How to Brush Your Dog to Avoid Matting, Hotspots and Other Skin Issues

So, one of the biggest misconceptions about dog grooming and dog groomers is that when a dog has to be shaved down, very short, it is because the groomer is “lazy”. At least at our shops, that is never the case. We do our best to give ever customer exactly what they want—or at least as close as possible. This post’s goal to to explain how to properly brush your dog so that they don’t become matted as well as the importance of brushing your dog.

(While Bob looks happy here, imagine what it would be like to brush this out and how painful it would be. Also, notice all the broken hair at the roots.)First the why:Brushing: It is important to brush your dog to get all that loose hair away and off the skin so that air can reach it. Hair that is trapped/matted/packed next to the skin also traps pollens, organisms, moisture, etc. You can imagine how bad this can be for a dog that has issues with allergies and if moisture gets trapped next to the skin, it can LITERALLY rot the skin away. I won’t post the gross pictures here, but believe me, it’s not pretty. This is a very common cause of “hotspots” too—not enough air getting to the skin. This goes for just about every breed except for dogs with VERY short hair (Boxers, Vislas, Staffies, etc).Avoiding matting:

Grab a chunk of your hair. Now twist it as much as you can. Ok, twist a bit more. Not great, huh? Now imagine that feeling all over your entire body. It HURTS. Also, when a dog gets matted, the hair can pull the first few layers of skin up into the mat making it MUCH easier to be cut while being groomed no matter how careful the groomer is. Depending on the severity of the matting, we may or may not be able to brush it out. At some point (generally about 15-30 minutes) dematting a dog simply becomes cruel. We have done some dogs in stages, having the owners come in multiple times during a period of time, but know, we charged those customers for a full groom on each visit.

ON THAT NOTE: NEVER, EVER use scissors to try to cut out a mat that is close to the skin. Even though you think you can feel your fingers under the mat, the top few layers of dog’s skin are tissue paper thin. You will not be able to tell, I promise you. And then you’ll cut your dog, and since the skin is so thin, it will tear. The wound can get infected, but worse, you’re going to feel really bad. Just come in to one of our shops (or any groomer) and ask them to cut it out for you.

The number one cause of matting that we see is dogs not being FULLY brushed before they are bathed. We see this most commonly on little dogs that can be washed at home in the sink. Here’s the deal: any tiny tangle, when wet, will shrink up like cotton as it dries making it worse each time they are bathed without being brushed first. The second reason we see is itching/scratching/chewing. A dog that is continuously scratching their ears (chewing on their rear end, etc) for whatever reason, will at some point create a mat there. Then it just gets worse because now, in addition to the initial itching, they have a mat that is pulling on their skin.

I’m going to post a couple of pictures here. Please keep in mind both of these pups were found on the street in this condition, rescued and brought straight to us. However they are really good, albeit extreme, examples of what we are talking about.

Before. Obviously.

After. And was MUCH sweeter after all this, even though it was a very long and painful process. See how pink his skin is? Ouch. And luckily, there were no open wounds on this poor puppy 🙁

Looks kinda cute, right? Not so much.

This is what groomers refer to as a “cast mat” meaning that it comes off in one piece, like a sheep.

You can see in this one, the groomer was able to save a little hair on the top of the head and the ears.

The bottom line is that if you want your dog to have long hair, you have to commit to one of two things: 1) Brushing on a VERY regular basis (no less that a complete brush out once a week) and before EVERY bath or 2) Taking your dog to the groomer every 1-2 weeks and paying someone else to do it. Personally, I hate brushing, so I keep my chow mix shaved down year round-we’re BOTH much happier that way.


1) Choose the right brush. There are specific brushes for different breeds/coats. If you don’t know which one to get, ask us or just look it up on the internet. If you are using the wrong brush, you might as well not even be brushing your dog. I’m not kidding here.

2) Brush your dog ALL THE WAY TO THE SKIN. I can’t tell you how many times we hear, “But I DO brush my dog!” Generally that means they are simply “top brushing”. Here’s an example of that:

Here is what we mean we we say all the way to the skin:

You need to actually part the hair back and brush section by section. If you’ll remember the matted dogs above, the outer hair wasn’t that matted, but you saw what was down next to the skin.

3) Before you get your dog wet, you should be able to run this comb through your dog’s hair, again, all the way to the skin: 

If you can do that, then any groomer should be able to leave your dog’s hair as long as you’d like it. Here’s Buddy who comes to see us every other week. He’s proof it can be done!

Let us know if you have any questions, please feel free to ask!


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