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To Shave or not to Shave your Golden?

By Nancy Bynes, NCMG of Nevada City

With warmer temperatures finally coming to Nevada County, many dog owners are exploring options to help their pets stay comfortable.

Shaving off all that hair is probably the most popular option. Indeed, for some coat types, this is an ideal solution. Not for all.

With the exception of hard-coated terriers, dogs come in one of two coat types: single coated and double coated.

Examples of single-coated breeds are poodles, shih-tzus, bichons, etc. This type of coat will continue to grow longer and longer, much like human hair, with genetics being the final determination in reference to length.

Double-coated or fur-bearing breeds have coats that grow to a predetermined length. They can be further separated into open coats and closed coats.

These breeds have a hard, protective outer coat (guard hairs) and a soft, dense undercoat. Examples of open, double-coated breeds are any of the spitz-type breeds, such as Siberian huskies, Pomeranians and chows.

This coat is designed to shed snow or ice and provide maximum protection against freezing weather.

Closed, double-coated breeds have noticeably longer guard hairs, which lay down over the undercoat, sort of like a blanket. While the outer, or guard, hairs get wet, the undercoat works to keep the dog’s skin dry. Examples include golden retrievers, Australian shepherds and Newfoundlands.

Single-coated breeds can be clipped down to the skin, and the coat will grow back pretty much as it was before. The same is not true for double-coated breeds. For this reason, shaving these dogs down is not a solution to summer heat.

Think of a healthy double coat as an old-growth forest. There is a balance with different parts providing different benefits. If you clear-cut an old growth forest, there will be immediate regrowth of a lot of young trees very soon.

Unfortunately, they won’t initially be the same kind as those you cut down. Instead, the forest has to start from scratch and spend decades, first growing ground cover and softwoods that provide an environment for slower growing hardwood varieties. It takes generations before the natural balance is restored.

While on a much shorter timeline, it’s the same thing with a double-coated dog. Guard hairs represent old growth, and undercoat represents ground covering vegetation.

The act of shaving a double coat removes the dog’s natural insulation and causes his system to kick into high gear. He’ll now produce coat to protect himself from extreme temperatures, sunburn and sharp objects.

Since the top coat or guard hairs take a long time to grow, what the dog’s body produces first is soft undercoat. That’s why we hear people say, “I shaved my dog, and it grew back twice as thick and really fuzzy!”

In reality, what happens is that the original coat isn’t restored at all. What grows in instead is thick, prolific undercoat mixed with short new guard hairs. We call it false coat or coat funk.

So, why is this bad? Picture this scenario:

It’s 90 degrees outside. You’re getting dressed to go work in your yard. Are you going to put on a light cotton T-shirt and sunblock or thermal underwear and a sweatshirt?

A dog’s shaved-down false coat is like that sweatshirt. It’s dull, soft and soaks up water like a sponge. Burrs and foxtails stick like Velcro. Above all else, it’s way too thick for hot weather.

By the time that false coat grows out enough to protect the dog from sunburn, scrapes and bites (the usual job of the top coat), it is so thick that the poor dog might as well be wearing thermal underwear and a sweatshirt.

Remember, Mother Nature designed the undercoat to be extremely heat-retentive.

Do you take your dog to a grooming salon? You can request a bath and blow-out. Virtually all modern professional grooming salons have high velocity blow dryers in their work areas.

These powerhouses can literally blast the dead undercoat out of your dog’s hair after a thorough bathing with minimal brushing and combing needed.

The benefit to your dog is a healthy, balanced coat you can both live with. Sure, you could opt for the shave-down, but you’ll more than likely be back in a month or so for another “shave-down” because your dog is cooking in its own hair.

Then, if you’re like most owners who fall into this cycle, you’ll intentionally let your dog’s woolly false coat grow out all winter “for warmth,” only to have it shaved off again in the spring.

In reality, all winter long while you’re under the false notion that your dog is staying warm and dry under that thick layer of fuzz, his coat is matting, retaining water and mud and possibly even mildewing. It will stay cold and wet for hours. Do you see the vicious cycle that started?

In some cases, owners really don’t have a choice. If there’s an underlying skin condition, requiring removal of the hair, obviously shaving is the lesser of two evils.

Same applies if the coat is so matted that shaving is truly the most humane option, affording the owner a chance to start over and improve their brushing skills.

These are situations to thoroughly discuss with both your veterinarian and your groomer so you can make an informed decision.

However, if your sole motivation for shaving your dog in the spring is to “keep him cool,” you need to know that you’re actually creating a far worse situation than you think.

Aside from destroying coat integrity, shaved dogs are susceptible to a multitude of complications, including, but not limited to, alopecia, heat stroke and skin cancer, specifically Solar-induced Squamous Cell Carcinomas and Dermal Hemangiosarcomas.

Sometimes, these complications are not reversible.

Nancy Bynes is a certified master groomer with more than 38 years of experience. She lives in Nevada City.

This article was originally published in the Nevada City Union, June, 2011.

