(photo credit Humboldt County Goldendoodles)
The first time I brought my Goldendoodle, Aggie, to a professional groomer was also the first time I heard the dreaded word “shave.”
I thought I was doing everything right. But when I picked her up a few hours later, I hardly recognized her—she’d shrunk two sizes and was sporting a buzz cut so short I could see the pink of her skin through what was left of her formerly fluffy coat.
And that’s how I learned the hard way that bringing out the best in your Goldendoodle’s beautiful, dynamic coat takes more than the occasional brushing, bathing, and wishful thinking—it takes a commitment, meaning consistency, the right tools, and a solid knowledge base.
And the benefits are more than skin deep: by committing to a regular grooming routine with your Goldendoodle, you’ll be safeguarding her overall health and wellbeing—not to mention strengthening the bond between you and your dog.
What’s in that fluffy coat, anyway?
Goldendoodle coats can be straight, wavy, or curly.
The Goldendoodle is simply a cross between a Poodle and a Golden Retriever. But its coat is anything but simple: due to genetics and breeding, it can be retriever-flat or poodle-curly, or any variation in between, with a low-to-no shedding quality that contributes to the popular breed’s hypoallergenic reputation.
However, that absence of shedding is also where grooming problems can arise, especially for beginner owners. A Goldendoodle’s dense undercoat needs regular brushing to remove loose hair—otherwise, trapped under the animal’s thick topcoat, these discarded hairs will quickly form hard mats that will only get larger over time.
In general, the curlier the coat, the greater likelihood that mats will form. Trouble areas tend to be the muzzle, ears, tail, and feet, as well as high-friction areas such as the armpits (legpits?) and under the collar.
If your active Goldendoodle likes to swim, roll in the mud (what dog doesn’t?), or run through the brush, your challenges are magnified.
Goldendoodles enjoy an active lifestyle!
Anatomy of a Mat
A mat is a dense plaque of tangled hair and debris that typically forms close to your dog’s skin. Mats can be small or quite extensive, and often tug painfully at the skin.
While it may be shocking to have a professional groomer tell you your dog needs to be completely shaved to address a badly matted coat, it’s often the most humane approach, because attempting to remove extensive matting with special combs or mat splitters can be even more painful—and highly stressful—to dogs. Prevention is the key!
It’s All About Consistency
If your Goldendoodle’s coat is flat or just a little wavy, you may be able to get away with a home grooming session once a week.
But if she’s covered with lovely waves or luscious curls, consistent daily attention is a must, even if you only have time to hit the mat-prone areas mentioned above.
Make daily grooming an enjoyable ritual between you and your dog, and you’ll be rewarded with a great-looking companion who looks forward to your attention.
Start your grooming routine with your puppy if possible.
Puppies tend to enjoy the attention and adjust quickly to a routine. If you’ve adopted an older dog whose grooming hasn’t been consistent, no matter—as with any other training, a calm, relaxed approach will get him on board, especially if you keep sessions short at first and gradually build up.
And unless they get your dog too excited and wriggly, small treats can help make grooming a positive experience for any dog.
The Tools of the Trade
This is where I went wrong, along with many other novice Goldendoodle owners—I ran out and bought a simple pin brush for my pup. I’d used a similar brush on past dogs with great success, so why not for my Aggie?
As far as consistency, I made sure to brush her at least once a week. Usually. But sometimes I’d forget. Life is busy, right?
This combo of the wrong tool and lack of consistency is what led to Aggie’s traumatic shave. But I was lucky: the groomer kindly took me aside and explained where I’d made my mistakes—and the biggest one was my choice of tool.
What I needed, she said, was not a brush, but a comb.
A metal comb, ideally one with both coarse and fine teeth, is the must-have grooming tool for Goldendoodles.
Only a comb gets down to the skin and removes the dead hair and dense undercoat so it can’t form mats. If you’re relying on brushing alone, you’re literally just scratching the surface.
Combs are inexpensive, and come in several varieties:
Double-sided combo comb. This is my go-to comb: lightweight, comfortable to hold, and at just 2 ½ – 3 inches long, great for tight spots like faces. Its short length also means you don’t pick up too much hair at once, so less pulling on tender skin. Use the coarse teeth to start, then flip it over and finish with the fine teeth. Easy-peasy.
A double-sided comb like this one is a must-have.
Rotating pin comb. Many home groomers swear by this variation on the metal-toothed comb, saying that the circular action of the pins breaks up tangles with less pulling.
