Today's Cockers are well-known for
their long, flowing coats. While many feel that Cocker coats are
out of control and much too heavy for a true sporting dog, they are a
fact of life that most Cocker owners must learn to deal with. For
many, this means keeping the dog shaved to a manageable length (or at
least trimmed to a somewhat shorter length on the legs and side-coat).
However, there are also a lot of owners that love the look of a Cocker
in full coat and who strive to preserve the fully-feathered look.
This article is for those dedicated owners that are looking for ways to
preserve, protect and encourage their dog's coat to grow out and
who would like to maintain that "show dog" appearance.
article, I will address ways to properly care for a full-coated Cocker
and will offer advice on how to keep your dog's coat in top condition.
These suggestions should help you reduce excessive coat loss (including
thinning, breakage and splitting) and should help you keep your dog's
coat as healthy as possible.
Lack of coat
and/or excessive coat loss are generally due to three causes:
- Medical conditions.
- Genetic/hereditary factors.
damage to the coat itself.
The first rule of
coat care is:
- A healthy dog
is the only dog that can have a healthy coat.
No matter how hard you work on your
dog's coat issues, you will make limited, if any, improvement in coat
appearance if the
over-all health of the dog is in question. If your dog
has internal or external parasites, is fed a poor quality food,
is not properly exercised and physically conditioned or if the dog has
other underlying health issues (thyroid or other hormone imbalances,
skin or ear infections, allergies, etc.), then it's unlikely you will
make a significant difference in coat appearance until these
issues are addressed and corrected.
Some of the
medical issues that can affect coat and which you need to be aware of
- Skin Problems
- Any problem with your dog's skin can drastically impact coat
growth and may cause thinning of the coat as well as causing damage
to the skin and coat Irritation/inflammation from
parasites, skin infections (yeast, bacterial or fungus), Seborrhea,
Dandruff, Dermatitis, hot spots and allergic reactions can all cause
the dog to scratch and chew at the skin and coat. This can
damage the skin (causing obstruction of the coat follicles which may
result in coat thinning) and may damage and/or break the coat.
- Hormonal Changes
- Changes in hormone levels can be due to disease (thyroid issues
are a major culprit) or, in the case of females, may be directly
linked to normal reproductive fluctuations. Females will often
lose coat (called "Blowing Coat") before, during or after their heat
cycle. They may also lose coat during and after pregnancy.
Many types of illness can trigger coat loss. As mentioned
above, thyroid disorders are one well-known cause of coat loss.
Coat loss can also be triggered by anemia, shock, chemotherapy, high
fever, major surgery, serious injury and chronic illness.
Rapid weight loss can also cause coat loss.
- Some drugs can adversely affect your dog's coat. You should
always ask your Veterinarian about possible side effects of
prescribed medications. Drugs which can affect coat may
include thyroid medications, anti-coagulants, antacids,
tranquilizers, bismuth compounds, cortisone, sedatives,
amphetamines, antibiotics and mercurial diuretics. You
should also remember that over the counter products and human
medical products can not be assumed to be safe for your dog.
You should always check with your veterinarian before giving your
dog ANY supplements, vitamins or medicinal products.
- Nutritional deficiencies or imbalances can cause coat thinning and
loss. Iron deficiency, over-doses of certain vitamins, lack of
essential fatty acids and improper protein intake can all cause coat
problems. Additionally, your dog could suffer coat loss if you
change his diet.
- Physical Fitness
- A dog that is not physically fit is more prone to illness and
injury, which can lead to coat loss.
Only a healthy
dog will have the best possible coat...thick and full,
shiny, full of volume and body. So if
you want your dog to have a great-looking coat, you need to:
- Address any
health issues immediately.
- Feed and keep
the dog on a high quality food.
- Keep the dog
in proper weight. (Slightly fat is better than slightly
skinny for coat growth.)
appropriate exercise to ensure the dog is physically fit.
