Matted Hair:  Ten Tips For Removing Mats from Your Dog's Coat

Matted Hair on your dog? 

by Janice Jones     |Last Updated 05-08-2023

All mats are not alike. Small matted dog hair can occur daily because your long-haired dog is continually shedding dead hair. This shedding process is unlike breeds that leave fur all over your house. Instead, the long-haired dog sheds its hair into the coat causing small mats to form.

As new hairs grow, mats can occur very close to the skin. Scissors may cut the skin if used, so you must use other tools on that matted hair.

Shih Tzu dogs have very thick coats of two layers: A dense outer coat and a soft cottony inner coat.

Matted Hair on Your Shih Tzu?  Where to StartMats, Tangles, Knots Got You Down?

Matted Hair on the Shih Tzu

Brushing the outer coat will make the dog look good, but it may only get at some of the mats. Sometimes the only way to ensure that the dog has been brushed thoroughly is to go over the entire body with a metal comb.

Matted hair not only makes the coat look disheveled but also adds to a dog’s distress and causes 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. A dog that continually bites at his skin because large mats have formed will also discolor the hair and leave red stains. The stains are due to the saliva in his mouth.

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. 

Even with proper training and socialization in grooming, some long-haired dog dogs do not like body parts brushed. 

Under the front legs, the legs themselves, behind the ears, on the face, and at the base of the tail are areas that often knot if not brushed frequently. 

These areas are also very sensitive to the dog, so the dog protests when these areas are being brushed.

Even if you do not groom at home, brushing and combing are very important for preventing mats from forming. 

Groomers often charge by the hour for removing mats, 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?

Recommended:  Choosing the Right Brush for Your Shih Tzu

Matted Hair on a Puppy/Adolescent Shih Tzu

A Shih Tzu Puppy will begin to grow an adult coat anytime after about 6 months of age.  This is the time when the undercoat develops and the puppy acquires the double coat:  A long straight outer coat and a cottony soft inner coat. 

The coat grows quickly during this time providing the puppy has a good high quality diet and is otherwise healthy.  As the coat grows, it will develop mats and tangles easily if not brushed daily. 

Matted Hair Reminder

The only way to avoid the matted hair is to brush and comb daily.

10 Tips For Reducing Tangles and Matted Hair

  1.  Always brush your dog before you give him a bath.  The bath water tends to set the mats making them even harder to remove. Use a good quality dog shampoo followed by a conditioning rinse.

  2. 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.

  3. 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. Please see below for my de-tangling spray suggestions.

  4. 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.  

  5. Be sure that you are brushing down to the skin.  If your brush is skimming over the top, mats can form in the inner soft coat.

  6. 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. 

  7. 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).

  8. If your Shih Tzu has a very thick coat, plan to brush daily or every other day.  This brushing schedule should be kept whether or not you plan to keep your dog's coat long.

  9. If you are playing or petting your dog and notice a tangle, stop and work out the tangle with your fingers.  Pull the hair apart and gently separate the mat.  Once the tangle is free, you can often just use your fingers to remove the tangle.

  10. Check for mats on the paw pads.  Yes, even there you will discover that mats can form.

Supplies for Removing Tangles from Matted Hair

There are many great products on the market for removing mats, but the ones I've listed here are ones I've used or use and can recommend.  If your budget is tight, I would recommend purchasing a steel comb at a minimum as they can be used for more than one purpose.

They can all be purchased through Amazon and if you do purchase one or more directly from this site, I receive a small commission.  Although tiny, everything helps to keep this site up and growing, so I appreciate you very much.

Steel Comb:  A Must Have Tool for Converting Matted Hair to Silky Locks
(aka a Greyhound Comb)

A good stainless steel comb is a must for grooming your Shih Tzu.  Not only will you use one each time you brush to assure that all the tangles are removed,  you can also use one to remove mats. 

To use a steel comb to remove mats, from matted hair slide the end of the comb through the center of the mat to break it apart.  Do this step as many times as is necessary to dislodge the mat, then pull it apart with your fingers and remove.  This is the comb I use.  Notice it is double sided:  fine and coarse.  Use the coarse side first, then finish with the fine side.

Read more about Dog Combs

If you prefer a comb with a handle, I would recommend this soft gel handle is easy on your hands and moves through the hair effortlessly.  

