This time of year in the Midwest, a lot of groomers start talking about deshedding. We’re already past the interim phase of spring coat shed, and onto the next phase of late summer coat shed.
Spring coat shed consists of predominately blown undercoat, but summer shedding consists of both undercoat AND guard hair. The reason for this is the supreme function of the coat as an environmental barrier and thermoregulator. In late summer, the days are longest, the heat is usually high, and these dogs are letting go of all they can towards comfort. They will also be shedding guard coat more prominently in an effort to make way for the bulking up of undercoat production in late summer and into early fall.
This phase is probably more noticeable to pet owners because of the amazing amount of undercoat their pets are losing at home. We start getting calls right about June with complaints of “tufts of hair all over” and that their dog is “just so hot”.
We know that on a genetic level, different breeds shed different areas of coat cyclically depending on the time of year. Typically the Nordic or triple coated breeds during late summer will shed an abundant amount of coat across their stomach and sides, rough and neck.
Part of this is due to addressing thermoregulation for their major organs. During the cooler months, you’ll find that these dense coated breeds shed less on those areas in order to insulate their major organs, but will shed more throughout the hips, pants/britches, and sometimes the tail (not so true with Husky/Akita/Sammy/ etc who use that tail to wrap around them in cold weather).
You’ll find that during the colder months they shed less on their legs and ears as well.
This is part of what keeps us in business year-round addressing these breeds that go through cyclical or seasonal coat change as well as those breeds and cross breeds or mixes which shed year round.
Either way, thorough and knowledgeable deshedding is a major component of a groomer‘s career.
Working Smarter, Not Harder
Deshedding can be hard on a dog if we are working harder and not smarter. Deshedding can be hard on our body and our equipment if we are doing a lot of it mechanically with our combs, rakes and brushes, as well. However, dead coat removal and opening or unpacking dense coat can be a lot easier if we harness the power of our bathing cycle and drying cycle to remove most of the dead and loose hair before we ever have to touch it with tools.
Utilizing the bathing and drying cycles is also less invasive to the skin and hair coat and can remove shedding hair and skin build up far more gently so that the skin is less likely to become irritated, In this way, we will see far less hair damage and breakage that can be caused by some of our metal tools. As well, using water temperature and flow encourages the hair follicle to dilate and release even more hair in the resting phase.
Irrigating or flushing the coat with more water volume and less pressure works great on longer dense coats such as Newfies, Samoyeds, Keeshonds, Chow Chow, Rough Collies, Autralian Shepherds, Border Collies, etc. This helps open the coat starting at the skin and aligning the hair fibers as the water flow pushes through the coat.
Using higher water pressure AND volume works best for unpacking those medium to short dense coats like that of a Shiba Inu, Basenji, Pugs (these 3 breeds shed constantly but still hit a seasonal crescendo), German Shepherds, Cattle Dogs, etc. This helps open the secondary undercoat that is porous, as well s the lesser tertiary undercoat whose job is to literally weave in between the undercoat and create even more loft and insulative pockets within the coat. The water higher in volume and pressure will more effectively break up any insulating pockets within that extra fine undercoat, and with lifting up and out any dead skin and oil build up. These breeds with dense, shorter coats all typically excrete A LOT of oil and it builds up quite readily under the telogen or resting phase hairs that turn over so frequently.
Different Hairs Means Different Snares
Dogs that shed seasonally as we mentioned above, typically will have tertiary or secondary undercoat hair. This type of hair is far more porous and has a different hair cuticle formation than both undercoat hair and primary or guard coat hair. Under a microscope these comparisons look like this.
By this visual comparison, we can surmise that undercoat hair will tangle and break far more easily because of its strand/fiber size. There’s still another reason to consider this type of hair more closely for both deshedding and dematting. This hair is also more porous due to its cuticle thinness and composition. For this reason, we should know that a topical product will not work the same on every type of hair depending on these above factors. So, if a dog’s coat is very thick and contains tertiary hair, a heavy silicone or a waxeous conditioning agent of poor quality, will actually adhere MORE to this hair and can cause it to catch on itself instead of releasing.
