Have you ever watched a Westminster dog show and been awestruck by the luxurious hair of some breeds? Take the carefully poofed clip of the Toy Poodle or the flowing locks of the Bearded Collie. Perhaps you looked at your German Shepherd and considered giving her a haircut.
Can you shave a German Shepherd?
The short answer is yes, of course, you can shave German Shepherds. But your next question should be why would you want to shave your dog and should you?
The most relevant indication is when your veterinarian wants to shave a Shepherd for surgical prep or to place an intravenous catheter.
People sometimes want to shave their GSD when it is really hot outside. We will discuss when it is appropriate to shave your GSD and give reasons why it is most often beneficial for your dog to keep her fur coat.
Clipping was for sporting dogs in the history of grooming
As the importance of dogs to agriculture and hunting endeavors rose, so did their standard of care. Kennel boys had the task of grooming herding dogs as early as the 1500s in feudal Europe, according to lovefurdogs.com. While they mainly washed and kept the dogs clean, they carried scissors presumably for problem areas like mats.
Originally, shaving a dog was not intended to have anything to do with his appearance. Shearing or clipping, a large part of modern grooming, began with lion cuts on curly-haired sporting dogs like the Poodle and Curly-Coated Retriever.
Hair kept vital areas of the chest warm, and lack of fur on other body parts limited drag in the water.
The flamboyance of the Elizabethan Era began to emphasize the status of the purebred dog and the art of shaving canines so they looked suited for nobility. Many canine cuts during the reign of Louis XVI mimicked the hairstyles of royalty.
In the early 1900s, shortly after the German Shepherd came onto the scene, Poodles wore corded hair or dreadlocks from their topknots to the floor. Groomers would still clip the dogs in the traditional continental cut popular at the time.
German Shepherds largely escaped having to endure people shaving their coats until the 1920s. The Roaring 20s marked an era of rebellion against the Victorian stifling of women, resulting in them donning shorter hairstyles.
These ladies broke out against societal norms in a couple of ways. First, they acquired larger, considered less feminine dogs, like German Shepherds and Newfoundlands. Second, they clipped their large-breed dogs so the fur was short or styled into a lion cut.
What is a continental cut?
Poodles continue to be the striking model for the continental cut. There are several modifications, according to Allpoodleinfo.com, but a continental trim typically involves leaving hair long on the chest and top of the head and cutting close elsewhere. The exceptions are pompoms on the lower legs and tail.
What brief information should you know about clipper blades?
Clipper blade lengths correlate with how short a cut you get. Note, there are no guidelines for clipping German Shepherds. Any cutting of the hair will immediately disqualify a GSD from showing.
The larger the blade number, the closer the shave.
The #30 clipper is the shortest grooming blade, leaving half a millimeter of hair. By contrast, a #4 blade leaves half an inch of hair, but you would probably still remove most of your Shepherd’s topcoat.
The #5 blade is among the most popular for shave downs, leaving about an eighth of an inch of hair. Shave downs are sometimes useful if you have a dog who easily mats, perhaps applicable for certain German Shepherd mixes.
When you think of the smooth areas on the faces of poodles and spaniels, you are most likely seeing the work of a #10 or #15 blade. Surgical clippers use #40 and #50 blades.
When should you shave your German Shepherd?
The only time it is advisable to shave a German Shepherd is for medical reasons or in humid climates. Otherwise, many experts like Dogs Naturally Magazine advocate against shaving double-coated dogs.
If your Shepherd needs hip or abdominal surgery, your veterinarian will shave a generous area around the point of where the incision will be. As an example, for a spay, the prep area includes a rectangle from the sternum to the hips and between the arches of the ribs.
Shaving or clipping hair around a surgical site allows the medical professional to clean and sterilize the skin and prevent hair from entering the incision and causing contamination. The medical team will finish by draping sterile towels across the surgical site, covering the remaining fur.
A surgical clip involves removing hair as close to the skin as possible using a size 40 blade. Less commonly, a veterinarian may use a #50 blade.
A veterinarian most often will shave a small patch of fur over a vein before placing an indwelling intravenous catheter. The medical field uses IVs to deliver antibiotics, life-saving medications like poison antidotes or epinephrine, fluids, electrolytes, and sometimes nutrition.
If your dog requires complex surgery or a lengthy hospital stay, your veterinarian will sterilize the IV catheter site similar to the method used in surgical prep. Shaving the area allows ease of sanitization, better vein visibility, and greater adhesion of any tape used to secure the catheter.
Matting and Parasites
German Shepherds do not typically mat, so the occasion that you would have to shave tangled hair should be rare. If you have a long-haired shepherd and he is getting mats behind his ears, check for a problem.
He may be scratching because he has an ear infection or fleas. Limit shaving to areas that badly need it. It is unlikely your Shepherd will ever need a full body clip.
It used to be a common practice to shave dogs to expose a flea infestation. Removing your Shepherd’s hair is no longer a requirement with the effectiveness and quick action of current flea treatments and preventatives.
Your German Shepherd’s fur may not be very effective at moving air during the heavily humid summer months in the Southern US. In places like Louisiana and Georgia, your GSD may benefit from a seasonal shave down with a #5 or even #7 blade. However, you still will not be able to use clippers or shears on a show dog.
