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Wire Coats 101

The wire coat type texture is the most important quality of this coat variety. Wire coated (also called broken coated) dogs have coats with a wire-like texture. It is harsh, bristly, stiff and can stand away from the body, especially on the tail, the back of the legs, and on the face. Many of the breeds possess beards, eyebrows and leg furnishings. Proper maintenance of a wire coat requires some degree of removing the individual wire hairs using a technique called hand stripping. Clipping or scissoring wire coats softens its texture and lightens the dog’s color over time. Some wire haired breeds are groomed to have a close and tidy appearance, such as all sizes of Schnauzers and others are more rustic and tousled look such as the Wirehaired Pointing Griffon, Otterhound and Belgian Laekenois. This coat type was developed for insulation and protection for dogs working in harsh weather conditions, keeping the dog warm in winter and cool in summer. Shaving or cutting this type of coat will defeat the purpose of the coat as it will not longer be wire textured but soft and will mat very easily. If not managed the matting can lead to skin issues and discomfort for the dog.

What is Hand Stripping?
Hand stripping is a technique used on wire-haired or “rough-coated” breeds. It involves pulling out the dead coat by hand, rather than cutting the hair with clippers. This allows a new “harsh” wire coat to grow in.

Doesn’t pulling out the hair hurt?
No, it does not hurt the dog. Many dogs even enjoy it. Some might not like it, but it is not painful when done properly. Wire hair is not attached like our own hair, or like the coats of other breeds of dogs. It releases from the follicle much more easily.

What breeds are usually hand stripped?
Breeds from many AKC Groups are stripped:

Sporting Group:
•  German Wirehaired Pointer
•  Spinone Italiano
•  Wirehaired Pointing Griffon

Hound Group:
•  Dachshund (Wirehaired)
•  Ibizan (Wirehaired)
•  Irish Wolfhound
•  Otterhound
•  Petite Basset Griffon Vendeen (PBGV)
•  Scottish Deerhound

Working Group:
•  Giant Schnauzer
•  Standard Schnauzer

Toy Group:
•  Affenpinscher
•  Brussels Griffon

Terrier Group:                      
•  Airedale Terrier                            
•  Australian Terrier
•  Border Terrier
•  Cairn Terrier
•  Dandie Dinmont Terrier
•  Irish Terrier
•  Lakeland Terrier
•  Miniature Schnauzer
•  Norfolk Terrier
•  Norwich Terrier
•  Parson Russell Terrier
•  Scottish Terrier
•  Sealyham Terrier
•  Welsh Terrier
•  Wirehair Fox Terrier

Herding Group:
•  Bouvier des Flandres
  Belgian Laekenois

My dog is just a pet; should she be hand stripped like show dogs?
Absolutely, if it’s important to you to maintain the proper breed look and color of the coat. 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 to be clipped if you don’t care about that look. And are willing to maintain a soft coat properly to assure no matting.

Will hand stripping restore a coat’s wire texture if my dog has been clipped?
Yes, but sometimes it can be difficult if a dog’s coat has been clippered many times. You often have to strip them several times to get the wire coat growing properly again. But it can be done in most cases!

If clippered, is there any way to help keep the coat hard?
If you must clip, hand strip a little beforehand, and use carding tools like a Coat King or pumice stone weekly to “card” the coat. This takes out some of the clipped dead coat to try to stimulate some new harsh hairs to grow.

Remember that if the hard coat is cut rather than pulled out, the soft base stays in the follicle so a new wire-tipped hair does not grow. The soft bottom part left over from the clipping will continue to grow a while. If the dog’s coat is continuously clippered, the coat stays soft as the downy undercoat and the soft base of the wire hair from the old top coat is all that is seen.

The back half of this young pet Irish Terrier has not yet been stripped, so it is easy to see the difference here between the new hard coat on his front half (that was growing beneath the older blown coat) how it lays nice and tight against the skin, and the old coat which is much longer and stands up looking all disheveled when it is ready to be stripped.

