Linda C. Claflin-Phelps
These tools can be confusing. When you read their descriptions in catalogs, they’re so similar…
They do the same thing, don’t they?
No, they don’t. Let me explain.
Both remove undercoat on thick coated dogs. It’s the METHOD of removal that varies. One pulls out dead and shedding coat without cutting the fur. The other has sharp, curved teeth which remove the undercoat but will also cut the coat. One is used primarily on dry coats, both before and after the bath. The other is effective prior to shampooing, during the bathing process, and after the dog is clean and dried.
The difference isn’t so much in the names. The names are interchanged all the time. To keep them straight in my own mind, I call them different things. It’s particularly beneficial when giving directions to others to utilize different names.
Rakes are designed to pull out dead coat and shedding fur with ease. Typically they are a T-shape (see Illustration 1) with rounded pins on the head of the T. On some heads, the top bar is long, up to 6 inches across. On other designs, the head may be only a couple of inches wide. The length and shape of the teeth will vary, too. On some rakes (see Illustration 2), the teeth are short and shaped almost in a tiny cone-type fashion. With others, the teeth are long, sinking deeply into heavy, long coats. On almost all models, the handle comes directly out from the cross bar head with all the teeth.
This type of rake is designed to remove dead coat while not damaging the healthy coat. You work the tool in the natural direction of the coat growth. Care must be used not to sink the comb too far into a dense coat repeatedly with too much pressure. Tugging too firmly on a thick or tangled coat will be uncomfortable for the dog and difficult for the groomer. Repeatedly digging in too deeply could injure the skin, as well.
Used correctly, rakes can be highly efficient for removing dead coat or “lint” from rustic-coated breeds. They are used primarily on double-coated, heavy-coated, or rustic-coated dogs.
Undercoat rakes have many small, sharp, curved blades set close together that remove undercoat. They are available in a variety of tooth widths, making this tool suitable for a wide range of breeds. On shedding breeds, they can remove dead, fuzzy undercoat in minutes, yet leave the top coat shiny and healthy. On harsh-coated dogs, they mimic the hand-stripped look quickly and easily.
Undercoat rakes can be used on a wet or a dry coat. Pull the rake in the direction of the coat growth.Always start with a wider toothed rake to start (see Illustration 3). Work down to narrower teeth as the tool pulls through easily, removing less and less coat.
Undercoat rakes normally work better when used prior to bathing or in the tub on a wet coat.
Use caution when working with this tool. On some coat types, especially heavy-coated dogs, they will cut the top coat while removing the undercoat. While the blades are curved (see Illustration 4), you still need to be careful how much pressure you put on the tool as you drag it through the coat so you do not injure the skin. Use caution when working around areas where the skin is thin like in the hock area, ear junctions, flank, and armpits.
Undercoat rakes work well on many coat types including double coated breeds, heavy coats, and rustic coat types. The work exceptionally well on any breed that is hand-stripped like many of the Sporting or Terrier breeds. Just be sure to monitor your progress as you work this tool over the dog.
Here is a cool trick I have seen used with undercoat rakes. This trick minimizes cutting the coat while pulling out dead coat, particularly once the coat is clean and dry. Simply take a thick rubber band and wrap it around the hooks of the blade (see Illustration 5). The rubber protects the coat from excessive cutting while the rubber helps grip the dead coat, allowing to be pulled out almost effortlessly.
Jennifer Hecker, CMG
Suesan Watson, NCMG
Melissa Verplank, CMG
I was at GroomExpo just a few weeks ago and met many wonderful pet professionals. One of them was Connie Carter of Gorgeous Growlers Grooming in Florida. She had attended several of my lectures and at the end of the show she stopped to thank me as we passed in the hall. We chatted a bit and as we parted ways, I reminded her that I was happy to help with any questions that she wanted to email to me. I love complex questions that can lead to blog topic ideas! Well, guess what? Connie didn’t waste any time. Within a week, I got my first question from her – and it’s a good one.
“Can I learn how to hand-strip online? How long does it take to learn how? I have a new client whose Westie puppy is being delivered at the end of October. I do have some experience helping but I’ve never done a full hand stripping job of my own.”
The short answer to your question is: “Yes.” You can teach yourself to hand-strip if you have the right information. The trick is getting the right information at the right time – AND you need to have the right dog with the right coat to practice on!
There are two types of coats that need routine stripping to maintain the correct texture and color:
1. Sporting Dogs (also known as Gun Dogs)
2. Harsh-coated pets (primarily in the Terrier and Working groups)
I still remember the coat of my first hand-stripped show West Highland White Terrier. It felt like a suit of armor. The dogs’ jacket was so hard, nothing was going to penetrate that coat. At that point in my career, I had only clipped Westies. They were smooth, soft, and cuddly. I had no idea what hand-stripping was – let alone that hand-stripping was the correct way to prepare the coat.
I rank the difficulty of hand-stripping on a scale from 1 to 3. The coat is factored in, as well as the temperament of the pet.
(Because Connie based her question on a West Highland White Terrier, I will focus more on the harsh-coated coat types. I would say Westies fall between a 2 and a 3 on the following difficulty scale.)
Super simple. The hair pulls out with very little effort.
Requires a bit more thought and effort. The hair needs to be worked a little bit more. You will need a wider variety of stripping tools to get the job done. You also need to think about the new layer of coat coming in. This fresh layer of harsh coat will need to be constantly rotated. The rotation normally takes place at consistent intervals so the dog is never stripped down naked.
