If you own a dog, you’ll eventually face tangles — those twisted messes of hair that mysteriously make their way into canine coats. Most common in longhaired breeds, such as the Lhasa Apso, Afghan Hound and Cocker Spaniels, tangles ruin a good coat.
But tangles and mats can be prevented. All it takes is regular, thorough brushing.
“I think the biggest issue is to prevent,” said Julie Borst, groomer and owner of Dapper Dogs.
Otherwise, you’re faced with detangling, which is a lot of work for you and can be tiresome for the dog. The best plan is to begin routine brushing during puppyhood, and don’t miss a day.
Brush thoroughly and down into your dog’s coat, not merely the top layer. Brushing over your dog’s coat is a common mistake many owners make.
The next step is my secret detangling weapon: Follow up brushing with combing. Borst prefers a Greyhound comb, which is 7½ inches long with coarse and fine teeth. Done correctly, combing weeds out leftover tangles.
But in case you’ve been lax in brushing your dog, Borst recommends first spraying a little mink oil or detangler into his coat before beginning to brush and comb. Do this every time you brush to reduce static and make brushing easier. “You should mist while you brush,” Borst said.
Don’t tug a tangle or tear at it. Your dog won’t appreciate it, and you will damage the coat. Spray on a little extra detangler and gently, slowly split the mat apart with your fingers and brush. This usually succeeds if you’re patient.
Tangles can be stubborn and difficult to remove, which is why there is a variety of dematting tools — rakes, combs and blades. Used correctly, dematting tools effectively remove tangles and mats with the least amount of damage to the coat. Unfortunately, many pet owners don’t know how to use them properly and end up cutting holes in the coat or cutting the dog. Take time to learn how to use the tools.
Borst advises against using a rake with razor edges. “Even if you’re as careful as you can be, you can still cut the dog,” she said. “It’s also shredding the coat and actually damaging it and setting it up to tangle even more.”
Use a rake only as a last resort, Borst said, adding that it might be better to trim off the dog’s entire coat and start again.
Once you’ve brushed and combed his coat, bathe your dog in very warm water, apply conditioner and rinse in cool water. Blot — don’t scrub — the dog dry with a towel. Then gently comb through the wet coat with a pin brush — another professional trick. Split or separate any remaining tangles.
Although most dogs can use a good brushing, some breeds need more attention than others. “The most common breed that you see problems with is Cocker Spaniels,” Borst said. “They need more attention than a Poodle. You almost have to be a professional to keep one decent.”
But there is a time in every thick-coated dog’s life when tangles become a problem: the change from puppy coat to adult coat. “It’s a nightmare,” Borst said.
The coat is growing in and falling out rapidly at the same time, becoming a tangled mess. The age this happens varies among breeds and lines within breeds. “That’s an excellent time for a pet owner just to have the dog trimmed short,” Borst said. “It will encourage the new coat to come in nice, and it will also save you so much battle.”
External factors — burrs, rain and fleas — can lead to tangles, too. Borst advises owners to dry-brush out burrs right away, then bathe and apply conditioner. Be sure to brush your dog’s legs if damp after walking on a rainy day or dewy morning. And keep the dog flea-free to minimize scratching, which can tangle his coat.
In the time it’s taken you to read this, another tangle has probably taken root in your dog’s coat. So pick up the comb and start brushing.