- Prevent any
and all parasite infections/infestations.
play a role in the actual physical structure of your dog's individual
hairs, the biggest genetic issue with your dog's coat (or lack
there-of!), is the amount of coat your dog inherited from his
ancestors. American Cocker Spaniels have changed
drastically in the last 100 years, and one of the biggest changes
breeders have made is in the amount of coat these dogs carry.
The amount of coat your Cocker will have can vary greatly. If
your dog is out of show stock, it may have the genetic factors
necessary to carry a full, thick, "show dog" coat. If, on the
other hand, your Cocker is out of "field" or "pet" type bloodlines
(lines that have not specifically been bred for heavy coat and/or
which have not been cross-bred with show bloodlines that carry the
heavy coat factor), then your dog may carry what is generally
referred to as a "field coat".
A field coat is
much different than a show coat. While a dog with a full show
coat will have long, full feathering all the way around the legs,
through the chest, belly and down each side, a dog with field coat
will generally only have a slight bit of feathering from the backs of
the legs, around the toes and slight amounts down the sides and on the
chest and belly. If your dog is out of dogs with "field"
type coats, then he will never grow a full show coat because he does
not carry that characteristic in his genetic make-up. If
you want a dog with a full show coat, it's imperative that you
purchase a dog that carries the genetic factor to make this possible.
(Notice I said "possible". Because all Cockers come from dogs
with field type coats if you go back far enough in the pedigree, it's
still possible for a dog from show lines to NOT have a full show
As I stated
above, genetics does impact your dog's hair structure in some ways.
While this is usually a relatively small part of the problem you may
be having with your dog's coat, it must be considered if you are
trying to resolve a coat issue. Genetic factors can include:
- thicker coat shafts are generally stronger and less likely to
black and straight red are usually the strongest hair types.
- White coats
tend to have thinner shafts and are more delicate and likely to
break or split.
- Curls create weak points in the hair shaft. The more curl,
the higher the likelihood of splitting and breakage.
This is the factor that is
responsible for the most significant amount of coat loss in dogs.
Fortunately, much of this coat loss CAN be prevented.
factor contributing to excessive coat loss is physical or chemical
damage to the coat. Much of this wear and tear on the coat is
agents and/or alcohol in
- The use of
human hair care products and/or household cleaners (dishwashing or
laundry detergent) as a substitute for grooming products.
- Blow dryers
and other heating apparatuses used to dry or straighten the coat.
styling techniques and equipment.
percentage of coat loss is also caused by breakage. There are a
number of factors that contribute to this type of coat loss and these
Improper/inferior brushes and combs.
Excessive/improper brushing or combing.
- Allowing the
coat to become tangled/matted.
particles/substances (yard debris, burrs, thorns, tree sap, gum,
etc.) becoming stuck in the coat.
- Weakened coat
condition from improper styling products and equipment.
- Poor coat
condition due to nutritional deficiencies.
The use of harsh
or improper products to bathe and groom your dog can permanently damage and weaken the
hair shaft. This makes the coat vulnerable to breakage and splitting.
Using the wrong
kind of brush or comb can also cause significant coat damage.
Stiff slicker brushes (lovingly referred to as Coat Killers!) can
stretch, damage and break the coat. Mat splitters and
rakes are also notorious for cutting, breaking and pulling out hair.
Cheap equipment may have rough edges or parts of the equipment may
bend or twist, which could cause the coat to "catch" and be pulled.
An example of damage caused by cheap equipment is the "dandruff" that
is often seen after brushing a dog. Most people assume this is
dander. In actual fact, this is usually skin that has been
scraped off by improper equipment and brushing techniques!
should never be brushed or combed if the dog is dirty, especially the
groin or "pee" areas. Urine or other substances on the coat will
make the coat sticky and can cause excessive coat loss.
