How to Get Knots Out of Dog Hair: Ensuring Your Long-Haired Dog’s Coat Will Always Be Pretty

Dog Brush with Fluffy White Fur
Anna Smith
Written by Anna Smith

Many people love long-haired dogs because their hair is so soft and thick that you often feel like you just want to bury your fingers in their hair all day long. However, with more hair, comes more responsibilities. You are soon to find out that your dog is prone to matting—a condition where knots start to develop in the hair for seemingly no apparent reason. The moment you discover knots in your dog’s hair is the time to get your dog care toolkit out and follow this in-depth tutorial on how to get knots out of dog hair.

We personally have lived with a lot of dogs and catered to quite a number of them. From this sea of experience, we have fished out only the de-knotting methods that really work. By following our tips, you will not only be able to get those pesky knots out of your dog’s hair without causing them pain, but you will also learn how to keep those knots from making as often of an appearance. Your dog’s hair will be so silky smooth you’ll start thinking they deserve to be the star in a canine shampoo ad!

Image showing a woman getting dog hair out of carpet

In this piece, we are not only going to address the basic steps in unknotting dog hair but we will also cover everything that is needed to make you your own authority on the subject. We sure have a long way to go, so it’s about time we got the party started.

What Causes Dog Hair to Knot?

It is not uncommon to see dog hair knots occur in areas of the body that are prone to friction. When—especially in a long-haired dog—a part of the body rubs against an external surface constantly, the hair easily gets all matted and bunched up.

Image showing a dog with a lot of hair

That is why you will observe that most of your dog’s hair knotting happens around the area beneath the collar and behind the ears. The hair on their legs may also get knotted if your dog often rubs against something, such as grass. Knots also often show up on the dog’s butt and hind limbs, because that is the area that receives friction whenever the dog sits.

Why You Should Remove the Knots

Some dog owners may still think that their pooch is the handsomest in the whole wide world even if there are some knots in their hair, but it’s not just about your aesthetic sense. Your dog may not be necessarily unhappy just because he has knots in his hair, but he will definitely feel more comfortable with them gone.

Image showing a dog without knots

If you have seen Bingo biting at his skin and trying to scratch something off, it may not necessarily be fleas. Knots are another source of intense itchiness for dogs. The sad news is, the more your dog tries to scratch and bite off the mat, the more tangled it gets. Without the help of a professional groomer, or you, your dog will not be able to rid himself of the constant irritation.

That’s why it’s all up to you. If you have let the knots accumulate for some time, removing them may take quite a bit of time and effort. It may feel troublesome, but your dog is counting on you!

Understanding Dog Sensitivity

Before we get into the grooming proper, there are some places on your dog that you will want to take extra care with. Even the friendliest dogs will show some level of aversion to being touched there, since touching these areas cause them a little bit of discomfort. The danger areas are behind the ears and on the paw pads.

Image showing the Andis Grooming Brush

Since the skin behind the ears is thin, it is easy to understand why dogs may feel a bit apprehensive about being touched there. As for the paw pads, it’s the same as with humans who are often ticklish around the bottom of their feet.

Unfortunately, hair can quickly grow in between the paws, causing unnecessary mats that soon start to distress the dog. In this case, you’ll want to gently hold their paws and snip the knots off using a scissor. Be very careful not to hurt them.

Under the tail is also a problem area. Most dogs don’t like to be brushed under the tail, but this is also a place where knots can easily form if it is not tended to regularly. You’ll just have to be extra careful.

A person cleaning-dog-hair

If you have been staying with your dog a while, aside from the general areas mentioned, you might have discovered some other sensitive areas on their body. Before you start unknotting the hair at all, make a mental note of these areas and approach them with as much caution as possible.

Removing Knots from Dog Hair

Now let’s move on to the core of the article: how to remove knots from your dog’s hair. If the knots are small or few and far between, you can detangle them without needing any special tools—just an old comb will do. In a relaxed environment, such as when you and your dog are watching the TV, gently delve your fingers into the knot and separate it from the main dog hair.

