A double coated dog has two types of fur in their coat. A soft, dense under layer and a longer, coarser outer layer. Double coats protect dogs from extremes of temperature, water, and injuries. But they tend to shed profusely, and need a lot of brushing. Almost all Labradors have double coats, so in this article, we prepare you for looking after one!
Different Types Of Dog Coat
Dog coats come in a wide variety of lengths and textures. There are lots of ways of grouping them into categories, and one simple pair of alternative qualities is either single coated or double coated. Single coated dogs only have a top coat. Whilst double coated dogs have a top coat and a separate, distinct undercoat.
Dogs With Double Coats
There are examples of double coated dogs in every breed group. Including
- Labrador Retrievers
- Golden Retrievers
- German Shepherd Dogs
- Australian Shepherds
- Bernese Mountain Dogs
- Shiba Inu
- West Highland White Terriers
- Miniature Schnauzers
- Shih Tzus
As you can see, there’s a lot of variation among these dogs in terms of fur length and texture. But their double coats unite them. So let’s find out more about what a double coat is.
The Top Coat
The first part of a double coat is the top coat. These are the hairs which are most like the coat of single coated dogs. The strands are thick and strong. For this reason, they are sometimes also called guard hairs.
The purpose of the top coat is to:
- Repel water – whether in the rain, or swimming.
- Deflect things from damaging the skin, such brambles and low hanging branches.
- Catch dirt and debris before it can work its way into the undercoat or onto the skin, so it stays easy to brush away.
The Under Coat
The second layer of fur, which sets a double coated dog apart from a single coated one, is the under coat. The under coat, or base layer, of a double coat is dense and woolly. Undercoat hairs are much narrower, but more densely packed. Their purpose is to provide insulation from extreme weather conditions, so the dog can maintain a steady body temperature.
Wolves – the wild ancestors of all domestic dog breeds – also have a dense under coat. So double coats are a wild feature, which double coated dogs like Labradors have retained throughout domestication. Let’s look next at the advantages of that.
Advantages Of A Double Coat
The main advantage of a double coat is insulation. Many of the double coated dog breeds are working dogs. In particular, a lot of them are herding breeds and guardian breeds, who originally worked for long days on exposed grassland, in all seasons. Their coats protected them from rain and wind in winter, and also intense sunshine in summer.
A double coat is also a feature of many retrieving breeds. Like herding dogs, they routinely spend long days outdoors. A thick double coat was especially valuable for waterfowl retrieving breeds, like Labradors. Their undercoat is so dense that they can swim into ice cold water to retrieve fallen game, and their skin will stay warm and dry.
Finally, double coats even provide cushioning against some injuries. Working guardian dogs would occasionally have to see off hungry predators with sharp teeth. Retrieving dogs might have to run through tough vegetation like gorse. And the smaller double-coated terrier breeds originally had to race underground to trap or flush out prey. In all these situations, a dog with an undercoat is more padded against injuries than a dog without.
Double Coated Dog Grooming
Double coated dog breeds are frequently notorious shedders too. Although some, like the Miniature Schnauzer, are notable exceptions. Besides shedding moderately all year round, they also tend to ‘blow their coats’ in spring and fall. This means that for a week or two, they shed their undercoat very profusely. The purpose is to replace it with an entirely new undercoat, more appropriate to the changing weather.
To minimize the amount of shed fur which lands on your floors and furniture, double coated dogs can be brushed regularly. Some owners also use a deshedding tool such as a Furminator to take control of seasonal shedding. Brushing a double coated dog regularly doesn’t just loosen old undercoat though. It also
- Helps to disperse oils from the root to the tip, keeping it in tip-top, shiny, waterproof condition.
- Removes dirt and debris.
- Improves your chances of spotting ticks buried deep down against the skin, before they can do much harm.
Clipping A Double Coated Dog
For lots of dog owners, clipping their pooch’s double coat is an appealing alternative to time-consuming brushing. It might also seem like a kindness in the height of summer. Some double coated dogs are safe to clip. For example the Miniature Schnauzer.
Others should never be clipped. For example Labradors, German Shepherds and Huskies. On these breeds, clipped fur doesn’t always grow back with the same texture. On some dogs, it doesn’t grow back at all! And whilst it seems counter intuitive, that big thick coat doesn’t make them hotter in summer. On the contrary, it insulates their body from the sun, so their core temperature stays pleasantly cool.
Do Double Coated Dogs Smell?
Double coated dogs don’t produce more odor than other breeds. But, if their coat does get soaked through, it traps moisture for longer. If they swim in open water, that moisture is likely to contain all kinds of algae and microorganisms too. Which can start to get a bit whiffy. So always make sure your Labrador is rinsed off and fully dry after a bath or swim.
Brushing their coat will help to distribute natural oils that clear away odors too. But don’t try to manage doggy odor by giving them too many baths. This can upset the delicate chemical balance of their skin, causing itching and flaking. It can also make them more vulnerable to fungal and bacterial infections, which smell even worse!
Are All Labradors Double Coated?
Labradors are famous for having heavy shedding, double coats. According to the breed standard, all Labs should have a thick double coat. But, there are some Labs whose undercoat is more sparse than usual, or who don’t have one at all. These Labs are unusual, because the breed standard requires them to be “severely penalized” in a dog show. In other words, a single-coated Labrador is regarded as inferior to a double-coated one, so breeders don’t produce them on purpose.
However, many of the single coated Labs that do exist have impeccable pedigrees, so it’s likely that the genes for a single coat were introduced by an early ancestor of the Labrador breed. And they’re still present in a small number of individuals. Labradors with single coats may enjoy swimming less than their double coated cousins, unless you have a heated pool, or you’re lucky enough to live in a very warm climate!
They might also need a waterproof coat to protect them from heavy rain, high winds or low temperatures. This article has some of our favorite Labrador apparel!
What Is A Double Coated Dog – Summary
A double coated dog, like a Labrador, has a coarse outer coat, and a thick, soft undercoat. It’s a trait they share with their wild ancestors, and it’s a valuable asset for dogs working outdoors. Double coats require moderate amounts of attention and grooming. But, they make up for it by being extra cuddly too!
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Official Standard of the Labrador Retriever. American Kennel Club. 1994.
Diamond et al. A small scale study to evaluate the efficacy of microneedling in the presence or absence of platelet-rich plasma in the treatment of post-clipping alopecia in dogs. Veterinary Dermatology. 2019.
The Labrador Site Founder
Pippa Mattinson is the best selling author of The Happy Puppy Handbook, the Labrador Handbook, Choosing The Perfect Puppy, and Total Recall.
She is also the founder of the Gundog Trust and the Dogsnet Online Training Program
Pippa's online training courses were launched in 2019 and you can find the latest course dates on the Dogsnet website