A Matter of Mats

How to deal with tangled clumps of fur in longhaired breeds.

Q. I recently read some of your advice for dematting. I have a Sheepdog-Bearded Collie mix and have her groomed every six weeks. Even so, I have trouble keeping her mat free. What is the best way to remove the matting on her underbelly? I use scissors to clip it, but my groomer says cutting mats out makes her job harder. Can you answer this for me please?

A. Your big, shaggy dog must be beautiful, but she is definitely high-maintenance when it comes to grooming. I have several suggestions to help you keep her mat free between grooming appointments.

Keep her in a shorter trim. I don’t mean you should have her shaved down, but taking an inch or two off her coat will make home maintenance less labor-intensive. Ask your groomer about a puppy cut, teddy-bear trim, or comb cut, all of which are done with an attachment to the clipper blade that produces a uniform length all over. Your dog will still have the fluffy look you love and life will be easier for both of you.

Use the right equipment. While I customarily recommend a slicker brush, it should be one designed for thicker fuller coats like hers. We use a rectangular version imported from Germany called a Universal Slicker with curved metal bristles embedded firmly in a rubber pad. We also use a double-sided stainless steel Greyhound Comb to check every inch of the coat once we have finished brushing. 

Spraying the coat with a detangling solution can loosen up snarls to make brushing much easier. A dematting tool known as the Matbreaker is also handy to cut through knots for easier removal with the brush. Please have a professional groomer demonstrate the proper use of this tool as it contains removable razor blades and can injure you or your pup if not handled properly.

Use the right technique. With long or full-coated dogs, we employ a method known as line brushing. We work systematically over the dog’s body, holding up a section of coat with one hand and brushing down from the seam where the skin is visible with the other hand. This is a pat-and-pull technique, patting the coat with the brush while pulling the hair away from the body with each stroke.

Keep your wrist straight as you work; twisting or flicking can lead to wrist problems and possibly cause an abrasion to your dog’s skin known as slicker burn. You can work up a steady rhythm as you move the brush lightly and smoothly over your dog’s body, one small section at a time.

Brush her more frequently. Both her ancestors, the Sheepdog and the Bearded Collie, are long-haired, doublecoated breeds that could stand a good brushing every day, but realistically speaking, if you clear her coat of mats twice a week from head to tail, you should be able to go six weeks between professional groomings.

If none of the above seem to do the trick, have her groomed more often. I realize this may be a strain on your wallet, but some dogs really do need a monthly appointment with their groomer to look and feel their best. Such customers in our I clientele are Bichon Frisés, full-coated Cocker Spaniels, Lhasa Apsos, Shih Tzu, Old English Sheepdogs, Pomeranians, Soft-Coated Wheaten Terriers, and Standard Poodles kept in traditional full trims. 

As far as cutting out mats at home, I understand your groomer’s objection both for safety reasons and because it’s hard to produce quality grooming when there are potholes in your dog’s coat that cannot be disguised. A groomer is not a miracle worker.

In addition, you need to be aware that your dog’s underbelly is a highly sensitive area. Ask your groomer to “shell” it by shaving it short and smooth, especially in warm weather. This solution will be virtually invisible to anyone watching your baby strut her stuff, but it will lessen the chances of causing discomfort during brushing or injury while clipping or scissoring this tender area between grooming visits.

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