Hand Stripping Basics
by Laura Reeves, PHA
All coat types require specific grooming in order to keep the coat in top condition. Show dog or couch dog, they all need to be clean, brushed and well maintained so they stay happy and healthy.
Show dogs with Wire Coats are hand stripped (either with bare fingers or using a stripping knife) in order to remove the dead coat, create shape, and maintain the proper coat texture/color for each breed.
Most of the Terrier breeds, as well as several Sporting, Hound and Toy breeds, are hand stripped for the Show Ring. It’s important to know the breed’s grooming standards and have a good idea of what the end result should look like before starting. For example, the Spinone Italiano standard is very specific in that grooming is for tidiness and the dog should not have a “pattern”to its trimming, whereas, the Airedale Terrier has a very precise outline.
What is hand stripping?
Hand stripping is a grooming method that involves plucking/pulling out the dog’s hair, always in the direction it grows. Wire Coated dogs have what's called a “releasing hair follicle.” In nature, the dog’s work would cause it to catch the coat in weeds and sticks, and the hair would simply pull out relatively painlessly rather than get tangled as a longer, silkier hair type would.
The tools used for stripping depend on the breed, the type of coat and how precisely the work needs to be done. Stripping the coat is generally divided into three sections: a. the flatwork (head, cheeks, ears, jaw line and down the neck line), b. jacket (the back and sides) and c. the furnishings (legs, beard, eyebrows). Hand stripping is a time consuming and detail oriented process, which is why shaving a dog may seem more desirable. However, shaving a Wire Coat damages the coat’s proper texture/color and is not allowed for the Show Ring.
The hand stripping technique involves properly gripping and pulling the hair. To grip the hair, be sure each hair is firmly grasped either between thumb and the side of the forefinger or thumb and blade. To properly pull the hair, make sure to pull *straight* back in the direction of the growth. This can get tricky around the bum and at the sides of the neck where the hair grows in all different directions. Do NOT pull *up* and away from the dog or against the grain of the hair. Your hand should follow the line of the dog’s body, with your wrist kept straight in order to avoid breaking the coat. If you are using a stripping knife, be sure the blade is used only for a better grip. If you cut or break the coat, you’ve accomplished the same thing as shaving the dog.
+Expert Tip: Be sure, as you are pulling the coat, to hold the skin from in front of where you are pulling to keep it taut. This will minimize any discomfort for the dog.
+Expert Tip: A good tip for newer groomers is to use a Chris Christensen Stripping Stone (kind of like a smooth pumice stone) to learn how to pull hair without bending your wrist or breaking coat.
For fine hair and hard to reach areas, such as the inner ear, use the Chris Christensen Michelangelo Sculpting Stone.
Another tip is to use a harsh coat grooming chalk, such as the Crown Royale Grooming Powder, which gives a better grip to the hair. If a dog has particularly sensitive skin I’ve used the R7 Ear Powder which contains a bit of a numbing agent.
What is raking?
In certain instances, you may need to rake out the undercoat to help create the desired shape (remove bulk at the shoulders, over the loin or the base of the tail for example). In this instance, you can use a *dull* stripping knife laid essentially flat against the dog and simply “rake” or comb along the coat in the direction the hair grows. When done properly you will see only the soft, fluffy undercoat show up in the “teeth” of the knife. If you see hard coat in the knife or if no under coat is removed, your technique needs some work.
You can also use the Mars Coat King in various tooth widths for this task. Keeping your wrist absolutely still will be necessary in order not to break the coat.The coat king is an amazing tool for breezing through a dog with heavy undercoat, but be careful of damaging the top coat.
Plucking/pulling the coat on a dog leaves the hair follicles open and susceptible to infection if not properly maintained. I dampen the dog all over with a diluted (10:1) mixture of Listerine and water. This serves as a disinfectant without softening the coat. Then rub the flatwork and jacket firmly in the direction it lies, with a rolled towel. Blot or squeeze dry the furnishings, don’t scrub.
The frequency in which you need to work a dog’s coat depends, again, on breed, individual and coat type. A rule of thumb is a jacket needs to be “topped,”in other words the long hairs pulled to maintain shape, weekly. Flatwork, depending on the breed and how precise the work needs to be, might need to be touched up every couple days. Generally furnishings are pulled every couple weeks. Keep in mind that even individuals within a breed will differ. One German Wirehaired Pointer pulled down tight to start new coat growth might look good in a couple weeks. Another it might be a couple months. Learn your individual dog before you “pull it to the skin”a couple weeks before the show!
Learning to hand strip a coat well and properly takes lots and lots of practice and years to refine skills. My best recommendation for success is to find a breeder or handler of wire coated dogs who is willing to teach you with hands on supervision and direction.
Good luck and good wins!