How to Comb Knots Out of Dog Hair

Knots and mats in small dogs with long hair can be undone without hurting your pet or resorting to cutting hair.  Unless a dog’s coat has been severely neglected, safe detangling is possible.  Professional groomers are often too quick to cut and shave.  They don’t have the time to invest in combing out tangles and mats.

My Yorkie boys are in full coat.  They are active dogs and always finding new ways to produce tangles.  Carpet surfing during games of fetch, running in dry grass on windy days, or simply cuddling in bed can cause tangles. They have given me plenty of practice to learn how to comb knots out of dog hair.

Essentials for Combing out Knots

Tools

    • Small Comb, 4 – 5″ long, often called a leg and mustache comb
    • Rat Tail Comb with a long steel pin on the base of the comb
    • Pin Brush with steel or wood pins without balls on the tips. Balls drag and damage hair, making brushing more difficult.
    • Flea comb with closely set teeth
    • Slicker brush, for dogs with cotton and double coats

Dog brushes and combs for getting out knots
Detangling Products

Conditioning sprays or serums give the hair “slip” to undo tangles and mats.  Determining which product works best on your dog’s coat type may require some experimentation.  I like using Pet Silk’s Silk Serum, which is a hair dressing that I use to detangle before bath time.

An inexpensive alternative is simple corn starch.  Apply it dry to the tangle and carefully comb and pick apart the web of hair.

Skip the harsh chemical products that claim to melt away tangles and mats.

Comfortable Work Place

Choose a comfortable place for you and your pet to work on brushing and combing.  Fold a towel on a countertop or table.  Use your body to block your dog from jumping.  Never leave your pet unattended on a surface high from the floor.

The Detangling Process

Most knots and mats should be undone before bathing.  Water tends to tighten hair knots.  There are exceptions to this rule.   Dirt and urine can produce tangles that are better washed before attempting to brush or comb.  Learning how much to detangle before a bath comes with practice.

Combs work better than brushes for knots and mats.  Apply a small amount of a detangling product and work it through the dry hair.  Use the small mustache and leg comb, along with the rat tail comb to pick apart the tangled hair. Point the hair tools downward, away from your pet’s body.  After loosening the knots and mats, comb your dog’s hair in small sections, about an inch wide.

Use one hand to hold the section of hair and prevent pulling skin, which causes pain and possibly injury.  Pulling can also damage the hair follicles. Work the comb with your other hand.  Start by combing the ends of the hair with downward strokes.  When the comb moves easily, move up an inch or two and repeat the downward strokes.  Continue this process until you reach the roots. When using a slicker or any kind of brush, work in sections the same way.

Some areas of your dog are more sensitive than others, including the armpits, belly, between the hind legs, and the face.  Most dogs have whiskers on their faces that are sensitive.  Be patient and gentle in these areas and always use one hand to prevent the hair from tugging at the skin.

Additional Detangling Tips

Brushing and combing small dogs with long hair has purpose beyond beauty.  The process also stimulates skin circulation.  Extreme tangles and mats can cut off circulation and cause injury.  

Healthy skin promotes healthy hair and growth.  Incorporating massage into the grooming process helps skin circulation and relaxes your pet.  

Good dog shampoo and conditioners, along with good bathing practices, help prevent knots and make detangling easier.  Rinse shampoo out thoroughly.  Most dogs are eager to get out of the bath quickly, but don’t cut corners when it comes to rinsing. Shampoo residue can cause itchy, dry skin which leads to scratching and more tangles.

Checking your dog daily for knots also prevents small problems from becoming big ones. Working a little each day on your dog’s coat is easier than detangling head to tail on bath day.

Make the grooming experience tolerable, if not enjoyable for your pet.  Reward your dog with praise and small treats while you groom and detangle.  Distract your dog with a chew or KONG toy filled with treats like frozen plain Greek yogurt.  I also tie combing and brushing with my dogs’ favorite activity: going for a walk.  They are willing to have their hair combed when they know they will be rewarded with a trip outdoors.

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