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What Are Guard Hairs on Dogs? Vet Approved Facts & FAQ

Written by: Luxifa Le

Last Updated on April 5, 2024 by Dogster Team

Border collie on couch with dog hair fur

What Are Guard Hairs on Dogs? Vet Approved Facts & FAQ


Dr. Paola Cuevas Photo


Dr. Paola Cuevas

Veterinarian, MVZ

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

Learn more »

While you may think that all of your dog’s hairs are the same, dogs actually have multiple types of hair, and all of their hair is vastly different from the hair growing out of your head. One type of hair that dogs have is the “guard hairs.” These hairs are among the most important considerations made when it comes to grooming dogs, especially when a pet parent wants to shave their dog for the summer.

divider-dog pawWhat Are Guard Hairs?

Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “guard hairs” as “long, coarse hairs forming a protective coating over the undercoat of a mammal.” Essentially, the hairs that you like to pet and fluff when your dog comes over for cuddles are their guard hairs.

hand holding the brush while getting the dog's hair
Image By: sonsart, Shutterstock

What Do Guard Hairs Do?

According to the Britannica encyclopedia, the guard hairs protect the more delicate undercoat and skin from abrasions and, in many cases, moisture. Not all dogs have an undercoat. Short-haired dogs, such as Boxers, are “single-coated” and have only guard hairs, though they are considerably shorter than what one might imagine guard hairs to look like.

The guard hairs differ from the ground hairs—those that make up the undercoat—in quality, texture, and function. The undercoat’s hairs are designed to help regulate the animal’s body temperature. They tend to be finer, softer, and shorter. The guard hairs are longer, coarser, and are designed to protect the body against the elements.

What Happens If the Guard Hairs Are Shaved?

When shaving your dog, you don’t get to pick and choose what you keep. Everything in the clippers’ path will be removed, including guard and ground hairs, depending on the height of the blades.

Shaving either the guard or ground hairs can have devastating effects on your dog’s health. If your dog is double-coated, like German Shepherds or Saint Bernards, shaving them will let them without insulation making the dog susceptible to heat stroke, sunburn, and damage from the elements. Shaving can result in improper hair growth, follicle damage, and permanent changes in the coat’s texture.

Guard hairs are critical for dogs to protect themselves against things like minor cuts and scrapes that would be avoided entirely if the guard hairs had not been removed. Additionally, when shaving the guard hairs, you run the risk of shaving off your dog’s undercoat, which can impact their ability to regulate their body temperature.

Dog hairclip
Image Credit: David Herraez Calzada,Shutterstock

Will Shaving the Guard Hairs Help My Dog in the Summer?

Short answer, no. Shaving your dog’s hair will not help them regulate their body temperature and keep cool during the summer. More often than not, dog parents who shave their dogs in the summer just end up shaving off the undercoat, which is critical to your dog’s ability to self-regulate body temperature.

The ground hairs insulate the body to keep it at a particular temperature, and shaving those hairs away will actually put your dog at an increased risk of heatstroke in the summer or hypothermia in the winter.

It’s natural to want to do everything you can to improve your dog’s daily life, but shaving them isn’t something you should do, even in the summer. Guard hairs are an important part of your dog’s continued well-being. So, leaving them where they are is the best course of action. Of course, if your dog has hair that grows continuously, you may need to get them trimmed now and again, but shaving should only be done with the oversight of a veterinarian or professional groomer to make sure that your dog will be safe from the elements after you shave them.

divider-dog pawFinal Thoughts

Guard hairs are just one way that dogs have evolved to suit their environments. They’re a crucial part of your dog’s body, and you should take good care of them so your dog is happy and healthy! Learning everything you can about how your dog interacts with the world can help you become a better dog owner. Your dog undoubtedly thanks you for your diligence and understanding.

Featured Image Credit: Julia Zavalishina, Shutterstock

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