That is the question that plagues dog owners each summer, want to give their pet a short haircut so they won’t suffer in the heat.

In fact, it isn’t the length of the dog’s coat, but the pet owner’s willingness to devote time to caring for it that determines whether a summer haircut is needed.

Even the longest-coated dog can be comfortable in hot climates. The hair on a well-groomed dog will actually keep him cool  because it acts as insulation against the heat. As long as the pet is healthy, even double-coated and heavy-coated breeds can be comfortable all summer, says Best Friends Director of Grooming Val Penstone, because after the undercoat has been shed, the outer coat provides insulation from the heat and protection from the sun.”

Mats + knots = clip

The condition of the coat determines whether or not it should be cut. A matted coat will trap heat and moisture, causing redness, irritation and odors. It requires thorough and frequent brushing to prevent mats and the corresponding skin problems and discomfort. When hair becomes severely matted, even a professional groomer won’t be able to brush out the mats and a drastic clip-down becomes a necessity.

The best strategy, says Penstone, is to keep your pet’s coat trimmed year round  unless you are willing to spend time every day brushing and combing. Most dogs need a haircut every six to nine weeks. Fluffy coats, such as those on Poodles and Bichons, probably need attention every four to six weeks, as do long straight coats (the Lhasa, Shih Tzu, Yorkie, Maltese, Afghan, etc.) and soft-coated terriers. The best way to determine your pet’s grooming needs is to speak with a professional groomer about your pet and your expectations, Penstone says.

Be sun smart

If you decide to clip for summer comfort, it’s important to remember that, without his coat, your pet will need extra protection from the sun, flies and other parasites. Exposed skin is sensitive to the sun, and can sunburn very easily. Severe sunburn can lead to several skin disorders, including skin cancer.

Some pet experts believe that dogs with a black coat absorb the sun’s rays more readily and therefore get hot more quickly than lighter-colored dogs. If this is the case with your pet, they say, clipping the dog’s coat a little shorter for summer may help to keep the dog cooler.

Penstone stresses that the thickness of pet’s coat is not the primary cause of susceptibility to heat stress. Rather, it is obesity. So no matter what length you decide is best for you and your dog, make sure he always has access to cool, fresh water  and don’t be surprised if he decides to take a dip in it!