I saw the first one of the season a few days ago: a husky mix shaved to the skin.
As it gets warmer, people often take their dogs to the groomer to be shaved. With the thermostat climbing, removing all the dog’s hot, heavy hair seems to be the kindest thing to do. The truth is, however, that shaving your dog will not keep him cooler, even if his hair is long. A shaved dog is more susceptible to heat-related illness, sunburn and skin cancer.
Humans have a vast network of blood vessels and sweat glands designed to dissipate body heat and keep us from overheating.  While we may not enjoy being sweaty, it’s a very efficient cooling mechanism. Dogs have sweat glands in their paw pads, but these are a different type of sweat glands than people have, and they are not designed to cool the dog. Instead, dogs pant to carry heat away from the body. The amount of hair they do or don’t have has no impact on their ability to pant.
A dog’s coat works in much the same way as your home’s insulation, or like a duck’s feathers and down. Insulation helps keep your home warm in the winter and cool in the summer. The down and feathers of a duck allow it to swim in icy water but not overheat in summer. A dog’s coat has several layers. The undercoat and outer coat form an insulated barrier that keeps the temperature regulated. Removing the fur destroys this insulation and also prevents the cooling effect of air circulation through the hair.
It is important to keep your dog’s coat well-brushed and mat-free in order for the air to circulate under the coat. Matted coats stifle the circulation, and can increase your dog’s chance of overheating, so make sure you brush him often.
If your dog has a very heavy, long coat, you can cut some of the hair off, as long as you leave him several inches of length all over his body. Shorter-haired dogs like Labs or Boxers shouldn’t have any of their hair cut. Dogs such as poodles, which are typically trimmed down, should not be shaved to the skin.
In addition to the cooling factor hair provides, dogs have almost no pigment in their skin. Their hair blocks the sun’s UV rays from reaching the skin, keeping them from being sunburned and helps prevent skin cancer. Shaving your dog’s hair and sending him outside is akin to you spending the winter months in your house or outside bundled up, then throwing on a skimpy bikini and sunning for a day on a Florida beach.
In addition to shaving dogs to keep them cool, people often shave their dogs to keep them from shedding. While the dog will have no hair to fall out until it begins to grow back, as soon as there is hair of any length he will start shedding again. Shedding is part of the natural life cycle of hair shafts, phases of growth and loss. Because it is a natural and integral part of the lifecycle of the hair, shaving will not prevent it from falling out.
People also often shave their dogs in an effort to ease their or other family members’ dog allergies. However, it’s typically not the hair or fur that people are allergic to. Instead, people are usually allergic to the dander, flakes of dead skin or to the saliva and/or urine. All dogs have skin, so all dogs produce dander. Shaving the hair coat will not prevent the dander from falling. In actuality, as the skin is exposed to the sun and wind when the hair is gone, shaving can actually exacerbate the production of dander. A dog regrowing his coat also tends to be very itchy, and excessive scratching will produce more dander.
On occasion, dogs have to be shaved for medical reasons, such as preparing a surgical sight or removing hair from hotspots or wounds. In these cases, great care must be taken to preserve the dog’s health until the hair grows back in.
Help your dog beat the heat by making sure his coat is free of mats. Provide him with plenty of fresh, cool water, and make sure he has a shady place to go if he’s outdoors. But let him keep his hair! While you wouldn’t want to wear your fur coat outside on a sunny day, he was designed to do just that!
Karlene Turkington, a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, is a lifelong animal lover who has been training dogs for over 20 years.