What Is A Double Coated Lab?

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Key Takeaways

  • Almost all Labs are double-coated, some just have a thinner undercoat.
  • Labradors need frequent brushing and grooming.
  • Double coats keep Labs warm and dry and protect the skin.
  • Labradors shed more than single-coated dogs.
  • Never shave your double-coated dog

If you look for the best way to keep your Labrador looking great, you will see the term double coat. What does the term double-coated mean?

A double-coated Labrador has a short undercoat and a coat of long hair over that. It will give them a wooly appearance. This double coat helps keep them warm and dry. Almost all Labs have a double coat, but some may have a thinner undercoat than others.

As someone who owned two double-coated Lab mixes for over ten years, I am well versed in how their coats affect them and the best way to keep them looking great. Join me and we will talk about the benefits of the double coat, the drawbacks of the double coat, and the best way to keep it groomed.

In this article

What Is a Double-Coated Lab

The Labrador is one of the most popular double-coated dogs around. These dogs have fluffy coats and shed more than single-coated dogs.

As a previous owner of Lab mixes, I can tell you that their coats can look and feel different from one another. Double coats can be different from dog to dog.

While the double coat usually gives a fuller, wooly appearance, the look can vary. One of my dogs had a nice even coat while the other one was patchier and lumpier.

Some Labrador retrievers will have a short, soft, undercoat and a long, wire coat for the top layer. While some will have a softer feel on the top coat.

The styles can also vary with some Labs having a straight top coat and some having a wavy overcoat. Ones with a thick double coat will appear fluffy.

With some of these dogs, the bottom layer may be harder to spot. Almost all Labs are double-coated dogs, but some have a very thin undercoat, so it isn’t as noticeable.

How to Tell If Your Lab Has a Double Coat

Although almost all Labradors have a double coat, some will have one that is more pronounced. To tell if you have a rare single-coat Labrador, or if your Lab just has a thin bottom layer, you can follow these steps.

  • Run your finger across your dog’s fur the opposite way it grows. If there is a double coat, you will see long guard hair, then shorter hairs underneath.
  • Sometimes the dense undercoat will be soft like down. It may be harder to spot if your Lab has a thin bottom layer.
  • Double-coated dogs will be fluffier. The coarse hair on top is pushed up by the finer hair on the bottom.
  • Look at the hair your dog sheds. Are there different types of hair that fall? During my dog’s seasonal sheds, they shed the undercoat. The rest of the time, they mainly shed the overcoat.

History of These Double-Coated Dog Breeds

The Labrador dog breed is 500 years in the making. They were created in the Canadian Province of Newfoundland, and they originated from the St. John’s Water Dog.

The frigid temperatures of the north meant that their double coat came in very handy. The soft undercoat was great at keeping these dogs warm. Their waterproof topcoat protects from hypothermia much better than dogs with single coats.

Since Labradors were bred to spend a lot of time in the cold water, the double coat was important for them to do their jobs helping fishermen and hunters.

These working dogs spent most of their time outdoors and needed extra protection from the weather, their surroundings, and other animals.

Benefits of Double Coats

Lots of water breeds are double-coated. This style of fur helps them to stay warm and dry. The two layers hold in heat and keep water away from the skin.

The top layer is called guard hairs. They form a covering that helps slough off the water and protect the skin from thorns and brambles. It also protects the skin from the sun.

The bottom layer is usually more of a soft layer to insulate and hold in heat. Since the topcoat quickly drains the water, the undercoat stays dry and warm.

Drawbacks of Double Coats

The main problems of a double-coated Lab are the shedding and the grooming needs. While some say that these types of dogs only shed once or twice a year, I have found that they shed more than that.

In my experience, double-coated dogs shed a small amount daily. Then once or twice a year, they will have a big shed called a molt. The amount of fur found on your floors can be reduced with regular grooming.

Another thing to remember with your Lab is that their double coat can make them get hot easily. If the day calls for hot weather, make sure your pup has plenty of water and shade.

Dos and Don’ts of Grooming Double-Coated Labs

A double-coat dog requires different grooming techniques from a single-coat dog. Start grooming your Labrador retriever at an early age to get them trained and used to frequent brushing.

