Dog Breed Info


History of Handstripping
Before there were grooming salons or professional groomers, dogs were kept for a certain purpose or job, and the state of their coats and of their looks was immaterial, as long as they did their job to the best of their ability. The first breeds with coats that required handstripping were bred primarily for fox hunting. Huntsmen began to breed for a wire coat because they believed that this type of coat would protect the dogs more during their work. The dogs were bred to go underground to fight the fox in the den and needed protection against the teeth of the fox. At this time, the dogs were groomed naturally, that is, their environment and the different seasons took care of their coats. The old dead coat was removed by bushes and underground roots, so there was no need to groom the dogs to better fulfill their job, and their relative beauty failed to concern the huntsmen. This all changed when the first exhibition of dogs started in the late 1800's in Great Britain. Those showing dogs wanted to give their dogs the appearance of "groomed" working dogs, without endangering their prize specimens in the hunt, so they sought a way in which to rid the coat of dead hair without sending their dogs into the underground warrens of the foxes. Some of the terriers that came to the show were handstripped to rid the coat of dead hair before the competition, therefore giving them a much more striking appearance which simulated the look of fit, sleek working dogs. This started a controversy which lasted until the mid 1920's. The main concern about the grooming of the terriers specifically for the show, rather than letting the coats get groomed naturally during the hunt, was that they would lose their working skills and that grooming should be reserved for the toy or so-called companion breeds. The terriers that were groomed by man using a handstripping technique, rather than by their environment, began to win more and more at the shows. Soon the battle was won and the wonderful art of handstripping began.

Hand stripping is a technique that is and has been utilized primarily in show grooming by professional handlers because it is the correct way to maintain and groom specific coat types. Many dog grooming and styling salons do not offer handstripping simply due to lack of knowledge and misunderstanding of the technique, however, more and more pet families are educated on the proper way to maintain these coat types to not only keep the rich coat colors, but also to help prevent skin disorders. Handstripping removes excess coat naturally (meaning that no tool is utilized to cut the length of coat), unlike clippering, thinning or scissoring, so skin health is enhanced. To be a professional all breed bather, groomer or stylist, you must be able to understand and master the art of handstripping to properly take care of these coat types on man's best friend.

A coat type that should be handstripped is different than coat types that do not require this technique. In breeds with these coat types, the topcoat does not shed naturally, so the old and dead topcoat, frequently referred to as guard hairs, stays in the follicle and the new guard hairs do not have space to grow. This situation will cause itching, scratching and rubbing up against furniture, or rolling on the carpet or ground, in an attempt by the dog to naturally remove this dead coat. Handstripping is a very natural method of removing this type of coat and it creates much healthier skin and helps retain the proper coat texture and color required for the breed. The alternative to handstripping is removing the coat in an unnatural method by cutting the length of coat by clippering, scissoring or thinning, rather than pulling the dead hair from the hair follicle.

This technique is used primarily to remove topcoat rather than undercoat and is usually applied on the following type coats:
  • Tight Wire
  • Scruffy Wire
  • Broken
  • Sporting
  • Sporting Saddle

Handstripping is performed before the bath and after the bath.

Sharp Versus Blunt Stripping Knives
A blunt stripping knife is the correct tool to use when stripping down a coat, however, most of the stripping knives are sharp when they come from the manufacturer. The knives must be "dulled" before using them. To dull the stripping knife, you can sand the edge using sandpaper, or any other surface that will dull the sharp edge. Using a sharp knife to remove coat also requires much more strength and power than using a dull knife because you are attempting to cut the hair rather than remove the hair. A semi-sharp is used for plucking, trimming and shaping. Sharp knives are only used for shaping, however, there are professional groomers and stylists who only strip with sharp knives and still get a good result. This says more about their technical skills than about the knives they are using. The sharp and semi-sharp knives are only used when you are rotating a so-called " tight jacket" on a tight wire type of coat. A good rule of thumb here is: the more detailed your work, the sharper the knife can be that you're using. The following are terms that we have discussed and are used in the world of handstripping that you must be familiar with in order to converse with other handstripping specialists:

Chalking the Coat
Applying chalk to the coat helps you to grasp the hair and makes the handstripping procedure more efficient, easier for the professional and easier for the dog. Apply the chalk before the bath so that it can be removed during the bath. Do not use chalk after the bath unless you are competing in a grooming competition or showing the dog in the conformation ring. Chalk is applied at this time to create more volume or texture but is washed out immediately after the competition to prevent drying the coat and damaging the skin.

Handstripping Technique
Handstripping can appear to be a very aggressive technical procedure if not applied in a professional manner. Many groomers create this aggressive impression by pulling too much coat at one time or by pulling coat that is not ready to be removed naturally, making the dog respond in a very negative manner. Other negative visuals related to this technique are grabbing the loose skin on the back of the dog with one hand, creating a fist with your hand, and aggressively pulling the coat out with the other hand with a "concentration frown" on the face of the professional that can be misconstrued by the average pet family as painful or stressful for their dog. Many pet families refuse to have their dog's coat handstripped after witnessing such a handstripping session. In fact, this type of session can cause the pet family not to return to the salon. To master the technique of handstripping with professionalism, a focus must be on gentle handling. Use music to help you create smooth, gentle and precise movements with a good rhythm. Keep the concentration frown off your face and replace it with a professional smile. Practice these moves in front of a mirror until you are able to achieve a professional image.

