Labrador Retrievers are an unusual breed in that while most dogs have specific coloring or markings, Labs come in three distinct varieties—yellow, black and chocolate. Regardless of which one you have, Lab coats have some special considerations, and require a bit more care than dogs with short, low-maintenance coats. Everything you use from the right dog shampoo to grooming tools will make a huge difference in your Lab’s coat.
The first thing to know is that Labs actually have a double coat—a top one, and a thick, soft undercoat. This undercoat helps protect the dog from the cold, and helps keep him cool during the summer. The outer coat, comprised of shorter, sleeker hair repels moisture, which is important for this water-loving breed. While they may look like short-haired dogs on the surface, they need some grooming that’s usually reserved for longer-haired dogs. Here are four tips to help keep your Lab’s coat healthy and beautiful.
1. Avoid Over-Shampooing
The “Retriever” part of the Lab’s name means exactly that—they’re hunting dogs, bred to retrieve kills, specifically from water. They’re often used for duck and other water fowl hunting. In addition to the double coat, Lab coats are water repellent thanks to oils secreted through their skin, which help to keep their coats smooth and shiny.
Using shampoo on a Lab too often will strip away that oil, which in turn will dry out their skin and make their coat dull and brittle. Only use shampoo when they’ve rolled in something like mud or other things dogs sometimes enjoy rolling in, and be sure it’s a mild shampoo.
2. Brushing, Brushing, and More Brushing
All dogs shed, Labs included. They shed throughout the year, but come spring, they blow their coats. Over the winter, your Lab’s undercoat with thicken for extra warmth. When the weather starts warming up a few months later, all that extra hair has to go somewhere, and it’s usually your floor. And your couch. And your bed. And basically all over your house.
Keeping up with expelled hair will mean a lot of vacuuming. But you can also help the process along—and help your Lab feel cooler and more comfortable—by brushing her at least once a week, and not just in spring, but year round. A regular brush will help keep the top coat shiny and free of tangles, but to get at the undercoat, you need a hair rake. Or, you can multi-task, and try a product like a Rake-n-Vac.
Most Lab parents will tell you clipping is not only not necessary, it can be detrimental. This goes double for shaving. A common misconception is that any dog with so much undercoat and hair must be hot and uncomfortable. This may be true, but only temporarily. That’s why Labs blow their coats. It’s nature’s way of fixing that issue, and making them comfortable. It may seem counterintuitive, but the undercoat actually helps your Lab regulate body temperature, even in warm weather. Shaving their hair off throws their body’s natural way of dealing with the environment. It can also make your dog prone to sunburn, which is another protection a dog’s coat offers.
The only time you should clip a Lab’s hair is if, by some odd chance, it’s getting into their eyes. Their eyebrow and muzzle whiskers don’t need to be clipped, either. Cats’ whiskers actually have nerve endings, and serve a purpose—to help them navigate their world, especially in the dark. Cutting them can harm your kitty. Dogs’ whiskers aren’t quite as sensitive, but they are still sensory aids. Cutting your Lab’s whiskers won’t truly hurt him, but it’s just not necessary unless, again, it’s causing irritation somehow. Just because we humans engage in so much hair cutting, shaving, tweezing, and maintenance doesn’t mean we have to inflict it on our pets!
The final thing to remember is grooming your dog, while a necessary task, can also be bonding time between you and your Lab. By setting aside time for him and not rushing, you’ll see better results, and your Lab will be more cooperative, not to mention grateful when he feels—and looks—so much better afterward.