What Is Hand Stripping?
Hand stripping is the process of manually removing dead hairs from the follicle to encourage new hairs to grow in with a naturally thick and bristly texture.
Why is this important?
Thick and wiry coats are a desirable trait for working breeds and show dogs (following AKC standards).
By manually removing hairs from the skin you help maintain proper coat texture and color. By cutting hairs (with clippers or scissors) you may be causing permanent damage (more on that later).
Keep in mind this process causes no pain or discomfort when done properly.
Wiry coated breeds go through a cycle in which hair reaches a maximum length and is ready to be pulled. In the past, working terriers would have their coats naturally pulled by running through brush, hunting, tunneling, or simply by going about their day.
Without these daily activities follicles have trouble shedding hairs which will cause the coat to become overgrown (also called a “blown” coat).
At this point the hair is easy to remove from the follicle.
Grooming coordinates with this cycle to manually remove dead and loose hairs, while also allowing us to shape the coat to appear more stylish.
The average pet will only need stripping every 3 to 6 months, however more frequent grooming will make for a more desirable “show coat”. Show dogs are plucked weekly, often multiple days per week.
Which Dogs Get Hand Stripped?
Any dog with a wiry coat that is easily removed can get hand stripped. This includes most Terrier breeds, as well as some sporting or hound breeds. Many mixed terrier type dogs from southern areas also have a ‘strippable’ coat.
Here’s a few examples:
- Airdale Terriers
- Wirefox Terriers
- Wirehaired Dachshunds
- Border Terriers
- West Highland White Terriers
- Irish Wolfhounds
Why Can’t We Use Clippers?
Using clippers on a wire coat will cause long term or permanent damage!
Stripping is the process of removing the hair completely from the skin. By removing individual hairs we stimulate the hair root and encourage new thick wiry hairs to take it’s place.
Cutting the hair (using clippers or scissors) will not remove the root, and hairs will often grow back improperly.
Hairs that are cut (not pulled):
- Grow back thin and silky, creating a nightmare of matting and tangles.
- Will become difficult to clean and retain bad odors.
- Colors will appear diluted or faded, or will disappear to completely white.
The end result of cutting hair (rather than stripping) completely changes the look and feel of your dog, and makes their coat much more difficult to manage.
Why Do Some Dogs Have a Wire Coat?
The history of wire coats can be traced back to origins of terrier breeds.
The word “terrier” comes from the old french name chien terrier – and translates to “earth dog” – indicating it’s purpose rather than to the breed itself. These dogs were meant to tunnel in search of vermin.
Terrier dogs assisted hunters and farmers during the 1800’s in search of rabbits, badgers, rats, and other small vermin. Later they would be bred with hounds and other breeds to improve their hunting skills.
The fitted, coarse coat offers natural protection while hunting and tunneling, as well as:
- A protective layer against bites from vermin.
- Protection from harsh brush, burrs, and branches.
- Dust, dirt, and water easily falls away from a wire coat.
- Long eyebrows protect terrier’s eyes from dirt and bites while they are “down the hole”.
Hair Growth Stages
Similar to human hair, canine hair goes through a continuous growth and shedding cycle.
Anagen is the initial growth phase for new hair. Hair will continuously grows from the roots. During this phase hair growth can range from 5 days to 7 years.
Catagen is the transitional phase in which hairs reach their full length and stop growing.
Telogen is the Resting phase in which hairs rest within the root while new hairs grow beneath it. The old hair will eventually be ready to shed, or in this case, hand stripped.
Each phase can be affected by age, nutrition (or dietary changes), stress, and overall health.
Hand stripping is removing hairs following the Telogen phase. The pulling of hairs triggers a response in the follicle in which new hairs are encouraged to grow – maintaining their original coarse texture.
How Groomers Hand Strip
Your dog has two layers coats – an Undercoat (the soft under-layer of hair that insulates), and a coarse, protective outer layer called the Guardcoat or Top Coat.
Each individual hair follicle will contain several hairs of both Undercoat and Guard coat.
As we remove undercoat we encourage more guard coat to take it’s place.
Again, the goal is to encourage a thick and textured coat called a Jacket. While also shaping the coat into our desired style.
Hand Stripping Tools
As the name implies, hand stripping can be done with just your hands. However, tools will make the job a little easier (especially for newcomers).
Don’t let the name stripping knife confuse you – this knife is not for cutting.
In fact, the duller your knife the better. They’re simply a dull toothed comb that allows groomers to get a better grip (before stripping knives were widely available groomers would often use a dulled butter knife).
Groomers will grip hair between the flat of the blade and their thumb, and then gently pull in the direction of growth. The teeth help guide the coat into your finger and up onto the flat of the blade.
Knives come in 4 main varieties:
- Extra fine (or detail) – For the head, ears, face
- Fine – Head, neck, finishing all areas
- Medium – Body, legs
- Coarse – Body, large breeds
Each blade is a comb with teeth that range in density. A coarse comb allows more hair through untouched, while a ‘extra fine’ comb will remove the majority of hair.
Finer blades are used for finer detail work (such as the face), while coarse blades are used for the body or large breeds.
