TECHNIQUES OF DEMATTING
Matting is the bane of the groomer’s life, whether professional or pet parent. Mats spoil the fun of styling, and dematting is sometimes uncomfortable or even painful for the pet. Matting occurs when knots and tangles bunch together and accumulate. A few hairs in a knot can be called a “tangle”; something the size of your finger, a golf ball or greater is a “mat”. There is often more than just one, and some coats have a tendency to “felt” or mat tightly against the skin. Groomers of rescued pets often see completely felted coats that come off in huge pieces.
Dematting skill is something that is developed with practice over time,
much like scissoring and styling. The following techniques are offered as a means of developing your skill in dematting. The more you utilize these techniques, the greater speed you will develop at achieving your result, with the least possible discomfort to the pet.
DIVIDE AND CONQUER - MAT SPLITTING
Splitting matted fur into smaller pieces is your fundamental key to success. By slicing your matted area lengthwise into smaller pieces, you have a much better chance of untangling the hair. There is also less discomfort to the animal to have small pieces of hair worked on rather than a large mass. One of the best tools for splitting mats is a plastic letter opener style that looks like a business card, with a single “tooth” and a blade in the corner.
Mat splitting requires care and paying attention. Because you need to use a very sharp tool, there is always danger of slicing something besides hair. Watch out for edges of ears, folds of skin, and the tips of tails. Scissors can be used with great caution, ALWAYS working away from the skin. Never cut into mats with scissors pointing inwards to the dog.
Another way of dividing and conquering matting is to shorten the matted coat first. Using your "rough out" shears (an older, less valuable shears) roughly scissor off some of the length. This is especially effective on poodle or poodle mix coats. Oftentimes scissored off mats will brush apart after bathing on these coats. Just try it!
PICK DON'T PULL
Most matted hair will break apart more easily if you use a picking action, rather than trying to pull a comb or rake through a hunk of hair. Correct picking technique is very similar to the technique we use to comb up hair in preparation for scissoring. You are lifting the tool in and out of the hair, not pulling through. Pick from the ends of the hair toward the skin, not from the skin out. Relax your wrist and get a sort of whipping action going. The objective of picking is to loosen the hair. Later you will get more separation with a comb.
The concept of frothing emerged in the moment during the demonstration of
dematting techniques at Atlanta Pet Fair, 2005. I was doing rapid picking action in a matted area on a Cocker Spaniel, using a Mat Breaker tool. As the undone fur rose to the surface, it formed sort of a foam on the top of the coat. "Look!" I exclaimed, "It's FROTHING!" Voila! A concept was born.
Frothing is helpful when you are working on a larger matted area and it is an alternative to picking each little piece apart. Lightly whip in a wider area and then brush out the froth and continue with the comb. Or more frothing...
ATTACK FROM THE SIDE
Once you have an area divided by splitting and loosened by picking, you can finish by combing through. I recommend using a coarse comb and working from one side of an area of matted hair rather than a front and center approach. If possible, hold a piece of hair in one hand and comb with the other. Holding the hair with your fingers between the part being combed and the skin will reduce discomfort to the animal. Release your hold to get the last bit of combing to the skin.
BLOW IT OUT - THE USE OF AIR
Air flow can be used as an aid in untangling hair, either from a high velocity dryer or a traditional stand/arm dryer. The action of the air serves to shake loose some of the hair that is woven together in a tangle. In the case of more coarsely textured hair, much detangling can be done with air flow and splitting of larger areas. On finer coats, the use of air flow from an arm dryer while fluff drying will speed up dematting.
BATHING - THE USE OF WATER
Many groomers were trained with the admonition to never bathe a matted coat. It was cautioned that bathing would cause the matted fur to tighten its grip. This is true if the matted fur is not combed out after the coat is dried. Cleaning and conditioning a matted coat can often help to release the grip of tangles, and some products, such as the silicones mentioned above actually work best when dried into the coat.
Avoid rubbing products into tangled hair, as rubbing can worsen the situation. Squeeze products through the coat and pat dry with towels. On a heavily matted coat, It is recommended that you do some mat splitting before the bath, thus insuring that your bathing will be thorough, products will be distributed, and hair thoroughly saturated. Big clumps can be difficult to penetrate.
TOOLS AND PRODUCTS
Find the tools and products that work best for you. For the purpose of
splitting large matted areas, look for tools that have replacement blades. These tools are only as effective as they are sharp. I use a letter opener splitter from www.groomersmall.com. Another of my favorite dematting tools for large matted areas is the Mat Breaker. It has small, curved blades.
Find out if you prefer the rake style or comb style mat tool.
Look for a wide tooth comb or coarse comb. The Chris Christensen extra coarse-fine comb is great on small dogs such as Bichon, and Shih Tzu. A larger wooden-handled poodle comb is good for larger dogs, such as the Doodles.
Some brushes can be helpful. The Mars Flexy King brush is excellent for breaking up small mats. This imported brush is becoming hard to find. It is at www.groomersmall.com. Extra firm pin brushes are helpful. We’ve used the Chris Christensen 16mm T Brush for years. The Les Pooch “Emergency” brush is extra firm and works for large matted areas.
A pair of blending shears is also helpful for dematting. Blenders have one notched tooth blade and one straight blade. They can be used to break up mats or to cut out stubborn knots with less danger of slicing the dog or leaving a huge hole in the coat.
SLIPPING N' SLIDING
Products which make the hair slippery will ease the detangling efforts.
There are plenty of different products to try. One of the most slippery
products is Cowboy Magic Detangler and Shine. Another silicone gel is
Eqyss Survivor. Remoisturizers and thick conditioners work well if used full
strength directly on the mat. One of my favorites is Chris Christensen Spectrum 10 HyproPac. Less bad mats can be teased apart with aid from diluted spray-in conditioners. Some groomers do much of their dematting in the tub on a wet
On a dry coat, grooming powders and even corn starch can lubricate the hair shaft for increased ease in tangle removing. Wear a face mask if you choose this
route, so you don’t inhale a lot of powder as you work.
Grooming products with a silicone base, such as Chris Christensen Ice on Ice, The Stuff, Quicker Slicker, AbraCaDaBra and Best Shot coat each hair shaft with slick silicones. Silicone sprays work best when dried on to the coat. It requires a leap of faith to trust that dematting will easier after the coat is bathed and dried. I have also used hair serum products from the human hair aisle that are marketed as “anti-frizz” or “hair glossing”. A good one from Sally Beauty is Fantasia Frizz Buster Serum.