If you like the small size and maneuverability of this comb, it’s a worthy addition to your grooming tool collection. You can find it with coarse or fine teeth or in combo.
The pins on this comb twist, helping it move easily through the coat.
Ten-inch steel comb. Bigger is not necessarily better when it comes to combs, and for some, this basic stainless steel combo comb may feel awkward to use as well as tough to maneuver into tight spots. There’s also the temptation to try to pick up too much hair at once with a larger comb. The advantage: it’s economical and should last a long time.
An inexpensive steel comb should last many years.
Here’s How to Use It
Once you’ve found the comb that works for you, establish a time of day for your grooming sessions, keeping in mind that you’re not preparing your Goldendoodle for the ring at Madison Square Garden—your routine needs to fit your lifestyle and available time.
- If you typically relax in front of the television in the evening, that’s the perfect opportunity to tuck a few treats in your pocket and call your dog over.
- Start with a good patting session, handling all the areas you’ll be addressing with the comb. Some dogs simply don’t like to be touched in certain spots—the ears, tail, or feet, for example. When you start your grooming session with affection and praise, it won’t take long before you’re able to overcome any resistance. (Note: if your dog has “trigger” spots and/or there’s a risk of biting, it’s advisable to work with a professional trainer).
- Now, using the coarse teeth, work your comb through the coat, starting around the back and shoulders. Use short, gentle strokes, working the comb through one small section at a time and being sure to get all the way down to the skin.
- Once you’ve finished a section, switch to the fine teeth and give it a final combing, then move on to the next area. Work quickly but gently, all the while telling your dog what a good boy he is.
- Next, work under the collar, a high-friction area, before moving on to the chest, sides, belly, hindquarters, and legs.
Let’s Face It
Daily combing will keep your Goldendoodle’s face fluffy and mat-free.
Grooming your Goldendoodle’s face—muzzle, chin, around the eyes, and both the ear flaps and under the ears—may take some trial and error.
However, with practice and consistency (that word again!), you and your dog will find a routine that can be both relaxing and enjoyable for both of you.
Start, as always, with patting and praise, gently handling all the areas you’ll be working on.
Then introduce your comb—your smallest rotating pin comb is a good choice—and begin with the ears.
- Beautiful, silky ears are the goal of every Goldendoodle owner, but if they’re neglected, mats will form quickly, especially around around the edge of the ear. Daily maintenance is an absolute must—ears are tender and easily injured by scissors or de-matters.
- Starting with the outside and working from the bottom inch of the ear, comb down until the fine teeth of the comb move freely through the hair. While being as gentle as possible, be sure you’re getting the tines of your comb under any “pre-mats” that have formed around the ear flap. Then move up and inch and repeat, until the entire ear is combed out.
- Next, examine the ear from underneath, and comb out any dense areas that are starting to form.
- By the way, ticks love to hang out here, so this is the perfect time to check for those little buggers. If you find one, remove it, drop it in alcohol, and/or flush it down the toilet. You can’t kill a tick too many times.
The inner flap of the ear is a common place for mats to form and ticks to hide.
- Under the ears. Surprisingly, the area of the neck under the ear can be a real trouble spot due to ear-flapping friction. Comb it daily.
- The muzzle. Every time your dog takes a drink, wet hair starts to clump and mat. Be patient: some Goldendoodles don’t enjoy having their muzzles combed. Using your small comb and plenty of treats, work from the top of the muzzle down toward the lip.
The muzzle gets wet multiple times a day, and needs daily combing.
- Same with the chin. A nice full set of chin hair, even a little beard, is a classic Goldendoodle look—but a chronically wet area is a matted area. Comb out under the chin daily.
- Around the eyes. Make sure those long, beautiful eyelashes stand out by doing a few quick combing passes around the eyes.
- This is a good time to trim any long hairs that might be interfering with your dog’s vision. Use your blunt-tipped scissors, and be sure to point them away from your dog’s face.
The Tail Wags the Dog
There may be a Goldendoodle out there who doesn’t mind having her tail combed out, but if so, I’ve never met her!
Tails represent a special challenge for Goldendoodle owners, because the hair is typically allowed to grow long and wavy, even curly, PLUS it’s a high-friction area, PLUS it can be next to impossible for your dog to hold still.
- Have an assistant steady your dog while you address the tail.
- A quick pass with a slicker brush (below) may help loosen the hair for the comb.
- Work in small sections until the entire tail is combed out.
Goldendoodle tails are typically long-haired and fluffy.