  • Do use a grooming rake or comb to brush a couple of times a week.
  • Do use a detangling spray if your Lab has lots of mats and tangles.
  • Don’t shave your dog as that will damage the hair and make it grow back wrong.
  • Do dry your dog off after any swimming or water play.
  • Do wash any saltwater out of their coat as soon as possible after a swim.
  • Don’t bathe them more than every 3 months unless needed for saltwater or mud.
  • Don’t use a deshedding shampoo without monitoring for skin irritation.

A Deeper Dive into Grooming

Use a grooming rake or comb to brush out the loose hairs from the underlayer before they can fall out and get caught in the top layer. If you don’t brush enough, it will lead to matting and knots.

Some Labs have sensitive skin and can’t handle detangling spray and deshedding shampoo. If you notice problems with your dog’s skin like hair loss, rashes, itching, or dandruff, stop using all products and consult your veterinarian.

Frequent baths can dry out your puppy's hair and damage its skin. Don’t bathe them unless they need a deep clean from salt water or mud.

A damp undercoat can lead to skin infections and irritations. If your furry friend has been swimming, make sure to dry them off with a towel or use a hair dryer made for dogs.

If there are severe mats that can’t be brushed out, cut the mat off while leaving as much hair as possible. You only want to shave a double-coated Lab as a last resort. Their hair may not grow back correctly.

Why Can’t You Shave a Double-Coated Labrador

When a double-coated dog, like a Lab, is shaved, the undercoat may grow out faster than the overcoat. This makes the guard hairs of the topcoat grow back unevenly.

If the guard hairs of the overcoat don’t grow back, then the waterproofing of the dog’s coat will no longer work. They don’t have the protection needed to keep the soft underneath from getting wet.

Not only does it interfere with the waterproofing of their coat, but the Lab may overheat easier. Without the double coat functioning properly, it could hold in too much warmth.

The function of the coat isn’t the only thing affected. Shaving also affects the look of the coat. The hair could become patchy and thin. It could also increase shedding in the long run.

Brushing Tips for a Double Coat

For comfort and hygiene, keeping your Lab’s coat clean and healthy is very important. Double-coated dogs need extra brushing, so follow these proper grooming techniques.

Frequent Brushing

Brushing your pup three to four times a week will take care of any mats or tangles that may form. Some Lab owners use special deshedding brushes with blades, but not all dogs like these.

Grooming Rakes

A grooming rake can be used to remove dirt and grass from below the fur. You should do this first to make it easier to do the next steps. Often, you can use a grooming rake instead of giving your dog a full bath.

For the Topcoat

A pin brush is effective when it comes time for clearing away dead hairs from the top layer of fur. Brush in the direction of growth and use gentle pressure. You can use a wire pin or a wooden pin brush.

Mats and Tangles

A wide-toothed comb is great to use if detangling is needed. If you must cut a mat out, only cut out what is necessary to remove the mat. Don’t pull the hair out from the skin when you cut it, or you will cut your Lab’s skin.

Finishing Shine

Lastly, use a bristle brush to smooth the hair and provide a shiny finish! Complete dog food with all the vitamins, minerals and Omega fatty acids will also help your Lab have a healthy, shiny coat.

Bathing Tips for Labrador Retrievers

Luckily your Lab loves the water, so bathing them should be easy. Like with other double-coated breeds, there are extra steps, but we are here to walk you through them.

  • Only bathe every 3 months or so to avoid stripping out the natural oils that protect the skin and help with waterproofing.
  • Brush your dog first to remove any tangles, mud, and burs.
  • If needed, you can trim around the pads of the feet and anus for sanitary reasons.
  • Only use a shampoo made for dogs so it is gentle on their eyes and skin.
  • If your Lab has sensitive skin, use all-natural oatmeal shampoo.
  • Double-coated dogs take longer to dry, so use a blow dryer made for dogs after you dry them with a towel. (Human hair dryers get too hot.)

While it may seem like a lot of trouble to own a Labrador, their personality more than makes up for their grooming needs. Labs are intelligent, loyal, and friendly. They make great family dogs, and even better working dogs.