What's the Difference Between Dog Hair & Dog Fur?

There are many traits that separate one dog from another, from breed, to size, to shape, to personality. One of a dog's most distinguishing features, though, is its coat. A Pomeranian's fluffy fur looks very different than a poodle's curly coat, or a chow chow's mane. But not only do dogs' coats vary in appearance — they differ in whether or not they're comprised of fur or hair.

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Dog hair vs. dog fur

Both dog hair and dog fur grow out of the same kind of hair follicle. Additionally, they are both made of a protein called keratin, which can also be found in skin and nails. But even though dog hair and dog fur are chemically the same, they do have several differences.

Some of the main differences between hair and fur are its length, thickness, and the density with which it grows. Dog hair tends to be both longer and thicker, and it grows less densely than fur does. Dog fur, on the other hand, tends to be shorter and finer. It also grows more densely, and in some breeds, such as Pomeranians, it grows in double coats — a longer, fluffier topcoat, and a thicker, shorter undercoat.

Do dogs with fur shed?

Another difference between dogs with hair and dogs with fur is the frequency with which they shed. This is determined by the dog's hair growth cycle.

Hair (and fur) grows in four phases:

  • Anagen is the phase in which hair is actively growing.
  • Catagen is the phase in which hair is fully grown.
  • Telogen is the phase in which the fully grown hair is both attached to your dog and dormant. Telogen is also known as the resting phase.
  • Exogen is the phase in which the hair begins to fall out. After the Exogen phase, the follicle moves back into the Anagen phase and new hair begins to grow again.
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In dogs with hair, the hair grows continuously — it doesn't stop at a certain length. This means that the hair remains in the Anagen phase for a longer period of time. Because this prolongs the entire hair growth cycle, dogs with hair shed less frequently. However, they do require more frequent grooming so that their hair doesn't get too long.

Conversely, in dogs with fur, the fur only grows to be a certain length. Since the individual hairs on dogs with fur tend to reach the Catagen and subsequent phases sooner, these dogs lose and re-grow their hair more often. This is why dogs with fur appear to shed more than dogs with hair.

Because dogs with hair don't seem to shed as much, they are considered to be more hypoallergenic than dogs with fur. It's important to note, though, that people with dog allergies are not actually allergic to dog hair or fur itself, but to the dander that is attached to the hair. Dander are particles of skin and oil that become caught underneath a dog's fur, and when the dog sheds, these particles are released into the environment. Since dogs with fur shed more often, dander is released more often as well, but dander will still be present in most dogs with hair.

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Which dog breeds have hair instead of fur?

At least 36 breeds of dogs have hair instead of fur. Large breed dogs with hair include standard poodles, Portuguese water dogs, and bearded collies. An even wider variety of medium breed dogs have hair instead of fur. These breeds include miniature poodles, Polish lowland sheepdogs, miniature coated xolos, and several types of terriers, including the bedlington, kerry blue, wirehaired fox, Tibetan, and soft coated whetan. A good amount of small and toy breeds have hair as well — the bichon frise, maltese, yorkshire terrier, and shih-tzu are all counted in this group.

Having a dog with hair or a dog with fur is a matter of individual preference, but the amount a certain dog sheds or the amount of grooming it will require are just some of the factors to consider when trying to figure out which breed is right for you.