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Ask a Trainer Question Answered

Author: Chris Long | Date: April 4, 2013

Here’s the next round of answers for our Ask a Trainer feature on our website. It’s your chance to get dog training advice from the pros at AnimalSense. Stay tuned for more questions & answers, and if you have a burning dog training question, just “Ask a Trainer”!

I’m wondering what the “official” views on furminators are? I have two German Shep/Anatolian Shep mixes and the fur is endless! They shed constantly, but I have heard the furminator destroys their undercoat. I would like to lessen the constant shedding, but I do not want to ruin their coats! Suggestions? And yes, I brush them tons, at least weekly.

furminatorFurminators: either you love them or you hate them. For those who aren’t familiar with them, Furminators are rectangular shaped, rake type combs with very fine teeth that are extremely close together. They come in three sizes and can be much more expensive than other dog brushes or combs. These tools aren’t meant to style or de-tangle a dog’s fur: their only purpose is to remove undercoat. This is the fur that most dogs typically shed twice a year, roughly in the spring and in the fall. It’s that soft, fluffy hair that is denser and closer to the skin than the coarser outer coat that most breeds have. And, if I know anything about German Shepherds or Shepherd mixes, it’s that most of them have a lot of undercoat. Because of the many fine teeth that they have, Furminators do an excellent job of removing all this hair. However, because the teeth are so fine and so close together, that means that it takes a lot strokes (and strong arms) to remove the mounds of hair that is often pictured in Furminator ads (like the picture on the left). Not only can this be an exhausting workout for an owner, that kind of repeated brushing can be irritating to a dog’s skin.

The good news for you is that you are already keeping up on your dogs’ shedding by brushing them weekly. That means that they probably don’t have huge clumps of hair that need to be removed- making the job much easier on their skin and your arms. If you do decide to get a Furminator, your dogs would probably need the large size, and I would recommend buying the whole system, including the shampoo and especially the conditioner. Undercoat is definitely much easier to remove on dogs who are clean, conditioned, and dry. Don’t every use a Furminator on a wet dog, that will only tug and rip at the coat. Using a good conditioner, whether it’s the Furminator brand or some other high quality one, will help to reduce the tearing or shredding that many people notice when Furminating their dogs’ coats. Simply put, dirty, coarse hair will get stuck in the fine teeth much more easily than clean, smooth hairs will.

One thing to consider though, before you decide to get a Furminator. Since you have to bathe, condition, and dry your dogs before Furminating them, I offer this alternative. Use a good rubber grooming brush on them while you are bathing them. These have thick rubber teeth that will help to break up and loosen the undercoat. Really work the conditioner into their coats, making sure it penetrates to the skin. If you have access to a grooming shop with a “self groom” service, use their high powered blow dryers on your dogs. This is really a groomer’s best friend. These blow dryers, with their handy pointed nozzles, not only whisk the water away from dog’s coats, but they are the easiest, quickest, safest, and most pain free way to get rid of all that dreaded undercoat. Your dogs’ skin will not be irritated by too many brush strokes, you won’t have to worry about damaging their undercoats, and your arm will be much less tired. The only downside is all of the soft fluffy hair that will float down and cover you like a light dusting of snow. If you time these grooming sessions to coincide with when your dogs are blowing their coats, you shouldn’t have to do this more than a few times a year, with weekly brushing to maintain it. Of course, all of these recommendations are if you’re a do-it-yourself type. All this work is understandably daunting for most people, so don’t feel bad if you decide to let a groomer do the work for you.

One last tip: making sure your dogs are fed a high quality diet will definitely help reduce shedding, as will certain vitamins and supplements. Be sure to ask your vet if there’s anything you can add to your dogs’ diets to make their coats the best they can be. Your dogs and your arms will thank you for it.

We also had our friends from Soggy Paws weigh in on the Furminator issue. Here’s what Owner & Grooming Expert Kevin Richardson had to say:

De-shedding your dog, either with the Furminator (™) or another tool is a good thing, but like with many things, use in moderation! In the wild or frankly just as a working dog, your dog’s undercoat, which releases naturally, would be stripped as it brushed by trees and twigs. In our homes, this does not happen naturally. However, just as important as considering that it would be removed, is how frequently it would be removed. Your dog’s hair would be removed constantly and gradually. The biggest challenge with de-shedding is that owners allow the undercoat to build up and then try to remove too much hair at once. Instead, do smaller bursts more frequently. We recommend that you do a 2-step process for 5-7 minutes 2-3 times per week. First, use a de-shedding tool to ‘loosen the undercoat.’ Do this for no more than 2-3 minutes and make no more than 3 strokes over the same spot. Then use a straight comb to remove the loosened hair from the top coat, to pull it out so it can not sit in and build mats. This process of 5 minutes 3 times per week will be more comfortable for your dog, reduce skin irritation, and allow the hair to continually release and replenish in a healthy, natural way. Oh, it’s a much easier process for you, too!

soggy pawsThanks for the insight, Kevin! Soggy Paws offers grooming, self wash services and retail in their three Chicago locations: Uptown, Logan Square and South Loop. They also offer grooming and retail in Lincoln Square. Check them out!


    1. It’s great to hear more about the Furminator. We recently bought one, and love it, although we do use it SPARINGLY (less than once a week, for about 3 minutes) and very gently. As the post says, if you keep up with the brushing with gentler tools, there will be no big snags or clumps to wrestle with with the Furminator. And about undercoat getting removed by brushing against trees and twigs… I thought that’s what our furniture was for! LOL

Both trainers had different approaches to offer to help solve any problems we were having.

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