Fur by Farr

By Lynn Farr

This article first appeared in the January/February 1990 issue.


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  I’ve been "in" Shelties for 11 years now, and some of the things I’ve been told about the care of canine coats have left me shaking my head in wonder. The statements listed here (and some of the answers) have come from breeders, judges, professional handlers, and exhibitors in Shelties, Collies, Belgian Tervurens, Old English Sheepdogs, Afghan Hounds, Maltese, Siberian Huskies, Chow Chows, Flat-Coated Retrievers, English Setters, Norwegian Elkhounds, Pomeranians, Chihuahuas, and Chinese Shar-Pei. Let’s examine some of the more popular statements.

"Never bathe your dog more than twice a year because it will make your dog lose its coat." Not true, but I can show you how this one got started.

Before you wash your hair next time, brush it thoroughly with a clean brush. Make a note of how much hair is on the brush, then remove the strands and wash your hair. Use the same brush to dry your wet hair or brush through your hair after it has air-dried. There will be two to three times the amount of hair there was before you washed it. Why?

Because of the way hair grows, at any given time you have hair that has come out of its follicle but is tangled around other strands (the stuff that’s on your brush before you wash), hair that is ready to come out but hasn’t yet (the stuff that’s in your brush after washing), hair that’s still growing (the stuff left on your head) and new hair (stubby stuff that’s also on your head). You also have empty follicles that are in a resting phase. The same holds true for dogs. In fact, hair and fur are very, very similar. The pH is different (fur is more acidic) and fur is more easily damaged, but otherwise they’re pretty much the same.

So—how often should you bathe a dog? That depends on the dog. Dogs with dry skin should be bathed less frequently than dogs with oily skin. Harsh-textured coats will repel dirt better than soft coats, so harsh-coated breeds won’t get as dirty in the same amount of time as a soft-coated breed. Maltese, Yorkies, and Afghans, all soft-coated breeds, are generally bathed and blown-dry once a week. Harsh-coated breeds, like Shelties and Collies, are usually fine being bathed once a month. When in doubt, remember that clean hair is healthy hair.

"Warm baths will make your dog blow coat." I hate to disillusion you, but a bath of any temperature will only remove hair that is ready to be removed. A warm bath is merely more comfortable for the dog.

"Dogs need to live outside 24 hours a day to grow coat." Yes—and no. Maybe I should say that depends on your definition of growing coat. Here’s why:

Fact No. 1—Coat growth is primarily determined by the amount of light the animal is exposed to, not the temperature. Light goes through the retina of the eye and stimulates the endocrine system, which regulates coat growth. Less light increases coat growth; more light and your dog will blow. The dog’s endocrine system does not differentiate between natural and artificial light.

Fact No. 2—The length of your dog’s coat is determined by its genetic makeup. A dog kept under low-light situations or outside will grow a thicker coat but not a longer one.

Fact No. 3—Hormonal fluctuations also affect the amount of coat a dog has. This is most evident in bitches, who blow coat after being in season and after giving birth (wide hormonal fluctuations) and in neutered animals, who blow once a year (low hormonal fluctuations).

Fact No. 4—As dogs get older their hormone levels drop and some of them will have a slight increase in coat length and thickness. Or they can go the opposite way and have a very thin, scraggly coat.

Bearing all these facts in mind, do you think dogs need to live outside 24 hours a day to grow coat? (As owner of an extremely thick-coated housedog, my answer is no.)

"Daily brushing is beneficial to the coat." Yes—if it is done properly. The correct way to brush the coat out is to lay the dog on its side, mist lightly with water (distilled preferred), and brush the coat out in layers, lightly misting each layer as you go. This is called linebrushing because you create a line in the coat as you brush.

Using a natural bristle brush (Mason-Pearson recommended), begin your stroke at the skin and carry it out past the end of the hair. The natural tendency is to brush to the end of the hair and flip the brush up, and this is what causes the coat to break. Another common no-no is using a nylon brush, which creates coat breakage via static electricity. Pin brushes are good for getting all the way through the coat, but they’re harder on the coat and they don’t distribute natural oils the way the natural bristle brush does.

"Grooming powder and chalk is drying and should not be used at all or washed out after each show." Emphatically YES! Anything you put into the coat with the exception of conditioners, moisturizers and water is very hard on the coat and will break it. Chalk sucks the moisture out of the coat like a sponge. Mousses, gels, hairsprays, etc. coat the hair shaft. With continued use they build up, dry out, and break off, taking the enclosed strand of hair with them. Don’t believe me? Try it on your own hair.

"(Blank) conditioner will make your dog grow coat." No conditioner in the world is going to make your dog grow coat. However, if a conditioner/moisturizer is used regularly, it will give the illusion of more coat by producing a healthier coat. Brushing will remove dead cells and debris from the skin surface and encourage a good blood supply to nourish the forming hair. The conditioner will be absorbed by the air shaft, keeping it pliant and healthy. I’ve had good luck using a formula concocted by LouAnn Groth, Lou-Mar: mix one-fourth teaspoon of Cindra Reconstructor and one-fourth teaspoon of Cindra Moisture Plus in a small spray bottle of distilled water. Linebrush this into the coat once or twice a week.

"(Blank) dog food will make your dog grow coat." No it won’t as long as you are feeding a good quality dog food. Some of the more popular ones are Iams, Eukanuba, Science Diet, Nutro Max, Purina Pro Plan, ANF and Eagle.

"(Blank) coat supplement will make your dog grow coat." Again, not if they’re eating a good brand of dog food. However, like the conditioner, coat supplements help keep the coat healthy and in good condition.

Like it or not, those are the facts on coat care. I’ve talked to many people regarding this subject over the years, and sorting fact from fiction hasn’t always been easy. I would like to give special thanks to Cindy Torbenson, groomer and owner of Cindy’s Superdog; Joyce Tesarek, D.V.M., owner of Minnehaha Pet Clinic; and Marchene VanGuilder, my hairdresser, for their invaluable assistance in writing this article. Not only did they take the time to answer my questions, but they researched some of the facts for me.

And what is my own dog’s beauty regimen? Externally, she is bathed and allowed to air-dry once a month and brushed with conditioner/moisturizer once a week. She’s brushed with distilled water every day or every other day depending on my schedule, and all of this is done using a Mason-Pearson brush. (Don’t forget to wash your brush when you wash your dog!) When we go to shows, I chalk her legs and ruff very lightly (after putting lots of moisturizer on first) and she gets a bath when we get home. Internally, she gets Purina Pro Plan, Hygliceron coat supplement, and, during the mosquito season, a heartworm preventative.

When it’s written down, it looks like a lot of work, but it really isn’t. And my dog has a shiny, healthy coat to show for it.


I originally wrote this for, and published it in, the May/June 1988 issue of The Lochland Leader, my club’s newsletter. I have slightly altered my coat care since the original article, and these changes are reflected in this version. I used to receive a lot of advice on the subject because my bitch has a short, although extremely thick, coat. Partly because some of the advice I was given conflicted with other bits of advice, and partly because I thought maybe it was something I was or wasn’t doing that was preventing her from getting any length, I decided to study up on the subject. It has paid off; although her coat is still short (because of her genetic makeup), I now get many compliments on it. The advice has stopped; now people ask me how I keep her coat so thick, shiny and healthy. I hope this article will answer that.

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