Handstripping by Hand (Hand Plucking) or With a Stripping Knife
There are a lot of different opinions about the proper way to handstrip a coat. Do you handstrip using the thumb and index finger, a technique commonly referred to as "plucking," or do you use a stripping knife? The "old timers" say the only way to handstrip a coat properly is by plucking. If a stripping knife is used, they believe it will damage the coat by cutting or breaking the hair to a point that is irreversible. This is not true. There is no difference between stripping by hand or using a stripping knife as long as the professional uses the proper stripping technique with the proper stripping knife. Incorrect treatment of topcoat, by using the wrong type of stripping knife that is too sharp, or the wrong technique, such as twisting the wrist, can damage the coat by cutting rather than plucking, however, it can be reversed, though this takes time and effort. As professionals, we must thoroughly understand the proper tools and technique to prevent damage to these coat types.

Handstripping Schedule
Establishing a handstripping schedule is critical if you want to create and maintain the ultimate handstripped coats. The reason for setting these handstripping schedules is to establish different layers or lengths of coat so the overall appearance of the coat always looks the same, keeping in mind, however, that the coat may appear shorter at one time than the other, depending on the condition of the coat, overall health and the time of the year. The most important step in grooming these coat types is that you establish a schedule and stick with it so that the time between each handstripping session is the same. For example, if the dog comes in every 6 weeks during the whole year for a handstripping session, and then comes in off schedule for a Christmas grooming or if the dog has been skunked, you can cut nails, clean ears, trim the pads and the sanitary, but you cannot handstrip the coat or you will disturb the layers. The reason for this is that by stripping the coat every 6 weeks you condition the coat to grow and create a new layer in cycles of six weeks, but if you change the time frame it will disturb your layers and set you back for a long time.

The six weeks time frame is the shortest time frame you can use on these coat types to create layers. Actually, it would be easier to set the schedule in a 12 week cycle because the layers will be longer and easier to see, creating a more dense and scruffy look, however, the latter option is less desirable for the average pet family because they prefer a more maintained appearance.

6 Month Handstripping Schedule
If the coat has not been handstripped previously or has not been handstripped in the last 6 months and the coat has grown to its maximum length, you will see that most of the coat is the same length. You have several options in this case. You can pull all the long coat (blown coat), which leaves a really scruffy appearance because you will see only the undercoat, or you can pull "every other hair" so that you still leave topcoat for the overall appearance. The best choice for the care of the skin is to pull all of the coat since the hair is ready to come out.

3 Month Handstripping Schedule
If the coat has been handstripped every three months, you will see two layers, with each layer being a different length. The longer coat is the oldest, which is the coat that must be pulled at this session. The shortest coat is the newer growth which is the layer that stays, but will be pulled next session. When you pull the old coat, the longest coat, it will be replaced with new growth. You will have several options with this dog. This handstripping schedule will give a more scruffy appearance than a coat that is handstripped every 6 weeks. Discuss with the client the overall desired appearance. If the pet family would like the overall scruffy appearance, then continue with the same schedule and pull the longest coat. If they would like to see a tighter overall appearance, schedule the dog for a 6 week handstripping schedule.

6 Week Handstripping Schedule
If the coat has been handstripped every six weeks, you will see three layers or three different lengths of coat. The longest coat is the oldest, the coat that must be pulled this session. The medium length coat grew and replaced the coat that was pulled several sessions ago. The shortest coat, being the newest coat growth, replaced the old coat that you pulled last session.

So basically, after discussing the coats on the three dogs, the more often you handstrip, the more layers or lengths that you will create.

TermType of Stripping KnifeTechniqueCoat Type
Stripping DownBluntRemoving the complete topcoat, also referred to as guard hairs.
    Tight Wire
    Scruffy Wire
    Sporting Saddle
De-FuzzingBluntRemoving the complete undercoat, also referred to as wool. Coats that have been stripped down.
Rolling or RotatingSemi SharpRemoving the longer topcoat or the longest guard hairs without taking the coat as short as stripping down.Breeds who have furnishings on the legs such as the Wire Fox Terrier and breeds with round heads such as the Cairn Terrier or West Highland Terrier.
BlendingSemi SharpRemoving the longer topcoat or guard hairs without taking the coat short to in order to blend into the longer coat.Any dog that has various lengths of hair depending on the pattern.

Plucking by Hand: Technique and Procedure
  • Prepare the coat with chalk.
  • Hold the skin taut with one hand.
  • With the other hand take a small amount of hair using your index finger and thumb and pull in the same direction as the coat growth direction, with short, fast strokes, much like a plucking type motion.

