Groomer to Groomer

The Grooming Industry's Favorite Trade Magazine!

Making Masterpieces out of Nightmares!

Part One: Bathing a Matted Dog Before You Brush

By Dave Campanella


Like you, I certainly have volumes of stories to share that many groomers could relate to. My experience with matted hair dates back to when my wife and I co-owned a grooming salon and do-it-yourself pet wash back in the ‘90s. I worked another job full-time but often helped out evenings, weekends, and holidays with the bathing and brushing. I thought it was odd that I always seemed to get the huge stinky matted messes. Hmmm. It was here that I developed my appreciation for how hard and thankless a job grooming can be at times.

Back then we realized deshedding, dematting, and detangling were the most strenuous and time-consuming activities our salon faced on a daily basis. Today, groomers still struggle with these challenges while there are many varying opinions, techniques, and products offering help.

Too many large breed customers of ours had refused the option of having to clip their pets down, so we were determined to understand what was really going on with all this matted, tangled hair and get the most accomplished with the least amount of work. Surprisingly, this can be accomplished simply by using the right product mix and the right technique.

Some folks prefer brushing before the bath, working out any mats and tangles beforehand. This always seemed excessive, having to brush more hair yet again afterwards. Many years ago, the founder of Best Shot Pet Products, Bill Marshall, had convinced my wife, Tracy, at a local trade show to bathe before she brushed and let his product do the work. She was understandably skeptical after being taught something quite to the contrary. Once she realized it worked, we put the dogs straight into the tub, treated the coat, and then completely dried it with a force blower from that point on. We always got more shedding undercoat out in the tub and released more hair with the blower following his “three easy steps.” When we finished drying, very little brushing remained afterwards, and the dogs were often tangle and mat free. This process genuinely saved us a ton of time and effort. Little did we know that someday it would lead me to working for Best Shot.

Recently I had a unique opportunity to put this technique and process to the test. The subject was a 105-pound double-coated Newfoundland dog named Brody. Brody displayed all the tell-tale signs of an “OMG, what did I get myself into?” gnarly, matted mess. He was put straight into the tub. Tracy took hair samples from the felted matt behind his ears and tangled underbelly before she started and after she was done drying. His total grooming time took roughly an hour and 49 minutes to complete. I must say he looked great, and the product she used did exactly what it was developed to do. But how could she bathe him first without pre-brushing? Why did this technique work?

Remember those hair samples Tracy took? I had them analyzed at the University of Kentucky’s Electron Microscopy Facility. Their findings provide profound insights as to why bathing before brushing is a more effective approach even on a matted dog. Presented are just a few of the images taken.

Slides 1 & 2 reveal the matted hair cluster taken BEFORE the bath.

As you can see, the images are dramatic. The before images beg the question as to why one would attempt to pre-brush or deshed a soiled, damaged coat with open cuticles snagging undercoat like Velcro does with fabric. One begins to imagine what causes all that tugging and pulling both dog and groomer have to endure. You really get a sense of how the coat can fight you by hanging on to dead undercoat. Why risk further damaging the coat, aggravating the dog, or injuring yourself? There’s got to be a better way.

Slides 3 & 4 reveal the hair AFTER being fully treated and force dried.

It’s amazing what impact treating the coat beforehand has. The after images clearly show more closed cuticles along each hair’s shaft as well as the obvious absence of oil, dander, and debris. This would explain why more hair is safely released in the tub and with a force dryer. Slide 4 was taken after misting the coat. The coat appears much healthier, nourished, and static free. Notice how the hair shines, as well. Closing the cuticle frees the dead undercoat, tangles, and shedding during the bath and eliminates much of the brushing afterwards. One can see firsthand why it’s preferable to bathe before brushing using a product that does much of the work for you.

There you have it. Please keep in mind that the type of shampoo and conditioner one selects will definitely make a difference when bathing a matted or tangled dog before brushing. Using a product specifically designed for such a task greatly enhances results, so I encourage you to look around, experiment, and pick your favorite brand. Soon you’ll learn how to safely release more shedding and undercoat in the tub with a lot less brushing. You’ll even reduce some mental anguish and avoid muscle strain and perhaps injury to you and your client dogs. Ultimately you’ll earn more by “making masterpieces out of nightmares in record time!”

I look forward to sharing more findings and techniques that will minimize your effort and maximize your results in future issues of Groomer to Groomer magazine. ✂

Dave Campanella has been with Best Shot Pet Products for 10 years and is the company’s sales and marketing manager. His experience in the grooming industry spans 20 years from co-owning and managing a grooming salon and do-it-yourself pet wash with his wife to designing and marketing grooming equipment and working with company president Mike Gallagher. Dave has been a sales and marketing professional for over 26 years with an extensive background in mass consumer goods, sales management, product development, and direct-response advertising.