YOU or ANYONE ELSE (including other dogs!) it is YOUR OBLIGATION to let the groomer know. If he is known to be sensitive for his feet, nails, face, tail, TELL US. Though reporting dog bites/attacks is uncommon in grooming salons, a bad bite on a nerve could mean the end of a groomer’s career, and a bite to the face could change her appearance forever, not to mention require multiple surgeries. Though rare, owners can and do get reported and even sued when an uninformed groomer sustains a life-changing injury that could have been prevented. We wont turn your dog away, we’ll just use caution.
(note: Shih Tzu portrayed is a once-a-year client. After peeling his coat off, freeing his cheeks from the mats that kept his face from turning side to side, and having a bather assist in holding him while I clipped nails and handled very sore feet, I was less than pleased. It’s one thing if the dog is bad for grooming, it’s another if the only thing he fights for are the painful areas. I informed the owner of the severity of his condition, the discomfort and daily pain he lived with, and advised that she have him groomed AT LEAST twice a year. She nodded, laughed it off, and will probably not be seen for another year.)