Have you ever seen a dog with dreadlocks and been tempted to blame its owners for cultural appropriation, either of Rastafarianism, or ancient Greek boxing, or that alien species of Predator franchise? Most dog lovers are used to having or encountering dogs with straight, curly, or fluffy coats, so the appearance of a dog with thick, braided fur can be surprising. A dog with dreads is a furry phenomenon that never ceases to baffle dog lovers. Colloquially, we call these breeds “mopping dogs,” but the proper term for these thick rope-like coats is “cording,” and the process that leads to this unusual appearance is called “cording.”
For a few breeds of dogs, especially sheepdogs that trace their origins to central Europe – far from the coasts of Jamaica or the Mediterranean – rope training is a natural, albeit time-consuming, affair. In dogs with corded coats due to genetics, growing a fully corded coat can take several years. For other double-coated dogs, dreadlocks are a choice on the part of their people, usually as preparation for conformation show aesthetics. Here are the five dog breeds that can be mop-like, either by nature or by choice:
Whether working dogs, show dogs, or general pets, are there benefits to a corded coat for these breeds? What are the potential risks and benefits for both dog and owner of looking like a household cleaning tool? Let’s take a closer look at each dog in turn.
Our first breed, the Bergamasco, has its origins in the Italian Alps, around the province of Bergamo, just north of Milan. Where most of the dogs we review here are double-coated, this sheepdog’s coat is made up of three coat varieties. It has two undercoats, one short and smooth and another longer and stiffer. The topcoat is curlier and has the consistency of the sheepskin it usually takes care of.
With a typical lifespan of 15 years, it takes a full year before the odd-looking coat even begins to take on its usual shape. By the age of 5, a bergamask’s coat reaches its full length and texture. The accumulation of mats and cords serves several useful purposes. They regulate the dog’s body temperature, protecting it from alpine cold and summer heat. For their part, scaly-looking carpets not only resemble the skin of lizards and armadillos, but also perform the same protective function. Where most sheepdogs rely on size to intimidate predators, the Bergamasco’s coat also serves as a kind of follicular bulletproof vest.
Roping and matting are natural for the Havanese, but can be more problematic for this small breed of dog. The matting process is shorter for Havanese dogs; their coats can be a mess of matted fur in just two years. This is a breed for which roping must be handled by a professional groomer or a well-trained hand. Havanese need constant, even daily brushing to prevent mats and cords from forming on their own.
For longtime Havanese owners, coat maintenance is less like grooming and more like growing a vineyard or trellising tomatoes; it takes a certain amount of skill and dedication. Since these are small dogs, if they are allowed or encouraged to produce carefully dreadlocks, having shorter hair than the Bergamasco means it is relatively easier to bathe and dry. No matter how thick their knotted coats are, Havanese are always sensitive to heat and cold, so their cordage tends to be an aesthetic choice.
Originating in modern-day Hungary, the Komondor is the breed most casual dog aficionados associate with thick, low dreads. Like its Italian cousin, the Hungarian mop dog is a working breed, known for its ability to herd and protect livestock. The long, thick cords that cover the body take a few years to come together naturally. They provide insulation against extreme cold and weather protection during heavy rain.
From around 9 months of age, Komondor brand lanyards begin to take shape. Domestic Komondorok (the proper pluralization), which may be less active than working dogs, are more at risk of becoming tangled and tangled. Since their coats tend to attract debris in and out of the home, experienced homeowners know that cord grooming that of a mature Komondor is a job that requires patience and quite a bit of skill. Bathing a dog whose dreads have reached full length can present particular problems, as drying them haphazardly or incompletely after a bath can lead to an unpleasant, lingering odor.
A Hungarian breed, like the Komondor, the Puli are decidedly smaller and faster dogs. Diet, conditioning, and overall health impact the formation of the Puli’s chords. If the dog’s two coats are not growing at a similar rate, its cords may not come together at all, or be weaker than normal, with a tendency to fall off the body when they become too bulky.
Rather than allow their dog dreads to achieve their natural length, some Komondor and Puli owners minimize maintenance work by periodically cutting the cords. Shorter coats also put these mop dogs at less risk of mats and tangles, as well as shortening the time it takes to dry off after baths.
String the poodle
Of all the breeds we’ve covered, the Curly-Coated Poodle is the only dog that tends to look more like a lamb than a mop. Poodles are one of the most groomed dog breeds. From puffy tails to pompadoured heads, poodle presentation has become an art.
Until the turn of the 20th century, canine fantasy enthusiasts assumed that dogs without wires and Corded Poodles were separate races. In 1890, one of the first dog show champion poodles was a dreadlocked dog named Achilles. Much more common in the 19th century, conformation shows are the most likely place to find a poodle corded in the 21st, due to the extreme amount of work it takes to maintain appearances.
Here ends our survey of mop dog breeds! Have you ever owned one of these dogs or tried stringing your own dog’s coat? Tell us about your experiences in the comments!