About Me:

I am a professional Pet Groomer. I have been grooming for 28 years. This Blog is a kind of diary of my work. I wish I had started years ago, writing some of the experiences I have had while grooming. Most days are fun, some can be sad, some can be just down right crazy. If you are a pet owner and come across this blog, I hope it helps you understand how your pet is groomed. If you are a Pet Groomer, I hope you can relate to some of the stories. Maybe even learn a grooming tip or can leave a friendly grooming tip for me. There is always something to learn, no matter how long you have been grooming.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Bathing and Clipping Matted Dogs

What a week!
 It is only March 19 and I have seen enough overgrown, matted dogs to last me the year.
It still amazes me that so many dog owners still believe that letting their dogs grow out for the winter to get all matted and filthy is the right thing to do.

Then add:
Large...and matted.
Old...and matted.
Groomed once a year...and matted.

Did you ever have one of those days when you looked up at the clock sure that it will say that it is close to 4:00pm, only to see the hands on the clock saying 11:45am.
You look closer to see if the seconds hand is still moving, because you are sure that the clock must have stopped.

I felt like that today... (actually yesterday, I keep trying to get this post published, but I keep getting pulled away :)
The Self-Serve was non-stop.
There were walk-ins for nails.
Walk-ins for eye trims.
All before noon.

It was a week of big jobs and getting home late.
This guy always feels like I will never finish. He is by far the largest dog that I groom, and the most work. 

I would honestly rather groom a Newfie.

This guys hair shows every scissor mark.
You feel like you are never finished.
I have to make myself stop grooming him, there is always some piece of hair that seems to be sticking out!
It is a good thing that he is such a sweet dog.

Non-stop large, old, overgrown, matted dogs.

The last time this St Poo was groomed was back in October.

When the owner came in, she informed me that they had bathed him twice without brushing him.

She told me he was mostly matted on his hips.

 Needless to say he was matted all over.

His owner didn't want him too short.
(Then bring him in more often...Grrrr)

 Because this dog took longer to dry then I thought he would...a lot longer,I should have wet shaved him.

Live and learn.  :-/

 Talking about matting...this brings me to what I am writing this blog entry about.

Earlier this week I was reading one of the grooming forms.
Someone posted a question about clipping a matted dog with a # 9 blade.
Personally, I don't like or use this blade.
I feel it nicks the skin way too easily to be safe.
That is just my opinion.
I used it a lot for about one year, but experienced it getting caught on the skin a couple of times, on dogs that it should not have.
That was a couple of times too many for me, so I stopped using the blade.
Since then I have also read about a few other groomers experiencing the same trouble, so I know it was not just me.

Anyway, back to the matting.

After reading the replies to this groomers questions, I was a little irritated.
In all of the replies, only one groomer mentioned bathing the dog first and HVing the mats away from the skin to get a longer blade through the matting safely.
Most of the replies told the groomer to take a #7 or #10 blade to the dog.
A couple mentioned wet shaving.
The groomer with the question stated that the dog had loose mats that where not tight to the skin.
Why would someone recommend shaving this dog with a #7 or #10 blade?
Even clipping it before the bath with a #4 or #5 could be possible if the mats are not tight.
Clipping it after the bath and a HV dry could get an even longer blade through easily.

For years I have told owners to never bathe their dog when it was matted.
I still tell them that today, and believe it wholeheartedly.
If the pet owner bathes their dog without brushing out the mats first, and letting the pet air-dry, the mats will tighten, and become harder to remove or even clip off.

The same does not apply for me or other professional groomers.

Every matted dog that I groom goes straight into the tub.
Of course it was not always this way.
For many years I would not dare to put a matted dog in the tub without shaving it first.
For many years, I spent a lot of time, and dulled a lot of blades fighting to clip through a matted, dirty coat.
How many times did I come close to nicking a dog because the matted hair was so tight to the skin?

Those days are gone, and I will never go back.

Bathing a matted dog before the clip is the only safe and sensible thing to do.
Why safe and sensible?

1 ~ If bathed with the proper dematting shampoo and creme rinse, the matted coat can be HVed away from the skin.

 2 ~ Once the mat is blown away form the skin, even if only a little, you have a safe airspace between the skin and coat.

 3 ~ No dulling blades clipping a dirty coat.

4 ~ The blades do not overheat as quickly.

5 ~ There is very rarely any fighting the blade through the coat, because it is clean and fluffy.

   Before -->

6 ~ Clipping a matted coat after the bath and HV dry allows you to get a longer blade through the coat.

