Removing Burrs on the Trail
I love my dog Barley’s fluffy, silky coat. He’s a sight to behold when he’s enjoying the breeze, tail whipping in the wind as he bounds across a mountain ridge. Unfortunately, that glorious floof has its downside: Barley collects everything on the trail. At times, he may have an entire micro-ecosystem of burrs, stickers, lichens, moss, twigs, and even 6-inch sticks tangled in his coat.
Of course, no one wants burrs and stickers caught in their dog’s coat. They always seem to end up working their way into your couch or somewhere else inconvenient. The burrs in your dog’s coat can also transport the seeds of invasive species from one trailhead to another, spreading harmful species. And foxtails and other grass seeds can burrow into your dog’s flesh, causing painful infections. It can be extremely important to remove these seeds ASAP!
Of course, the longer the burrs stay on your dog, the more likely they are to become hopelessly tangled in their coat and be difficult to remove.
That’s why it’s important to try and remove burrs and other plant matter right away. In many cases, you can simply pluck the plants from your dog’s coat with your fingers as soon as you notice them.
It helps to teach your dog to stand still for grooming at home first, then start transferring that skill over to the trail. I teach this by smearing some peanut butter or cream cheese on a Licki Mat, then practicing grooming my dog at home. Over time, I reduce the amount of food that we use and continue rewarding my dog for standing still with extra treats.
We then practice basic grooming around the yard or on walks. I continue to drop treats for my dog as he stands still. We practice lifting his paws, checking nails, looking inside ears, and running my hands all over his body to check for ticks or burrs or cactus spines.
Sometimes it’s difficult to remove burrs by hand on the trail, but we have a few tricks we can try! In many cases, it’s hard to remove something because it hurts for you to grip. If you carry a multi-tool on the trail, you can try to crush the spines of the burr or pull the cactus spine out with the pliers. Crushing burrs really helps make them easier to remove.
If your multi-tool has scissors, sometimes it’s best to just cut the burr out. I try not to do this too often because it can really make my dog’s coat look ragged, but sometimes it’s the only option. This can also be done at the trail to avoid moving seeds around.
Not all of us carry multi-tools on the trail. When I know I’m in an area that’s likely to have lots of burrs or foxtails, I put trauma shears and a flea comb into my pack. But sometimes I’m caught by surprise, and we just have to make do.
Sometimes a bit of coconut oil can help to get grass seeds out. During foxtail season, you can add coconut oil and tweezers to your bag. You can then apply a bit of the coconut oil onto the foxtail to loosen it up and remove it with the tweezers.
If I can’t remove the burrs by hand, I have one last option to get the plant matter out quickly without transporting seeds: removing them back at my car. At this point, the plants may be much more tangled than if I’d taken care of them back on the trail. But sometimes it’s our only option.
I try to always keep scissors and a comb or two in my car. They go in a trail dog box in my trunk, along with some towels and an extra leash. Once I’m back at the car, I can tie my dog to the car and get to work removing burrs however I need to.
I like using a wide-spaced rotating-tooth comb to brush out large mats or burrs, then switch over to a tighter-spaced tooth comb for detail work. Flea combs can be incredibly useful for foxtails, but can be difficult to use on dogs with thicker coats. The rotating-tooth combs help pull burrs out with a bit less pain for your dog.
In the absolute worst case, you can remove the burrs, seeds, or plant matter at home with whatever full grooming kit you keep there. While it may be more convenient to go this route, remember that by leaving the trailhead with those seeds, you’re potentially spreading a harmful species elsewhere. Even if the plant isn’t invasive, if it produces seeds that are that difficult to remove, it’s probably not a plant you want at all your local trails.