If you are considering removing your German Shepherd’s coat – either completely, or partially, but want to be sure you’re doing the right thing – I believe you’ll get some useful answers here! We’re going to take a good look at the pros and cons so that you can make the right decision for your particular situation! The things we are about to share apply equally to the GSD and all other double-coated dogs.
There are many double-coated dog breeds; to name just a few, the German Shepherd (short and long hair), Alaskan Malamute, Husky, Akita, and Australian Sheep
Dog. The question of whether or not to shave a double-coated dog generates strong opinions, both in favor of and against. I take the view that, while removing the coat should generally be avoided, there can be exceptions.
The two common reasons that owners consider shaving down their double-coated dogs are:
First, their dog appears to be suffering inordinately from the heat – and if we are to judge by human standards such creatures surely need to rid themselves of their “winter” coats! However, this is a false assumption, since humans and canines come with very different temperature-control mechanisms.
Second, an owner may feel overwhelmed by the task of cleaning up a seemingly endless supply of molted fur from around the home.
An earlier article published here on German Shepherd Place, titled Should You Shave Your German Shepherd? has become one of our most-read articles, resulting in many questions and comments from readers on the subject.
This new article treats the subject in more depth and offers a greater degree of practical guidance. You are going to discover:
- The cases FOR and AGAINST shaving a double-coated dog.
- Nature’s temperature-control system for double-coated dogs.
- Commonsense actions an owner can take to make their double-coated companions comfortable in the hot weather. We are talking here about solutions that work with, and not against, nature.
- Legitimate Exceptions to the “do not shave” rule.
Shaving a Dog’s Coat: The Pros & Cons
1. Adverse Effects of Shaving a Dog
There are a number of proven negative outcomes for shaving a dog’s coat. However, not all of these undesirable effects are present in every case. Indeed, I’ve had some readers state that their dog experienced no adverse effects from shaving! Although I have no reason to doubt these reports, they must be viewed as fortunate exceptions.
Also, unless we have access to some back history, and longer-term outcomes, post-shaving, we cannot judge the shaving of a dog to have been a successful remedy. A coat may grow back well after a single shaving, while subsequent shavings can result in a decline in the ability of the coat to grow back well.
Here are the most frequently observed negative outcomes from shaving a German Shepherd, or another double-coated dog:
- Loss of distinctive coat color & pattern (which may or may not return upon the regrowth of coat).
- Excess sun exposure/heatstroke. A dog’s coat is provided by nature to provide cooling in the summer, and warming in winter. Plus the coat provides a physical barrier against direct sun exposure.
- Vulnerability to insect bites. Remove a dog’s coat, and it’s sensitive, unprotected skin becomes a target.
- Failure of coat to grow back to its original body and look. Even with a one-time shaving, some dog’s coats will never grow back well. The regrowth can be thin, uneven, and often displays both these issues.
- Insufficient protection from cold. Shaving a dog for the hot weather, with the idea of letting it grow back when it gets cold, is based on the assumption that it will properly grow back. Sometimes it may, but often it will not.
2. Positive Outcomes Reported by Some
Before listing some of the reported positive outcomes of shaving a dog, I again will caution the reader about taking such “positive” reports at face value, unless we can verify in the longer-term, that indeed no harm was done.
- Greater level of comfort for dog in the heat. Yes, we’ve had direct-from-the-owner reports of dogs whose only relief from the heat came after shaving off their coats.
- Successful regrowth of coat after the hot season.
- Partial elimination of grooming and hair and fur cleanup requirements.
Why Wolves Don’t Have to Shave Their Coats
(How Nature Keeps Double-Coated Canines Cool in Summer)
- Panting & Foot pad sweating
- Undercoat molting. This probably occurs more efficiently in the wild than with domesticated dogs with their temperature-controlled living environments. Wolves, unlike their air-conditioned cousins, will feel the full impact of hot weather, probably stimulating the body to more completely shed the excess fur. Though studies on this theory may be lacking, the reasoning does seem logical.