De-tangling Comb

Though this dematting comb's name assumes you'd use it on a Poodle, it works equally well on a badly matted Shih Tzu.  Dematting Combs have longer, sharper teeth that cut through mats but won't cut delicate skin if used properly. 

If your Shih Tzu tends to mat easily, this is a tool you might want to keep handy. It is not for routine little tangles, but if your Shih Tzu gets badly matted, this is the tool for you.

The Use of Rakes on Matted Hair

Like the name suggests, rakes move through the hair, removing loose and dead hair before it becomes tangled. 

This one is good for Shih Tzu dogs because of its size and the fact that its pins rotate. 

Rakes with rotating pins tend to be more gentle on the hair and my dogs don't even seem to care that their coat is being raked!

Spray Conditioners

You can make your own by first purchasing a small spray bottle.  Add a small amount of your favorite dog conditioner (about a tablespoon), then fill with water and shake.  Add more or less conditioner depending on your preference.  Or, purchase a ready made spray.  Here are a couple of my favorites.

This spray is my all time favorite and I use it both on puppies and adults.  If used with a good brush and the comb, featured above, the mats just seem to fall out .

This is a superior product, a bit more costly, but well worth the money, especially if you have a Shih Tzu that has sensitive skin.

How to Remove Tangles from Matted Hair

Small Mats

You will need:  Your fingers and a steel comb

  • To remove small mats, isolate the mat with your fingers
  • Use your forefinger and thumb to separate the mat into smaller pieces
  • Tiny mats may be pulled out gently with your fingers
  • Slightly larger mats can then be gently combed out using a steel comb
  • Do not yank on the mat or pull roughly.
  • Dogs will remember something that is painful and will not be so eager to have their mats pulled out in the future

Slightly Larger Mats

You will need: Steel Comb, undercoat rake, or dematting comb

  • Place your dog on a table or on your lap
  • Isolate the tangle.
  • Comb through the mat very gently to loosen it from the dog's skin.  Do not try to pull it out at this stage.
  • Use the end of the comb and gently break up the mat as you hold the hair closest to the skin.  The dog should not feel any pain because you are holding the hair and preventing it from pulling his skin.
  • For larger mats and for everyday combing, use an undercoat rake to remove loose hairs and small mats
  • Repeat several times as needed to break up the mat.
  • When most of the mat has been dislodged, comb through the hair.

Remove Large Mats

You will need:  Dematting Combs or rake, Steel Comb, Scissors (optional)

  • Position the dog on a table or your lap
  • Use a de-matting comb or rake
  • While holding the hair closest to the skin, Carefully move the comb under and through the knot.
  • Repeat this as needed until most of the knot has been removed
  • Finish removing any small mats that are remaining using your fingers or edge of the steel comb.
  • Scissor method (Optional):  Use this method on Dogs that Remain Still Only
  • If you must use a pair of scissors, place them closest to the skin and cut outwards towards the ends of the hair.  Never cut in the opposite direction as you are likely to cut the dog.
  • Once the mat has been sliced into smaller pieces, use your dematting comb, steel comb or fingers to complete the job.
  • Finish by combing through the hair to assure that the mat has been removed

If All Else Fails, Get the Clippers

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.   If you will be clipping the hair, you will want to start with a #5 blade and work up to a number 10 blade if the other blades will not move through the mats. 

  • A number 5 blade may work with tangled hair
  • A number 7 blade can normally get under most mats.
  • A number 10 blade will shave the dog practically down to the skin, so be prepared.

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

Matted Hair Survival Guide:  Keep it Positive

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.  So, 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 if it meant hurting the dog, 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 on a positive note with a hug, praise and a treat if you like.

Did You Find this Article on Matted Hair Helpful?

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About Janice

Janice is the voice behind Miracle Shih Tzu. Having lived with dogs and cats most of her life, she served as a veterinary technician for ten years in Maryland and twelve years as a Shih Tzu dog breeder in Ohio.

Her education includes undergraduate degrees in Psychology with a minor in biology, Early Childhood Education, and Nursing, and a master's in Mental Health Counseling.

She is a lifelong learner, a dog lover, and passionate about the welfare of animals. Her favorite breed for over 50 years has been the Shih Tzu.

When not writing, reading, or researching dog-related topics, she likes to spend time with her eight Shih Tzu dogs, her husband, and her family, as well as knitting and crocheting. She is also the voice behind Small Dog Place and smart knit crocheting.