Mats, Tangles, and Snarls

A matted dog is more than an aesthetic issue. Tight mats pull at the skin, effect mobility, and can even cause injury if left unaddressed. Let’s look at the areas where fur commonly tangles up and talk about how to prevent it!

Felted fur on back leg
  • Neck: Collars mash long fur down, and friction causes it to mat. Silky coated dogs can get “ball mats” behind their ears from their collars riding up. Take your dog’s collar off daily for brushing.
  • Armpits and groin: these areas are often neglected during brushing because they’re hard to get to even on a cooperative dog! Keep these areas clipped clean, you only see them for belly rubs anyhow!
  • Sanitary areas: under the tail, around genitals, and the “pants” of long-haired pups can get pretty yucky. These are also areas to keep clean, short, and neat. If you like fluffy fur on your dog’s backside be sure to brush it!
  • Beards and moustaches: food gets stuck, then the dog scratches at it which smashes more fur into it. Add a trip to the water bowl and you have a big, stinky mess of a beard! Remember how powerful your dog’s nose is; if his face smells bad to you imagine how much stronger that scent is to him! Comb your dog’s beard out daily to prevent debris from building up.
  • Between the toes: another place we don’t normally think to brush! Big clumps of fur between the toes makes walking painful, and dogs will chew their feet trying to get the mat out. This just makes things worse! During brushing, gently run your brush over the top of your dog’s foot, from his toenails towards his leg. This will pull the fur up and out so you can keep it tangle-free. You can also run a comb between each toe, drawing the fur to the top of the foot. This is not an area to stick scissors into! The webbing there is very delicate and easy to knick. If you see a mat in the fur you’ve pulled to the top of the foot, cut it from there or let the groomer take care of it.
Mats cut from between toes

If your dog is currently matted, know that a “fresh start” is often the kindest option. Picking deep mats out is painful, as it tugs at the dog’s skin and can even cause tearing in areas with thin skin or on elderly dogs. Heavily matted fur restricts blood flow and can hide underlying issues like sores or growths that you may not see. Knots in the armpit and “leg pits” can bind, preventing the dog from walking normally or causing discomfort with every step. Be cautious in cutting mats out at home. Besides leaving holes in the coat, it can be tricky to know where the mat stops and the skin begins because the mat pulls skin into it.

mats shaved from ear01

Different fur textures mat in different ways, but any coat with length can snarl up. If a long coat is too much to keep up with at home, regular trips to the groomer (4 to 6 weeks is the recommended schedule) will keep your dog in good condition. You don’t have to book a haircut every time, a “face feet and fanny” or even just a thorough brush-out will do! While you’re in, I can show you how what tools to use and how to brush to prevent mats and keep your pup looking and feeling good!

Sprocket gets a haircut!

Yeesh. Just look at this mop!


An absolute mess


Matted tail. Shameful.


Who would let their dog get into such shape?! Oh right… that’s my dog.

We need to fix this, and fast.

First, the pre-clip. Let’s get rid of as much fur as possible before tub time!


That’s a little better.


Getting there…


Alright, NOW we can have a bath! And a dry, and lots of brushing before clipping, scissoring and combing.


Much better, yes? I had to leave the beard and ears, I love them so. But now he can see, his feet don’t look like rags and he looks a lot happier!

Muddy Mutts and Dirty Dogs: How to Give your Dog a Bath (pt 3 of 3)

“I didn’t like the bath and I like the camera even less”

Clean up:

*Oh boy. Is the tub full of fur and the entire floor soaked? I always time my dog’s baths for a day when the bath is due to be scrubbed anyhow, so I’m not wrecking a freshly cleaned bathroom. Rinse the dog hair down the drain and scoop out whatever gets caught. Clean the peanut butter smears and treat crumbs off of the tub walls (a spritz of white vinegar cleans peanut butter off of tile and shower surrounds pretty well, I’ve found). Wipe down the cabinets, they’re bound to be wet from the shake off. Gather up soaked towels and pitch ‘em in the washer.

*Now go find your freshly washed Fido. He’s probably on the couch or your bed, finishing his dry off on your upholstery. You didn’t let him outside, did you?! Then he’s in the flowerbed, digging a hole.

*For longhaired dogs, wait until they are dry and do a second brush out. Don’t skimp! This is the fluffiest he will ever be, so get every bit with that brush and comb. This will also let you deal with any mats you missed the first time around, or those created by the bath.

Now the best part! Pull your dog into your lap, sink your nose into this fur, and take a big whiff of clean pooch! He’ll be squeaky clean and smelling fresh for weeks! Or days. Maybe hours…

“I can’t WAIT to get outside and roll in the dirt!”

Muddy Mutts and Dirty Dogs: How to Give your Dog a Bath (Pt 2 of 3)

Big dogs might be easier to bathe outside if weather permits!

The Main Event:

*Place the dog in the tub. If you have a helper, they should feed treats at a steady pace while you wet your dog down with the showerhead (if you have a detachable one) or a cup. If you’re doing this solo, a big smear of peanut butter on the tub wall just slightly above your dog’s nose level is a good distraction and easily cleaned up afterwards. Make sure Fido is completely wet before grabbing the shampoo.