- The outer coat provides a shield from direct sun and deflects away from the heat (particularly with lighter colored coats). The outer coat consists of guard hairs, which do not molt.
- Activity moderation. For example, wolves are nocturnal, hunting at night and sleeping during the day. Simply put, they are active in the cooler hours and resting when it gets hot.
How to Cool Our Dogs & Reduce Their Fur ~ Naturally
Cooling Without Shaving ~ Reducing Without Trimming
- Take a good look at the weight of your GSD. Is he or she lean and fit? It’s easier for a slender body to stay cool. And, as an added bonus, a lean body helps promote overall health and longevity.
- Plan to give your dog a complete grooming every 30 days. First, shampoo and condition and then clip the nails and brush out the coat. Doing things in this order means that for starters, plenty of loose hair will likely be washed away before you even begin to brush, plus, brushing itself becomes easier on a clean, slick coat. For brushing, use a rake type grooming tool – the Furminator is highly recommended for de-shedding; that is, removing the bulk of the undercoat. Do it yourself, or use a good grooming service. In the latter case, explain clearly what your objective is: To thoroughly de-shed, but not to clip. Remember, it is the undercoat that molts; the protective outer coat, consisting of guard hairs, does not. The outer coat grows to its normal length, and no further. In addition to the rake type tool, it’s recommended to use three other tools. So your doggy brushing kit will consist of the following:
- A brush for a good overall brushing
- A ZoomGroom, which is an inexpensive rubber tool, for easy removal of loosened fur
- A stainless steel comb for gently working out tangles.
- In addition to the complete once-a-month grooming, it’s very helpful during warm weather, and in particular when your dog is molting, to do a quick but reasonably thorough maintenance brush every couple of days.
- Make sure that, when outside, your dog has fully shaded areas to retreat to.
- Many dogs like to cool off in the water. An inflatable children’s paddling pond serves the purpose. Keep it in the shade and full of cool, clean water.
Refrain from vigorously exercising your dog in the heat. Limit such activity to when the sun is low, in the early morning and late afternoon or evening.
- Provide a comfortably cool indoor area where your dog can seek refuge from the heat.
Note: To learn more about grooming, you can check out our full article: Grooming Your German Shepherd (Click Here).
Let’s wrap up by looking at what may be well-founded exceptions to the “do not shave” rule for our double-coated pooches:
In the event of medical necessity on the part of the dog – such as a serious skin condition – where your trusted vet considers shaving your dog to be a necessary step in order to effectively provide treatment.
If a human member of the family is suffering from serious allergic reactions to the dog’s hair. Preferably such incompatibilities between housemates would be anticipated ahead and thus avoided. But where the problem presents itself after the arrival of a new family member, canine or human, it must be addressed accordingly.
Last Resort Hot Weather Solution
In exceptional situations, for heat-related reasons. Here, I feel it reasonable to give some credence to the anecdotal experience of others. We don’t want to oppose proven success on the grounds that it doesn’t align with theory! So, while doing everything possible to discourage owners from removing their dog’s coats, for the reasons already given, we’ve had a number of reports of dogs whose only real relief from the heat, apparently came when they were shaved or trimmed short.
That said, it’s only fair to point out that it’s difficult to give a 100% valid assessment of most reported “successes” with shaving a double-coated dog, for the reason that details of the case are often lacking. Was the dog overweight? Was sufficient shade provided? Was cool water available for the dog to splash or immerse in? Was the dog getting sufficient brushing to remove the thick undercoat? A lack of such details means we still cannot be certain that the action taken – shaving the dog – was the best one.
I hope the case we’ve made for using a “cooperation with nature” approach – cooling without shaving and reducing without trimming – has been helpful. You’ll notice we’ve not tried to tell you that there’s only one way to go. Rather, my mission has been to provide you with the information to help you make the best choice to suit your own dog’s situation.
I’d enjoy hearing about your journey with your German Shepherd, in particular as it pertains to the article topic. Scroll down, then click the CONTACT tab.
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