Keep an Eye Out for Pests and Parasites
Once you and your dog adopt a routine of daily grooming, you’ll have a dog’s eye view of any potential issues: fleas, ticks, or other icky bugs, or lumps, bumps, rashes, abrasions, or other signs that your dog may need a trip to the vet.
Because you’re right there to spot trouble early, major problems can often be avoided.
You’ve Found a Mat – Now What?
At some point in your work, you’re going to encounter a thick plaque of tangled hair – the mat.
If it’s small, count your blessings—you can probably remove it with the comb, using the coarse teeth and working from the edge of the mat out.
Be very gentle, especially if it’s in a sensitive area like the ears, face, or tail. Once you’ve combed it out with the coarse teeth, follow it up with the fine teeth. Success!
But what if the mat has escaped your attention and spread? If it’s bigger than a quarter, you have a couple of options: a de-matting comb, scissors, or a trip to the groomer’s.
- A de-matting comb is a specialized comb with sharp blades that saws through the mat from underneath. It can be an effective tool if used correctly and, as always, gently. The blades are blunt-tipped and curved to prevent them from touching the skin.
- Ease the tips of the comb under the edge of the mat and carefully work it through. Tackle larger mats in small sections. Once you can glide the de-matting comb through the area, switch to your regular comb and remove any dead hair.
A de-matting comb can be a useful tool for the home groomer.
- Blunt-tipped scissors are another option. The obvious disadvantage to using them is that they’ll leave thin or bald spots behind. Even worse, since mats usually form close to the skin, there’s a risk of injuring your dog. Save the scissors for mats that at least a half inch out from the skin—that way you can use your fingers as barrier between the mat and your dog before you snip.
- If your matting problem is serious enough that you’re reaching for the scissors, consider a trip to a professional groomer for help. Some groomers will let you schedule a limited visit to address trouble spots before they get out of hand.
What, No Brushes?
Just because you’re relying so much on your comb doesn’t mean there’s not a role for a brush or two when it comes to grooming your Goldendoodle.
- A good quality pin brush can put the finishing touches on your pup after a grooming session, and a slicker brush can remove loose hair and give the coat extra fluff.
A pin-and-bristle combo brush, left, and a slicker brush.
It’s Raining Cats and Dogs
Active dogs tend to require extra grooming.
Like the old axiom says, “A tired dog is a good dog.”
Daily exercise is a wonderful way to boost your metabolism, keep your weight under control, and promote general wellbeing—and the same goes for your dog! A special bond is created when you and your dog hit the road together, rain or shine.
However, a soaking-wet coat is a recipe for mats and tangles, especially if your instinct is to grab a towel and rub your pup briskly.
Instead, pat her dry gently, squeezing the fur rather than roughing it up. Then run your comb through her coat, especially along her sides, legs, and tail.
If you prefer to not have a wet dog running around the house, you can use a blow dryer on the “cool” setting to hasten the drying process, but continue to touch up with the comb so that your fully-dried dog is fluffy, mat-free, and beautiful.
An outing in the mud and brush may mean it’s time for a bath.
Everyone loves a clean, fresh dog, right?
Here’s how to achieve that—and how to get the maximum benefit from your dog’s bath with minimum post-bath tangles:
- It’s important to understand that even the most vigorous bath won’t solve the issue of a badly matted coat—if you haven’t kept up with your grooming, no amount of warm water and special conditioners will magically make mats disappear.
- Don’t over-bathe. Less is more when it comes to your Goldendoodle’s rich, luxurious coat—in fact, too much water can actually encourage mats to form.
Obviously, if your boy has had a grand time rolling in the mud, into the bath he goes. Otherwise, while it varies from dog to dog, going once a month or longer between baths allows the natural oils of the coat to promote healthy skin and hair.
- Choose your bathing products carefully. Shampoos and conditioners should be made for dogs, not humans. And while you may enjoy having Buster smell like a flower garden, strongly scented products can be irritating to your dog’s sensitive nose. Unscented is best.
- Again, every dog is different, so use trial and error to see which shampoo (and conditioner, if you use one) agrees with your dog’s unique skin and coat. Scratching and redness of the skin after a bath are red flags.
- Use warm water and an assistant, if possible. Yes, you may need to share the family bathtub with your Goldendoodle, especially if you have that useful invention, the spray nozzle. After all, he’s family too!
- Wet the coat, use the minimum amount of shampoo recommended on the bottle, and massage it through. Don’t neglect the belly, legs, and tail. Use a dab of shampoo on a wet washcloth for the face and ears.