**Note: A matted coat must be HV dried straight from the bath in order to loosen the mats as much as possible.


I rarely ever have to clip a matted coat shorter then a #5F blade. 

I would have had to use a #7 or #10 on this dirty, matted, tiny Shih-Tzu before the bath.
By bathing her first, I was able to easily and safely get a #5F through her coat.

 I have heard some skeptical groomers ask about the time it takes to dry a matted dog.
You would be surprised how often most mats blow right out of the coat if the proper shampoo and creme rinse where used.

 If the dog has very thick mats, it is not necessary to get the mats themselves all of the way dry.
It is only important to get the hair between the skin and mat dry.

This is easier then it sounds.
Take the extra pointy piece of the hose off, (sorry can't remember the name of it right now) and use the wider mouth of the hose.

  Put the mouth of the hose right up against the skin and into the mat.
While drying, move the mouth of the hose back and forth in small strokes, working the mats away from the skin as much as you can.
Don't worry about getting the entire mat dry, you will be cutting it off.

The only part that needs to be good and dry is the hair between the skin and the mat.

For those who say that all of that HV drying is a waste of time..it takes no longer then the time it would have taken you to fight a blade through a dirty coat.
By the time you finish drying the dog, you probably would have just been putting the dog in the tub if you had clipped it first.

There is also a major difference in the finish look of a dog that is clipped before the bath and a dog that is clipped after.

I also realize that a lot of groomers feel that an owner that allows their dog to become matted does not deserve to have a longer clip on their dog.
Believe me I understand that thinking.
I just think a little differently.
Everything that I do I do for the dog not the owner.


If I know that I don't have to shave the dog with a #7 or #10 blade, because bathing them before the clipping will allow me to get a #4F or #5F through the coat, I will do it for the dog.
There is a lot less of a chance that the dog clipped after the bath will go home and scratch himself raw like the dog that was shaved with the #7 or #10 blade.

 If you are a groomer that is still skeptical about bathing before the clipping, just give it a try.
It won't mean that you have to stick with it.
Just give it a try for a week.
If you don't notice a difference in the finished work, and still like the old way of grooming, then at least you tried something new.

Oh, what about those once a year thick, overgrown, matted coats that you know would take forever to dry, but would be impossible to get a blade through the dirty coat?

All I can say is...wet shaving.

I wrote a post about this a while ago.
I don't wet shave very often, but it has really come in handy sometimes.
Check out the link above to read about wet shaving.

It is what I should have done with the White Standard pictured at the beginning of this post.

I know that a lot of groomers are set in their ways.
I was one of them for a long time.
I truly believe that clipping before the bath has many more pros then cons.
I love trying new tools and new grooming techniques, anything that would help me groom safely.

Some people will also think that I am crazy because I like grooming matted dogs.
I like the challenge of making them look as nice as possible.
I like the challenge of saving the face, ears, or tails, and leaving the dog with a little personality instead of skinning it like a rat.

Happy Grooming, MFF


  1. Here here! There is something soooo satisfying about a blade sliding through wet matts like a hot knife through butter when you just know if you tried doing it dry - clean or dirty - just how long you would be there and how much the dog would suffer.

    Wet shaving is the best thing I ever learned. The importance of using the HV (and that little concentrator doo hickey) is the second best thing. And using the HV is an art... its not just flailing about, you need to watch and adjust for each dog.

    I know, I get a little bit excited about these things. And part of me is glad that dog owners everywhere do the same thing, and it isn't just ours.

    The rest of me is sad.

  2. Thank you Bev,
    Your description of a hot knife through butter is so true. I feel, if we could just get more groomers to try clipping this way, they would see the pros of it.
    I also agree that HV drying is an Art. I had a bather once that I had the hardest time getting her to use the dryer correctly. Her dogs would be dry, but they were still very curly. ?? It used to drive me crazy. :) Lisa

  3. I absolutely love this blog. I'm graduating from grooming school in a week, and my instructors are firm believers in bathing matted dogs and using a Hi-V to force the mats out. Having previously worked at a shop where they shaved down dogs before bathing them, I was of that "old-school" mindset that you described. However, I'm a Hi-V convert now. Even though you've been in the business for a while, I'm glad to hear that you're willing to adapt to new methods and technologies. You're a great role model for the folks who have been grooming for a gazillion years and refuse to do anything differently because they've "always done it that way."

  4. I love learning new things about grooming. I was not always that way. I went through that time when I was sure that I knew it all. I was so wrong. There is always more to learn. :)

  5. Gah. I work at a certain "place" right now that has policies against stuff like this. I would love to try wet shaving, or grooming a matted dog after a bath. Someday when I move to a private salon, this is on the top of my list to try.


