how to cut matted dog hair

How to Cut Matted Dog Hair Like a Pro

When you have a dog, matted hair is simply going to be a fact of life, especially if your dog is a long hair breed. A good grooming routine can help prevent matted hair. However, you can have the best grooming routine, and mats can still be a little bit of a problem.

What Causes Mats?

There’s actually more than one cause of matted dog hair. The kind of mat your dog has depends on several different factors such as his breed, his hair type, his behaviour, and his regular grooming routine.

dog with matter hair

Mats are most common in areas where there’s a lot of friction, such as under the collar, behind his ears, on his lower legs, or in his armpits. Dogs can be left or right side dominant, in the same way as people are left or right handed. This can mean that your dog sits more on his dominant side, which can compact the hair and cause tangles.

Other mats can be caused by shedding. When some dogs shed, they leave their dead hair over your home, your furniture, your car, and even all over you. However, not all dogs shed in exactly the same way. Some dogs have a double layer to their coat, so they have a soft, under layer, and a thicker outer layer. These types of dogs need regular, thorough grooming, as do long hair dogs with a single layer coat, or a curly haired coat. If you only brush the top coat, the dog will look good, but the underneath can still tangle. In some cases you may need to use a metal comb, or dematting tools for dogs. Dogs who aren’t groomed properly will almost certainly have severe tangles.

 Why Are Mats A Problem?

Severe mats, and tangles can cause the dog pain, distress and discomfort. The dog is likely to bite, or scratch at the tangle to relieve the discomfort, which will only make the tangle worse. The worse the tangle gets then the more uncomfortable and painful it will be for your dog. Small knots and tangles can become large knots, which will be much more difficult to deal with.

How To Deal With Matted And Tangled Hair

Some mats may need to be dealt with by a professional groomer. Severe tangles should almost always be seen by a professional. However, if your dog has a few small knots then you might be able to detangle his hair yourself at home by following a few simple steps:

1. Tools

The very first thing you need to do is gather up all the tools you’re going to need. You’ll need your dog shedding brush, comb, and maybe some other dematting tools, such as a mat rake, a mat splitter, or an electric clipper. You should also get a good quality detangler spray that has been designed for pets, your dog’s shampoo, and his conditioner.

2. Find The Tangles

Brush your dog to find the tangles. Pay close attention to the most likely areas, like under his collar area, his ears, his belly, his legs, his armpits, and his tail, if he has a particularly long-haired tail.

3. Spray With Detangler

When you’ve found a tangle, you begin by spraying it with your detangler solution. You can rub it into the tangle, to make sure that it has penetrated properly. For a wider selection of choices, check out our dog detangler sprays guide.

4. Fingers First

Try to work the tangle out with your fingers. This can take time, but it’s worth the effort. Try to work out a little hair at a time. If this doesn’t work, you can try using the mat rake. A mat rake is special tool with sharp tines, so you’ll need to be careful not to scratch or cut your dog. You can use a mat splitter on bad mats. A mat splitter cuts through the mat with a blade, so again, you need to take care not to hurt your dog, and you need to make sure you’re cutting in the direction of hair growth. When you’ve cut the mat into smaller sections, you can try to work it out with your fingers or the mat rake.

5. Brush

After you’ve worked out as much of the mat as possible, you can brush your dog again. You might need to give him another spray with the detangler. You can brush a few hairs of a tangle at a time, and keep trying to separate the hairs from the tangle. If he has a mat, you can brush in the direction the hair grows. You can add more detangler directly to the mat if you need to.

6. Bath

Once you’ve gotten the tangles and mats worked out, you can bath your dog. You need to be sure that you have gotten all of the mats and tangles, as water can actually make them worse. Use your dog’s shampoo, and make sure you use a conditioner as well. The conditioner can help prevent tangles and mats when you’re drying him off.

Take a look at our reviews of the Best Dog Shampoo, Best Dog ConditionersBest Shampoo for Puppies, and Best Medicated Dog Shampoos.

7. Prevention

Once he’s dry you can spray him with the detangler, and brush him. You should also consider spraying him with detangler whenever he’s going to go in water, before a swim, for example, as this can help prevent him from getting mats and tangles.

8. Other Options

If you haven’t been able to get the mats and tangles out of his coat, then you might need to clip it out.

matted hair dog

Make sure that you use a good pair of clippers, and make sure that they have a guard to prevent your dog from being injured. If he has severe matting, then you may want to give him a short clip all over, and basically start from scratch. If you don’t have clippers, or you feel nervous about clipping him, then you can take him to a professional.


  1. Dr. Jerry Klein, The Dos and Don’ts of Home Dog Grooming and Hygiene, The American Kennel Club
  2. A Haircut Could Save a Life: Preventing Your Pet’s Coat from Matting, American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
  1. Amy Komack
    Mar 20, 2021

    I adopted a Shih Tzu named Prudence this past October. She was a puppy mill mother. I have been grooming my own dogs for years but have never had to worry about a female’s teats. Do groomers use clippers with a comb in this area? I am so afraid of causing injury here.

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