30 comments

1 Molly Carter { 07.27.12 at 2:19 pm }

I hope people will see this since it is from an older posting. I’ve been buying supplies like crazy and doing a lot of shopping around. My brother has this fabulous brush called the FURmenator for his Choc Lab, Race. You probably already know about them. They last forever. In WI it only cost about $45. Here, it costs $65 for the long coat version. I found it new on Amazon for $19 – the long coat large version. I also found a puppy version of the FURmenator on sale at Persmart for $8.50 from $36 yesterday. Thought I’d pass it on. I love brushing Race with it when I get to see him. It is an awesome brush!

2 Lynn { 11.20.13 at 2:27 am }

Hi,
Great article! Wish I had read this before going to the groomers. Requested a trim and ended up with a shave! My golden retriever’s hind end was pretty matted and the groomer suggested a shave so I went with it. Now, 4 mo later, his pecks are completely bald and his undergrowth is very very thin. Anything I can do to help him now? Or do i just have to give it time?
Thank you!

3 Dawn { 06.02.14 at 1:39 pm }

I’ve been getting my pup shaved down to about a lab type fur length, for the last couple of years (in the summer) because I thought he would be cooler. I see that I am incorrect. Have I ruined his coat forever?

4 Kate Biddle { 06.02.14 at 1:49 pm }

Question – we have an old golden / lab cross – she is a 15 year old love. She has laryngial paralysis, which makes her breathing difficult causing excessive panting. Our thought was shaving her would help so that she didn’t get so hot that she had to pant even more as its already difficult. Is this the wrong choice? We just want to do what is right for her.

5 Tracey Firth { 07.20.14 at 1:44 am }

Read somebody used a Furminator on their Golden. These thing are terrible they cut the coat and make it brittle. It will ruin the coat. The best grooming tools for Golden’s are a slicker brush and a dog rake. The dog rake really takes out lots of dead hair without damaging the coat. I bought a furminator and threw it in the trash!

6 Lisa { 02.25.15 at 2:19 pm }

Thanks for the info. I was going to shave my Golden but it doesn’t sound like a good idea. Any suggestions to control shedding? I brush him everyday, but the hair is endless and everywhere. He’s almost two. I had another Golden several years ago, but don’t remember so much shedding.
Thanks.

7 Christy { 05.19.15 at 7:35 am }

I’m so thankful for this article! My golden is 4 year old as of last week. I live in South Carolina…where it gets pretty toasty. My friends have been after me to shave her down, but I have refused. Before I even got her I did my research about their coats. I am going to forward this to all my friends.

8 Susie { 06.19.15 at 8:50 pm }

My precious girl is 10 yrs old and panting sooo hard :(. We live in Tucson where it was 109 today, but try telling HER that it’s “a dry heat”!). We walk early morning and at night, and do our ball play inside. My issue is that she won’t lie on a nice, cool tile or linoleum floor (kitchen / bathroom) because she will only settle where she can be touching me. Ideas? And yes, I am prepared to move the easy-chair and t.v. into the kitchen if necessary.

9 Kathy Dodd { 06.23.15 at 7:41 pm }

Never had my goldens shaved. Didn’t want them to get sunburned. Used a rake, stainless comb and a pin brush. Kept their pads and feet trimmed as well as their ears and tails.

10 Matt { 08.02.15 at 4:56 am }

My kennel shaved my golden because he has hot spots. We thought they were just going to trim him. We are panicked. What do we do please?

11 Grace { 08.05.15 at 2:56 am }

This isn’t my experience at all. My dog is miserable until I shave her. Once I shave her the panting is greatly reduced and for some reason seems a lot more bouncy! She’s elderly and it makes her look like a puppy or a lab too. 🙂 Her coat ALWAYS grows back looking exactly the same way it did. She doesn’t spend much time in the sun because she prefers indoors and outside only in shade. She only takes night walks. The sun isn’t a problem. It may not be right for all goldens but it’s just fine for some. It doesn’t seem at all like I’m ruining old growth forest although that was a very entertaining analogy. 😉

12 Jana { 09.01.15 at 10:44 am }

My golden is getting shaved due to matting as we speak. She gets in her pool all summer, then in the dirt! My question in what am I supposed to do now? After reading this I’m worried about her and what to do next. Is her hair ruined for life or how long will it take to get back to normal–if ever. The way I read this, it will never be the same again.

13 Sarah Meserve { 04.20.16 at 10:34 pm }

We just had both our goldens shaved today. I agree with the above poster who said they are happier, pant less and are bouncier. Also like the above poster, once spring hits, our dogs are in and out of the water (we live on a lake) each time they go out. They never have a chance to completely dry out. We are in SC and it is crazy hot here during spring and summer (while they are shaved) so we keep them inside with short outside breaks so the sun isn’t a problem. I think it is worth mentioning that we come from Maine and we never thought about shaving their coats then.

14 Jackie { 04.22.16 at 9:43 pm }

Sarah, I live in Georgia and have had several Goldens who are never shaved. Get yourself a good dog dryer and dry them off after swimming. It also blows out the dead hair and they shed less. Mine practically live in the lake and its soooo worth gettin that dryer.

15 pat { 04.23.16 at 3:12 pm }

I’ve found most people do what they are going to do and then justify it. I would never shave a golden unless they come to rescue so matted we have to. They NEED their coat in hot states to PROTECT them from the sun.

