The Basics of Brushing, and Why it Matters

Updated: Feb 4

Why your groomer & vet always tell you to brush your dog regularly, and what the 6 most-common brushes and combs are used for to help you get started.

"I'm sorry, but [your dog's name] is matted, and I'll probably have to shave his/her coat today."

"[Your dog's name] is having some issues with his/her skin, and will need special treatment. He/she may also need a visit to the vet."

"[Your dog's name] has a nasty case of dandruff. I did my best to soothe it in the bath, but it still looks like a fresh snow fell on his booty..."

Have you ever heard these sort of remarks from your groomer? Don't feel bad, most folks have at some point. In fact, many people choose their dogs for specific coat attributes; be it a low maintenance flat coat, a tricky velvety curl, or a silky Instagram-ready coat. Sometimes you factor in other things, such as: allergies (yours or the breed's), time required for maintaining/grooming, associated costs, etc....

But regardless of your dog's coat type, regular brushing is always recommended, and so very appreciated by your canine companion.

Why it Matters

Brushing does a few things for a dog and his coat:

  • It stimulates his scalp, to help increase blood flow; which increases the bodily resources available to the hair follicles; and, in turn, produces a shinier coat over time

  • It removes dead and loose over/undercoat, so it doesn't end up a 'tumble-bunny' (a tumbleweed-like dust-bunny, mostly made of shed pet hairs), sadly blowing across the living room floor

  • It detangles the individual hairs, to prevent small tangles becoming big mats

  • It aids in bonding with your dog, as you spend time maintaining their coat, stimulating their scalp, and physically connecting with them

  • It prevents expensive surcharges at the groomer for dematting, or specialty coat & skin remoisturizers

  • It helps to prevent 'hot spots' and other skin conditions, which can require expensive veterinary care

I bet you never knew brushing did all that, did you?

Keep reading, and I'll go over the types of brushes, what they do, and when you should employ each to maximum effect. Not all dog owners will need all the brushes listed, so don't think you need to go out and spend a fortune on a varied set of good brushes. Unless you're a professional, you'll probably keep it under $40, and realistically use 1-3 brushes, depending if you groom your dog yourself or pay someone like me to do it.

Varieties of Brush

[Product photos link to for purchase]

The Basic Steel Comb:

This is a groomer's best friend, and will work in a pinch for all coat types. It's best put to use on coats that are silky, either straight or wavy, and medium to long in length. With this comb, you can use it in or out of the bathtub, and should lower it to the scalp, without pressing it into the skin, as you run it through the hair. When using this comb, go slowly, and be gentle. It will hurt your dog if you catch a snag, and you're dragging this comb too quickly. This is not a tool meant for removing mats of any size, but if you have no choice, be sure to grip the base of the hair to prevent it tugging your dog's skin while you work.

[Product photos link to for purchase]

The Rubber Curry Brush:

The rubber curry brush is one of the most-underrated tools in a groomer's kit. This brush can be used both in and out of the tub, and is primarily used to remove dead hair. The oils your dog's skin produces will dull the efficacy of this brush, so it's best used either during the shampoo cycle, or as part of the drying process. Additionally, if your dog has dandruff, or eczema; you'll want to use a medicated shampoo in conjunction with this brush, to help relieve those issues and stimulate blood-flow to the skin. In the bath, get the dog wet all over, and use your fingers to vigorously work the shampoo into their coat. Prior to rinsing, use the curry brush to massage your dog's skin and coat all over. This will stimulate the follicles to release dead and dry hair, so it rinses out in the wash. Then, either separately or in addition to using it in the bath, once the dog has been dried, the curry brush can be run gently backwards through the coat, to collect any leftover loose hair.

[Product photos link to for purchase]

The Slicker Brush:

The slicker is probably what you think of, when you think 'dog brush'. In reality, this brush is best used only on flat-coated dogs, with undercoats. There are, however, a number of other grooming applications for slickers of all sizes (i.e. to fluff toe-hair for shaving, or slicking a long coat after dematting), which is where it's popularity comes from. These brushes cause brush burn very easily, and require a light hand. It's also worth noting, that overly-repetitive brushing with this tool can damage a dog's scalp, leading to dandruff, dull coat, hot-spots, or even bleeding. The good news is, you can find these brushes with coated tips, which helps to prevent the aforementioned issues cropping up.

[Product photos link to for purchase]

The Coat Rake:

This tool is primarily used before a bath is given, and its purpose is to break up the dog's undercoat, making removal easier. Typically used on a flat-coated dog, to prevent major after-bath shedding. With flat-coated dogs, especially when they're blowing their coats, the undercoat is trapped by the flat top coat, where it builds up into a mat over time. The coat rake gently works through the undercoat, thereby loosening that buildup of hair, to help with removal; while preparing the coat to be penetrated by the bath. These tools come in fixed-tip and flex-tip, and I recommend the latter. The flex-tip will help ensure you're not damaging your pup's scalp, while loosening the undercoat.

[Product photos link to for purchase]

The Dematting Tool:

This tool is used to gently slice through mats that have formed on sensitive areas, such as the face or sanitary area. Be exceedingly careful with this tool, as the teeth are razor-sharp and hooked. It is not recommended that you attempt to use this tool on any dog who is not calm, due to the potential for injury of yourself or your pet. To use, gently hook the teeth under the mat you want to remove, and slowly saw back and forth, while pulling away from the dog's body.

[Product photos link to for purchase]

The Dematting Rake:

Similar to the dematting tool, the dematting rake is used to remove mats from the coat. The main differences are in what part of the body you use it on, as well as in how large of a mat you're able to break. I prefer and recommend using a side-rake as pictured above, because it gives you more control over the tool (which is never a bad thing with a instrument made of razor blades). Just like with the dematting tool, you'll want to be exceedingly careful using this tool. Additionally, make sure you're gentle while sawing the mats apart. You'll want to insert the tool under the mat, holding the base of the hair shaft, if able, to prevent the hair pulling on your dog's skin. Gently saw the blades through the mat, while lightly pulling the rake towards you and away from the dog's body. Note: depending on the size of the mat, you may need to do this in several spots to fully break it.

[Product photos link to for purchase]

The Poodle Comb:

If this brush looks a little familiar, that's because its cousin, The Pick, was used to tease hair high-into-the-sky on humans, back in the 80's. Truthfully, that's about what the purpose of a poodle comb is! Don't let the name fool you, though; this comb is good on any curly-coated dog, and it's purpose is to fluff those hairs out, to help give it a more sculpted look. Typically, however, a groomer will use this comb to fluff out a Poodle's top-knot, tail, and poms; to make scissor-sculpting these areas a breeze. This is good as a practical-use comb, if you have a breed like a poodle, or golden-doodles who have thick, curly coats.

There are, of course, a wide variety of other combs and brushes not listed here; but those are specialty items most won't use in a home setting, so they don't bear mentioning here.

Brushing your dog is vitally important to their overall health, as well as their outer appearance. And while most advice out in the world would have you brushing your dog daily (a great idea); I say start with once a week, and increase as much as your schedule will allow. Because, realistically, very few people can commit to making brushing the dog a part of their daily routine right out of the gate; but remember that any effort is better than none at all, and the whole idea is to remember to get it in where you can.

Questions, comments, or cute pictures of your dog are always welcome below!

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