Unfortunately there is no “one size fits all” – you will need all four knives to complete a full groom. However, there is an alternative method using a stripping stone (which we’ll cover later).
Remember: Stripping knives should never cut hairs and therefore should be quite dull. If your knife is cutting into the hairs then manually dulling on a rough surface is recommended.
I personally have a carpet sample from a hardware store filled with chalk and sand that I will rub my knives on. Others will cut up a cardboard box before using their knives to dull them. Do not ever use a fresh knife on a dog.
Stripping stones are a great all-in-one tool that can card and strip. Their rough surface allows for gripping onto hairs without cutting or digging into the skin.
If you’re just starting out I recommend using a stone as it can be used for multiple tasks – such as carding, and for finer details such as the face or neck.
Bonus Tip: If the stone is too large for your hands try cutting it in half.
Carding knives come in many shapes and sizes, and many stripping knives can be used for carding by changing from a pulling to a raking technique.
We ‘card’ as the very first step in the process to remove excess undercoat and to allow for easier hand stripping with our stripping knives.
For thicker coated breeds you may find a bladed undercoat rake helpful. But it’s not a suitable replacement for a carding knife or stripping stone.
I only recommend these if you have a very thick coated large breed.
I often use an undercoat rake on pet Airedales, Lakelands, and Wire Foxes. Some breeds may not need undercoat removal (Dachshunds, for example, typically do not have as much undercoat as their long-legged terrier counterparts.)
Hand Stripping Techniques
This is typically the first step of the process (if necessary). Carding or Raking is the removal of undercoat with a knife, pumice stone, or undercoat rake. This also encourages the coat to lay flat which allows for easier hand stripping in the next step.
Remember: Just because we’re using a carding knife does not always mean we’re actually carding. Carding is the action of removing undercoat (with whichever tool we deem necessary at the time.)
Plucking is essentially hand stripping with your hands. Groomers will hold the skin tight and use their finger tips to pull a few hairs at a time. This is a slow and methodical process that requires a high level of skill.
Stripping is using a tool to hand strip. We use an assortment of hand stripping knives for different parts of the body. Always pull in the direction of the grain.
Remember: Stripping Knives do not actually cut – they’re for getting a tight grip. Always ensure your knives are dulled beforehand.
Rolling is a method of removing undercoat by folding the skin into a roll to reveal long undercoat hairs. The long hairs are then removed by stripping or plucking.
Patterns and Styles
Think of hand stripping as the process, and shaping and styling as the end result we want.
Most breeds have their own distinct grooming style. This is especially important if you are hand stripping for the show ring.
- Wire Haired Dachshunds, for example, should have a sleek body and appear almost like a smooth coated dachshund, but with a prominent beard and eyebrows.
- While the Irish Wolfhound has a ‘rustic’ look that almost appears messy.
When beginning this process it’s important to study each breed and their unique grooming requirements.
Hand stripping is best left to the professionals.
This process, if done incorrectly, can be very uncomfortable for your dog. Stripping too short, removing far too much coat, or using the wrong technique or tools are common mistakes.
If you are causing large bald patches with redness, bumps, or rashing then immediately STOP.
A freshly stripped dog will have open follicles and very sensitive skin for several days. Bathing immediately after must be done with great care.
The Truth About Bathing
Bathing is a hot topic in the hand stripping world right now.
Many multi-generation handlers don’t ever bathe their dogs jackets, preferring a quick wipe with water and Listerine.
Newer groomers are learning more and more about skin science and how bathing actually does help the dog’s skin.
With that being said, bathing a stripped dog should be done with the utmost caution!
Bathing stripped dogs can easily introduce infection. Therefore I always recommend you:
- Use cool water and a very gentle shampoo (Artero “Relax” is made specially for stripped dogs).
- Ensure your bottles/cups/containers are cleaned and sanitized.
- Your towel must be brand new or freshly washed.
When in doubt, bathe 2-3 weeks before stripping and wait one week post-strip to bathe your dog.
Important Terms To Remember
Here’s a few terms you will likely hear hand-stripping groomers use:
Jacket refers to the coarse outer coat or guard coat on your wire coated breed.
Carding is the first stage of hand stripping where we remove excess undercoat using a ‘carding knife’. This encourages the coat to lay flat which allows for easier hand stripping.
Rolling – Taking the skin and forming a roll, allowing the longest hairs to be quickly and easily plucked without pulling the shorter under-layers.
Plucking is hand stripping without the assistance of tools (using your hands only). This is done only by skilled groomers.
Jammies refers to a dog being stripped down “naked” or very short to their undercoat.
In the Rough is a dog with a coat that is completely grown out and ungroomed.
Staging is stripping different sections of the dog at different times so you get a desired result. For example: The longest parts of the coat are pulled first and left for 6-8 weeks, so the dog is in perfect coat for a dog show. Dogs will be pulled baby-skin smooth in those areas.
Shaping is the process of hand stripping to achieve a certain style or “shape”.
Furnishings are the long hairs on the legs, head, and belly.
Top Coat / Guard Coat – The coarse out layer of the coat.
Undercoat – The softer and thicker under layer of coat.