Coat Care & Grooming
THE COAT of an Alaskan Malamute as defined by the breed standard is a dense undercoat, which is oily and woolly, with a thick, coarse guard coat. The coat is designed for survival in Arctic conditions in temperatures of -40 degrees centigrade. These conditions are also relatively dry as far as humidity goes, therefore living in our temperate climate can bring its own challenges with coat care. In his natural environment the coarse guard hairs do not allow the snow to penetrate through to the woolly undercoat and it can be easily shaken off. This keeps the woolly undercoat mostly dry with the natural oils forming a waterproof barrier and therefore the dog stays warm. In our wet and humid weather, the rain can eventually penetrate these layers and reach the dogs skin and create various problems, therefore proper drying is essential to prevent “hot spots” and other bacterial skin infections. I find a thin waterproof dog coat invaluable for longer walks or in heavy downpours. This only leaves the legs, tails & top of the head to be thoroughly dried.
To bath or not to bath? A very personal question and one that can be debated with a lot of pro’s and con’s as the Malamute does not tend to smell or have that doggy odour that other breeds have. The Malamutes coat is “self cleaning” up to a point. After a rally or a dirty walk and the dog has been towel cleaned and dried any remaining mud and sand can miraculously drop out of the coat leaving it in the bed or on the floor. Pictured after a rally, by the time we got home most of this was on her bed in the van, a quick blast & a brush and she was clean again with no need for a bath. Living in its natural conditions, a Malamute may not be faced with the same “dirt” as in this country, therefore a bath would not be necessary, but here eventually dust and dirt mixed with the natural oils of the coat could cause irritation and skin problems, so an occasional bath is beneficial. The best times to bath would probably be when the dog is “blowing its coat”. This is completely different for dogs and bitches. Generally, in males this happens twice a year and is when the dog sheds out mostly its undercoat. It is to get rid of the thick winter coat and can start around about February with the lengthening of the days, and to the despair of those who show, just before Crufts. Then again in Autumn in readiness for the colder months out comes the summer coat and a thick, lush winter coat grows. Bitches will throw all their coats off, both undercoat and guard hairs, either just before or just after their season. Males tend to only blow all their coats off about twice in their lifetime but there are some who do this every year in the summer months, which is very unfortunate if you want to show. A bath at these times helps get all the dead hair out, so the new coat can come through a lot quicker.
Feeding supplements can also be beneficial to help with coat growth and to keep it in good condition as it is a lot of coat to produce twice a year as well as the general cycle of hair renewal. Any good quality supplement made especially for dogs containing omega 3 & 6 in the correct ratio, biotin and zinc can be beneficial.
Regular grooming, at least once or twice a week, is essential to keep the coat in good condition, to prevent a build up of dead hair and to check skin condition. For me, the minimum essential equipment is: – a blaster/dryer, a comb, a slicker brush and a spray bottle of rainwater or grooming spray. Minimum maintenance grooming Using the blaster without any heat, blast the dog thoroughly close to the skin to remove any dead, dry, or flaky skin. Then spray lightly with either water or a propriety grooming spray, never groom dry as this can break the coat. Comb and or use the slicker brush in the direction of the coat to remove dead undercoat and smooth the hair out. Start along the spine, work down the side and on to the legs paying
particular attention to under the front legs at the elbows where mats or pressure sores can appear.
When all combed through you start again with the comb and “line comb” the coat. With one hand push the coat against the direction of the lie of the coat then comb the undercoat up from the skin. This action pulls the dead undercoat up from deep down against the skin. Doing this regularly prevents the build up of dead hair and makes the job a lot easier for both you and the dog. If the dog is being shown, doing this at least every other day it is possible to “roll” the coat, getting rid of the dead hair and allowing the new hair to come through quicker keeping him “in coat” for the whole of the show season. When finished, give another blast to remove any loose hair and a small amount of leave in conditioner can be rubbed into the coat. There are some on the market especially for harsh coats which feed and protect the coat without softening it too much.
Use a shampoo designed for harsh coats. It is best to always use shampoo diluted and make sure it is thoroughly rinsed out. Conditioners can be used, there are some that have UV & stain protection but used too often will soften the coat. Blast all over to get rid of all the excess water, then as with maintenance grooming start from the top and work down. As you blast, lift the coat with a comb or slicker brush, if the coat is still very wet do not pull with the comb, as the coat dries the hair will start to come out easily. It can take at least two hours to blast dry and comb the whole dog. When you think he is dry let him shake and feel the coat again and it will probably feel wet again as the water has come out from deep down in the undercoat. Another hour should see the dog completely dry. Because of this lengthy process it is important both you and the dog are happy and comfortable as it will make the job a lot easier. Just as the coat is designed to keep the heat in, this insulation can keep the direct heat of the sun out, therefore a Malamute must never be shaved. Only in extreme rescue cases where there was no other option, then the skin must be protected from either sun or cold until the coat has regrown.
There is a grooming tool on the market which rakes out undercoat, but these must not be used on a Malamute as they damage and cut the topcoat
leaving the waterproof barrier useless.
The long coat
Beautiful to look at, a nightmare to keep that way. Forget all the above. Blasting a dry coat can make the long topcoat knot up. For maintenance grooming use the blaster at a slow speed and keep close to the skin, this will freshen the coat and remove dead skin and dust, but the undercoat remains firmly in there. Do not use the cream condition on the dry coat, this just seems to lie on the long outer hairs and does not rub in. Use a long-toothed comb, slicker for long coat breeds or a pin brush and always a grooming spray. Again, never shave or cut the topcoat, but thinning of the leg hair may be helpful in reducing mats in this area. When a long coated dog blows its coat, the undercoat does not come away from the top coat as easily as it does in a dog with a correct coat. Therefore when bathing, use lots of conditioner so that removal of the dead coat by combing is easier for both dog and groomer. Lastly the feet of a long coat. Mats can occur between the toes and become very painful. These need to be carefully cut out so as not to leave a blunt edge of hair which can be equally as painful. Push your fingers between the toes and you will probably find a large amount of hair, carefully cut this out near to the toe joint. This will make it easier to dry the feet and prevent mats forming.