Demat & Deshed
Groomers should know how to deshed and demat effectively, and what tools to use to accomplish these tasks.
Dematting is on the verge of becoming a lost art. Early in my career, many pet owners spent the money necessary to avoid having an animal clipped short, so dematting even very tight, close to the skin mats was a skill a groomer needed to have. There’s been a culture shift–due to practicality, empathy for the animal, economic considerations, or perhaps all of the above–and seeing a Lhasa, Shih Tzu, or Cocker Spaniel in full coat is a rarity today. Even breeds that were almost never shaved except for medical reasons, such as Goldens, Newfs and Labs, are routinely clipped now to keep maintenance easier for the pet owner. Still, even if it’s just for easier brushing of the headpiece and tail, there’s a need to know how to demat effectively–and the best tools to use. These tools save time, make the groomer’s task easier, and keep discomfort and risk for the pet to a minimum.
What is a dematting or a deshedding tool? Any tool that a groomer uses to remove or detangle mats or to reduce shedding undercoat. Anyone who brushes or preps dogs has their own personal favorites, but don’t be afraid to try new ones. Manufacturers are constantly coming out with new ways to reduce matting and shedding. I used to grab a #30 blade off the clipper, awkwardly grasping the body of the blade in my hand to run the teeth over double-coated dogs such as Labs, Shepherds and Goldens. It removed the undercoat, but when the Furminator came out in 2003, I was grateful that someone had seen the need to make it easier for us.
Tools of the Trade
For both dematting and deshedding, the APC 2000 Matbreaker is one of the must-haves in my toolbox. This tool’s blades are easily replaceable and reversible for lefties. It is good for any coat texture. Another item is the Bernina German Mat Comb, or any similar style combs. The nine serrated blades cut through thick mats easily, and there are smaller versions for tighter mats or finer coats. The Mars Coat King is primarily good for removing excess undercoat, but the widest blade spacing can also be used to demat.
Combs of many kinds, shapes and sizes work for picking mats apart, checking to see if dematting worked and removing undercoat. My favorite is Classic’s Teflon coated medium/coarse comb. Shedding combs with two heights of teeth also work well.
Thinning shears, especially those with teeth on both sides, are also good for dematting. Close the shear on the mat several times and it will brush right out. For deshedding, try shedding blades or stripping knives.
All dematting tools can be dangerous, so be sure to use them safely. Use them with a delicate touch, coaxing rather than yanking. Avoid the common trap of using more force as you use more speed–you can be gentle and still move quickly. Anything with a blade can cut, and other tools can scrape or irritate skin.
For dematting, use the same pat-and-pull motion that is used for brushing with a slicker, starting from the outside of the mat. Make sure the blade is catching tangled hair, not skin. Many groomers use the Oliver mat splitter, or a similar tool used for ripping sewing seams, but they frighten me. I’ve seen an experienced groomer pull OES skin open to the tune of 30 stitches–remember, skin under thick-pelted areas of coat can be poor quality and soft, almost like butter. And although the seam ripper is great for cat mats, since their skin is not attached to muscle, it can open up like a zipper.
For deshedding, draw the tool gently over the animal with short, repeated, overlapping strokes. Check the skin often to make sure it is not becoming tender or reddened, especially if the tool is sharp. Even a simple comb can injure skin if used repeatedly with a bit too much force.
Any tool requires maintenance to stay in top operating condition. Store tools properly. Rust is a possibility, depending upon what metal is used, and can be reduced simply by storing in the open–for instance, hanging from a pegboard. If kept in a closed drawer or cabinet, keep a dessicant package or block chalk in with it to absorb moisture. Periodically spray the tool with coolant, lubricating spray or oil and lightly wipe down. Clean of hair and debris after each use, and if a disinfectant is used, re-oil. Most important is to be aware of how well the tool is working to determine if sharpening or blade replacing is needed. Many tools dull so slowly and incrementally that you will not notice the change until one day you wonder why you ever liked the device, so replace or sharpen regularly.
Remember to experiment on different coat types with different tools to see what works best for you and check at shows and online bulletin boards to see what’s new and what’s working for other professionals.
Carol Visser is a Nationally Certified Master Groomer and Certified Pet Dog Trainer.