Dog Coats

Dog Coat Types and How to Care for Them

Dogs come in many shapes, sizes, and coats.

My English Shepherds, Bones and Hero, have a medium length double coat that is quite water and dirt resistant, as well as soft to the touch. Most dog owners like myself do have favorite types of dog coats and this generally goes along with a preference for certain breeds. A friend for example, always has short-haired dogs and doesn't see the appeal of my dogs' coats, "They need to be brushed and they tangle," she says. "Way too much upkeep!" Thankfully, there are several different coat types and each has its own following.

Hairless (or Almost!) Dogs

There are several breeds who fall under the hairless category. The Chinese Crested is one of the most commonly seen, followed closely by the Mexican Hairless (Xoloitzcuintli). These dogs, depending on the breed, might be entirely hairless (other than a stray hair here and there) or may have tufts of hair. The Chinese Crested has a wonderful topknot (hence the name crested) of hair on the head that grows quite long and blows in the breeze. It's quite lovely. Hair care for the tufted dogs isn't difficult; just comb the tufts to keep them free of mats. In lieu of hair care, hairless dogs do need skin care, however. They need to be protected from sunburn using a dog safe sunblock. One of the reasons so many hairless dogs can be seen wearing dog clothes is both because the dogs can get cold but also to protect them from the sun. Their skin often needs lotion to keep it from becoming dry and itchy. Use a gentle shampoo for dogs to keep their skin clean.
Chinese Crested istockphoto/Abramova_Kseniya

Smooth or Short-Coated Dogs

Doberman Pinschers, German Shorthaired Pointers, Dachshunds, American Staffordshire Terriers, and many other breeds have a smooth or short coat. The coat generally lays close to the skin and is smooth to the touch when stroking the dog in the direction the coat grows. When petted against the coat, the individual hairs can be prickly and cause clouds of hair to fly up. Some people, when researching breeds for their future new dog, feel that short-haired dogs don't shed or perhaps shed less. The owner of a Jack Russell Terrier laughed when she heard this question, saying that after petting her short-haired Jack, she has to use a lint roller to get all the short white hairs off her clothes. Smooth and short-haired dogs do shed, and some shed quite a bit, it's just that they shed short, rigid hairs instead of longer ones that other breeds might lose. Regular brushing with a soft bristle brush can help get the loose, dead hairs out of the coat. This brushing will also keep the skin and coat healthier, too, by distributing skin oils throughout the coat. Some short-coated dogs are prone to contact allergies and after a run through bushes and tall grass may become itchy. The skin may be red or develop hives. Talk to your veterinarian for guidance.
Staffordshire Terriers istockphoto/hamikus

Wire-Haired Dogs

Airedales, Wire Hair Fox Terriers, Wirehaired Pointing Griffon, Wirehaired Dachshund, and several terrier breeds all have a wire-like, coarse coat. This coat is not soft and silky, but rather rough and bristly. The coat was originally bred to protect hard-working dogs who worked outside in rough conditions. The wire coat does not shed. Instead, if not brushed out, the dead hairs can remain in the coat and become tangled with new hairs growing in. This can cause matting. Using a comb or a slicker brush, depending on the thickness of your dog's coat, brush the coat from the skin out. If you don't brush from the skin out, and just go over the top of the coat, the hair closest to the skin will become a large mat covering your entire dog. Wire-Haired dogs who are shown in dog shows have their coat hand stripped to maintain it in show condition. Hand stripping a wire coat is a very specific technique that requires instruction and a great deal of practice. Your dog's breeder, or a groomer who works with these breeds, can give you some instruction. However, many owners of pet dogs have their dogs clipper-trimmed much like a curly-coated dog. Before making this decision, though, talk to a professional groomer for guidance as clipping does change the coat.
Airedale Terrier istockphoto/Alex Potemkin

Long-Coated Dogs

The first time I saw an Afghan run, with his coat flowing like silk, I was awestruck. The combination of a fast, athletic dog with such as elegant long coat was amazing. There are a tremendous variety of dog breeds with a long coat, from the Afghan, Bearded Collie, and Bernese Mountain Dog, to the smaller Shih Tzu, Havanese, Yorkshire Terrier, and Maltese. No matter the breed or length of the coat, all long-haired dogs need regular coat care. A long coat is more apt to tangle and mat than many other coat types, especially in places where the coat moves (such as between and behind the legs) as well as the softer coat behind the ears. One Bearded Collie owner says she brushes and combs her dogs daily, without fail, and sometimes even a second time after her dogs have been active. A long coat should be brushed or combed from the skin to the ends of the hair. If the coat is especially thick or long, you may need to do each length in sections before you can do the entire length. If you find a tangle or mat, do not ignore it; it will never go away on its own and in fact, may grow incredibly fast as other hairs get tangled into it. Try to comb it out, but if that doesn't undo the mat, work some hair conditioner into it. Then try to comb it out. Never cut a mat out with scissors. The skin can get pulled into mat if the hairs are tight, and you will cut your dog's skin. Depending on which long-coated breed you have, your grooming tools may vary but to start, you will need a pin brush that can reach through the coat to the skin and a comb. You may need other tools, too, and a professional groomer can explain the tools and their use.
Bearded Collie istockphoto/s5iztok

Curly-Coated Dogs

Poodles and Bicho Frise are the best known curly-coated dogs. Curly Coated Retrievers, Portuguese Water Dogs, and American Water Spaniel are just a few of the others. The curly coat is curled, as the name says, but the amount and tightness of the curl can vary depending on the breed or the individual dog. Curly coats are attractive and considered low-shedding, but are not necessarily easy to care for. Dirt and debris can get caught in the coat and rather than falling out as it might do in some other coat types, it will remain in the curly coat until brushed or washed out. Using a slicker brush, the coat should be brushed from the skin out, making sure there are no tangles, mats, or debris in the coat. Finish by going through the coat with a comb to get any loose hair or small tangles. Work some hair conditioner into any stubborn mats or tangles. Curly coats can be trimmed regularly to keep the coat at a length you are willing to care for. Although you can learn how to do this yourself, most owners take the dog to a professional groomer for trims.
Poodles istockphoto/ivanastar

Double-Coated Dogs

A double coat on a dog refers to two layers (or types) of coat. Australian Shepherds, for example, have a medium length outer coat that is silky and soft, and sheds dirt and water. Underneath that outer coat, Aussies have a shorter, fuzzy undercoat. This coat protects the dog in bad weather or from briars and brambles. Many different breeds with varying lengths and types of coats may have undercoats. Labrador Retrievers have a shorter, coarse outer coat with a soft undercoat. Shiba Inu have a short outer coat coat that stands out from the body and a short soft undercoat. Bernese Mountain Dogs, Newfoundlands, Shetland Sheepdogs, and Pomeranians all have a long, thick, dense outer coat with a substantial undercoat. All double-coated dogs need regular brushing that goes through the undercoat to the skin. Without brushing, this undercoat can tangle together, forming mats. Although the owners of double-coated dogs swear that all this undercoat sheds (because it can be seen all over the house) much of it doesn't fall out and needs to be pulled out as the dog is brushed.
Australian Shepherd istockphoto/Bigandt_Photography

If You Have Questions

If you have any questions as to how to care for your dog's coat, talk to your dog's breeder if he came from one, or book an appointment to talk to a professional groomer. Pay her for her time, but then ask questions regarding grooming tools, how to use them, and how often your dog should go see her. Groomers do make a living grooming dogs, but their job is much easier if the dog is properly cared for in between visits.
Dog Groomer istockphoto/M_a_y_a
Back to Blog