Matted Dogs: Expert Grooming Guide

Allison Foley, Leading Edge Dog Show Academy webinar on “All About De-matting”

Why would your groomer have to cut your dog really short when you didn’t want that to happen? This can be a surprise, disappointing, and downright shocking to pet owners. Why does that happen and what can you do to prevent this and keep the haircut of your choice.

Mats are preventable in dogs. Some dogs have coats that are higher maintenance and more vulnerable to matting. Let’s take a look at why your dog’s coat is forming mats, things you can do to keep them at bay, and what are your options if your dog’s coat is already matted.

A professional groomer can look at your dog and tell if it is matted. For the dog owner, this may not be a skill or such an easy task by observing or even feeling your dog if you don’t know what to look for.

What is a “Mat”?

In many dog breeds with curly, fine, or double coats, mats occur frequently. When loose or shedding hair wraps around non-shedding hair, this forms clumps. These clumps can be loose or very tight depending on the severity.

When Do Dogs Loose Their Coat?

Some dogs lose their coat and this causes matting:

  • Seasonally

  • During a heat cycle

  • After anesthetic or medical stress

  • Puppy coat transitioning to adult coat (~9-18 months of age)

Types and Causes of Matting

  • Environmental matting due to (damp) weather and debris

  • Friction

  • Product and substances that build up in the coat

  • Surface brushing (not brushing properly)

  • Lack of brushing completely

  • Dogs that are bathed and not dried down to the skin

  • Wearing flat type collars, harnesses, or clothes

  • Coat types that go through coat change

If mats are left unchecked, they can cause felting or webbing which eventually get tighter and closer to the skin of the dog. This is extremely painful for the dog.

When Should You De-Mat?

  • Before and after the bath; this can be controversial due to what water does to a coat

  • If bathing a matted dog, some groomers believe the water can shrink mats and they get tighter during the bath. Often it is the scrubbing and working the coat in the bath that creates more friction

  • Hair can be more elastic when wet, therefore when grooming a dry or dirty coat, this can cause breakage and damage the coat

  • Breaking mats apart with water can allow de-matting products, shampoo and conditioner to enter the centre of the mat and help with the de-matting process with your fingers

  • Don’t create more friction when towel drying; squeeze to dry

Common Areas Dogs Matt

There are lots of areas dog’s can mat, in addition to environmental causes.

  • Any area where there is friction; running, jumping, playing, being pet

  • Behind the ears

  • Front of dog; where leg bends

  • Flank

  • Armpits

  • Genital area

  • Rear when the dog sits

  • Front of knee/stifle

  • Base of tail

  • Where collars/harnesses/clothes lay

Tools for De-matting:

All of these recommendations are gentle on dogs’ skin and coat

  • Use your hands to break the mat apart

  • Ice Slip Pin Brush especially designed for de-matting 

Chris Christensen Ice Slip 20mm Pin Brush
Chris Christensen Big G
Chris Christensen Big G
  • Oval Breezy Brush
Chris Christensen Oval Breezy Brush
  • Mark II Slicker Brush – Use After Ice Slip Brush. Great for use on bellies, inside of legs

  • Mark X Tiny Slicker Brush – for smaller dog, behind the ears,

  • Mark V Triangle Slicker Brush – great for de-matting toes

Chris Christensen Fine/Coarse Long Tooth Greyhound-Style Buttercomb/
Chris Christensen Fine/Coarse Long Tooth Greyhound-Style Buttercomb
Chris Christensen Mark Slicker Brushes
Chris Christensen Mark Slicker Brushes

Products for De-matting:

When using these products as a system, de-matting can not only be performed quicker, but eliminated and also prevented as our goal.

  • Ice on Ice De-tangling Shampoo

    • Use in the tub on the mats; do not use a circular or back and forth motion, but squeeze into the mat and rinse well

    • Leave for 10 minutes and break mat with fingers

    • Rinse

Chris Christensen Ice on Ice Detangling Shampoo
Chris Christensen Ice on Ice Detangling Shampoo
Chris Christensen Ice on Ice Detangling Conditioner
Chris Christensen Ice on Ice Detangling Conditioner
Chris Christensen Ice on Ice ULTRA Dematting Spray 8oz
  • The Cure Brushing and Styling Milk

    • For severely matted dogs, Shampoo, Conditioner, then apply Milk directly into the mat and saturate the mat

    • Plastic Bag Method by Allison Foley

Chris Christensen Smart Style The Cure Brushing & Styling Milk

When products “fail to work”, it is often operator error.


Using the line brush technique, part and section the coat (one finger width), brush coat from skin out and make sure you can get your comb through to check your work.

Full guide and tutorial on Line Brushing.

