Dog hair grows in cycles. Each follicle has a period of rapid growth (the
anagen phase), followed by slower growth and then a resting phase (the catagen
phase). During the resting phase, mature hair remains in the follicles and
eventually detaches at the base. When the dog sheds her coat (the telogen
phase), a young hair pushes out the old hair and the cycle begins anew. The
average dog takes about four months to grow a coat, but there are individual
and breed variations. The Afghan Hound, for example, grows her coat in about 18
Many people assume that temperature changes govern when a dog sheds her
coat. In fact, the seasonal length of daylight exerts the major influence.
Longer periods of daylight in spring activate a shedding process that lasts
four to six weeks. In fall, as the daylight hours grow shorter, many dogs may
again shed their coat. Sensitivity to ambient light is most pronounced in dogs
who live outdoors. Dogs who live primarily indoors are exposed to artificial
light and a rather fixed photoperiod. These dogs may shed and grow new coats
all year long.
Some breeds, such as Poodles, Bedlington Terriers, and Kerry Blue Terriers,
have what is called a nonshedding curly coat. These breeds do not shed loose
hair into your house. Instead, their loose hair tends to collect into mats that
remain on the body. Dogs with corded coats, such as the Puli and Komondor, have
similar coats, but their hair works itself into cords.
Some dogs have a double coat comprised of long, coarse outer guard hairs and
a soft, fine, wooly undercoat. When a dog with a double coat begins to shed,
the appearance of the coat can be quite alarming. The undercoat is shed in a
mosaic or patchy fashion, giving the dog a moth-eaten appearance that may
suggest a skin disease.
When shedding begins, remove as much of the irritating dead hair as possible
by daily brushing. In breeds with a thick double coat, a bath will loosen the
dead hair and make it easier to remove. Always brush out a dog before bathing
to help prevent the formation of mats.
Grooming at regular intervals will keep your dog’s coat and skin in good
condition and prevent many problems. Even hairless breeds require some grooming
for healthy skin. Establish a grooming schedule during puppyhood and stick to
it throughout the dog’s life. Initially, keep the sessions brief and make
grooming a pleasurable experience. If the puppy grows to dislike the basic
grooming routine, a simple procedure will become most difficult.
It is important that the bristles on the brush and the teeth on the comb be
the right length for the dog’s coat. For example, if the coat is thick and the
bristles and teeth are too short, the top coat may look smooth for a time but
the undercoat will mat. Eventually the top coat becomes involved and the dog
may have to be shaved. On the other hand, if the dog has a thin undercoat,
grooming with tools that have long bristles and teeth can scratch and injure