This is another reason why its so important to rely on method and not just a specific product recommendation.
If we tackle deshedding with a 3-pronged approach, and don’t just relay on a product’s marketing, we are able to choose from a much broader scope of brands and formulas that work well for each coat, perform well with or water chemistry, and are affordable.
If we pay attention to the process instead of just the product, we have much more freedom to apply these methods to many different coat types and issues- such as matting and depleted or poor-quality coat.
We can harness the power of the process and remove the dead hair, stale sebum and dead skin and environmental debris that literally acts like sandpaper on hair and glue in the coat and which also contributes to electrostatic charge in the dead coat. Porous, dead coat has a negative electrostatic charge, which lifts the hair shaft cuticle and causes the hair to catch on itself.
- Choose a method such as a pre-poo conditioning step or a co-washing step BEFORE you shampoo to smooth the hair, grab onto protein-based dirt and skin cells, and remove the static charge in the coat by altering the pH. You’ll optimally want a cationic surfactant for your pre-shampoo conditioning step. What this means is that the formulation of the conditioner contains positively charged cations (positively charged particle) because they are attracted to negatively charged hair strands. These particles also sit ON the hair and resist being washed off by water alone. This action offers manageability.
- Choose a shampoo that will adequately address the amount of hair and coat debris without being too overly stripping and perhaps lifting that hair shaft more with a harsh cleanser. A cleanser with a protein additive or other manageability or conditioning agent such as a silicone derivative will plump up and smooth the hair shaft with a thin substantive film and boost the untangling ability of the hair fibers.
- Choose a conditioner that is high quality and preferably one that has a silicone derivative in addition to its moisturizers.
- Choose a coat spray that not only provides slip, but also contains a humectant on a healthy coat. A humectant works to help draw in environmental moisture. On a depleted or dry, lackluster coat, choose a coat spray with BOTH a humectant and a light emollient. This will offer greatest longevity of the moisturizing action to the hair and skin.
Note: lighter coat sprays work fine on dry coat and on healthy hair. Heavier coat sprays with added emollients and humectants typically need to be applied to damp coat and dried into the coat for greatest protection and performance. These work best on depleted coats and very porous hair.
Aside from using both water and air as part of your most effective deshedding, choosing products to help with removing dead hair efficiently can be a groomer’s best yet hardest decision.
There’s much deliberation in various groups and online discussion platforms about what products work best, what tools to use, and what methodology is the most efficient.
After all, time is money.
It’s been my experience, while deeply researching skin and coat function, that some of the marketing surrounding deshedding products may sound amazing but might not actually be that much different from other products in the lineup.
Typically many of our deshedding products have some type of an additive that offers substantivity to the coat, which in tun provides slip. These additions to a formulation will minimally coat and smooth the hair shaft allowing for greater ability to slide the hairs apart. They also may contain a silicone derivative which will deliver the same affects.
There are MANY products available to us that tout being specific deshedding products. But the standards listed above, some of them deliver, while others do not. At a minimum, a majority of them perform similarly when all is said and done.
So instead, what we should be thinking about when we are reading discussion threads about “best deshedding products”, should be 3 things:
- What’s the meat and potatoes of the topical product formulation? As long as there’s full disclosure of the ingredients deck on a product label, we can begin to see many similarities from one product top the next as to what the engine of these products contain. What to consider most importantly is the actual type of coat that you’re looking at addressing for your deshed services. Remember that your water chemistry can drastically affect the function of many ingredients within a product.
- What type of coat am I looking to deshed, and is the formulation really best for that coat type?
- What methods would be more effective to get the most coat out without overworking the skin and coat, your body, or the dog?
From there, you can choose any range of products that cover these bases, regardless of whether or not they’re actually sold as a deshedding product.