Process of Line Brushing Technique

  • Tuck ears out of the way into the noose

  • Have the dog’s head well up on the loop

  • Spray de-matting spray at skin (dry or wet mats)

  • Hold the mat with your hand, work the product into the mat. The heat of your hand will aid in activating the product

  • Put your Ice Clip pin brush into the mat at the skin and gently rock it to move the mat away from skin. You are just making enough room between the mat and the skin for a brush at this point

  • No matter the product or technique, de-matting is never comfortable for a dog and must be done gently

  • Go back to the matted area; right at the skin use the heel of the slicker to stroke the mat and hair

    • Do not rock or scoop with the slicker as this is painful for the dog and harder on the groomer’s wrist

    • Use the brush more like a “piston”, getting the heel of the slicker into the area between the mat and the skin

  • You can hear and feel the difference as the mat comes out

  • Check your de-matting with a comb

De-Matting the Face

  • Be sure to have your hand over the dog’s eyes for protection

  • Your goal is to safely get around the face

  • Always use the heel of the brush

  • Start at the bottom and work your way up and forward in small sections

  • You are only using a small portion of the brush, work in small sections

  • Pull the ear back to not get longer ear hair tangled in with the face hair

  • Always work below the eye and brushing down

  • Fit a small portion of the edge of the brush in the area you are needing to work on

  • You can check your work by checking your brush as hair should be on both outer edges and not in the middle section

  • Check your work with a comb

De-Matting the Ears

  • When dogs have thick and voluminous ear hair, this leads to matting underneath the top layer and edges of the ear; don’t just brush the top layer

  • Brush from one side of the ear to the other

  • Gather all the ear hair in the non-brushing hand and extend your fingers out so that it acts as a backboard for you to brush the other ear hair against

  • Ear leather is thin and sensitive and can rip

  • After brushing the top side of the ear, flip the ear over to get the hair on the underside

  • When hair is brushed, you can both hear and feel the difference

  • Brush side-to-side rather than top to bottom, as you will be able to see the de-matted hair versus the matted hair

De-Matting Heavy Matts

  • Using a de-matting spray from our product list, apply the product liberally

  • With bigger more felted mats, pull apart the mat as much as possible with your fingers and apply more de-matting product where you have split the mat

  • Pay attention to what is happening to the dog’s skin when de-matting; brush from the skin out; dry from the skin out

  • Using the Ice Slip Pin Brush, at a bottom point, lift the hair up and drop a little hair down to be de-matted

  • Do not go over the same point again and again as this will irritate the skin

  • Once you have been through the matted area once, go over it again with the Big G slicker

De-Matting the Feet

Do not neglect the hair between the toes and webbing of the feet. This is an area that a lot of dogs do not like to have brushed but mats can create much pain and discomfort.

  • Efficiently groom between the toes by pressing one finger up between the pads on the bottom of the feet

  • At the same time, use your thumb at the top of the V that joins between the toes

  • Use the edge of the brush to get the toes brushed out, without using the whole brush as this can scrape the dog

  • Check your work with a comb

Drying Techniques

  • It is safe to bathe your dog weekly when done correctly

  • If a dog is going through coat change, they may benefit from being bathed twice a week

  • If you think your dog needs a bath, it is probably time for a bath

  • Dogs that coats are getting clumpy on a daily basis can benefit from being blown through with a dryer on warm/cool

  • Brushing while drying is important to see the matted versus non-matted hair better

    • This also helps the dead/shedding hair get all the way free of the non-shedding hair

    • The quicker you get the shedding hair out, the faster the new coat can come in, the faster the coat change will be over!

  • Always use a de-matting product while brushing and never dry or brush the coat that is dry

How to Save the Coat:

  • Start with your biggest tool and work your way to the smallest

    • Our hands

    • Ice Slip Brush

    • Breezy Brush (green or red for de-matting process)

    • Big G

    • Comb

  • Break apart the mat as much as possible with your fingers while adding de-matting product as you go, working it into the mat

  • Always practice humanity before vanity having the dog’s welfare in mind first

Clean Your Brushes:

Ensure you are emptying the dead hair out of your brush every couple of minutes to have maximum penetration with the pins. You can clean your brushes by rolling the brush against your table, as this also helps to reset the pins.

Shaving a matted dog must be done slowly with utmost care. Groomer’s do not like shaving dogs. Shaving a dog is not “lazy” or a “short cut”. In fact, shaving is not a quick job as this can be a very slow, tedious and dangerous process. The groomer is working on areas of your dog where skin is very thin and irritated. When removing a heavily matted coat, this comes with many risks. These include nicks, cuts or abrasions.; uncovering underlying issues primary or secondary due to the matting.

Professional dog groomers believe in comfort; humanity over vanity. There are times where de-matting is not the best option for the safety and comfort of the dog. De-matting severely matted dogs is inhumane. Prevention is the best way to deal with a mat in your dog’s coat.

How to Clean and Maintain Your Grooming Brushes
Clean and maintain your brushes

If you are interested in at-home pet grooming or salon grooming, visit Allison Foley of Leading Edge Dog Show Academy for great courses and classes on handling, training, and grooming for all breeds and skill levels. Pet professionals can advance your technique and master breed specific trims. Pet owners can learn safe at-home grooming with the industry’s top professionals.

Synergistically Yours,


Sheepdog Riggs, Forever in Our hearts

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