  6. Frequency of bathing actually depends on the breed of dog. If the dog is a hairy type like the cocker spaniel, then bathing should be done once in six to eight weeks. If these breeds are bathed too often, the skin and the hair loses its protective effect.

    Dog Training Los Angeles

    1. Hi Michael,
      I respectfully disagree. I have owned many dogs with different coat lengths and types. I have always bathed all of my dogs weekly, biweekly, or no later than every three weeks. (depending on how busy I am grooming other peoples dogs lol)
      All of my dogs have always had very healthy coats. My most beloved Terrier got a bath every Saturday for the 19 years that she lived. She never had a problem with her skin or coat.
      Bathing a dog right in the first place has a lot to do with keeping the coat healthy and protected, as well as a good diet.
      No one will ever convince me that 6 to 8 weeks or more of dirt build up is better for a dogs coat and health. Just my opinion. :)
      Many pet owners do not bath their dogs correctly, or with the right products.
      Lisa, MFF

  7. This may be a very well written and informative article, and I will never know because it is center-aligned.

    1. Sorry that you are having a hard time reading the center alignment. You are the very first person to tell me this. I will have to think on it.

  8. I am wondering about the blade #s. I have a Wahl clipper and I think the numbers must be reversed for the blades(?) Can you tell me the blade sizes in inches?

  9. Hi Beth,
    The #10 blade leaves @ 1/16 of an inch of hair length.
    The #15 blade leaves @ 3/64 of an inch.
    The #7F blade leaves @ 1/8"
    The #5F leaves @ 1/4"
    The #4F leaves @ 3/8"
    The #3 3/4F leaves 1/2"
    I say that these blades leave 'around' these lengths, because the length of hair that is left depends greatly on the hair type, and thickness.
    Hope this helps you.
    Lisa, MFF

  10. Hello there I have a question, the salon I work at (petsomething) we use hydro surge which they do decent shampoos and we also have the conditioners but I am not sure if it would be enough to help loosen the matting on a dog. What do you think?

    1. Hi,
      Washing the dirt out of any matting helps to release and relax the matting. Clean mats are a lot easier to brush out than dirty mats. It depends on the the type of matting as to what type of shampoo would work the best. When I am bathing a matted dog, I like to use a shampoo with silicon in it. My go to matting shampoo and conditioner is Best Shot. I also like 'The Stuff'. I like to mix a cap full of 'The Stuff' (concentrate) to a gallon of shampoo.
      Lisa, MFF

  11. Hello:
    I learned to groom, as I saw a need for a volunteer groomer in our Animal Shelter. My problem is this: the Director does not want a dryer, of any kind, used on the dogs, as they are stressed already, and putting them through that trauma makes it worse. I have resorted to grooming backwards. I clipper them with a #7, then scissor, and attempt to get as much fur off as possible, before I bathe them. I dry them with a towel and the Sun. Yes, I destroy my blades and scissors, it is very time consuming, and tiring for both the dog and me. Also, these dogs are the worst of the worst. They have been neglected and abused, and do not know anything about the grooming process, another stressor. Any suggestions for me? How to reach the Director, and get her to relax her rule, or offer a better work-around than the one I have conceived? Help! Thank you-

    1. Hi,
      How sweet of you to dedicate your time to helping these dogs. :)
      I am not sure that I understand exactly why the Director is so against dryers (or any kind). I understand the stress that the dogs are under, BUT taking a matted and/or neglected dog, grooming it and getting it clean and dry makes such a difference for those guys.

      Personally, I think that a good variable speed HV dryer would be perfectly fine to use on these dogs. For dogs that are stressed while drying, I pack their ears with cotton to defuse the sound. You can also wrap a towel around the head, covering the ears to defuse the sound of the dryer. There is also a great product called 'The Happy Hoodie':


