From the neat, flat coat of the Labrador Retriever to the abundant shaggy mop of the Old English Sheepdog, a dog’s coat type is one of his most distinguishing features. Dog coat type refers to the differences in texture and length of the fur, and whether it’s a double or single coat. Varied coat types require different methods of grooming and present different challenges (especially for first-time owners), and also influence your best friend’s need for a dog jacket in crisp weather. Here’s the long and the short—and the rough and the smooth—of it:
From the neat, flat coat of the Labrador Retriever to the abundant shaggy mop of the Old English Sheepdog, a dog’s coat type is one of his most distinguishing features. Dog coat ‘type’ refers to the differences in texture and length of the fur, and whether it’s a double or single coat. Varied coat types require different methods of grooming and present different challenges, and also influence your best friend’s need for a dog jacket in crisp weather. Here’s the long and the short—and the rough and the smooth—of it:
Dog Hair vs. Fur
If you want to be technically correct (…and people who like being technically correct would say that’s the best kind of correct), ‘hair’ and ‘fur’ are the same things. If you looked at them under a microscope, or analyzed them chemically, you’d find no difference.
Then what do people mean by dogs with hair versus dogs with fur? They’re usually referring to the difference between a single coat and a double coat. A single layer of coat is sometimes called a ‘hair’ coat. It might grow long or stay short, cascade in waves or form bouncy curls, feel silky smooth or rough to the touch, but the hair all over the dog is basically the same.
Other dogs have a double coat: an outer layer of thicker guard hairs and a different undercoat of thin, lightweight hairs. The undercoat is like the down on some birds that grows beneath the larger, thicker, more weatherproof feathers.
Does a Dog’s Coat Keep Him Warm or Cool?
It seems obvious that a dog’s coat will keep him warm. After all, that’s why humans wear coats made of similar furs or synthetics. And, yes, some well-insulated dog breeds do very well in the cold. But despite their built-in coat, some dogs have trouble in colder temperatures—these are often leaner dogs with thin, short coats. These four-legged friends need a dog jacket to help them regulate their temperature in chilly conditions. (Some dogs, like the German Shorthaired Pointer, can endure cold weather when exposed to it sensibly.)
But a dog’s coat can actually help him stay cool in the summer, too. Like a thermos that keeps hot food hot or cold food cold, a double coat simply provides insulation. In warmer weather, it keeps some heat at bay. That’s one reason experts don’t usually recommend shaving a dog for the summer. Double coated dogs will ‘blow coat’ (shed the thicker winter undercoat) as the weather warms. Groom his coat often during this time in order to remove the dead hair and allow maximum air circulation next to his skin. When the weather cools again he’ll lose the summer undercoat and re-grow a thick new crop for the winter.
How to Make a Dog’s Coat Shine
Want to help make your dog’s coat shiny and lustrous? Here are some tips:
Omega -3 and -6 fatty acids. High-quality commercial foods should have these in sufficient amounts. Home-prepared dog foods and lower-quality commercial foods might not. Supplements are available; they should show results in six to eight weeks.
Grooming. Brushing your dog frequently helps distribute natural oils throughout his coat.
Bathing. Finish off your dog’s bath with an oil-based conditioner or coat spray. Don’t go overboard with bathing, though—shampooing too often can strip the coat’s natural oils.
Dog Coat Types
Long, Medium, and Short Coated Dogs
Long coated dogs usually showcase the most dramatic coifs. Afghan Hounds, Old English Sheepdogs, and Bearded Collies have long coats that require regular grooming to keep them neat and free of mats. Owners of dogs with long coats, but who don’t show their dogs, often opt to crop the fur short into a puppy cut for ease of care.
Short coated dog breeds are generally smooth coated. Their fur is naturally short, lays close to the body, and is often glossy. Good examples include Pointers, Doberman Pinschers, and Boxers. If your dog has a combo single/short coat, he’ll definitely need a dog jacket when it’s cold outside.
The fur of medium coated dogs falls in between. If they have an undercoat, the top coat may stand away from the body, giving them a slightly puffed appearance. A dog with a medium coat requires regular brushing because the feathering on his legs and tail can become matted when ignored. Dogs with medium-length coats include German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, and Belgian Tervurens.
Double and Single Coated Dogs
Bernese Mountain Dog.
When a dog has a double coat, it means he has an undercoat that is typically shorter than his outer coat, and his hair has a dense, woolly texture. And as the name suggests, single coated dogs have only one coat, without this undercoat. Dogs of any coat length and texture may have single or double coats.
Many long-haired dogs have double coats, including the Bernese Mountain Dog and all varieties of Collie. You won’t be surprised to learn that double coated dog breeds usually leave more fur around the household. Most double coated breeds ‘blow’ their undercoats twice a year, which means they shed their entire undercoat in response to seasonal changes. Double coated dogs also require extra time and attention during grooming so the dense undercoat is fully brushed and doesn’t develop mats.