- Rinse, rinse, rinse! Unrinsed shampoo is a skin irritant and will also dry out the coat. Start at the neck and back, using your fingers to work the water down to the skin. Then neck, sides, belly, legs, and tail.
- Use a clean wet washcloth to rinse the face, not the sprayer. You don’t want shampoo in those beautiful eyes!
- Repeat with conditioner if you choose. Some conditioners are meant to be left in, but most need to be rinsed out thoroughly; otherwise, they become gummy in the undercoat, and that spells M-A-T-S.
Okay, your Goldendoodle is clean, conditioned, and thoroughly rinsed. In another minute he’ll leap from the tub and shake all over your nice bathroom.
Do you grab a towel and give him a brisk rubdown? Wait! There’s a better way:
- Use your towel to squeeze excess moisture from the coat instead of rubbing. Treat the entire coat this way.
- If you like, use a blow dryer on the cool setting.
- Grab your comb and give your Goldendoodle a quick once-over, using the coarse teeth. This way, you’re preventing mats before they even have a chance to form.
- Get out of the way—damp dog on the loose!
Once your Goldendoodle is mostly dry, another pass with the comb will insure he stays mat-free. And doesn’t he look great?
The Bottom Line – Not for the Squeamish!
The area around the anus deserves special mention in this breed, because it can be the site of some of the worst and most unpleasant mats.
When the dense hair around your dog’s bottom gets long and unruly, that can create the perfect trap for fecal matter. Over time, poopy mats can accumulate, even to the point where in addition to being unsightly, they interfere with your dog’s ability to defecate properly.
Watch for issues in this area when you do your regular grooming routine, and if you see a problem developing, you’ll need to nip it in the bud. Here’s how:
- Though the idea of using the family bathtub to tackle a poopy bottom may not be appealing, that’s the ideal location for the job, because you’ll need plenty of warm water. A hand-held spray attachment will make the job even easier, as will a second set of hands.
- Most dogs will tolerate a wash in this region if you work calmly and efficiently, and use the proper tools. You’ll need gloves, mild dog shampoo, a bag to collect mats (flushing them down the toilet may seem like a good idea, but you could end up clogging your drain), and blunt-tipped craft scissors, never sharp or pointed scissors.
Inexpensive craft scissors are ideal for this task.
- Lift your Goldendoodle into the bathtub if she hasn’t jumped in already, and have your assistant hold her collar. Make sure the water is pleasantly warm—test it on your wrist before applying it to your dog. Then rinse the area around the anus thoroughly.
- Add a dollop of shampoo about the size of a dime to the palm of your hand, and gently lather up the trouble area. Don’t tug at the mats—the skin here is ultra-sensitive!
- Using your blunt-tipped scissors, begin snipping away the clumps of feces. Be sure you’re cutting close to the mat and at least a half inch away from the skin. Work all the way around the anus in a wide circle, trimming the excess hair to a uniform short length.
- When you’re done, rinse the area with warm water and check your work. Is everything neat, clean, and trimmed short? Pat the area dry and your dog’s work is done. You, however, still have a tub to scrub and scissors to sanitize!
Aren’t There Professionals Who Do All This?
If your jam-packed schedule won’t allow for consistent grooming, or your Goldendoodle’s coat is very curly (like Aggie’s), or you happen to love the super-fluffy look of a coat that’s longer than two or three inches . . . consider forming a relationship with a professional groomer you like and trust, and have a standing appointment at whatever interval he or she recommends.
Can’t Get Enough of Your Goldendoodle? Want to Save Money?
Many brave Goldendoodle owners bypass the monthly or bimonthly professional trim in favor of their own home salon.
If you want to take this step, be advised you’ll need patience, a cooperative dog, and the best canine clippers you can afford. There’s a steep learning curve, and the art of cutting and clipping is beyond the scope of this article.
But it can be done, often with excellent results. I know a woman who trims her Goldendoodle with scissors from head to toe every two weeks—and her dog’s soft, beautiful coat is a show-stopper.
Groomed for Success
YOU are the very best person to take care of your Goldendoodle’s coat, even if you don’t have infinite time, patience, or resources. All it takes are the right tools, consistency, and a willingness to learn as you go. And a little love doesn’t hurt!
Together, you and your dog will enjoy the benefits of your new routine, and reap rewards of a beautiful coat, better health, closer bonding—and no more shaves!
Your daily grooming means a beautiful healthy coat!