Additionally, if your Cocker has yard trash or debris caught in the
coat, you will need to pick the object loose with your fingers and not
try to brush it out of the coat. Brushing is likely to wrap hair
around the object and this can pull and/or break the coat.
damage to the coat can be inflicted by blow dryers. Dryers with
heating elements (which many people use to quickly dry their dogs) can burn the coat shaft. Even
if your dog has the healthiest coat imaginable, using a dryer with a
heating element can
seriously damage the coat and cause it to split apart and begin to break off.
It is also very important that you never
brush your dog's coat when it's completely wet or dry. The coat is
most vulnerable at these times and can suffer considerable damage if
you work on it in either of these conditions.
electricity can be another source of coat damage. The friction
generated by brushing or combing when static electricity is present
can cause damage to the coat.
some coat loss cannot be resolved with proper technique, equipment and
supplies, excessive coat loss can be minimized with correct coat care. You
can help preserve your dog's existing coat by using the correct
grooming equipment, techniques and products.
The first step in
your fight to prevent coat loss is to learn when to and how to brush
your dog. A completely wet coat is at its maximum tensile
strength and elasticity, but if you try to brush or comb the coat in
this condition, you can stretch the coat to its breaking point.
On the other hand, a completely dry coat is at its minimum tensile
strength and elasticity. Brushing and combing the coat
when completely wet or dry should be avoided.
The best time to
brush your dog is while you are drying him. You will want to
brush and comb your dog only after you have GENTLY towel dried him and
started blow drying him. The best brush to use while you
are drying the dog is a pin brush. (I recommend Chris
or #1 All Systems brushes and combs.) Of course, you won't be using a dryer with a
heating element during this process. You'll be using a force
dryer or other dryer without a heating element or a dryer without the
heat turned on.
The only other
time you should attempt to brush your dog is if he is dry and you are
using a conditioning spray as you brush through the coat. If you
need to brush your dog while dry, work in small sections, spraying the
coat with a product such as #1 All Systems Fabulous Grooming Spray or
Ice On Ice
as you work your way through the coat.
In addition to
the above steps, you will also use appropriate force and technique to
brush the dog. If you can HEAR the brush going through the coat,
you are applying too much pressure. You should separate the coat
and work in small sections from the skin outward. If you find a
tangle, pull it apart with your fingers before using the brush or
comb. Always work the comb or brush completely through the coat
and past the ends of the hair shaft before coming back to the skin.
scrubbing when you bathe your dog is also a no-no. This can not
only damage a less-than-healthy coat but you can
also damage the skin. A healthy coat requires natural oils
that are found in the skin and the majority of these oils must
be left behind when you bathe the dog. When bathing, you should
gently kneed with your fingertips. Don't scrub the dog with the
flat of your hand in a back and forth motion as this can tangle and
pull the coat.
- #1 All
Systems products are my first choice for shampoo and grooming
Christensen products are my first choice for grooming equipment.
- Plush Puppy
products are well-liked by many Cocker enthusiasts.
(Directions and recommendations for using these products on
Cockers can be found at
Show dog coats
are generally more "at risk" than the average pet dog's coat.
Many show dogs are shown every weekend, 2-5 days straight, and these
dogs are brushed, blown out and otherwise groomed daily. All of
this muss and fuss puts tremendous wear and tear on a show dog's coat.
In addition to this, chemical sprays and grooming products are often
used to hold and enhance a show dog's coat. These products
further stress the hair. The coat can quickly be depleted of
natural protective oils and moisture if the coat is not properly
cleaned and nourished between shows. To prevent coat loss and to
preserve coat condition, it's critical that the correct products and
equipment are ALWAYS used on a show dog and that any chemicals are
removed promptly from the coat.
Once you let
extensive breakage begin, the results can range from alarming to
devastating, and the longer the problem is allowed to continue, the
tougher it is to correct. A simple rule of thumb: the more your do to
you canine's coat... the more likely you are to lose it to breakage and