Is a knife or “hands-only” stripping better?
If a stripping knife is used properly, it works as well as pulling the hairs only with fingers. Despite the name “knife,” it is never used to cut the hair, only to help grip it. Only if the knives are too sharp or the wrong motion is used is the dog’s coat cut. Finger Condoms are helpful for increasing the grip control of the coat for hand stripping. Cornstarch is also helpful for grip, a light application in the area to be stripped, inside and backs of ears especially will make it more comfortable for your dog.

My groomer said she would also “rake” my dog’s coat and I should do this at home, too. What does this mean?
Raking is using the stripping knife, an undercoat rake (like the Coat King shown in the photo below), or a piece of pumice stone to rake through 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 the wire coat is in to take out some of the undercoat leaving the jacket even harder.

I think I’d like to get my Wire Coated Dog hand stripped now. How can I tell when the coat is ready?
As the harsh coat is growing out after a strip, it gets longer and longer until the root of the hair grows weaker. When the coat is ready to be pulled you’ll notice the coat doesn’t lay tightly against the dog’s skin anymore, and will stick up if you run your fingers backwards through it, against the lay of the coat. If you’re really not sure, take your dog to a groomer who does hand stripping. They’ll be able to tell just by looking at the coat and touching it whether it’s time or not. If it is not quite ready, they’ll be able to tell you when to make the appointment to have your dog stripped at the proper time. In the case of the Belgian Laekenois the coat will become more mobile as the coat lengthens and may move about as the dog moves around. The Laekenois does not posses the tight jacket of the terriers, but rather a more rustic tousled coat that is unkempt in appearance, and lacks the carved lines of the terrier breeds. Per the AKC Belgian Laekenois Standard the length of the hair should be approximately 2½ inches over the body.

Why does clipping the coat ruin the wiry texture?
To answer this question it’s important to understand that dog’s hair follicles are very different from a human’s. With human hair, there is ONE hair for each hair follicle. In a harsh-coated dog’s hair follicle, each follicle has several soft undercoat hairs, and one hard hair. When you’re stripping a dog, you’re pulling out that ONE hard hair and leaving the shorter, soft undercoat hairs. The hard hair is meant to be pulled out. It must be pulled to allow a new hard hair to grow. Remember that this hard hair comes out very easily with just the slightest tug and with NO discomfort to the dog because the root of that hard hair has shrunk as the hair grows too long.

Think of it much like a child losing a baby tooth: As the child grows older the baby tooth root starts shrinking so the tooth gets looser in the gums. Pretty soon the child’s tooth is so loose it can be pulled out easily so the new adult tooth can grow in. It’s much the same concept with harsh-coated hair on a wire-coated dog.
The big difference is that as long as the harsh hair remains in the follicle, no new harsh hair will grow. So if a dog with a wire coat is clippered, those hard hairs are never pulled out by the roots as they need to, so the follicles will not grow new wire hair. With each new haircut where no stripping or carding is done, the follicles will soon stop producing any hard coat at all, so all you’ll have are the several soft undercoat hairs growing. Those soft undercoat hairs usually have little color and tend to tangle (mat) up, which is why a clippered coat usually has a faded color to it, and tends to mat up easily.

Also, each individual wire hair does not have the same deep color and thickness all the way through. Each hair has a hard wire point, but is semi-hollow down to about the undercoat level. It is very soft at the base and only lightly anchored in the follicle as it grows out, which is why they pull out easily.

This Wirehair Fox Terrier has been clippered his whole life, so he’s lost almost all of his color, and his coat is soft and curly, and mats very easily.

The hairs shown here are the harsh coat of an Irish Terrier that was ready to be pulled. You can see how each hair has 3 colors to it: On the left side is the thin, faded look at the base near the dead root. At the end of each hair (seen on the right) is where all that thick deep red color comes from.  If you cut this hair off you’ll lose not only the beautiful red color, you’ll also not encourage new course hair to grow in its place.

