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How To Tell If A Dog Has A Single Or Double Coat


11Kitsune is a Papillon, a breed that is often described as being "wash and wear".  Unlike some other breeds, Papillons, even when they are being shown, are not heavily groomed.  Their fur is left long and flowing, although it is normal to neaten up the fur on the paws, hocks, and personal areas.

Despite this, I have trimmed Kit's fur short, to one degree or another, since he was around a year old.  He always seems to feel more comfortable with shorter fur. His shorter fur is less messy and easier to maintain, and my fiance and I both like the way Kit looks after his trims.

Over the years I've gotten mixed feedback over Kit's fur style.  Most people comment that he's adorable and that his fur looks nice, clean, and is very soft.  My harshest critics, however, always seem to be other Papillon owners.  I've been told that I 'ruined him', that I shouldn't have gotten a Papillon if I was going to cut it's fur, and worse.

Last week I talked to a groomer who also happened to own a Papillon.  To say she didn't like Kit's haircut would be an understatement.  She informed me that dogs with double coats should never be trimmed, and Kit's fur would never grow back the same.  Of course she ignored me when I told her I'd been trimming his fur for going on 8 years without any issues at all.  I also tried to politely inform her that Papillons actually have single coats, not double coats, to which she replied that they have double coats because they shed.

747It shocked me that a groomer wouldn't know the difference between a double and a single coat.  It's not determined by whether or not a dog sheds.  The encounter made me wonder.  If a groomer didn't know how to tell the difference between a double and a single coat, how many other people would?

So I enlisted the help of my 11 month old Alaskan Klee Kai, Fenrir.  He, no doubt about it, has a double coat.  A few strokes with a slicker brush over his back and this is what I get...


At first glance, you might notice that it looks like there are two types of fur there.  I broke it down even further...


Fen clearly has two types of fur.  His topcoat, sometimes referred to as guard hairs, are straight and thick.  They are mostly white but the tips, the parts that would be furthest away from Fen's skin, are black.  If you look at the picture I posted of Fen above, these guard hairs are what gives him his grey/black coloration.

The second type of fur is his undercoat.  It's all one color, kind of a creamy white color in Fen's case.  You can probably tell that the texture of his undercoat is not the same as his topcoat.  It's much softer, and doesn't naturally lie as straight.

When Fen sheds, especially when he blows his coat, it's mostly his undercoat that he's losing.  But, as you can see from the pictures above, he also loses some of his guard hairs.

Kit's fur which, as you can see, all looks the same and similar to Fen's topcoat.
Kit's fur, which all looks the same instead of having two distinct types.

Most Papillons, those with the breed standard single coat, only have guard hairs.  This doesn't mean they don't shed because, as demonstrated, guard hairs can be shed.  What it does mean, and I've experience this first hand with Kit, is that dogs with single coats may shed a lot less than dogs with double coats.  When Fen sheds he's losing a small portion of his guard hairs, plus a ton of fluffy undercoat.  When Kit sheds he's only losing a small portion of his top coat - it's barely noticeable.

If anyone is interested I can write more about the role of each type of fur, and why it's generally ok to trim the fur of a single coated dog but not a double coated one.  This post is getting a bit long so I'm going to leave those subjects for another day.

Comment below!  What type of fur does your dog have?  Does he/she shed a lot?

  • Pingback: Why You Shouldn't Shave Double Coated Dogs - Paw Print()

  • garek007

    My dog has mostly soft fur. Do you think he has a single coat? He's a mutt, maybe dachshund / corgie or pomeranian. It seems like he has some thick fur (guard hairs?) on his back near his neck, but it doesn't cover his whole back

    • Nadine Rich

      If they have corgi or pomeranian in there, then they probably have a double coat.

  • Nadine Rich

    The key to maintaining a double coat is using the right tools. I use a combination of the paws pamper undercoat rake, a slicker brush, and a greyhound comb. I use the undercoat rake for the undercoat of course, a slicker for the topcoat, and then go over everything with a comb and blowdryer. A process but works miracles!


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