In a word – challenging. Different parts of the coat on the dog’s body grow at different rates. Hand stripping them in the right sequence is critical for correct coat regrowth. Some sections are easy to pull down, while others are very difficult. Getting the dog to look conformation show ready is an art. It requires education, knowledge, training, skill, and practice. Lots and lots of practice.
Many accomplished stylists do a combination of half stripping, half clipping on their pet clients. This technique mimics the look and texture of a properly pulled coat. It’s typically much quicker to do. It’s easier on the pet – and kinder to the client’s pocketbook. It will also leave a bit a coat on the dog, making it more attractive to a pet owner.
When you are first starting to learn the technique of hand-stripping, it is advantageous to start with what I would consider a #1 rated dog. Start with something very easy. Preferably, the coat is blown and literally falling out. This type of coat requires very few tools to pull it out – maybe just your fingers. Which breeds with these be? Here are a few:
Once you have mastered the skills required to hand-strip #1 and #2 rated coat types, then you’re ready to start working on the most challenging group. Remember to keep in mind that this also depends on the dog.
All of the harsh-coated breeds will vary slightly with their degree of difficulty. A number of factors affect where they ultimately fall in this rating system. Genetics need to be considered. Hormones, as well as whether the dog is altered or intact will affect a coat. The length of time between grooming sessions will dictate how readily their coats pull. The climate and the season will also play a role in how easily the coat is removed.
Where do you turn when you want to learn the technique of hand-stripping? You have options – and many of them can be self-directed.
Start with observing high-quality dogs. Seeing a dog in the flesh is the best way. Go to dog shows. Study the dogs in the grooming area as well as in the ring. Look at magazines featuring top winning dogs. Do an online search for images of AKC or UKC Champions. Go to top breeder websites. Watch dog shows online or on TV.
You need to firmly etch a mental picture of what a high-quality hand-stripped dog should look like. It is also important to actually touch the coat to get an idea of what it feels like. Achieving any type of quality without this knowledge will be impossible.
Breed specific books will give you details. There is one particular booklet I really like. It does an excellent job of explaining the techniques of hand-stripping. It’s older and though it may not be very sophisticated, the material is timeless This book caters to what I would consider the more challenging breeds: broken-coated Terriers that have their coats “staged” for proper regrowth. However, the techniques outlined can be applied to many of the easier breeds as well. Click here to see more details about this book.
Most professional pet groomers are visual learners. Videos are a great way to go – as long as the content is accurate.
In this day and age, you have to be very careful. Trust me, I just did some quick research to see what was currently available on YouTube concerning hand-stripping. There certainly was a wealth of information but much of it was scary. Sure, there is a few nuggets of excellent content but you have to know what you’re looking for and have enough knowledge to know whether you’re looking at quality techniques or not. You’re better off looking for top stylists that are producing videos on the topic. You can find them both in DVDs as well as online streaming. In the Learn2GroomDogs.com library there is a wide assortment of streaming video lessons. Here’s a hint. If you search the site using the word “strip” in the search bar, you will pull up ALL the hand-stripping lessons. From there, you can isolate what appeals to you.
All of the training partners do a great job. Jennifer Hecker does an excellent job explaining the basics of dealing with a harsh-coated Terrier. Lisa Leady, Suesan Watson, and Amy Triezenberg all focus on beginner and intermediate hand-stripping. Most of their lessons deal with typical pet dogs we see in our grooming salons. Michelle Evans focuses on more advanced techniques, as well as how to apply different stripping techniques. There are many other training partners sprinkled through the hand-stripping section who also have exceptional lessons.
When you are looking for DVDs or videos to watch, make sure you verify the qualifications of the demonstrator. There are many high-quality lessons available but others can be a waste of time.
Clinics and Seminars
One of the best ways to learn hand-stripping techniques is to attend a clinic or seminar. Advanced hand-stripping is definitely an art. It takes plenty of knowledge and practice. Learning from a master is a huge shortcut when it comes to becoming proficient. How do you find out about clinics and seminars? Many certification organizations host workshops. Make sure you are on their mailing lists. Join a couple professional groups on Facebook such as Pro Groomer Network. Your state may have an organized groomers Facebook page. Grooming schools in your area may also host events.
Finding a mentor for a particular technique or breed will certainly fast track you to your goals. The mentor may come from the conformation show ring, the competitive pet styling arena, or they may have years of experience grooming pets. As your skills grow, your mentors might grow and change. And if you can’t find a mentor, find a study partner who is looking to expand their skills. Somebody that you can work with you as a team to find the best information. Meet up after hours to work on your skills together with practice pets.
Whatever route you choose, you certainly can teach yourself. Finding help in the form of books, videos, seminars, clinics, or an actual mentor will certainly help. The more you are able to combine those learning resources, the shorter your learning curve.
The art of hand-stripping is becoming more widely accepted in the pet grooming arena. When a new harsh-coated Terrier walks through your door, think twice about clipping the coat off. Is that really the best option? Clipper cutting a harsh-coated Terrier typically destroys the correct texture. Many clients opt for that route simply to reduce cost and time factors associated with hand stripping. For those clients that have educated themselves about their breeds, hand stripping may be their preference – as long as they can find a professional pet stylist that can execute the technique correctly.
Are you that person?
Do you do any hand-stripping? Why or why not? Jump over to the Learn2GroomDogs Facebook page and tell us about it!