The Bergamasco is an extraordinary looking dog with their gorgeous mats and flock coats which breeders often refer to as "maps". However, flocks only start developing in a dog's coats when they are around 6 months old. This is when a young dog's hair starts to mat and the reason this happens is because the Bergamasco actually has three types of hair in their coats. Each dog's coat is different, some of them will develop a lot more mats than others and at a different rate too.
These mats start to develop in specific areas first, namely around a young dog's head, on their chests and lastly on their hind quarters. If you have just got a Bergamasco puppy, it's best to bath them before their mats start to form because afterwards, it becomes a lot more complicated especially when it comes to drying a dog off. Bathing mature, adult dogs that boast full and gorgeous matted coats, is something you should only do if absolutely necessary.
You will also notice that your dog's coat is not matted close to their skin, but rather around a quarter to half an inch away from it, which is a good thing, because it allows a dog's skin to breathe. If you find matted hair further down their coats than usual, this is more likely to be a tangle rather than a mat which needs taking out. The best way to do this is by pulling the tangle or knot apart with your fingers although if you are really gentle you can comb them out being careful not to pull too hard which could up tearing your dog's skin.
As previously mentioned, mats first start to form on a Bergamasco's head and in particular around their lower jaw and muzzle. Next, they start to develop on around their ears and finally on the rest of their heads. You should try to minimise the amount of matting that develops on your dog's head by brushing them out because this helps keep your dog's head and face a lot cleaner.
You can also brush out mats around your dog's ears if you want or you might prefer to keep a few of them, in which case all you have to do is regularly and gently pull them apart by starting at the end and working your way to your pet's skin and you need to do this as flocks develop.
Mats on a Bergamasco's head should never be any wider than the size of a pencil, but if you find they grow wider, all you have to do is keep separating them to the required width. You need to pay particular attention around the ears which are sensitive areas and this means being extra gentle when you pull mats apart to avoid tearing at your pet's skin.
As with any puppy, it's much better to keep grooming sessions short and sweet, especially when working around their heads. The best time to start doing this is when puppy is nice and tired which means they won't fidget too much as you gently pull on their mats. A few sessions every week will be enough to keep a young dog's flocks looking good as they develop.
When it comes to the chin, you can trim the hair so it's an inch or two long which is quite acceptable and a good idea because it means your dog's mouth is kept that much cleaner especially when they eat and drink. If however, you want to leave the hair longer, you should brush it out regularly and carefully with a slicker brush. Another great tool to use around the muzzles is a #10 Coat King Stripper.
The key is to prevent a young Bergamasco's coat from getting too matted can be achieved by encouraging "clumps" to develop rather than larger areas of matted hair. These clumps can be anything from 2 or 3 fingers wide and although it can be a little hard to do at first, with perseverance you will achieve the end goal. It's important to take your time and be very patient, especially as once the flocks are separated you'll find a couple of days later they've grown back together again!
It's best to work on specific areas of the body, namely the chest first, then your pet's sides working your way to their hind quarters. You need to bear in mind this will take time and nothing will be achieved in week. It's an ongoing process with young Bergamascos and as with most things practice makes perfect!
As time goes on, clumps will become more defined, especially when the mats get to be around 3 to 4 inches long which is typically when a Bergamasco reaches around twelve months old. It really is a matter of preference how wide the mats are on their bodies, but they should never be thicker than say around 1½" because if they are, flocks are much harder to keep looking good and if your dog gets wet, their coats will take that much longer to dry off. The one area of the body which should not be kept matted is around the withers.
Tails and legs need to be done really gently because it tends to be quite difficult to separate the mats that form on these particular areas of your pet's body. You need to keep the flocks to about one or two fingers wide and the further you go down the leg, the narrow the mats need to be. The reason being that it looks so much better and also means your dog's paws and lower legs will dry out a lot faster when they've get wet.
On the tail, flocks need to be kept to about a 1 finger in width. You will have trim under the sides of the tail and down the sides of your dog's rear end to prevent any poo catching in their mats which could mean a very smelly dog. It's also a good idea to trim areas under the belly and around your dog's private parts, being extremely careful when you do and only using good quality scissors and preferably a pair with ends rounded off so you don't end up stabbing your pet with them.