Demat or Shave?
There comes a time when a dog has matted hair and you need to make a decision: demat or shave? This depends on the degree of matting. If the matting isn't too severe, sometimes you can comb out the mats with a little work. If the matting is extensive or very tight, the most humane thing to do is shave them off and start over. Matted hair is painful and uncomfortable for a dog.
Dematting, if done carefully, is time-consuming to say the least, and can be uncomfortable for the dog. Once hair becomes damaged, you cannot reverse damage to the hair shaft. You have to remove it, just as your beautician removes split ends on your hair.
There are numerous sprays, conditioners, and shampoos that can aid in mat removal, but there is no grooming shortcut for making the mats fall out. Mat removal can be done by anyone willing to do it.
Allergies and scratching, fleas and biting, and bathing the dog without combing out can all cause matted hair. Keeping up with regular grooming, bathing, brushing, and excellent nutrition are the cornerstones of healthy hair.
If you use the right tools in the right way, you can demat most hair without too much discomfort to the dog. A plastic letter opener with a blade makes a wonderful dematting tool. Be careful that you are only running it through hair and not hitting any loose skin.
Silicone helps make hair slippery and slide apart. There are many dematting products on the market that contain silicone, including some products used on horses' manes and tails, which have been proven to work well on dogs also. Show Sheen® and Cowboy Magic® are horse products that have shown great success on dog hair. Apply these products to the hair and allow them to dry, or you can use a blow dryer to dry them. Do not try to brush it out until the hair is dry. When it's dry, you will find that you can brush out the hair and mats with much more ease and less discomfort to the dog.
There are also many dog-specific dematting solutions on the market that work very well to help the hair slide apart. Ask a groomer which products he likes or that he may sell. Even an old favorite for humans, Johnson …amp; Johnson's No More Tangles® can work wonders on detangling a dog.
You may try a few products before you find one that works well on your dog without leaving the coat greasy or sticky feeling. Remember, a little bit goes a long way. Overapplying product is one reason some products don't work well.
The Dematting Process
The first thing to do if the dog is not severely matted is to bathe and condition the dog and work out some tangles in the tub while the hair is wet. If you use a force dryer on the coat, like professional groomers use, you can blow out a few tangles just with the dryer, and if you have a badly matted area, you can use a slicker brush on that mat in a gentle pat-pull motion, making sure you aren't scraping the skin of the dog. Slicker brushes are commonly misused, but they will last a long time if you take care to use them correctly. The slicker brush should loosen up the matted hair, and then you can use a wide-tooth comb to pick at it and comb it out.
Hair held under a microscope looks like it has scales on the cuticle. Damaged hair scales will stand away from the cuticle and will snag other hairs and debris and tend to mat. Healthy hair is smooth. Keeping a dog's skin healthy will keep her coat healthy as well. A good diet, regular grooming, and using a conditioning spray before you brush will keep the hair cuticle in good shape.
If the hair is really matted and has a great deal of undercoat in it, you can use a dematting rake with curved blades on it, which will cut through the matted hair. These tools work great on removing undercoat, but you can't use them in the same place on the dog for long because it does cut the hair and you will end up with a bald patch.
If your slicker brush has pins missing or they are twisted, crushed, or poking out the wrong direction, it's time to toss it and buy a new one. Damaged tools will damage the hair cuticle and your pet's skin. You want to make sure all your combs and brushes have smooth, polished tines and pins and no rough edges that can damage hair and skin.
Thinners and Blenders to the Rescue
When all else fails, you can use thinning or blending shears to remove the matting. Lift the matted hair and use your thinners or blenders underneath the mat. Make sure to tilt the blade away from the skin so you don't cut the dog, and make a couple of cuts either through the matted hair or behind the mat next to the skin. You can usually brush out the mat and it won't look like you just chopped out a hunk of hair.
Thinners and blenders make the hair look more natural and can remove choppy marks made by scissors or clipper blades. You want to use them vertically if possible so the hair falls naturally. If you use them horizontally across the hair, it won't blend in as well.
Don't be carried away and make several cuts with your thinners or you will have a huge chunk cut out. Thinners and blenders cut just part of the hair, leaving the rest to fall between the teeth. This leaves the hair looking more natural.
You can blend hair all over the dog to look natural rather than cutting with blending shears. This can help a dematted coat look fuller, but you can also enhance a dog's face by using blenders to remove excess hair in front of the ears and cheeks. This works especially well on long-nosed breeds such as Collies and Shelties to show off their beautiful features.
You can use blending shears down the skirts of Spaniels to soften the line of trimming and make the Spaniel look as though his hair grew like this naturally, even if he is clipped and not hand stripped.
You can blend the hair around the ears, and tails of thick-coated dogs to thin out the hair and trim the coat slightly. You can also use blending shears on the feet and hocks of dogs to make them appear more natural and take care of removing wispy hairs. Once you get used to using thinners and blending shears, you will find numerous uses for them and you'll find it hard to live without them.
Shaving a Matted Dog
If your dog is matted, the kindest thing to do is simply to shave it off and start over. If it's cold, put a sweater on her. If it's hot, be sure to keep her out of direct sunlight to prevent sunburn.
It's important to keep the skin taut as you shave the mats off the dog. Mats can be so tight that they pull up skin and you can nick or seriously cut your dog if you aren't careful. If you are using scissors, put a comb between the mat and the skin and cut off only what is on top of the comb. If you cannot get a comb underneath the mat, you need to use a very close blade such as an A5 blade number 10, 15, or higher to gently get under the mat. Be careful around the belly area, the tuck-up where the hind leg meets the body, as there is loose skin in the area that can be easily cut. Try to clip with the grain of the hair when possible. If it's not possible, clip in reverse or against the grain to get the mat out. It all depends on the degree of the matting and where it's located. The important thing is to try not to cut the dog's skin.
How short you need to take the coat and where determines if you can make the dog look good. If the head and ears of the dog aren't too badly matted, you can leave a cute head and face and maybe leave the tail longer and shave the body short. This look is often requested at grooming shops in the summertime; some groomers call it a smoothie.
Let's say you have a Schnauzer and his chest and belly have mats. You could shell out this dog, leaving the fringe on the sides but shaving off the hair on the belly and chest. Nobody will see the shaved-off portion unless your dog rolls over. This works on any dog with longer side and leg hair such as Cocker Spaniels, Yorkies, and Afghan Hounds.
If your dog's ears are matted, you can shave them short and leave a little beard on the dog's face and call it a German trim. Remember, it's just hair — it will grow back!