How I Won the Year-Long Battle with My Dog’s Hairstyle

My Maltese made six shaggy detours (Cousin Itt, Lady Gaga) on the road to finding the right look.

Crystal Maldonado  |  May 8th 2013


Before I got Obi, I spent a long time researching the type of dog I wanted. While size, color, and breed varied, they all had one thing in common: short hair. But when the cutest Maltese I’d ever seen ended up at our local pound, I couldn’t resist. 

I, too, have long hair, so I can appreciate the fact that it requires care and patience. But I didn’t quite know how much care and patience. Today, I certainly have a deeper appreciation for the time my mom spent brushing out my tangles. These photos and descriptions document my battle with Obi’s hairstyle over the past year. 

Phase one: Cousin Itt

The character known as Cousin Itt from the 1960s American television series The Addams Family is nothing but a skinny little tower of long, cascading hair wearing sunglasses and a hat, running about spewing gibberish that his kinfolk can somehow understand.

When I first encountered Obi and his two brothers at the local dog pound, their hair was so voluminous that it covered their big, brown eyes. They were all hair — matted, tangled, and messy. I could tell they hadn’t been brushed in ages, perhaps even in the four months since they’d been born. But I still thought Obi was easily the cutest pup I had ever seen. Even if he couldn’t exactly see me back. 

Phase two: The mop

When I took him home, I realized how bad some parts of his fur actually were, knotted with strands woven tightly together like steel wool. Thankfully, it was nothing a little gentle combing couldn’t fix. So I immediately invested in a brush. Once I had that, I could spend the time to carefully pick the tangles out of his hair. It took a while. Actually, “a while” is an understatement. But Obi, never having been handled with such care, didn’t mind. He let me do what I needed to do until he was good as new. Or, at the very least, good as a mop. 

Phase three: Lady Gaga

Just a few days later, I brought Obi to the groomer. I wasn’t too familiar with many groomers (one thing I regret not looking into prior to getting a dog), so I took Obi to PetSmart and asked for an all-around trim. The result? Blunt bangs that frizzed outward as if they didn’t want to be on his head anymore. I call it his Lady Gaga phase. He doesn’t like to talk about it. 

The shorter hair, however, made brushing him much easier. Every night before bed we’d settle on the couch and I’d brush out his fur. I’d also use that time to brush his teeth and clean his eyes, which are prone under-eye stains. He was more comfortable with me, which meant he was OK with throwing a fit and letting me know he didn’t care to be brushed. I was also comfortable enough as a dog mom to let him know it was happening because I said it was happening. 

Phase four: The shag

Shortly after Obi got his Gaga cut, he needed surgery, both to be neutered (another thing he doesn’t like to talk about) and to mend a hernia he’d been born with. The surgery went well, but it healed slowly, which meant he spent a long, long time with his head buried inside of a cone. My boyfriend took to calling him Conedog, and we pretended he was a superhero. 

Nevertheless, the cone made it so he couldn’t get a haircut for a while. His white hair was growing quicker than I could tame it. On top of that, it was difficult to brush his underside –- the area around his belly and under his legs, most prone to knots -– because of the surgery. I did what I could, but Obi started to resemble a 1970s shag carpet. 

Phase five: The lamb

After his surgery, his hair was just as long as it had been when he first came home with me. He needed a cut –- badly. But I didn’t want him to come home with blunt bangs again, or any other weird hairstyle. I imagine permed hair would not be a great look on him.

Instead, I specifically told the groomer two things. One: “No bangs.” Two: “Cut it tight to his body.” Now that he was out of his cone, I needed all of his knots gone so brushing his coat could resume. When I got him back from the groomer, I wasn’t sure I’d picked up the same dog. He was … tiny. To be fair, he was only seven pounds or so to begin with, but now he looked like someone had tossed him in with the laundry and accidentally shrunk him a size or two. 

Obi looked like a fraction of the dog he once was. I also ran into another issue I hadn’t quite anticipated: It was the dead of winter, and Obi was freezing. He quickly took to wearing a sweater to compensate. His hair curled at this length, so I started calling him my little lamb. 

Phase six: The Obi

Now that Obi had had a few haircuts, I was able to understand what worked and what didn’t. Things I hated: bangs, hair that was too long, hair that was too short. Things I loved: hair that made maintenance easy, a style that looked cute, a cut that kept the hair out of his eyes. Short hair around his eyes helped alleviate the build-up of tears beneath his eyes and made cleaning incredibly easy. A comb, tissues, and special tear pads aided in that, too.

The truth is, brushing out Obi’s hair is not a difficult task, so long as I keep up with it. Time consuming, sure, but annoying or difficult? Not at all. It gives us a little time to bond before bed. Once I knew which areas I needed to focus on brushing out -– behind his ears, near his collar, and under each of his limbs –- the task began to take significantly less time. Regular haircuts guarantee that, too, although I have been known to forget to schedule an appointment and end up with a dog who looks more like a lion with a fluffy mane than anything else. 

These days, we’ve figured out which cut works for Obi and me, even if it isn’t quite that long, luxurious cut that most Maltese dogs sport. Instead, he looks a bit like a teddy bear, and there’s no bow to hold the hair out of his eyes. I think he’s oddly OK with that.

What does your regular grooming routine entail? 

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