Matted Dog:  Ten Tips for Removing Mats from your long haired dog’s Coat

Matted Hair

Matted Dog?  First of all, don’t panic—if you have a small breed dog that has long hair, you will probably encounter a tangle or mat at some point.  In Long haired dogs, hair mats happen! 

We’ve lived with a lot of long haired dog dogs over the years, and I mean lots!  Even with daily brushing, some dogs manage to get their hair tied up in knots, but removing them may be easier than you think. 

All dogs need to be brushed from time to time, even short haired dogs.  Small breeds that have coats that continue to grow present much larger grooming issues, especially those whose owners choose to keep their coats long. 

Rather than the occasional brushing that a shot haired dog requires, owners with dogs such as poodles, Shih Tzu, Lhasa, Maltese, Yorkies, Bichons, Pekingese, Poms and many others have coats that require daily brushing. 

If such a breed goes too long without a thorough brush and comb out, mats are going to take over. 

Anatomy of Mats

Removing mats from long haired dogs

All mats are not alike.  Small matted dog hair can occur daily because your long haired dog is continually shedding dead hairs.  This shedding process is not like those breeds that leave hair all over your house. 

The long haired dog sheds its hair into the coat causing small mats to form. As new hairs grown in, mats can occur very close to the skin. 

Some long haired dogs have very thick coats made up of two layers:  A dense outer coat and a soft cottony inner coat.   Others have a single soft coat that can also mat easily.  Still others such as poodles have a curly coat that too will mat up if not brushed regularly. 

Brushing the outer coat will make the dog look good, but may not get at all the mats.  Sometimes the only way to assure that the dog has been brushed thoroughly is to go over the entire body with a metal comb. 

Problems with Matted Dogs

Mats not only make the coat look disheveled, they actually add to a dog’s distress and cause skin irritation.  When this happens, the dog bites at its skin or tries to scratch causing the mat to grow in size and the hair to get even more tangled. A severely matted dog is not a happy dog.

Small mats or knots are easy to remove if the dog is brushed daily or several times a week.  Larger knots form when a part of the dog’s coat has been neglected for some time. 

Sensitive Areas on a Dog

Behind the ears, under the legs

Even with proper training and socialization to the grooming process, some long haired dog dogs do not like parts of their body brushed.  Under the front legs, the legs themselves, behind the ears and at the base of the tail are areas that often knot if not brushed frequently.  These are also areas that are very sensitive to the dog so the dog protests when these areas are being brushed.

Paw Pads

Check out your dog's paw pads.  Hair continues to grow there too and if not removed, can begin to form mats causing distress on the feet. 

There is an easy way to remove the hair between the pads on your dog's feet.  If you want to do this yourself, removing hair from paw pads can be accomplished by either scissors or clippers.


Around the Anus

An often neglected area that can mat easily is around the anus on long coated dogs.  This is one area, while seldom pleasant, must be kept clean and free of mats. 

If not trimmed regularly, feces can stick to the hair causing constipation leading to fecal impaction.  This is extremely uncomfortable for the dog. 

Removing the hair is easily accomplished with clippers.  You can also use a pair of scissors with blunt tips, but be especially careful in this area.  Dogs tend to get nervous and jump around.  If your dog does not hold still for you, either use a pair of clippers, have someone hold him, or take him to the groomers.

Tools of the Trade

Even if you do not do all of your own grooming at home, brushing and combing is very important for preventing mats from forming. 

Groomers will often charge by the hour for removing mats and so your bill can get high quickly.  So the best advice for a matted dog is prevention! 

But, what do you do if the daily schedule has prevented you from your usual brushing and combing sessions and you end up with a matted dog?

Make sure you have some tools that will get the job done:

  • Stainless Steel Combs
  • Rat-tail Comb
  • Pin Brushes
  • Scissors
  • Dematting Tool
  • Blow Dryer
  • Conditioning Spray

Removing tangles from a Matted Dog
Ten Tips

Brush before Bathing

Always brush your dog before you give him a bath.  The bath water tends to set the mats in making them even harder to remove.

Never brush a dry coat

Never brush a dog without first spraying it with a styling product such as a de-tangling spray or a diluted conditioning spray.  Brushing and combing dry hair will tend to split it and you are likely to be fighting against static electricity.

Use the right equipment

Use a pin brush and part the hair with a rat tail comb so that you are brushing small sections at a time.  Begin at the lowest portion of the dog (paws) and work up the sides and then to the back and head.  After brushing the entire dog, go back with a steel comb and comb the hair completely.  You are likely to find some mats that were missed with the pin brush.  Use a slicker brush for styling and making the coat look sleek and beautiful.

Golden Rule of Ten

Never brush the same area more than 10 strokes at a time.  Go onto another section and come back if necessary.  Brushing in one area, even if you know that knots are present, only tends to irritate the skin (and the dog).

Remove Small Mats

To remove small mats, separate the mat with your fingers, pulling very gently until the mat falls away from the hair.   Go back over with the comb.  You can do this with the dog on your lap as you watch television.  If you are gentle, the dog will not mind in the least and feel much pampered.

Remove medium size mats

To remove slightly larger mats, use the end of a steel comb and pull gently through the mat as you hold the hair closest to the skin with your fingers.  The dog should not feel any discomfort if you are holding the hair properly.  Never yank or get frustrated with the dog.  Keep everything on a high, positive note.

Challenges of Large Mats

Larger hair mats will require a de-matting comb. These look a little like a comb but have a sharp edge that cuts through a knot. 

They are also called de-matting tools, de-matting rakes, or mat splitters.  Carefully move the de-matting comb through the mat, holding the hair closest to the skin to prevent pulling the mat and causing pain to the dog.

Beware:  Scissors cut hair AND skin

Never cut into a mat with a pair of scissors as it is likely you could cut the dog’s skin if the dog were to suddenly move. 

A very large mat can be removed by first placing the scissor blade nearest the skin and cutting the mat in half as you cut outwards towards the ends of the hair. 


Once the mat is cut in half, you can try and remove each half using the techniques shown above.  If you have a severely matted dog, you can try this technique several times to get the  mat down to a manageable size.  

Be very cautious with scissors.  If you have a matted dog that does not sit still for grooming, avoid the scissors altogether.

Clippers:  Only option for severely tangled dogs

If the dog’s mats cannot be removed in any of the ways above, the dog may need to be shaved down using a clipper. 

Once the hair is very short, daily brushing will help keep the mats under control.

Your friendly blow dryer

 Use a blow dryer after a bath.  Blow the dog’s hair as you brush.  You can brush in the direction the hair grows as well as in the opposite direction.  Brush or comb a section of hair as you are drying the hair. 

Hand held dryers that have stands work really well if you need an extra hand.  If you are using a dryer without a stand, you can create a temporary stand by rolling up a small towel and placing the dryer on it. 

Use a low, cool setting and monitor the dryer carefully so that the air intake is never blocked by the towel.


Best Advice

  • Don’t forget to keep everything positive and stop at the first signs of stress.  Several short grooming sessions are better than one very long one.  Dogs seem to have a keen memory of distressful situations and will avoid them in the future. 

  • IF your dog is really matted, it is better to shave him down or have the groomer do this rather than subjecting him to any painful de-matting.  You might get the job done, but you will have lost the dog’s confidence in you as a D.I.Y. Groomer and protest the next time you try to groom him. 

  • Finish off any grooming session with a hug, praise and a treat.

From Matted Dog To Grooming Page

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