The idea of spinning dog hair is… well. I’m not as grossed out by it as some are, but it’s a little weird. After all, I grew up with dogs. I know how cuddly they are, and how stinky. Sheep are at a safe and idyllic remove; I’m only rarely confronted with their animal bodily processes. With pets, and especially indoor dogs, their bodily processes are entirely our responsibility.
So while I’m not completely grossed out by the idea of spinning dog hair, the idea does make me ask the obvious question: how am I going to get it clean?
I was casting about for sources of dog hair when we ended up with a surprise dogsitting job for a week. Our friend’s dog Styles needed a different home while they sorted out the yard where he lives. He’s a beautiful pure white husky mutt, an Inuit sled dog. Wouldn’t you know it, during that week he was shedding like a monster! And his owner, my friend Lorraine, happily gave me the hair they had been collecting in an old pot outside.
I have never owned a large dog, and Styles is a powerful sled dog. I finally borrowed a harness from another friend and hooked him up to the stroller, because keeping him heeled while pushing a stroller was just too much for me. This way he got to help! Though I did have to keep a firm hold on him, or the stroller would have ended up in a ditch.
He’s strong, but just about the sweetest thing I have ever met. He loves attention and belly rubs. We went out to our friend’s cabin for one afternoon while he was with us, and he got so much joy running over the tundra. When he was bored he would come find me and lie on top of the blueberry patch I was picking, waiting for belly rubs. He’s officially ruined me for dog ownership – I can’t imagine a dog sweeter than he is!
After we said goodbye to Styles, I faced his fur. I decided that whatever Dog Stank is made of chemically, it can’t be worse than Sheep Stank. I stuffed all the fur in a lingerie bag and washed it the same way I wash raw wool: A bath of super-hot (but not boiling) water with lots of Dawn, let it sit for 30 mins. Repeat. Then again, without the Dawn, four times. This worked just fine. The resulting fur was a bit matted, but pulled apart easily, and felt clean and odor-free.
The matted lumps came apart into a surprisingly large quantity of airy fiber. It was very easy to spin (at least compared to some other stuff I’ve been spinning lately). I went fairly thick on a high ratio. I spun from the cloud, long-draw-ish, and didn’t worry much about consistency.
There was rather a lot of guard hair in it; whatever coat he was shedding at the moment was definitely both a soft undercoat and regular short doggy guard hairs. So it looks nice, with an impressive halo, but it ain’t soft, with all those pokey ends sticking out. Those guard hairs might fall out over time, which would help.
Surprisingly, the swatch feels much softer knit up than the yarn does in the skein. I’m not sure why that is. Maybe the tips of some of the hairs are bent inside the fabric? Another surprise is that the yarn knit up at the same gauge on US 5s and 7s. That is, I suppose, what happens with all that halo!
It would be fun to try blending this dog hair with other fiber, and seeing what it’s like when harvested at different times of year. I believe most arctic dogs shed twice a year. This yarn is VERY warm. It would add a lot of warmth to a wool blend. I also wonder what kind of work would be involved in getting the dog hairs out, and whether it would be worth it.
Dogs have been living in the north for as long as humans have, as far as we know, and that would be over ten thousand years. They are awfully good at keeping warm in this weather. I don’t usually think of dogs as fiber-bearing animals, but this is obviously untrue! If you can go to the trouble of harvesting it, it’s no dirtier than sheep’s wool, and is definitely worth cleaning, spinning, and making into something beautiful and insulating.