Hand stripping really makes a phenomenal difference in the coat of your rough or wire-coated breeds.

This Airedale, “Remedy,” is not hand stripped. A great deal of time is spent before his bath going over him with several different raking tools to keep his color and his coat as hard as possible. He is clipped and his legs hand-scissored after he is dry.

Are other types of coats hand stripped?
Other coarse coated breeds like the Bouvier are also hand stripped. Many other coats are maintained with stripping or carding, sometimes combined with using thinning shears, the “saddle” on the Afghan Hound or English Cocker Spaniels, for example. And there are many mixed breeds that have wire hair that look marvelous when hand stripped.

Do all groomers Hand Strip?
Many do not, since it is time-consuming and very labor-intensive. Question the groomers in your area, and tell them you want your dog plucked or hand stripped. Make sure that they understand what you mean by “stripping.” Amongst pet groomers, to “strip” a dog usually means to shave all the dog’s coat off close to the skin when the dog is too matted to groom. So “a strip” is VERY different from Hand Stripping! Also, expect to pay a lot more–at least double or more–what the clipping price would be.

EEK! I just had my pet hand stripped and now she looks naked and is very soft. How long will it take to grow back?
If the wire coat is only stripped every 3 months or so, the entire coat will be grown out, or “blown,” and all of it must be stripped out all at once. When this coat is in one layer for pet dogs, pulling it all leaves them in their “underwear” (the thinner, softer undercoat) until a new wire coat comes through. You will see that new harsh coat growing in within a few weeks.

In most cases, this will also cause the coat to fade out and change color. For instance, an Irish Terrier will lose the deep red color; the coat can fade to a washed-out looking brownish-tan. A Wire Hair Fox Terrier will go from having beautiful black and brown patches to being almost white, with faded grey and tans patches. Here’s photos showing the difference:

This Fox Terrier is a show dog we saw at a recent conformation show. He has always been hand stripped so he’s kept his deep, vibrant color.

Do you have to strip to the undercoat? Or there a way to have a nice wire coat when they are freshly hand stripped?
Only when the coat isn’t stripped often enough does it have to be pulled completely, right down to the undercoat. Much better is to have the dog come in every couple of weeks so that the groomer can keep the coat rolled.

OK…. What is rolling a coat?
Rolling is having part of the coat come in new in several layers so that you can strip off only the longest hair, and always have a wire coat underneath. This is done by pulling every 10th hair every couple of weeks. For 3 layers then every 3rd hair is pulled, leaving the rest for a couple of weeks or up to a month 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, and it takes dedication for the owner to bring the dog in on a regular schedule so the coat can always be maintained. The good news is that a coat that is rolled often does not take as long as hand stripping the entire dog each and every time down to its “underwear,” so it would cost less for each visit. Also, with a rolled coat your dog would always look terrific with a nice hard coat with lots of color laying tightly against the skin, rather than looking over-grown and bushy, then being stripped naked,

So if stripping is pulling out the coat with your fingers, what is it called when a stripping knife is involved?
It’s really the same thing. Stripping is pulling out the old dead coat, whether it’s done with a stripping knife, a stone, or one’s fingers. It all gets the same results!

What is a stripping comb?
Just another term for stripping knife.

Many mixed breeds also look marvelous when hand stripped to bring out their natural wire coat.

Between clipping and hand stripping, what will keep the coat wiry?
Hand stripping maintains a proper wire coat, while clipping makes it soft and ruins the texture. Without the outer wire coat the coat color will change and fade out.

Here are some common tools used for hand stripping.

The Coat King is one of many “rakes” available.

Pictured are five different stripping knives, two sculpting stones for detail work, and rubber “secretary fingers” for better grip when hand-plucking. There are several other stripping tools available; each groomer uses the ones with which he or she is most comfortable.

**The information on this page was provided by Wendy Rodriguez & Royal Paw Spa Aptos, CA, the original author is unknown. The information has been updated by Chiens de Rafale to add current information for the Belgian Laekenois.