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Chocolate Havanese

Coat Change in the Havanese puppy

The dreaded adolescent coat-change: Akin to the terrible twos, the Havanese puppy coat change is often heralded as a dreadful phase to be endured. Like childhood phases, some Havanese breeze through with barely a tangle, while others go all-out with mats that would put a Yak to shame. Over the 20+ years that I have owned Havanese, I have experienced many a coat-change and run the gamut from "Coat change, what coat change?" to "This is a &#%*!@ nightmare!". So, what is coat change, why does it happen and how do you survive it?

Adolescent Havanese

What is it? The definition of coat-change is simply that of a dog's coat going through a phase of change. Throughout the life of your Havanese, there can be a number of different phases in the coat development, some more subtle than others; however, the change which occurs during adolescence remains the one that people think about when they hear the words "coat-change". This puppy or adolescent coat-change is the process where the puppy coat matures into the adult coat. Not exclusive to Havanese, this process occurs in all long-haired dogs. It may sound like no more of a big deal than changing your shirt, but the reality of it is quite a bit more complicated.

Why does it happen? Similar to baby teeth changing to adult teeth, it is part and parcel of growing up.

When does it happen? There is no specific schedule. Havanese mature at different rates and so do their coats. Generally, the change can start anywhere from approximately 8 to 18 months of age and can last anywhere from 2 to 6 months.

What occurs during coat change? The adult coat starts to come in by growing through the puppy coat; at the same time, the puppy coat loosens and falls out. This does not happen all at once. It is a process. It also does not happen all over the body at the same time, the change occurs in waves. Many times this starts in the shoulders and ruff and works its way downward and toward the back, but it is not unusual for the rump to be the first area where change is noted. During the entire process, the coat can easily become matted. An unusual and excessive amount of matting is generally the first sign noticed by owners. Extra matting means extra brushing. This really is the crux of surviving coat-change. Brush, brush and brush some more. A grooming book can help you with tips and techniques. Some owners and groomers may advocate an assortment of products and techniques, and these may be of some help, but the bottom line is that there is no substitute for meticulous brushing and combing, along with plenty of patience and persistence.

Sometimes a clip is the best option

If the coat change has progressed unattended or managing it has proved an insurmountable challenge, there is another option which is that of clipping the coat to the skin and letting it grow out again. Where the coat is beyond salvation with the dog matted to the skin, a close clip may be the kindest option. The consolation to this extreme measure is that the coat does grow back much more quickly than you might imagine. Daily brushing can be tedious but it really does help. Brushing through mats can be painful to your dog, so do be as gentle as you can. Once the transition is complete, you can reduce your brushing to twice a week or as needed. Each dog is different; one may need more or less grooming maintenance than another.

Why is it so much worse in certain dogs? There may not be a perfect answer to this question. There can be many factors. Grooming skills, or lack of them, can affect how well you cope. Some techniques work well while others serve only to make matters worse. Genetics of course have some influence, but, perhaps surprisingly, external factors such climate can also play a part. Just think of what your own hair does in high humidity. The texture and volume of the coat are genetic factors, as is the rate at which the coat matures. A higher volume of coat means more to fall out and more to grow in. A heavier undercoat means an excess of loose coat to tangle. A cottony coat usually mats more easily than a silkier coat, and a heavily curled coat tends to tangle more easily than a lightly waved coat. There are innumerable variations.

My very worst coat change experience was with my first Havanese. Not the most desirable quality for a Havanese, her top coat was crinkly and somewhat coarse and her undercoat heavy and woolly. Coat change was a nightmare which started at 8 months of age and lasted for an interminable 6 months. She seemed to mat with a glance; twice a day brushing became our routine. So much coat came out that I was sure I could have knit a dozen other Havanese! My second Havanese was my easiest. He sported a silky wavy coat with a light undercoat. His coat change started at about 11 months of age and ended a brief 2 months later with minimal increase of grooming needed. All my other Havanese since have fallen between these two extremes.

Coat change can be a frustrating time and daunting to the new Havanese owner. Admittedly, it can be a lot of work and your Havanese may not be at his prettiest during this time, but don't despair, the change will one day end.

First published in the Havanese Magazine Spring 2015