Dematting Your Dog

Many dogs have the issue of getting their hair or fur tangled. This is especially true for non-shedding dogs, e.g. Havanese, Maltese, Shih Tsu and some Terrier breeds. If it doesn’t get brushed regularly, this can result in mats. So what should you do when you realize your dog’s fur is matted?

First thing to do is assess how badly your dog’s fur is matted. Also consider the weather/season is outside. Perhaps it’s winter and you’d rather keep your dog’s hair longer for protection from the elements or if it’s summer you and your dog might be better off to take him to the groomer to have a short haircut and groom.

If you think this is something you could tackle and your dog can handle, then here are our tips and suggestions:

1. Realize it will probably take a few sessions or days to properly demat your dog’s coat. We do not recommend you try to do it all in one session. Of course your groomer will do it in one session, but that probably explains why my dog hates going to the groomer. To keep the peace with your dog, I would break up the grooming sessions.

Dematting Your Dog Dogsized

Dematting Comb

2. Make sure you have the right tools. We recommend a dematting comb, a regular dog brush, a slicker brush and a comb (e.g. Fine/Coarse Steel Greyhound Comb). I use these various tools on my dog (a Havanese). You might also consider getting some detangling spray made for dogs.

3. Make sure you have the right treats. Some dogs are more sensitive than others. Some dogs enjoy getting groomed and others don’t. Regardless, dematting can hurt the dog at times – we’ll show you how to avoid it, but it can happen. So we recommend that you have your dog’s favorite treats on hand so you can reward him through the process.

Dematting Your Dog Dogsized

Greyhound Comb

4. Determine where you are going to groom your dog. I would recommend a place where your dog is comfortable, but can’t easily escape. I groom Kobi in our living room on a high countertop. He’s comfortable enough because it’s the living room, but it’s also high enough that he won’t jump down and escape.

5. Is your dog dirty? If your dog needs a bath, definitely do this before you do a dematting session. It’s going to be more work if you have to extract both dirt and hair mats. Sometimes it might be easier to try to demat your dog right after a bath, but it really depends on their fur/hair and your dog’s personality. My dog goes a bit nuts after a bath so it’s not a great time to groom him.

6. Lightly brush your dog’s coat all over his body. It might help to use some detangling spray before you brush your dog’s hair, but it really depends on your dog’s hair/fur. When you’ve completed this step, you’ll know how badly your dog is matted and where the problem spots are.

Dematting Your Dog Dogsized

Slicker Brush

7. Mentally break up your dog’s hair problem spots into various sections.
For example, with my dog I typically break up the areas I need to work on as follows:
- Ears – matted near the opening of the ear canal, but my dog loves to have his ears/ear area brushed
- Tail – less sensitive and easier to brush out because the hair is coarser
- Belly – super sensitive, but often not that matted
- Chest – can be really matted, but less sensitive than belly
- Paws – not typically that matted, but he hates to have his paws touched
- Underarms – probably not the scientific name, but hopefully you understand. This is where you’ll find a LOT of matting. Unfortunately for Kobi, this is also a sensitive area.

Dematting Your Dog Dogsized

Dog Anatomy

Your dog may have different areas that are sensitive or less sensitive or matted. Regardless, break up the list of “to do” areas – you don’t want to tackle all the sensitive areas at once.

8. Where do you start?
Some groomers and breeders state that you should start at the bottom and basically create a line in the dog’s hair and work your way up.
We find that to be really time consuming and doesn’t really take into consideration where your dog’s sensitive spots are. For example, our dog Kobi would freak out if we started at the bottom of his belly or paws which are his super sensitive areas. As such, we recommend starting where your dog is less sensitive and enjoys being brushed (for Kobi it would be his ear area).
Then mix it up between sensitive and less sensitive spots, as well as, spots that are easier to brush and more difficult.

9. How to brush / which tools to use?
Any person that has had relatively long hair will understand the golden rule that you don’t pull hair (or fur). If there is a tangle, you need to hold the hair at the root (so it doesn’t hurt) and then brush/comb through the tangle. This is also the golden rule when it comes to brushing / dematting your dog.

Dematting Your Dog Dogsized

spraying detangling spray on the matted area

As mentioned before, first start with an overall light brushing. Don’t force any tangles. Consider using detangling spray. Then do your mental break up of your dog’s body and problem areas and assess what would be easiest to start with.

For example, I’ll start combing Kobi’s ears with the greyhound comb using the wider prongs. When I get to a matted area, I’ll hold his hair at the roots/base and then use the dematting comb. When Kobi has relatively few tangles around his ear area, then I’ll switch to using the fine prongs on the greyhound comb and/ or the slicker brush.

Dematting Your Dog Dogsized

insert dematting comb into mat, hold hair at the roots and then pull away from the dog

When using the dematting comb, it’s easier to start with a smaller area of the matted fur. Hold the base of the hair and then put the prongs in the matt, sharp edges away from the dog and then pull away from the matt and your dog. If you properly hold your dog’s hair, it will not hurt them.

If it’s a really large mat, start with a smaller area of the mat using the dematting comb and intermittently use the slicker brush which will help take out the matted hair leaving you a cleaner and easier smaller mat to tackle. Remember to hold your dog’s hair at the root/base as much as possible so you don’t pull their hair/fur. To the left is an example of us taking out a mat from Bootsie - a very cute Tibetan Terrier.

10. Break up the locations on where you are grooming/brushing/combing your dog

Dematting Your Dog Dogsized

I'm mat free now!

I typically start with Kobi’s ears and head. Next I will brush or comb his back which is sensitive but generally doesn’t have too many mats. I’ll ignore any mats that might be on his back and move on to his tail. Afterwards I’ll go back to a matted area on his body, then back to an unmated area.

In between zones, I’ll make sure to give your dog treats and verbal approval (i.e. “good dog”).

The first time you do this with your dog, you might want to set a time limit (e.g. 10 mins). You can repeat the process each day until your dog’s coat is dematted.

5 comments on “Dematting Your Dog”

  1. Great tips for dematting, I hope people will realize how important it is to brush their puppies before mats start and when mats appear I hope people will take it serious and try to demat their fur as soon as possible

  2. It has got to feel so much better to the dog when all of the matting and knots are removed. I can't imagine how painful those things can be sometimes. It looks like there is a real technique to doing this correctly. Thank you so much for sharing!

  3. I agree with most of this, but not number 5. Washing a dog with matts can make them tighter and worse off. Plus it holds in the moisture, and if you plan on doing this in a few days...that can create skin irritation to your pooch. I just hope the pet parents can determine if the matts are bad enough that they need to be shaved off by the groomer. (I'm a groomer 🙂 And that's our policy, either dematt...if it's safe for the dog before the bath Or shave if too tight to the skin and start over fresh. Slicker brush and metal combs are your friends! All types of dogs loose some sort of hair, ie natural shedding..that's is exactly why we see so many matted shih tuz's and similar type dogs. Owners think they don't shed, so they don't brush them. Good Luck!

  4. Wow! This was excellent! It almost makes me want to try to de-matt Fiesta myself. Alas, Fiesta likes going to the groomers so off she will go.......soon. 🙂

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