To De-mat or Not to De-mat – That is the Question

By Teresa Dreese, CMG

Having lived with a Soft Coated Wheaten for ten years made me confident that I can de-mat a dog. Leaving him in the longer show coat for competition meant that he would mat up almost instantly. I couldn’t cheat and cut the tangle out because scissors would leave a hole in the coat. I had to learn how to brush the matted fur without ruining the coat. Just like any other grooming technique, practice and patience are your keys to success. A little “elbow grease” will help too because nothing will make the mats just magically fall out.

You must ask yourself some questions before you de-mat such as:
• Will the dog tolerate being de-matted?
• Will the client pay for the de-matting?
• Is it safe to de-mat the coat?

As with people, some dogs have ZERO pain tolerance. Sometimes, you are better off taking the dog short and starting over. However, a dog that tolerates brushing is a good candidate for de-matting.

Make sure you ask the owner about de-matting options before you spend the extra time and effort. You’ll want to make sure the client agrees to the extra charges you SHOULD charge before you get started. Removing mats and tangles from a coat takes time. Some clients don’t mind paying extra to have Fluffy retain the look of a well groomed Bichon, while others can’t afford it and would prefer to have their pet shaved down.

Is it safe to de-mat the dog? If the dog is pelted or parts of the dog, such as the ears or tail are pelted, it would be better (and safer) to shave it. The general rule of thumb is, if water can penetrate the matted fur, you can probably save the coat. A clean coat will always brush out safer than a dirty coat. Bathe the pet first, letting the shampoo, conditioner, and high velocity dryer work their magic before you begin to brush out stubborn tangles. The more you can do prior to applying ‘elbow grease’ the less you will risk brush burning or cutting the dog – not to mention the repetitive injury you may develop by brushing out a dog for an hour or more.

So, you’ve answered “yes” to all the questions and you are going to de-mat the dog – now what? Make sure you use products and equipment to their fullest capacity and advantage. Add extra conditioner or de-mat spray to the mat before you dry the dog. The product will make the hair more slippery and easier to blow out. Use the high velocity dryer to break up mats. Attach the cone to the hose and wiggle the nozzle back and forth on the mat. You will be able to see those tangles loosen and break up. Keep your eye on the direction of the blown air and watch for matted areas. Stay focused! When you are ready to fluff the dog’s coat, you should only need minimal brushing to finish the de-matting process.

Once you have removed or loosened as much knotted coat as possible with the bathing and drying process, it’s time to apply the elbow grease. De-tangling a coat should never be a power struggle. The motion of the brush should be soft and light – the “pat/pull method.” For time and efficiency, my favorite brush for the job is a curved back slicker brush however, if you need to save every strand of hair in a show coat, a pin brush can also be used.

Here are some tips to make de-matting easier, for both you and the dog:
• Hold the mat between your thumb and index fingers. With a loose hold on your brush, start the pat/pull motion, developing a faster momentum over the mat. If you feel pain in your fingers, you are putting too much pressure on your brush.
• Double-check your work with a comb.
• Ears and tails: made sure you protect the ears and tails with your fingers so you don’t tear the ear or brush burn the skin.
• If you have a mat that is in a very sensitive area or are having difficulty brushing it out, put your comb between the mat and the skin and made a couple of cuts with thinning shears to break the mat up a little, then finish brushing it out. By doing this you will minimize cutting the coat and leaving a hole in the fur.

“There is a slew of de-matting tools on the market – which ones are the best?”

Yes, there are tons of tools available to assist with the de-matting process. I use them on occasion, but you should always remember that anything with a blade will cut the coat. There is also a safety factor – anything with a blade is a risk for cutting skin, if not used correctly. I prefer a mat rake with small blades used in the same way as a brush, but with a little slower motion so I don’t cut my fingers or the pet. You can loosen the mat up with a de-matting tool then finish it with your brush. Remember to always double check your work with a comb.

For more resources and helpful tips on brushing and de-matting, consider:
Notes From the Grooming Table – pages 48-49 and 60-61, plus the Bathing and Drying sections
Theory of Five – pages 15-19 (on-line streaming video lessons): Type “mats”, “bathing” or “brushing” into the search engine feature of the site to bring up videos that feature this subject.

Teresa Dreese, CMG is a graduate and Instructor at the Paragon School of Pet Grooming, where she currently works as the Director of Admissions.