16 Cris { 04.24.16 at 12:15 pm }

We have a little lab / golden mix. Her coat is black and long as a golden. She LOVES to chase bass feeding in the pond. My plan was to have her shaved for the summer however after reading this I think I’ll have them simply groom her. Sanitation cut and trim her wild hairs.

17 pat { 04.25.16 at 6:58 pm }

Cris, that’s what I’d do. We have a pool and my 6 pups are in almost every day and we don’t shave or even do a puppy cut.

18 Adrianeene { 06.14.16 at 4:17 pm }

We want to shave are golden retriever because of the texas heat but we never realized this could happen to are dog Honey.♡☆

19 Linda Pirie { 06.18.16 at 5:14 pm }

Well it’s funny because I just thought today you know my dog is overweight my golden and she’s going to be at 11 on July 25th and she so overweight and she has a breathing problem because her esophagus goes is shaped into a movie and her her coat is getting really fussy because I cut her okay not not a lot just so that our stomach wouldn’t touch the ground then I got to thinking what if cutting is like shaving so that’s why I got online we’ll come to find out it is that’s why last night when we were outside in Westmont Illinois if we had a fire going in a tiki lamp and all that she would not stop breathing heavy at all and it was a beautiful 72 degrees that explains it she was so hot she almost had a heart attack so I will never ever try anything but hurting toenail hairs and the hairs under her paws and her tail into a fan and the hairs in your ears and that’s it I will never ever and I brush her about 3 hours a day so I don’t have any problem with a lot of here around the house so and I have everything and you know what the best thing for me is I can’t flush I love cat brushes they get everything they get all the way through the hair down to the skin you can feel it scraping them and they even get up the dander as some of you may think that’s it but if I have a bad arm and I don’t even have to work at it it’s wonderful as we broken 5 brushes already and then I got in a car accident I can’t use regular brushing and more so her name is honey and you guys have a great day okay this is the first time I’ve ever done this is kind of fun God bless you guys

20 Mike { 06.18.16 at 10:41 pm }

Family been after me to shave my golden for 3 years. Always told them it would be bad for her. Glad I found these timely reviews. I need to make sure I brush her everyday which has been lacking on my part.

21 Robin { 06.22.16 at 6:32 pm }

What about trimming a Golden around her ears, legs and face?

22 lynn { 08.08.16 at 12:22 am }

My just adopted a golden retriever who is 9 years old and has a coat as thick as a chow. We adopted a boxer the same age. We have the air conditioner on 78 and she does okay but tonight I took him for a very short walk at 7:30 p.m. and he scared me he was panting so hard. The boxer wasn’t panting at all. Does this breed pant more than some breeds. I have had him 2 weeks and am afraid to do most anything outside because of the panting.

23 Trevor Jack { 12.22.16 at 12:14 am }

My golden is 8 really hates the heat would spend most the time lying in her pool. A few years ago I decided to have her shaved,boy what a different dog never gets in her pool very much at all now. Her new coat grows back with no problems and looks the same as it did before I started shaving which is done by a pro,I also have her checked by our Vet each year. This year 2016 I have decided to leave more hair on and see what different this makes.

24 Ron Emerson { 04.01.17 at 2:54 pm }

My golden had surgery a couple months ago to remove a 4 pound fatty tumor from his hind leg. So they shaved him from pretty good all in that area. We live in Phoenix, AZ and the temperatures are starting to get warm/hot so was considering to have the rest of him shaved to match the back end of him. But I had remembered reading in a book several years ago when I bought him that his coat helped keep him cool. So thought I would do some research first. Glad I did. He definitely needs protection from the AZ sun.

25 Chrissi { 05.19.17 at 1:12 pm }

I am so glad this article popped up while I’ve been researching shaving my BIG beautiful boy. I’ll stick with frequent raking. For those who haven’t discovered the Swiffer floor sweeper with the little vacuum in it, I HIGHLY recommend for keeping hair picked up from hard floors.

26 Mary Gail { 06.07.17 at 7:37 pm }

Please tell me what to do. Took my Beautiful 4 year Golden to new groomer for a summer Trim and came home with a sheared to the skin golden with a lion’ tail.

27 Mary Gail { 06.07.17 at 7:39 pm }

Will her beautiful hair every come back?

28 pat { 06.08.17 at 11:13 am }

Give her fish oil. I think hair growth is slower and more course the more you shave your golden.

29 Yvette { 07.01.17 at 3:37 pm }

I am on my 2nd Golden who is now 4 years old. I have always had them shaved down once, at the beginning of summer. Hair grows back just fine. I had him shaved right in the middle of the last heat wave, and his panting was significantly less. He has full access to shade in the house and yard. My experience is that the hair has always grown back in, as beautiful and thick as before. I’ll consider the blow out though, now that I have read this article.

30 Ned { 07.27.17 at 6:27 pm }

Interesting. I did not know this. However, we had a golden for 8 years and shaved her regularly in the summer. Never had a problem, and the fur grew back exactly as it was in a few months. Didn’t stay out in the sun too much though.

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