Hand Stripping the Wire or Broken Coated Dog

BIS CH. McVan's Stamp of Approval of Jovial
"Sammy" Owned by Dr. Vandra Huber
McVan Scotties

Q I am the owner of a wire coated breed.  The grooming shop asked me if I wanted her hand stripped or  just cut.  I said "just cut" because I was too embarrassed to ask my question, WHAT IS IT WHEN A DOG IS HAND STRIPPED?

The dead hair is pulled out, instead of cutting the hair with clippers, so a new wire can coat grow in.

Q Ouch. Doesn't pulling the hair hurt?

No. It does not hurt, they may not like it, but it is not painful when done properly. Wire hair is not attached like our own hair or breeds with other types of coats. Many of my terriers like it.
Unlike some purists I do clip my dogs tender spots, like bellies, instead of stripping, even for show dogs.

Q Which, between clipping and handstripping, will keep the coat wiry?

Stripping maintains a proper  wire coat, while clipping makes it soft and ruins the texture. It grows thicker and soft and often the color will change. 

Q My dog is just a pet, should she be hand stripped like show dogs?

Absolutely if it important to you to maintain the proper breed look. It is very hard to imitate that look on many wire coated breeds if you clip them. However it will do no real harm for pets if you do not care about that look.
Q I really think just a clip might suffice for my pet. Is there a best way to clip a wire coat?

It really helps with wire breeds in pet clips to 'rake' out dead coat and/or strip a little coat before and after using the clippers. It is not as good as hand stripping, but does help maintain a little of the texture..
Also keep the clip a little long, use a longer blade or ask your professional petgroomer to use to use a long enough blade that it does not dig into the undercoat level.

Q Why does clipping the coat ruin the wiry texture?

Each individual wire hair has a hard wire point, then is semi hollow down to about the undercoat level. It is very soft at the base and only lightly anchored in the follicle which is why they pull out easily. 
Cutting the hair takes away the structure of that hair. Particularly when cut below the undercoat level, but even just cutting off the tip breaks the structure.

If cut, the soft base stays in the follicle so a new wire tipped hair does not grow. The soft bottom will continue to grow awhile. If the dog is continually cut, the coat stays as the soft downy under coat and the soft base of the wire hair from the old top coat
Often they end up with a 'cottony' coat and sometimes black hair turns to grayish blue or brown.

Q Will hand stripping restore a coat's wire texture if my dog has been

Sometimes yes, but it can be difficult. You often have to let them grow out several months and strip them several times to get the wire coat growing properly again. Sometimes after only one clipping it comes back fine but do not count on it. The damage can be permanent.

Q If clipped is there any way to help keep the coat hard?

If you must clip, hand strip a little before and use a pumice stone after weekly to 'brush' them, this takes out some of the cut dead coat to try to stimulate some new hairs to grow. Raking out the undercoat first with a bladed rake like the Mars  Coat King also helps. 
Q Are other types of Coats handstripped?
Other coarse coated breeds like the Bouvier are also hand stripped. Many other coats are maintained with stripping, sometimes combined with using thinning shears, instead of clipping the hair, from the 'saddle' on the afghan hound to English Cocker Spaniel backs.

Q I do not think I can do this myself. How do I find  someone to have my
dog hand stripped?

Question the groomers in your area. Often if they do not do hand stripping themselves, they will know of another groomer who does. Be sure to tell the petgroomers that you want your dog plucked or handstripped. Sometimes a groomer will be willing to try handstripping for you and even a beginners hand strip will be better for the coat over a more perfect looking clip.
***Make sure that they understand what you mean by "stripping". It is also a term used for close shave downs !***
Or sometimes you can find a breeder or professional show handler instead of a petgroomer in your area that will handstrip pets.

Expect to pay a lot more, at least double, what the clipping price would be. It is very labor intensive.

Q Eek! You said my dog would have a nice wire coat. I had my dog
handstripped and now she looks naked and is very soft. How long will it
take to grow back?.

Often the wire coat is in one layer and pulling it leaves them in their "underwear" until a new coat wire comes though. The undercoat is soft and supposed to be.
It may take 8 to 10 weeks before the new wire coat comes in and is long enough to cover the undercoat.

Q Do you have to strip to the undercoat? Is there a way to have a nice wire
coat when the are freshly hand stripped?

Sometimes you have to strip down to the undercoat, in particular when they are pretty long. This is because all of the wire coat is one length and ready to come out. But sometimes the coat is in layers, either produced by 'rolling' the coat or new coat coming in from natural shedding.
Some dogs just always have another great wire coat under the faded dead hair even if fully grown out. The before and after pictures below of a blue and tan border terrier, 
Terraholm What-it-Takes CDX,  shows just such a coat:

Q OK..... What is rolling a coat?

Rolling is having part of the coat come in new in layers so that you can strip off the longest hair, and always have wire coat. This is done by pulling only about  the longest third of the coat, leaving the rest for a week to two weeks depending on the dog, and then repeating until there is always new coat coming in underneath. This can be started when they are grown out with a blown coat, or when a new coat is just past perfect.  Not all dogs can be 'rolled'.
Q I hear handstripping when they use a stripping knife and then someone
said they are different. Can you explain that?

