A Dressing Down

The current spell of much-needed rainy weather has brought out the usual plethora of people who value their domesticity more than their dogs. So many owners negate the fact that their dogs come ready-equipped with weather-proof coats that it has now become the norm to swathe dogs in raincoats and padded jackets in spite of the temperature. Some of the dogs are also forced to run. The parks always empty when it rains because so many dogs will not be taken out if the sun is not shining, but of the few that did venture out this morning, more than half had raincoats on their (panting) dogs. Some thin-skinned dogs will need protection before and after exercising in really cold weather. Puppies and old dogs are not so good at regulating their temperature and again may need protection as will dogs that are suffering from an illness that has the same effect such as kidney disease. Most do not.

Of course, it isn’t just wet weather that promotes irresponsibility.

It is getting hard to recognise what type of dog is in the park as owners instruct groomers to clip down to the skin so that they do not have to bother grooming their dog or clearing up hairs. The groomers obviously don’t care that they have removed every shred of protection against the sun – why would they – it’s a nice little earner. I looked at the prices of a handful of groomers across the country and they ranged from £25-£70 per dog. I have encountered groomers who have been asked to judge at companion dog shows. If the way that the majority handle dogs in the ring is anything to go by, it must be a miserable experience for the dogs that they groom.

The outer layer of a dog’s skin, the epidermis, is between 3 and 5 cells thick. Human skin, by contrast, it is at least 10 to 15 cells thick. So, when the dog’s skin is exposed by removing the protection of the coat, it is much more prone to mechanical damage and damage from the sun. Humans produce one hair per follicle but dogs produce between 5 and 22 primary and secondary hairs per follicle. Their coat rotates between three growth stages – anagen (new growth), catagen (shedding) and telogen (stasis) – all from one follicle. Cutting dog hair removes the stable coat (telogen) and prevents shedding (catagen), but also prevents new growth (anagen).

Humans have genetically engineered dogs and added a variety of coat types to those that have occurred naturally: smooth, long, flat, curly, wire, corded and hairless. Some dogs have a combination of types including short, medium and long double coats. Some coats come in undetermined length (UDL) and some in predetermined length (PDL). The former just continues to grow until it is cut whereas the latter will growth to a set length and stop. Each type of coat needs to be managed differently.

Cutting long and curly hair may remove protection temporarily but does not cause long-term damage. However, clipping any double coated breed can cause serious permanent damage. Shaving off a double coat can cause alopecia if performed during the “wrong” phase of the natural hair cycle. Hair loss can be permanent or the texture of the coat can change. If coat does grow back it has a harsh texture and cannot return to the correct, protecting double coat. Shaving a double coated dog does not stop shedding. If hair does grow back, it will shed in spikes that are much harder to clean up than natural undercoat or guard hairs.

Clipping a smooth or flat coat results in new growth that is of poorer quality and that does not lie correctly. Clipping a wire coat softens the hair and can cause it to fade. Wire-coated dogs should be hand stripped.

Clean, dry, mat-free hair is a dog’s best protection from the elements. This has to be managed every day, sometimes several times a day. If you do not want to do this, do not get a dog.

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