*Rub a generous amount of shampoo into your dog’s fur. Start from her hind end and move towards the head, getting the back of her legs and belly. Work the suds down to the skin with your fingers. If the dog is going to enjoy any part of the process, this is it! Lather her neck and chest. Don’t worry about her face, you’ll clean that up with a washcloth. I don’t worry much about the feet either, you’re not going to put fresh socks on them after!

That’s not a happy tail, but she’s tolerating the suds!

*Keep the shampoo on at least five minutes if your dog will allow it. If not, no worries. A quick bath is better than none at all.

*Time to rinse! Check the temperature of your water and refresh your peanut butter smear if necessary. If there is standing water in the tub, let it drain. Tip your dog’s chin up and rinse her neck first. Rinse the chest and front legs, then move to her back. Do her belly next, then her hindquarters, tail, and back legs. If you are using a detachable showerhead, get the nozzle as close to your dog’s skin as she is comfortable with to really get the suds out. You want to rinse until the water running off of her is completely clear, residual shampoo will dry her skin and may itch. Give her feet a gentle rinse.

*Soak a washcloth and go to work on her face. Gently wipe the corners of her eyes and top of her head and under her chin. Depending on how shaggy your dog is, this might be a long process! For my longhaired dogs, I cup a handful of water and bring it to their chins, using my soapy fingers to clean out all that beard grime. I then tip their heads back and rinse. Do not pour water over the top of your dog’s head or over their nose and muzzle, they’re not going to like it!

Getting her face wiped clean.

*All clean? If the rinse water runs clear, your pooch is done! “Squeegee” him off with your hands, running them over his back and down his legs and tail to squeeze off as much water as you can before toweling.

*Help your dog out of the tub, a slippery dog may hurt himself scrambling out of a wet tub. Toss a towel over him immediately, he’s going to shake and this will contain the spray!

Containing shake off spray!


*Dry your dog as thoroughly as you can (I told you to grab a lot of towels!). Damp is okay, soaked is going to create a mess! A hairdryer is okay if your dog isn’t afraid of it, but towel dry first and be sure it’s on “cool”, hot settings can easily burn his skin.  When he is dry, set him loose and prepare for….

The aftermath!


Muddy Mutts and Dirty Dogs: How to Give your Dog a Bath (pt 1 of 3)

Fresh from a roll in something stinky or a downpour, Fido is stinking up the house. You pet him and your hand comes away gray and you can feel the grime on his fur. It’s time for a bath! Some dogs handle this experience with no problem, standing calmly while you shampoo and rinse. A few even enjoy the process. Most dogs, however, run as soon as you start gathering the supplies to get them clean. How do you get you and your dog through a much-needed bath without any drama?

“I smell shampoo. Something is afoot and I don’t like it.”

The Prep:

 *What’s the weather like and how long does your dog take to dry? If it’s cold or rainy and Fido needs all day to dry, today is not the day. You can’t send a damp dog out in the cold for a potty break! Send him out right before bath time so you can keep him inside (and away from his favorite dirt patch) until he’s dry. 

*Does your dog have the sort of coat that mats easily or does she have a lot of tangles currently? Brush them out FIRST. Sounds counterproductive, but breeds with long, “hair like” fur will be even harder to unknot once they are wet. Use a slicker brush to smooth them out and cut out any mats that are too thick to brush or pick out. Even short haired dogs benefit from a good brushing before bathing, it will remove all the loose fur that would be headed for your drain otherwise.

“I don’t FEEL like I need a brush and bath…”

*If your dog gets very anxious about bath time, give them something to calm down. Melatonin or ProQuiet supplements are mild, effective, and safe for most dogs (always consult with your vet if your dog has health conditions that may cause problems with supplements or is taking medication of any kind). Calming supplements should be given a half an hour before tub time to give them a chance to take effect. You might also spritz Fido’s towel and the bathroom with lavender calming spray to set a soothing atmosphere.  If your dog is truly terrified of being bathed, call us for help with counter conditioning exercises. A little anxiety is expected; flat out fear needs to be handled with the help of a professional so no one (dog OR person) gets hurt.

*Gather EVERYTHING you need and set it where you can grab it easily.  You don’t want to leave a slippery dog in the tub while you run for the shampoo! Shampoo, towels (more than you think you need), washcloth, treats, paper towel; these should all be in the bathroom before you bring your dog in.

All ready to wash up!

*If you’re using concentrated shampoo that needs to be diluted, mix that up in a squirt bottle or Tupperware container beforehand.

*Put away anything that you don’t want to get soaked. When they shake off, water is going to land everywhere!

*Put a towel down on the bottom of the tub and run a few inches of warm water. The towel will prevent your dog from scratching your tub and reduce slipping, which is scary for them. Leave the water running so you don’t have to mess with the temperature during the bath. It should be lukewarm, no hotter. Hot water will dry Fido’s skin. Put a towel or two down on the bathroom floor, too.

*If your dog is prone to ear infections or has ears that stand up tall and would let water in, gently place a cotton ball in each ear.

Now you’re ready for the main event! See Pt 2 for how that goes down!