Rarely, your GSD may get a hotspot. You need to shave hotspots to expose the area to medication. Moreover, the air seems to help weepy areas heal faster than when the hair starts sticking to them. You can also apply ointments and creams directly to the sore.
What is a hot spot?
Everyone knows what it is like to scrape a knee. If you remove the outer layer of your skin, it will be red and sticky for a few days.
A hot spot in dogs, also called moist dermatitis, is similar to a rug burn of the knee or elbow on you. However, hot spots are usually infected.
According to Veteriycin, dogs initiate hot spots by excessively chewing a small area. Dogs make hot spots worse because the wounds continue to get itchier and more painful.
If your German Shepherd becomes involved in a dog fight or a car hits her, she may suffer from lacerations and bruises.
Your veterinarian will often need to shave your dog to assess the full magnitude of the injuries. Like for surgical prep, the clip involves generous margins and full exposure of the skin.
What are the benefits of your GSD’s coat?
Your German Shepherd’s coat is weatherproof
Except for the rare long-haired with a smooth coat, German Shepherds have a double coat. A recessive gene manifests as a sparse undercoat in a few German Shepherds but has been largely bred out since these dogs are penalized in the show ring.
According to the Guild of Shepherds and Collies, show line German Shepherds usually have thicker and longer coats than the working lines.
A GSD’s outer coat is medium-long and straight or slightly wavy. The rather stiff guard hairs reflect light and protect the Shepherd against ultraviolet rays.
The Shepherd’s inner coat is a dense layer of fleecy hair that feels softer to the touch than the outer fur. A thick undercoat protects German Shepherds not only from frigid cold temperatures but also insulates them from the heat in the summer.
Thanks to Mother Nature, the make-up of a dog’s inner fleece encourages air circulation between the outer coat and the skin. Removing the undercoat can prove detrimental, disrupting your dog’s cooling mechanism and leaving her more susceptible to heatstroke.
What are the cons of shaving your German Shepherd?
You can inadvertently cause clipper burn
A German Shepherd is a large and active dog. Can you imagine one sitting still for the length of time required to shave her body? Restlessness on your dog’s part could cause you to slip and accidentally cut her.
Moreover, the longer you run the clippers, the hotter the blades get. Your groomer probably has plenty of cooling sprays and changes of blades to accommodate a long session, which you might not. Nevertheless, you undoubtedly have seen freshly-groomed dogs with red or pink areas of clipper burn.
Risks of clipper burn also increase if you try to clip into the dense and resistant undercoat. At the very least, you can cause minor skin irritation, which will manifest in your Shepherd as scratching and itching. Clipper burns may further transform into hot spots.
Clipping may expose your dog to sunburn
Many German Shepherds have large areas of black on their coats. The black color helps the GSD reflect sunlight. Other colors, however, still feature long guard hairs in the outer coat that keep the sun’s beams from penetrating to the undercoat, the final barrier to your dog’s skin.
You can ruin your dog’s lustrous coat, especially if you show
First impressions are as important to show dogs going up before judges as they are for you during job interviews.
A German Shepherd’s ring presence starts with his bearing and his coat. If your dog were closely matched against a worthy rival, the judge would surely lean almost unconsciously toward the more beautiful fur.
When you shave a Shepherd, it may take years for the outer coat to grow back to its former glory if it ever does.
Moreover, older dogs have more difficulty replacing hair, much like people. Even if you do not show, you may end up with a dog who has sprigs of guard hairs interspersed with undercoat, giving him a scruffy or unkempt look.
You can increase your dog’s risk of heatstroke.
You will rob your dog of protection from insect bites.
Both the outer and inner coats protect German Shepherds from biting flies and stinging insects. A thick coat makes it difficult to see fleas, but consistent brushing will make it easier to tell if you have a problem.
How should you groom your GSD?
The single most important aspect of grooming a German Shepherd is brushing. A GSD’s outer coat collects dirt to prevent it from contacting the skin. Brushing removes dust and other debris from the coat as well as loose hair.
You can greatly reduce shedding by daily brushing. A slicker brush is designed to removed dead fur. You can also find special brushes that deal specifically with the undercoat, especially during the seasonal massive sheds German Shepherds experience.
It’s recommended bathing your German Shepherd every five months, although very few owners will wait that long. Bathing your dog too frequently removes natural oils more quickly than they can replenish, leaving your Shepherd’s skin dry and itchy. However, regular baths can reduce shedding by up to 20%.
Consider bathing your dog at times without shampoo so you can comb through shedding hair while wet but avoid the drying properties of soap. Some people are tempted to shave their dogs to reduce shedding, but wet and dry brushing is more effective and more beneficial for your dog.
Check your Shepherd’s ears every few weeks to see if they require cleaning. Finally, you should trim your Shepherd’s nails every six to eight weeks, especially if they do not appear to wear down with exercise.
What does a shaved German Shepherd look like?
Compare the shaved GSD to a German Shepherd with a full coat. Perhaps clipped for a humid area, you can see most of the guard hairs are gone, leaving the undercoat, which is much less effective at insulation.
The shorter coat still offers moderate protection against direct sunlight, so the groomer likely used a #5 or larger blade. You can see the density of Shepherd’s undercoat.
The working German Shepherd has a dense coat. When you see the shininess of the coat, it reflects not only good health and the presence of an outer coat but also the reflective features of the guard hairs that will protect the dog against the sun. A show German Shepherd’s coat will be longer and even more luxurious.