Hand Stripping A Dog – A Replacement for Grooming?

Fox Terrier with a mustache cookie

Most of us are familiar with the routine grooming chores that go hand in hand in with dog ownership. Brushing, bathing, clipping the nails, cleaning the ears, and brushing teeth quickly become part of our lives as soon as we welcome a new dog into the family.

For some dogs, regular trips to the groomer for a haircut are part of the package as well. However, it’s common sense that different dogs will require different styles of cuts.

You wouldn’t expect to see a Maltese walking out of the groomer’s sporting a Poodle’s English saddle cut, right?

Some dogs, however, become shaggy enough to warrant some help, but for whom trimming is not recommended. The answer for dogs with coats like this is hand stripping.

What is hand stripping a dog?

Hand stripping is the recommended grooming practice for wire-coated breeds. It involves pulling out the longer hair of the outer coat to stimulate the hair follicles to produce new growth while maintaining the coat’s natural texture, color, and properties.

Let’s find out exactly what hand stripping entails and see if it may be the right method of grooming for your dog.

What Does Hand Stripping Involve?

Hand stripping is the process of pulling out long, blown (dead and ready to shed) hairs by the roots in order to encourage the hair follicles to produce new, course growth. This may sound cruel at first, but a quick look at how wiry coats differ from others will put everything in perspective.

A wire-coated dog’s hair follicles will easily release old growth with just a slight tug, because as the hair grows longer and longer, the roots thin and become weaker and weaker. Unlike other coat types, these long hairs don’t readily fall out on their own.

They are designed to be pulled out so that they aren’t impeding fresh, new growth.

Whether hand stripping is literally done by hand or with the help of tools such as stripping knives (like this) to aid in grasping the hair, the result is the same. Little by little, the longer hairs are plucked from the coat to encourage new growth.

Hand stripping can be done a little at a time, with the owner going over one section of the coat every couple of days, or it can be done all at once if the coat is fully blown.

A fully-stripped dog will have all of the outer coat removed, leaving the softer undercoat exposed and will look completely different than he did prior to stripping. Over the next few weeks though, a course new outer coat will start making its appearance.

Is It Really Necessary?

If you and your dog have high hopes of one day entering the show ring, then yes, his coat should be hand stripped rather than clipped to maintain the integrity of the coat.

What about wiry-coated dogs that are just pets? They too should be hand stripped to keep the coat’s rough texture, color, and weather-resistant qualities intact.

Some owners do choose to simply have their dog’s coat trimmed in an effort to save time and money, but the coat will suffer. Over time a clipped coat will become thinner, softer, and dull in appearance and may fade in color and begin to develop waves or curls where it should be straight (or vice versa).

Why Hand Strip?

It mimics nature’s way. Way back when the various Terrier breeds and others with wiry coats were being developed, dogs didn’t live in the lap of luxury as so many dogs do today. They were created to perform a specific job and then certain traits were refined to better equip them to carry out their tasks.

Earthdogs, such as Terriers, were tunneling through the ground, maneuvering through rock piles, and darting through undergrowth as they pursued their prey.

During these repeated movements, the longer, worn-out hairs would be snagged on roots, jagged stones, and brush and would naturally be pulled from the coat, effectively stripping it clean on a routine basis.

Cairn Terrier standing in tall grass

Hand stripping takes the place of what used to occur naturally as the dog went about his duties.

It Maintains the Coat’s Texture and Natural Coloring

Clipping a wiry-coated dog negatively affects the natural coat, and as we mentioned, results in thinning, softening, fading, and dulling. A thin, soft, frequently clipped coat is also prone to tangling and developing mats and over time will lose its ability to repel dust, dirt, and water.

On the other hand, wiry coats that are routinely stripped stay course in texture, retain their weather-resistant qualities and stay vibrant and rich in color.

What Breeds Should Be Hand Stripped?

Hand stripping is not for all dogs. Only those with coarse, wiry outer coats such as Airedale Terriers, Irish Wolfhounds, and Cairn Terriers should have their coat stripped as needed.

Hand stripping is more texture-based rather than breed based. Crossbreeds or mixed breed dogs of unknown background may require stripping if they sport a shaggy, rough coat with a wiry feel to it.

Does Hand Stripping Hurt a Dog?

When done correctly, no. Hair that is ready to be removed is tugged out easily and the dog does not experience any pain. Some dogs may seem a bit uncomfortable at first, but this is usually just caused by nerves and being unfamiliar with the routine.

After a few stripping sessions, the dog will know what to anticipate and most likely won’t mind it a bit, knowing that he’ll feel better once all that dead hair is gone.

If you are hand stripping your dog yourself, set your own nervousness aside and focus on keeping your dog relaxed and comfortable. Talk softly to him, pet him often, and praise him for being so good and patient.

Relaxing music playing in the background can help calm both you and your dog. Don’t forget to reward his good behavior with a special treat afterward.

Does Hand Stripping Need to Be Done By a Professional?

In many cases, yes, hand stripping is performed by a professional, experienced groomer. The cost of a professional strip job is typically twice more than you would pay for a regular cut because of the time involved and the know-how necessary.

Note: Not all groomers are skilled at hand stripping a coat correctly and may attempt to strip only portions of the coat and then trim the rest, hoping that the owner won’t notice.

Be certain your chosen groomer has been properly trained in this technique before you trust them with your dog’s coat.

Can I Learn to Hand Strip My Dog Myself?

Absolutely, though it will take a lot of practice to perfect your technique. Stripping demonstration videos, like the one below, can be quite helpful. Attending grooming seminars or clinics and reading all you can about the technique is also a good idea.

Many prefer to learn from one-on-one instruction from a professional. Like many who are thoroughly versed in a particular craft, an expert hand stripper is often more than happy to pass his or her skills on to an eager student.

Once you’ve seen a master at work, you’ll be much more confident when you attempt the technique on your own dog and have a good idea of what the final result should look and feel like.

How Often Should a Dog Be Hand Stripped?

The answer here depends largely on the particular coat, the intended purpose of the stripping, and the time that an owner has to invest in the process.

Some dogs’ coats will grow out more rapidly than others and will require more frequent stripping, sometimes as often as every 4 -6 weeks. Most dogs can go for about 8 weeks between light strippings, while other dogs are only fully-stripped twice per year or whenever the coat is fully blown.

If your dog’s coat isn’t laying flat against the body anymore and stands up straight when you run your hands through the hair from the rump towards the head, he is ready to be fully stripped.

Show dogs are a bit different. Many are stripped every other week or even weekly to keep the coat in what’s referred to as a “rolled” condition so that it is constantly renewing itself in an even manner.

Is Hand Stripping the Same as Carding?

No, hand stripping and carding are two entirely different techniques. Whereas hand stripping is the process of pulling out the blown, long hairs of the top, wiry layer of the coat, carding is the removal of dead hairs from the soft undercoat.

While hand stripping is only needed for dogs with harsh, wiry coats, carding is beneficial to any dog who has a thick, dense undercoat, like a Labrador Retriever. The removal of the undercoat:

  • Allows for better air circulation near the skin, thus reducing the likelihood of fungal and bacterial skin infections.
  • Gives room for new growth to come in.
  • Helps the top coat to lay flat against the dog’s body.
  • Gets rid of trapped dander.
  • Makes baths easier and reduces drying time.

If you have a double-coated dog, you have likely carded his coat without realizing it. Do you use an undercoat rake in the spring to pull out fluffy mounds of soft fur?

Well, that’s carding. If you’re still unsure of the process, watch the carding demonstration video below to see how easy it actually is.

;