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Everything You Need to Know About Dog Fur and Hair

two dogs playing outside

Like most dog owners, I’m sure you will agree that your dog’s fur coat is one of the most adorable things about them. Whether it's short and neat, long and shaggy, or any other texture, a dog's coat is one of the leading aspects of its cuteness. However, dog fur can go from marvelous to mange without regular care. Frequent grooming removes dead hair, dirt, and oils, keeping it smooth, shiny, and pleasant smelling. Taking care of your pup's fur can also prevent skin irritation, infections and keep those pesky fleas and ticks at bay. So what do you need to know about your dog’s coat?

The Different Types of Dog Hair

  1. Dog undercoat - The undercoat is the hair that lies closest to a dog's skin. It grows in clusters from a single follicle and produces a soft, downy look and feel. The undercoat serves as insulation, keeping your pup warm in cold weather. However, not all breeds will have one.
  2. Dog guard hairs (outer coat) - This is what is considered the primary coat and something every dog has. The hair feels rougher and thicker than the undercoat and is longer. The purpose of the guard hairs is to protect the skin from any superficial injuries and add additional insulation.
  3. Dog whiskers - As whiskers are made up of keratin, they are also part of a dog's coat. These fascinating hairs grow from deep-rooted follicles on the muzzle and around the eyes. They are thick, straight, and serve the magical purpose of helping a dog sense the world around it.

What’s the Difference Between Dog Fur and Dog Hair?

Before we dive into the different types of dog hair and their purposes, let's discuss the difference between hair and fur. You probably use these two terms interchangeably when talking about your pet's coat. But is there a difference, and why do some canines have hair and others have fur? While both dog fur and hair are pretty much the same biologically (they are both made of keratin), there are a few differences nonetheless.

Growth Cycles

The main distinction is the growth cycles. For example, hair is usually longer than fur and has a longer growth cycle. There are four growth cycles that dog hair goes through.

  • Anagen phase - During this period of active growth, the hair grows to its genetically-determined length. This happens in young puppies who are still developing their coats and in adult dogs after they receive a haircut or after a period of shedding. 
  • Catagen phase - This is a transitional phase from anagen to telogen when the hair growth slows down, and the follicles attach to the sheath of the root.
  • Telogen phase - In this phase, the hair has reached its maximum length and is neither growing nor shedding.
  • Exogen phase - This is what pet owners know as shedding season. In this phase, the hair actively sheds rather than just falling out from movement and play. 

Dogs with hair have a longer anagen (growing phase) than those with fur. This is because fur has the purpose of shedding and growing back thicker for the winter. What's more, genetics also determine the length of each of the above phases.  For example, certain breeds have continuously growing hair, such as Poodles and Shih Tzus. Their initial anagen phase can last several years before reaching its final length. On the other hand, short-haired breeds like Golden Retrievers and Jack Russell terriers have a long telogen phase and a short anagen phase. There are some other interesting distinctions between dogs with hair versus the ones with fur. For example, hair is typically smooth, soft, and fine, whereas fur has a noticeably denser feel. In addition, hair can be any texture, straight, wavy, or curly, while fur is usually short and straight.

Hair vs Fur: Which Sheds More?

So is it essential to know whether your canine has fur or hair? While it’s not vital, it can be useful information if you’re trying to determine which dog breed is best for you. This is because dogs with fur have shorter growth cycles, resulting in more shedding than pups with hair. However, while choosing a dog with hair may help keep your carpet and bed cleaner, shedding is not the main trigger for dog allergies. Allergic symptoms mainly occur due to the amount of dander a dog produces. Truth is, no dog is completely hypoallergenic. Whether a dog has hair or fur makes no difference in the amount of dander they make, thus it does not make one or the other better for allergy sufferers.

Dog Coat Types and Their Functioning

The general purpose of dog hair is temperature regulation and protection from superficial injuries, like cuts and scratches. In addition, hair serves as a sun protection layer, preventing a dog's skin from burning from the harsh UV rays.  However, the level and effectiveness of these functions vary depending on the type of coat they have. Firstly, a dog will have either a single or double coat.

Single Coat

A single-coat dog does not have any undercoating. These dogs can easily stay cool in hot climates but struggle in cold temperatures. They also do not shed as much as dogs with a double coat. Some examples of single-coated breeds are the Afghan Hound and the Maltese.

Double Coat

A dog with a double coat has both an undercoat and an outer coat. However, the undercoat is usually shorter, ​​giving the hair an overall dense and woolly texture. Double-coated breeds like Huskies and Bernese Mountain Dogs have excellent insulation to withstand sub-zero temperatures. Many dogs with double coats will undergo heavy shedding twice a year to prevent overheating in the warmer months.

Long-Haired vs Short-Haired

Whether a canine has a single or double coat does not determine if they can be long or short-haired, although many dogs with double coats will be long-haired.

  • Long-haired: Dogs with long, silky locks may look luxurious, but they are more prone to matting and tangles than their short-haired siblings. As a result, they require much more frequent grooming.
  • Short-haired: Short-haired dogs have smooth, short hair that lies close to the body. These pups are much lower maintenance than those with long hair.
  • Medium-haired: It's also possible for dogs to have medium-length hair, which will be slightly longer than short-haired breeds. The hairs will stand off the body rather than lie completely flat. Medium-haired canines include Border Collies, German Shepherds, and Golden Retrievers.

What about hairless dogs?

Finally, when discussing dog coat types, it's worth noting that not all dogs have fur or hair. Although uncommon, you can find some hairless dog breeds, for example, the Chinese Crested and the American Hairless Terrier.  These canines can be suitable for people with allergies. However, it's important to remember that these pups' lack of coat means they miss out on the benefits of protection and warmth. What's more, their hairless skin gets oily quickly, so they require frequent bathing.

Final Thoughts

Genetics may determine your dog's hair's length, color, and texture. However, as your dog's owner, you play a vital role in keeping its gorgeous coat in top condition. Learning the difference between hair and fur and knowing your pup's coat type will help you keep your four-legged friend looking and feeling a million bucks.

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