Handstripping with a Knife: Technique and Procedure
  • Prepare the coat with chalk.
  • Hold the skin taut with one hand.
  • Take a small amount of hair between the blade of the stripping knife and your thumb and pull in the same direction as the coat growth direction, using short, fast strokes.

Removing the Coat to Create Even Layers
Handstripping the coat from the hair follicle allows for new growth to come in. If the handstripping is not accomplished in symmetrical sections on the jacket and head, the new hair growth will come in and be uneven, making the dog's jacket or head appear much thicker on one side than the other. It will create an uneven appearance at the time of the stripping session but will be more apparent when the dog returns for the next handstripping session because one area will have more layers and have more volume than the other. You must be systematic when pulling coat, work sections at a time, first on one side of the dog, then on the other. Avoid hopping around and pulling a little of the coat here and a little coat there.

Clippering a Tight, Wire and Broken Wire Coat Type
If the dog does not tolerate handstripping or if handstripping is not an option, then the coat may have to be clippered. Clippering the coat cuts the dead coat rather than removing it, leaving the old coat there only shorter in length. It is critical, however, that the dead coat is removed by using a stripping knife to card the coat before and after the clippering. Make sure to use a blade long enough so as not to cut the undercoat. Remember, clippering a coat will soften a coat and the coat color will also look faded.

Using Thinning Shears with Handstripped Coats
There will be areas on the dog that have a thinner coat than others after you handstrip the coat for the first time, but don't be tempted to use your thinners to blend the coat, just ignore the thinner appearance for this first handstripping session. Remember this rule only applies when it's the first time handstripping the coat.

When you see thinner sections of coat after it has been handstripped previously, you can take the thinner area which is usually the part on the back and handstrip just a little bit out. Take every second hair by handstripping and then use thinning shears to create the required length by top thinning. The required length is the amount of coat needed to create the appropriate hair growth pattern in order to create the proper profile required for the breed.

The hair is usually thinner because the dog doesn't have enough undercoat and guard hair to create a good layer, and it is usually the case with dogs that are (almost) black or white in coloring on their back. If you handstrip the coat correctly the first time creating layers, the overall handstripping sessions during the grooming and styling procedures of this coat type will be easy. Creating layers is also referenced by professionals as rolling or rotating the coat, terms that you will hear often!

De-Fuzzing a Pet with a Tight or Broken Wire Coat 6 to 8 Weeks after Stripping Down a Blown Coat.
Before the bath during the prepping procedures, use a handstripping knife to "card" the undercoat on the dog's body following the correct guidelines to create the proper hair growth pattern and proper profile for the breed. After removing the undercoat, you will find a beautiful, new, crisp topcoat with good color and texture. The furnishings can be styled with scissors or thinning shears to touch up stray hairs and create overall balance and symmetry. This is the moment that the dog will look most like a show dog in reference to the coat condition as long as the breed does not require a scruffy appearance.

Safe & Gentle Handling - Hold the Skin Taut
The skin must be held taut to prevent injury and irritations to the skin when removing the coat. As we said earlier, many groomers grasp the skin with their hand, creating a fist. While this is normally not uncomfortable for the dog, it is not a pleasant sight for the pet family to observe. To create a more professional image, take your open hand and place it on the dog. Gently secure the skin and coat creating an open "C" using your thumb and fingers to secure any movement of the skin during the handstripping.

Work with Lay of Coat
Always remove the dead hair with the lay of coat, taking a few hairs at a time. If the dog responds in a negative manner, especially around sensitive areas, take less hair with each stroke. Do not pull coat that is not ready to come out. The body coat on most handstripped coats can be easily removed, however, every dog has particular areas that should be clippered or thinned because it is too painful for the dog to remove the coat by handstripping. The cheeks, throat and sanitary area are the most sensitive. The stomach should always be clippered and never handstripped.

Client Relations: Notification to the Pet Family - Addressing a Blown Coat
When a dog with a wire coat comes into the salon with a so-called blown coat, this means that the dog has not been groomed or has not had the coat removed by handstripping for at least 4 to 6 months. The guard hair or topcoat has reached its maximum length and is ready to come out. It is the same shedding process that we see with a rough coat type breed such as the Collie; only wire coated dogs do not shed enough to get rid of their entire topcoat.

Groomers who are not familiar with handstripping look upon dogs with a blown coat as if it is a huge task to groom them, which would be true with many of the other coat types, but not with the wire coated breeds, as stated earlier. In this case, the coat is ready to come out, so the job should be and is easier. When you strip down a pet with a blown coat, the end result will look more or less scruffy because you take the topcoat down and leave the duller and softer undercoat. The overall coat is removed by handstripping following the correct guidelines to create the proper hair growth pattern and profile for that particular breed. Dogs with a tight wire coat type or a broken coat type will have to have the coat "de-fuzzed" after 6 to 8 weeks. Dogs with a scruffy wire coat do not need to be de-fuzzed.

Pet's Position: Sitting or Standing
Professional's Position:
Front, Rear, Side, Front/Side, Rear/Side
Pet Grooming Training