You should take care to pull very gently so that you don’t irritate your dog in the process. When you feel that the knot has fallen away from the hair, gently separate each strand of hair from the tangled mass with the comb.

Image showing a big dow with a lot of hair

Even if the knots are really bad, though it’s best to remove them yourself since professional dog groomers will most likely charge you by the hour for their services. If your dog has a lot of long hair or is extremely sensitive, it won’t take long before your bill starts to grow out of control.

Rather, why not invest that money in your personal dog grooming tool? To undertake the task of removing some serious knots in your dog’s hair on your own, the tools you will have to prepare are:

  • A stainless steel comb
  • A rat tail comb
  • Pin brushes
  • A pair of scissors
  • Conditioning spray
  • A slicker brush
  • A de-matting comb

Step #1: Use the Pin Brush

Use the conditioning spray to make the hair limp and pliant so it’ll be easier for you to work on them.

Image showing a person brushing a dog

Then use the pin brush to part the hair into small sections. That will ensure you are working on small areas of the hair at one time, improving efficiency.

Step #2: Use the Rat Tail Comb

Pick up the rat tail comb. Don’t start at the most difficult area of the dog’s hair. While this is not a rule per se, it is better to begin your work at the easiest portion and move gradually to the dense parts. Usually, this means moving the comb from the legs to the sides, then gradually to the back and the head.

Step #3: Use the Steel Comb

Once you are done brushing the dog’s hair gently and evenly using the rat tail comb, move on to the steel comb. Run it through the dog’s hair. This is where you really start to detangle the knots, so you should be considerate enough to comb lightly lest the comb gets stuck and cause discomfort to your pooch.

Steel Comb With Leather Sleeve

Hold the hair closest to the skin as firmly as possible, then pull through the knot with the steel comb. Holding the hair in this position before pulling will reduce the discomfort your dog felt.

Step #4: Use the De-Matting Comb

If your dog is one that is prone to larger knots that not even the pin brush or the steel brush can handle, you should get a special de-matting comb. They look like normal combs to the ordinary eye, only that they also have a sharp edge that cuts through the knots.

Image showing a persong using a Dog-Brushes-Rake

Carefully move the de-matting comb (or mat splitter, as some like to call it) through the knot. Again, don’t forget to hold the hair closest to the skin as firmly as possible to prevent pulling. Work at this for a while, splitting the much larger knots into a series of smaller ones. You can then drop the mat splitter and try using the pin brush or steel comb again.

Step #5: Use the Slicker Brush

When you are done with the unknotting, use a slicker brush to style the dog’s coat. As a rule, it is not appropriate to brush the same spot more than ten times. Even if you have not been able to get rid of all the knots in that area, move on to another area then come back later. This is advised so as not to cause irritation to the skin.

Image showing a golden retriever with a brush in his mouth

Never yank the hair because this wouldn’t help detangle the knot at all. If the knot is starting to tire you out, take a break to play with your dog instead. After getting that stress-relieving love from your pooch, get the tools and get to work again.

How Often Should You Scan for Knots?

One thing we can tell you for sure is that there is no definite answer to this. No one knows for sure when a knot may pop up or how frequently it happens. Even though there have been some similarities observed in the same type of dogs, there are other variations to take note of. But we are still going to give you an estimation at the very least.

In order to have a better understanding on the subject, you should know what type of hair your dog has. Common in long-haired dogs, there are the small mats that can go unnoticed by you, and form almost daily.

Long-haired dogs are always shedding their hair, but there’s a difference in how they and short-haired dogs do this. Usually, instead of leaving the hair all around your place, long-haired dogs tend to shed it all around their own place—on their own skin. As new strands of hair start to take the position of the old ones, knots will occur very close to the skin.

York Terrier Being Brushed

Some breeds with long hair (such as the Shih Tzu) are even more difficult to groom than other long-haired dogs in general since they have two coat layers. The first layer is an outer coat which is often very dense, followed by a softer inner coat. Brushing may only get rid of the knots on the outer coat, leaving those in the soft layer to keep developing.

It is best if you could first figure out what type of coat your dog has. If your dog has two coats, you’ll need to go with an in-depth grooming or maybe simply groom them more often—maybe two times per day.

