Brushes, Combs, Tangles, Oh My!
Courtney Gaetano, Fear Free Certified Groomer
I cannot tell you how many new clients come to my grooming salon for the first time only to be disappointed when I explain that although they’ve been brushing their 12 month old doodle (here for their very first grooming appointment, which is also problematic), that the brush they were using wasn't the right type and the dog is completely matted to the skin and will need to be shaved down more than they'd prefer. Picking the right tool(s) is just as important as the frequency of brushing to your dog's coat condition.
The ideal brush is different for a husky blowing coat, a fluffy curly doodle, and a scruffy terrier type coat. Sometimes it’s even best practice to use two or more different tools in the grooming process! For some dogs you need to start with an all over slicker brush, then a pin brush, and finish with a comb in areas prone to mats or knots! While, other dogs need just a quick once over with a curry brush when shedding.
So let’s go over some common brush types and their ideal uses and coat types to get you on the right path.
Pin brushes are good for medium-long hair dogs (like poodles, havanese, shih tzu). The long tines get down to the skin but are not super stiff to cause irritation. Pin brushes are easier on the hair and cause less damage when brushing but are not strong enough to handle big debris or knots or remove undercoat, so requires daily use to prevent mats. If you like to keep your pup’s body coat short but like fluffy ears and tails this a great brush for you. Pin Brush, Detangler Pin Brush
Slicker brushes work for most coat types in some way. They vary in lengths and shapes of tines, stiffnesses of the bristles, and coated/uncoated tips, so selecting one that meets your needs may take some trial and error. Slicker brushes are great for removing debris, dander, light undercoat, and even some light knotting. For some dogs all you need is a slicker, but for other dogs (dogs with hair versus fur) it’s the first brush you use in the grooming process. JW Slicker Brush , Flexible Slicker Brush
Grooming rakes work great on double coated breeds (shepherd, golden retriever, collie, husky) and there are several different types available–an undercoat rake has teeth with wider bases than tips to help grab loose undercoat and there are de-shedding rakes that have a single row of curved teeth to catch the dead undercoat clumps and remove it. It’s best to start with a rake with the fewest teeth (coarse) to take care of the easiest to grab coat and end with a fine rake (more teeth) that will get the rest. Safari Undercoat Rake , Andis De-Shedding Rake
A rubber or curry brush is ideal for short coated dogs with little to no undercoat (pit bull, pug, bulldog, hound, etc). The rubber teeth grip and remove loose hair and it can work on both top coat and undercoat. It does a particularly great job at removing those loose pesky guard hairs/top coat that other brushes don’t catch. They also work great for any breed in the bath to ensure you get the shampoo down to the skin and not just sitting on the top of the coat. Zoom Groom by Kong ,
Boar hair brushes are made of natural boar bristles and work great on short haired dogs, sporting and terriers breeds (like doberman, spaniels, schnauzer). The boar bristles move and spread your dogs natural sebum oil to give shine and pack the coat tight. It’s a polishing/ finishing brush so best used after the rubber curry, slicker or rake. Boar Hair Brush
Greyhound combs or metal combs are pretty much required tools if you intend on keeping your doodle, poodle, portie, etc in longer fluffy coat. Combs ensure that you prevent matting by having firm tines that get all the way to the skin to untangle hiar. When using a comb, it should be run through the coat at a 30degree angle roughly (so not perpendicular with the skin). Having a comb with both a coarse end and a fine end allows you to first run through with the coarse end and flip to the fine in areas that might have smaller mats (combs with staggered short/long tines are great for double coated dogs). Deshedding Comb , Greyhound Comb
No matter what type of brush you use, they all are generally used the same way. You want to use light short strokes with the fir. Long strokes tend pull hair/skin/muscle and are uncomfortable to the dog and it can damage the coat which can cause more knots and matting.
As an added bonus, how about a trade secret for making brushing/combing easier (particularly those who have long coats)--try adding a brushing/detangling spray misted on the coat before you begin brushing. The detangling spray will help your tools glide thru the coat with more ease but also protect the hair from damage from the tool as it separates and detangles knots. Tropiclean Detangler
Lastly, if this all sounds overwhelming or you are just not interested in brushing or grooming your dog all the time (but want a longer coated dog), there are many haircuts for long-coated dogs that are lower maintenance while still being cute! Alfie the mini sheepadoodle is sporting a schnauzer haircut on her head, a short body, and fluffy tail–she gets groomed every 7 weeks like clockwork and requires very little maintenance in between grooming appointments and still stays mat-free. If shedding is your bigger issue, periodic trips to a professional groomer (look for a fear free groomer or one who has lower-stress handling protocols) for a bath and blow dry can be super helpful in preventing furry tumbleweeds by blowing out the loose undercoat rather than spending hours brushing through the shedding seasons.
If you are unsure of what tools you should use on your dog, asking your groomer can give you a good starting point!