Handstripping to some is pulling the coat with only your fingers, but most commonly we use the term when we use a stripping knife too.

Q What is a stripping comb?

Just another term for stripping knife.

Q My groomer said she would also 'rake' my dogs coat and I should do this at home too. I was afraid to ask! What does that mean?

Raking is using the stripping knife, a clipper blade, a bladed rake like the Mars Coat King  to rake though or 'comb' the undercoat. This pulls a lot of dead undercoat out and also helps the new coat come in. We also do this when in the wire coat to take out some of the undercoat leaving the jacket even 'harder'.

Q Is Knife or 'hands only' stripping better?

The purist will say hand strip only. But if you use a stripping knife properly, it works as well as pulling the coat only with your fingers. Despite the name 'knife' it is never used to cut the hair, only to help grip it. Many times the knives are too sharp or the wrong motion is used and the hair is cut.

Q If I hand strip instead of using a knife what will help grip the hair?

Secretary's fingers, latex surgical gloves and ear powder (which has rosin
in it) sprinkled on the coat all help grip the coat while pulling.

Q I know this may be a difficult request, but can anyone give me detailed description of  using a stripping knife on a dog? How do I hold it, where does my thumb go? What  is the motion etc....I'm sure it's easier to learn from watching...but I'd love any info.

Pull out a few hairs with your thumb and side of your forefinger and watch how that looks when you hand strip. The knife is used only to replace your forefinger to make the pulling easier.

So your wrap your fingers around the handle and leave the blade sticking out where your finger would have been and so your thumb will close in the middle of it in a pliers action. The grooves in the knife are facing away from your thumb.

Pick up a layer of a few hairs at a time with your thumb and squeeze them against the knife blade. Pull them with a very sharp motion, with the grain of the hair, never backwards to the way the hair grows. Say middle of the back, you are pulling toward the dogs tail, not towards the head or up away from the body.  Do not twist your wrist and pull in a circular motion. This will cut the hair and ruin your wrists. Instead lock your wrist and keep your arm straight to the elbow. Pull by moving your hand towards your body keeping the bending only your elbow and shoulder.
There is another quite useful description on how to use the tools at the Macknyfe Website.

Q I think I am using the right motion but my new knife seems to still cut
the hair. What am I doing wrong?

Sometimes the knives when new are too sharp. Dull them by dragging them
though dirt, use them to open boxes, or sanding them a little.

There is a great little book that was originally a series of articles in Terrier Type magazine, "Grooming the Broken Haired Terrier" by Arden Ross.
It is available from
Direct Book Service, E-mail  1-800-776-2665

While aimed at Wire Fox much of it is good for any wire coated breed. Three of the more advanced articles are posted at the
Pearson knives site.
It is also available from The Airedale Club and seems to be a better price.

Breed specific information:
Best bet is to check the breeds section for your breeds Parent club at AKC
In the dropdown list click on the breed and on the results page there will be a link to the official website for that breed
Many have grooming charts posted.

Border Terrier grooming- the BTCA

Cairn Terrier Grooming Kelclife Kennels

Lakeland grooming page 

Westie Grooming chart

Wire Fox Terrier from Wire Fox Terrier Club of the Central States

Grooming Videos for several breeds are available at Every Thing in Dogs Books

Stripping Tools:

Be sure to ask for left handed knives if you are a 'lefty'

Prices may be outdated:
A substitute that works well, and is available at your drug store, is a file called the Dr. Scholl's Contour File.

If you just do occasional hand stripping, the readily available in many pet supply catalogs McClellan's are a good choice. Yellow handle, Coarse and Red handle, Fine, run around $30 a set retail. The cheapest I have seen then was in Omaha vaccine, around $20, if I remember right, and they had them available separately. If you just get one, buy the yellow handle. The red handle is also an good one to use as a 'rake'. They are also available from Robert McClellen himself, PO Box 254, Upland Ca. 91786

The high end ones, Muckraker II, Bowsprite and my favorite (that have no name), made for and available from Bergit Cody run as much as $90 each but I have found to be well worth the investment.

Muckraker and Muckraker II are from
Macknyfe specialties and seem to be the choice of most Border terrier people: They are priced around $35.

Pearson knives are another popular one with wood handles. They are I think $30 and up:
E-mail Address:  Phone:  405-257-5832
Stripping knives are really personal preference, and one I love the next person shall hate.
  My favorite all around knife, cuts grooming time in half for me and leaves more coat when rolling, is the Bergit Coady Kabel coarse knife. She now has them made with a wood handle. When ordering I tell her it is the one that corresponds to what was known as the old "blue handle". This was from when they were all metal and wrapped with bicycle handle tape. Last I checked they were about $90 with shipping. She has a variety of knives made. Next I would like to have her super coarse one for Cairns and Westie legs.
She does not have a web site. Order by phone: Bergit Coady Kabel's Phone # is 818.767.3330 

The common ones found in most pet supply catalogs, Hauptner and the Magnet stripper,
I find to be not as good as the others listed, but many people are happy with them.


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Updated 10/6/12

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