For most people, the summertime season is all about losing layers, or at least opting for lighter fabrics that breathe easier. We keep cool by trading in sweaters for T-shirts and winter boots for canvas or sandals, and dogs have their own ways of making sure they aren't carrying around more than they need in order to stop from overheating, like shedding their winter coats.
Sometimes, we may be tempted to give our canine companions a hand by offering them a shorter haircut for the summer, but if you aren't careful, this can actually do more harm than good. If you're wondering if you should give your dog a summer cut, you'll need to know what type of coat you're working with before you can make a decision.
Understanding a dog’s coat
When deciding whether or not you should reach for the scissors or shears and offer your dog a haircut for the summer season, it's important to understand a couple of things about coats. To put it simply, the type of haircut, if any, you should give your dog will depend on whether she has an undercoat or not. An undercoat is a soft, fuzzy layer of fur that's hidden under a dog's top coat of fur. This unseen layer works both to insulate and cool down dogs with undercoats, which are commonly referred to as "double coated" breeds.
Other dogs only have a single coat, and what covers their bodies isn't actually regarded as fur, but hair. According to VCA Hospitals, these types of dogs don't shed, and are usually known for being hypoallergenic. Because their hair grows persistently, like ours, they usually require a hand from their beloved people to stay groomed, which typically involves regular brushing and occasional trimming. Single coated dog breeds include poodles, Yorkshire Terriers, and Maltese.
When you should cut
Single-coated dogs may require haircuts regardless of the season, especially if strands start causing problems, like if they're reaching past the eyes or toenails, or if the hair is constantly getting matted or tangled. If your long or curly-haired dog spends a lot of time outside during the summer months, dirt or burdocks can easily become trapped in his hair, and can lead to irritation if it goes unnoticed and turns into a big, matted mess. Dogs that have issues breathing, like Shih Tzus, may also benefit from a summer cut as it can help keep them from overheating, and is just easier to maintain thanks to the shorter length.
If you are going to attempt your dog's haircut at home, a "less is more" approach is best when handling the scissors or clippers, and should really only involve minor trims around his face, feet, and tail. VCA Hospitals goes on to recommend leaving at least one inch of hair all around to avoid possible sunburn or irritation to the skin. If you're unsure whether or not to cut your dog's hair it's always best to consult your veterinarian, who may even be able to groom your dog for you if need be.
When you should not cut
There are some circumstances in which giving a dog a summer haircut to keep her cool and comfortable may have an adverse effect, like having double coated dog breed. Double coated dogs often have thick, full hair, with long "guard" hairs on the top layer that stick out farther than the thicker, inner coat. The list of breeds with double coats is long, so you can always check with your veterinarian or research your particular dog to see if she has a double coat, but some common types include Saint Bernards, Newfoundlands, Bernese Mountain dogs, Pembroke Welsh Corgis, Old English Sheepdogs, Scottish terriers, Rat Terriers, Chow Chows, Shiba Inus, and Labradors, to name a few.
If you have a double coated breed that's not to say that you can't assist her in her cool-down routine during the summer, but it's highly suggested by the ASPCA that you never, ever shave a dog down to the skin as close-cuts can result in sunburn, and can compromise her ability to regulate temperatures naturally. As Albert North Vet Clinic explains, an undercoat pushes cool air closer to a dog's skin, while the top coat works to bounce hot and harmful sun rays away. When the top layer is cut too short that cool air breezes past, doing nothing to cool your dog down. Instead, consult a professional groomer in these cases, rather than take matters, and clippers, into your own hands, and make regular brushing a part of your dog's summertime hair and skincare routine to reduce any buildup or matting of old, unnecessary fur.