Q. What is the best type of brush for dogs with short coats?
A. It all depends how you define “short coats.” Dogs, in all their amazing variety, sport a wide range of coat types. In general, they have either a single or a double coat. The outer or guard hairs of a double coat are harder, shinier and coarser than the softer, finer undercoat beneath.
Depending upon their breed’s geographic origins, that undercoat may be sparse or heavy. The Northern breeds, including the Husky, Samoyed, Chow Chow and Norwegian Elkhound, for example, needed their dense undercoat as insulation against the cold and weather extremes in the places where they originated.
Dogs with a single coat have only the topcoat, or guard hairs. Coats of any length can be either single or double and include a variety of textures. Some are silky with fine, glossy hair while others are wiry with hair that is harsh to the touch.
Yorkshire and Silky Terriers have silky hair while their Border, Scottish, Wirehaired Fox and Cairn Terrier cousins sport wiry coats, their suits of armor when they rummaged through the brush in search of prey in their hunting past.
Some dogs, like the Poodle, Bichon Frise and Portuguese Water Dog have naturally curly coats. While these neither shed nor have an undercoat, they do grow abundantly and require trimming at regular intervals to look the way they should.
As a rule, we define short coats as those which are ½ to 2 inches long. Labrador Retrievers, Beagles, Pugs and Welsh Corgis are short-coated but they all have an undercoat that sheds. These dogs require regular brushing to keep the undercoat from building up and turning into the solid pockets of hair that we call “packing.”
In the salon, we use a curved-bristle wire slicker brush to remove this fuzzy stuff but we also use a rubber curry brush with its flexible nubs or fingers to help loosen hair and make the coat nice and shiny, whisking it over the dog’s body in the direction the hair grows. In recent years, we have added a new breed of undercoat rakes that remove loose hair and thick undercoat and carding tools that remove undercoat without damaging the top coat to our grooming arsenal.
The rubber curry is the tool or choice on the “smoothies,” those with coats shorter than ½ inch, including the Doberman Pinscher, Whippet, Boxer and Vizsla. It’s also effective on shorthairs with double coats like the Beagle and Pug.
I should also mention a couple of rarer coat types, like the hairless, which despite their name are really not entirely bald. The hairless variety of the Chinese Crested sports patches of hair on its naked little body while the hairless variety of the Xoloitzcuintli, or Xolo, may also have small amount of short, coarse hair on the top of its head, on its feet and the last third of its tail. Corded coats like those of the Puli and Komondor must be trained to fall into those distinctive dreadlocks when they are pups. Cording a coat and drying it after the bath is a time-consuming process and owners may also opt to brush them out instead.
When using the slicker brush on your short-haired dog, do not use too heavy a hand. “Slicker burn” is a painful inflammation that is avoidable if you are careful. Work your way systematically around the dog’s body, following the same pattern every time so you won’t miss a spot. Be cautious using carding tools as well, avoiding digging into the skin in the process. When you bathe your pet, follow up with a conditioning rinse. This loosens any dead and shed hair you might have missed on the pre-bath brushout. A spritz of conditioner or coat dressing makes a nice finishing touch if you mist lightly.
Brushing your dog is about more than good looks. It’s necessary for healthy skin and coat and makes your dog nicer to be near. This kind of hands-on attention involved in this activity will also add to the wonderful bond between pet and owner that you share.