The fur on single coated dogs can be any length, from the short, single coat of the Whippet to the long, silky single coat of the Afghan Hound. No matter the length of their fur, single coated breeds often need to wear a dog jacket in winter because they don’t have the added insulation offered by an undercoat. Single coated dogs usually leave less fur on your clothes and furniture, which can make them easier on allergy sufferers. But a single coat doesn’t make a dog hypoallergenic, and some double coated breeds, such as the Airedale Terrier, are considered hypoallergenic.
Curly Coated Dogs
Portuguese Water Dog.
The swirls, curlicues, and twists on curly coated dog breeds can range from tight ringlets to pronounced curls. Long-haired dogs with slight waves in their fur (think Golden Retrievers) wouldn’t be considered curly coated. But when the waves become more pronounced, you’ve entered curly dog coat territory. The best known curly coated breeds are Portuguese Water Dogs, Airedale Terriers, and Poodles of any size. A somewhat rarer curly coated breed is the Lagotto Romagnolo.
Silky Coated Dogs
You know (and envy) these dogs when you see them. Their coats flow and cascade with the glossy sheen of a model in a shampoo commercial. The Silky Terrier is a clear example, with his long, shiny blue and tan coat. Other silky coated dogs include the Yorkshire Terrier, the Afghan Hound, and the Irish Setter. Silky coats need frequent brushing to prevent knots and to sustain their shine. But you don’t need to bathe your silky coated dog more often than any other dog, unless he relishes rolling in the mud.
Rough Coated Dogs
Photo by Sannse, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0
What most distinguishes a rough coat from other dog coat types is texture. Rough coats can be either medium length or long, but they are always coarse to the touch. A Rough Collie’s outer coat appears soft and fluffy (think Lassie), but actually feels harsh. This outer coat is weather-resistant, keeping wind and rain at bay. The coats of wire or broken coated dogs are also harsh to the touch and often classified as rough.
Wire Coated Dogs
German Wirehaired Pointer.
This is another coat type where texture is the most important quality. Wire coated (also called broken coated) dogs have fur with a wire-like texture. It is harsh and stiff and stands away from the body, especially on the tail, the back of the legs, and on the face. Wire coated dog breeds often have a dapper, gentlemanly appearance because of their pronounced mustaches, beards, and eyebrows. Examples of dogs with wire coats, or wire coated varieties, are the German Wirehaired Pointer, the Airedale Terrier, and the Wire Fox Terrier. Maintaining the wire coat’s distinct texture requires hand stripping, a time-consuming process of removing old hair so new hair can grow in its place. Clipping wire hair softens its texture over time.
Smooth Coated Dogs
Dogs with smooth coats often have short, silky hair that lays close to the body. The athleticism of smooth coated dogs is apparent, with every muscle plainly visible when the dog is in motion. Bloodhounds, Dalmatians, Great Danes, and French Bulldogs are all smooth coated breeds. Sometimes, however, smooth coated refers to a type of shorter fur in breeds with multiple coat types. A good example of this is the Smooth and Rough Coated Collie. Here, the smooth coat is not shiny or very close to the body. Instead, the coat is a shorter version of the rough coat, and still coarse to the touch.
No discussion of dog coat types can exclude hairless dogs, such as the Chinese Crested, the Xoloitzcuintli, and the American Hairless Terrier. Because of their lack of fur and less pet dander, these dogs are popular among allergy sufferers. Hairless dog breeds are more exposed to the elements and the harsh rays of the sun than breeds with fur, and they require special skincare routines as a result. When taking a hairless dog outside, it’s important to slather on dog-safe sun protection. These breeds require frequent bathing with a mild dog shampoo, and moisturizing with dog-safe lotion to prevent dry skin. Hairless breeds must also wear a dog jacket when going outside in winter, even for short walks.
Dog Coat Troubles
Brittle, Dry, or Greasy Coat
Your dog’s dry, brittle, dull, or greasy coat may indicate an underlying problem.
One potential source of trouble could be his diet. If he is missing any micronutrients—vitamins and minerals that are necessary in the diet, but only in small amounts—the result can be a lackluster coat. High-quality commercial foods are balanced to provide the correct amounts of micronutrients.
Coat trouble could also indicate a medical problem. Thyroid conditions and parasites, for example, can affect the skin and coat. If you notice a change in your dog’s coat and he is eating a high-quality commercial diet, a trip to the vet may be in order.
Dog’s Coat Changing Colors
Some breeds change colors as they lose their puppy coats and grow in their adult coats. Dalmatians, for example, are born spot-free and grow in their spots with their adult coats.
The summer sun can bleach dogs’ hair, just like it does people’s. It is known to give black fur a reddish tint.
People with allergies are attentive to dog coat types out of necessity. They require dog breeds with hypoallergenic coats so they can welcome a dog into their family without also bringing on constant sneezing, watery eyes, and other pet allergy symptoms. But everyone should hit pause and consider a dog’s coat type before selecting a breed to bring home, and pay attention to their dog’s coat as an indicator of his health.
A dog’s coat influences the time and money you’ll spend on grooming, how much fur you’ll be cleaning around the house, whether your dog is prone to overheating in summer, and whether you’ll have to bundle up yourself and your best friend before leaving the house in winter. Make a happy transition to dog ownership by knowing what you’re getting into on all fronts—including the furry ones.