- Is there something in here that coats the hair for slip?
- Is there an additive ingredient in here that addresses pH and will help lay the cuticle flat?
- Is there a depositor ingredient in the product that adheres to the hair during the rinsing process?
What the KEY topical product really is, is your conditioner and coat spray (which is also a conditioner 😉) choice. It’s the chemical action of the conditioning steps that adjusts the pH to best help seal and lay flat the porous cuticle associated with undercoat hair.
Without the conditioning steps, your deshedding procedure will be sorely lacking.
- Lightly wet the coat with an ample amount of warm water. Warm water dilates the hair follicle and increases circulation which allows for greater hair release. Monitor the pet for signs of heat stress and be sure your water is warm, but not hot.
- Apply your quality conditioner and gently work it through the coat. Work it root to tip on all open coated areas, and massage it gently all the way to the skin on your packed areas- squeezing it into the coat works well here. Take your time here and use your fingers to break up areas of packed coat by hand.
- Don’t rinse the conditioner from the coat. Next, apply a clarifying shampoo or a protein enriched shampoo depending on the amount of coat dirt and skin build up present.
- Work the entire coat head to tail, spine to feet, with the growth of coat with either high volume or high pressure and volume depending on the coat type. This rinse should also be warm. You may or may not get a squeak in the coat depending on your water chemistry and your product choices. Don’t always look for that squeak. Sometimes its not about the washing, but its always about the rinse.
- Apply your final conditioner application and work it through the coat by hand or with your shampoo delivery system. Give the conditioner ample contact time in order to do its best work. Typically 5-7 minutes for high quality cream conditioners is enough.
- Do a very thorough cool water rinse with the cot lay. Cool water calms dermal nerve endings and helps tighten the skin follicles. It also helps to congeal the conditioning agents within your conditioner across the skin and the hair shaft evenly.
- Squeeze the excess water from the coat in the tub. Liberally apply a quality coat conditioning spray onto the dripping coat and work it deeply into the coat with your hands. Don’t try using a rubber or meta tool at this point. Your hands are the best tool for working in the spray and feeling areas of lumpy (packed) coat that you can start to break up with your fingers.
- Move the dog to your drying table, settle them comfortably, and with a warm air setting and medium to high velocity, direct the air flow through the coat with the coat lay. Work the air from the surface, layer by layer, down to the skin on any packed areas. Work down into the coat, and be sure you’re blowing the water out so that the skin surface is dried as well. Monitor your air temp and be sure the air flow doesn’t sit in one spot to avoid risk of burn. Methodically work each area of coat instead of erratically whipping air through the coat. Work with the direction of gravity draw. The wicking ability of the hair shaft will follow this principle as well and speed drying.
- Use your fingers as you go from area to area, using the dryer to “airbrush” the dog in the most gentle and effective manner for coat removal.
- Once completely dried, move to the grooming table. Areas left damp are going to continue to shed more and be prone to tangles. Work the coat methodically with a pin brush, comb, or a coarse rake if still needed. Stay away from slickers on any coat more than a couple of inches long, and stay away from fixed tooth style rakes for risk of stretching and breaking coat. Be mindful of your technique. The coat is smoothed, open, and aligned the most at the point. Your comb and brush strokes should be with a fixed wrist and motion from the elbow and/or shoulder- just like hand stripping. A pat-and-pull method works great here, too.
In end, you can actually save time and manual labor by working step by step with each component of the deshedding procedure by allowing each part to serve its function. Using water, shampoo, conditioner and coat spray and air in a mindful manner makes removing dead coat and skin build up much more easy on both you and the pet. And that is time well spent.
Tumiłowicz, Paweł & Goliszewska, Agata & Arct, Jacek & Pytkowska, Katarzyna & Szczepanik, Marcin. (2018). Preliminary study of guard hair morphology in four dog breeds. Veterinary Dermatology. 29. 10.1111/vde.12656