      The hoodie has allowed me to use the HV dryer on dogs that had been terrified of it. (One particular dog is no longer scared of the dryer at all now.
      I like to bathe dogs before clipping for many reasons. One of the biggest reason is because I spend the bath time getting the dog very relaxed. I have made some dogs so relaxed in the tub that they have fallen over. :) I give them hugs before I turn on the water. (Yes, even the really dirty ones) I talk to them in a very low soothing voice. I make sure that the water is warm and comfortable for them. I also only hand wash. Once I have them soaped up, I massage them very slowly and gently all over till I can feel them relaxing.
      After they are bathed comes a invigorating rub down with the towel. I use this time to kind of play with them. Especially the ones that really like to be rubbed with the towel. If it is a dog that is not that crazy about being rubbed with the towel, I will wrap them up good and hold them for a few minutes. If it is a very fearful dog, I will have had the HV dryer running on very low while bathing. That way the dog has been hearing the hum of the dryer the whole time that I have been bathing and they are used to the sound by the time I am ready to dry.
      I almost never use the pointy nozzle on the dryer hose of the HV. I like the wider opening. I like to put it right up next to the skin. For scared, or stressed dogs, I keep the dryer very low to start with. I ALWAYS start drying on a back foot and slowly work my way up the back leg. This way the dryer is a s far away from the head as possible. This way I can see how the dog is going to react to the dryer. If the dog is doing good, I turn the speed of the dryer up a little. If the dog fusses a little, I talk them through it. Usually by the time I get to the top of their leg the dog realizes that the dryer is not hurting them and actually feels pretty good.
      I work my way up the back leg, over one side of the body and back down the front leg. I save the head for last. If they really freak over a certain part of the body, (head, front legs, neck) I do not push it. If I can't talk them through it after trying twice I move back to an area that didn't bother them, THEN I turn off the dryer. I do not like to end on a soar note.
      I have found that dogs that are really scared of the HV dryer, 9 times out of 10, accept a small hand dryer (people hair dryer) without any problems at all.
      (Sorry, I have to continue this reply in another post.....I talk too much......

    2. reply continued......

      In my opinion, the tiny bit of stress a dryer may cause is nothing compared to what a lot of those dogs have gone through already. I am sure that you try your best to get the dogs dry as fast as you can, but why make them shiver while air drying when they could have a nice luke warm breeze blowing them dry so much more quickly.
      I am sure that those dogs feel soooo good once they are bathed and the matted hair has been removed, that they forget about any of the stress during the grooming process. Especially if the groomer was very gentle and loving.
      I groomed a very young, very matted dog in a Rescue Round-Up competition. Because of his age, and the amount of matted hair he had, I am pretty sure it was his very first hair cut. I bathed him before clipping and used a HV dryer on him to blow the mats away from his skin to clip him more safely. He was not the lest bit stressed out by that dryer. Here is the post that I did about that dog:


      As for the dogs stress while being groomed; I think that the groomers attitude has a lot to do with whether the dog will be stressed or not. When I have a dog come in who has been badly neglected, I try to keep a very happy, playful attitude while grooming them. (even though I want to slap their owner silly for neglecting them) I feel that that attitude transfers to the dog. As you will see in the post with the rescue dog, I had him so relaxed that he was almost falling asleep on my table while I shaved off the mats.
      Maybe you could show your Director this reply and the post on the rescue that I clipped. (He was from a city shelter) If used correctly, a dryer is not stressful for most dogs.
      I hope I helped. :) Keep helping those dogs!
      Lisa, MFF

  12. I just wanted to thank you for your wonderful blog. One of my Shih Tzu's has become heavily matted and I was not sure whether to bath him first or clip first. Many breeder friends have told me never to wet a matted dog but I had my doubts. You have solved my delimma and 1st thing in the morning, my baby gets a warm bath and a nice 5 blade clip. I would love to try the wet shave, we'll see how well I can get the mats away from the skin before I decide on trying that. I live in Fla. and it's time for them to be shaved down for summer so a close shave wouldn't hurt him :) Thanks again... your post has been priceless to me.

  13. Hi I have just met the hairiest matted dog ever. He looks like Bob Marley and he has rasta brown curls over his head and his body is thick with matts nearly like a sheep. Im.not sure the breed but iv allocated a whole day for this dog as I know it will take time. Iv just read all your notes about bathing the dog before clipping. Im not sure my clippers will even go through these matts. Do you cut the matts when the dog is wet or do you dry them then try and clip. I am so looking forward to seeing his before and after because if you saw him you would say Bob Marley. ....:)

  14. I know this is an old post but I just wanted to say how much you have inspired me as a groomer! I always go to your posts to get the spark back in grooming :) I work at a pet something so bathing before the clipping was very odd to my fellow salon team. At a different location I was actually told I was very stupid and they kept talking down to me that I backed out and just pre shaved :/ anyways! I'm stuck with hydro surge so a lot of the times I spritz a little unicoat or the stuff in their coat and dry them again over with the towel and that helps with the matting as well when blow drying them out! Anyways I have no idea where I'm going with this but thank you for helping change the way I groom for the better!!

  15. once again, a great job with grooming. i enjoy reading these articles