Alleviating the Issue of Dog Hair Knots

Knotting cannot be completely prevented, but it can be lessened. Depending on the type of dog, these preventive measures can turn out to be a daily, weekly, or biweekly exercise. The onus lies on you. You have to observe how fast your dog hair gets knotted and draw a prevention grooming plan for them.

Image showing little dog being brushed

You can use the same tools you used to de-knot your dog’s hair in the previous section, but the brushing technique is different. Prevention is better than cure, so this one won’t take as much time. Basically, you need to:

  • Pick a small section of the dog’s hair time and push it up with your hand, such that the skin at the base of the hair is visible.
  • Put the brush at the base of the hair and gently work away from the body.
  • After a few times (less than ten strokes is advised), move on to another part.
  • Continue with this method until you have covered everything.
  • You will notice that during the course of the grooming, you were able to uncover some small knots that were just starting to develop. While they are at this stage, it’s still easy to detangle them, so do just that.
  • Comb one final time in the natural flow direction of the dog’s hair.

If you are up for it, you can even style the hair flow to make your dog even more beautiful.

Precautions to Take Note Of

Removing knots from your dog is as simple as the steps above, but it is also easy to get your dog, and yourself, in trouble. Some of the measures you should take to avoid those are as follows:

Always Brush Before Bathing

Bath water tends to work their way into the knots, bringing the hair closer together and causing a kind of tangling that is even harder to remove.

A dog taking a shower with soap and water

To ensure you don’t get into this situation, make sure to brush your dog before a bath.

Moisturize Before Brushing

I know it can be confusing when we ask you not to bath your dog before washing, then ask that you moisturize them before brushing. However, we are not talking about wetting your dog’s coat with water.

Image showing a dog sitting on a towel near a brush

Before you brush, spray a styling product on the fur first. This can be a de-tangling spray (ask your vet to prescribe one of these for your dog) or a conditioning spray (diluted). Brushing or combing the hair when dry will cause splitting and discomfort. They are already living with knotted hair, so you don’t want to make it worse for them.

Ditch the Towel

After each bath or playtime in the rain, ditch the urge to go for a towel to dry your dog with. Towels will cause you to press the wet hair into each other, and if you don’t remember to loosen it after, you will only help the knotting progress along.

Moisturize Before Brushing

Instead, use a blow dryer that will not only dry the water but will also get your dog warm and comfortable in an instant. After blowing, brush the dog’s hair in the direction it would normally go, not against.

Beware of Scissors

Never entertain the thought of ridding the dog of their knots by just cutting into it with a pair of scissors. It is very probable that you will cut the dog’s skin along with the hair you’re fighting against.

Cutting Dog Hair with Scissors

If you must use the scissors, we advise that it be on a very large mat. For that, you should open the scissors and place one of the blades near the base of the knot while cutting away from the skin.

Don’t cut too close to the skin. Cut the knot in half and let go of the scissors. You can then try any of the aforementioned tips.

Wrap Up

We have tried to detail, as much as possible, everything you need to know about getting knots out of your dog’s hair. We are confident that you are now almost as good as dog grooming professionals at detangling the knots, but if the aforementioned tricks did not work, it might be time for your dog to have a shave.

Image showing a person brushing a labrador

If you are an expert with the clipper, get into costume and start working. Otherwise, go find a professional groomer that can handle things for you. Don’t worry about your dog’s hair being shorter than what you’d prefer. If you always struggle with those big knots, your dog’s hair-growing capacity won’t lose to a quick shave. The hair will grow back beautifully in a few.

Have you followed the detangling steps we laid out for you above? Share your experience with us in the comments section below! You can also share any good tips that we didn’t manage to include in this article.

About the author
Anna Smith
Anna Smith

Anna Smith resides in beautiful Santa Monica, CA, where she works as a Pet Nutrition Expert in a leading retail pet store. She is responsible for nutritional strategies for different breeds and development of new products on the market in compliance with Association of American Feed Control Officials. Anna's passions are education about proven methods and best practices in the industry and her dog Max, who is always well-fed.