Saturday, October 20, 2012

To bathe before brushing, a controversial subject.

I know, I've been lax on blogging, and then I choose a serious, even informative (maybe even boring)subject.  Sorry, it's just a subject I've been meaning to blog about.  I promise, more crazy stories to follow soon.

I (and I'm guessing most groomers) learned it in grooming school.  NEVER, never, NEVER bathe a dog before it's fully brushed out.  It will make the matted coat even more matted.  I followed this rule for years, it was so ingrained in me.  In some cases, it's still true, but luckily I was shown the light. 

I was enlightened when a new groomer came to work with us for a short time.  She put every dog she was grooming right into the tub.  Until this time, we had always "roughed in" each dog before taking them to the tub.  The basic reasoning was that you should cut off excess dirty hair you wouldn't want to spend drying, which that part still holds true.  It also was because we had been told that any matting would most certainly become so tight, there would be no hope of brushing out that dog afterwards.  We saw that it was a time-saver for sure, especially on dogs that we didn't plan on taking much coat off of.  There was just no need to spend the time cutting hair that you would have to go back over after the bath anyway.  We took up the practice on especially the double coated breeds.  Malamutes, Huskies, Shelties, etc.  When you are only going to trim the feet anyway, why put them on the table twice.  The undercoat would just as easily (or actually easier) blow out with the high velocity dryer in the tub, rather than spend the time brushing out coat on a dirty dog. 

We still were wary of bathing matted dogs, even ones with very few matts.  We continued to brush out Poodles, Shih Tzus, Schnauzers, etc.  Then, J and I attended a rare grooming seminar.  There was a speaker there (of course I can't remember her name) that told us that clean hair actually brushes out easier.  The dirt makes each individual hair "sticky", actually causing damage to the coat  by brushing out a dirty coat.  She had visual aids of dirty versus clean hair follicles, showing the clean follicle as a smooth surface. 

Nothing made me a believer more than trying this out on my own dogs.  My older dog in particular has a huge coat, and when I am forced to brush him when he's dirty, it's obviously harder on him and me.  I have to push the brush through his coat.  When he is freshly bathed,(I also use a light conditioner) the brush glides easily (ok, easily, compared to when he's dirty.  The matting doesn't just disappear, that would be nice, though.) through it, and undercoat comes out much easier.  It's really pretty amazing.  I bathe my dogs every other week, just because of this.  I can get away with brushing once a week, and brushing them once on the off week when they are dirty is my limit. 

Here is the key to all this.  You must brush that clean dog out immediately after drying.  Again, this is my own trial and error proof.  Sometimes, I bathe my dogs and then at the end of a long day at work, I decide I am too lazy to fully brush them out, something that takes 40-60 minutes per dog.  BIG mistake.  I go back the very next day, and now the matts really ARE tighter and harder to deal with.  I have no idea why 24 hours would make such a difference, but I have learned from this mistake.

That reason is why I rarely give away this trick to my clients.  They already bathe and bathe without any brushing, and if I gave them the green light to bathe before brushing, they would inevitably forget the brushing part of the instructions.  So, I still tell most average owners to brush before bathing, as at least they will then sometimes do some brushing.  I do have some above average clients that are privy to this knowledge.

Some matts will never come out easily, and this trick doesn't always work.  Certain coat types are very cottony and the matts, no matter how clean and conditioned are a permanent fixture.  Sometimes I can't even tell until after a bath.  Some coats I predict I will have to shave, but will give one last ditch effort by heavily conditioning after the bath, and it turns out the tangles won't budge.  At least I try.  Then sometimes I'm pleasantly surprised by the result when the coat brushes out relatively easily.

The really impressive ones are definitely the double coated breeds.  Many of them appear to be a solid matted pelt.  We put them right in the tub, and all the undercoat, most of which was also matted, flys to the top and easily brushes out.  We'd never put a dog through a "dirty" brushing in this condition, we'd have to shave it.  That is seriously how much of a difference it is.  We still have to do some creative shaving on these dogs, usually in the rear end, and neck on stubborn matts, but for the most part, it's like the dog in the previous post, a huge transformation.  Also, any dogs with some sort of "wiry" texture to their coat will nearly always brush out after bathing.  So, this helps with really nice quality Poodles and Bichons (when I come across them), not to mention any Terriers . Of course, my own breed is supposed to have a harsh coat, so perhaps that is why it works so well on them.  If you have access to a high velocity dryer you can also sometimes "blast" apart matts, loosening them in the tub, which also helps with the brushing process.

I still rough in any dogs that will have alot of coat taken off in the end. There is just not enough time to dry all that.   I just chop (literally, it's not pretty by any means) coat off the top, and don't bother to brush out the matting before I bathe.  It is a huge savings on blades and shears to clip clean dogs as well.  Dirty hair dulls blades very quickly, and sharpening isn't cheap. 

I hope that if you are a groomer and haven't tried brushing tangles out of a clean dog, this post will encourage you to try it.   Those of you pet/show owners, that groom your own dogs and keep somewhat of a control on the matting should try it as well.    I promise it will be easier on you and your dog.

edit:  I want to be clear that I also completely (or very close to it) dry the dogs after bathing.  I don't brush them while they are wet.  In re-reading this I realize I wasn't clear on that.


  1. This is the way I do it! I did a lot of 'research' on grooming forums when Tibby was losing her puppy coat and after it had to be shaved off.
    I think (in my limited experience) that it has to do with the coat still being damp from the bath. If it gets to dry completely then it's frizzy and matted WORSE than before the bath. But a brush and blow out and matts disappear! Which makes sense - if my hair air drys it is frizzy and tangled up too! And if I roached around on my head like the dogs do ---- oooo bad hair day!!

    1. You could be right, Catalina. This method works well on your dogs too, due to the harsh texture of a correct TT coat.

  2. A groomer I worked with would always wash the dog first and use lots of conditioner and detangle to work the knots out in the tub and use the blower to move them away from the skin.
    For shedding dogs I always feel like I do a better job when I brush before and after. But if they're really dirty I would just wash them first rather than ruin my brushes.