By Michell Evans
“Hello Michell. I have been grooming for five years and I just attended my first grooming show, Northwest Grooming Show. I was fascinated by the grooming contest. I think I would like to try it but it seems so impossible. I know you used to compete. Do you have any advice?” –Sheila
Hi Jane. Hand stripping is a great skill to have! Even if you find you do not have much call for it in your shop, it is good to fully understand the process. As you grow the skill you can also grow a clientele. One hand strip every other day is a nice goal. This will give your hand plenty of time to recover between hand strips. There are some who believe that hand stripping can be hard on your hands. Like any other task we do in grooming, we must be aware of how it feels and change up our daily tasks to avoid overuse injuries.
First know what kinds of dogs could and/or should be hand stripped. In the pet grooming industry it is not a simple matter of a breed list, like it is in the show world. For example, even though miniature Schnauzers would be on the list to be hand stripped, we rarely see them hand stripped in our pet grooming salons. And rarely do they retain any of their wiry texture after being clipped a time or two. Therefore, hand stripping them in this situation is typically not feasible.
On the other hand, if a customer calls with a puppy mini Schnauzer that has not yet been clipped, you could try your hand at hand stripping the coat. It takes a bit of knowledge to be able to look at the coat and determine if it is a good candidate for hand stripping. For this, a mentor would be a good resource. Also in the case of learning hand stripping, the customer themselves might be a good resource. For example, if they have recently moved to your area with a dog that is used to being hand stripped it is a pretty good bet that the coat is strippable.
Next, learn how to properly manipulate the hide or skin of the dog. With every hair pulled you must hold the hide taught to oppose the pull. Keep in mind that dogs have less sensitivity in their hide than we do in our skin and the coats you will be pulling are meant to be pulled. Once you have developed good techniques it is not uncommon for dogs to sleep through hand stripping.
Learning how to properly manipulate the hide of the dog is best learned by private lessons, classes at trade shows and educational videos. You are already doing it, to some degree, when keeping the hide tight to oppose the brush when brushing a mat out of a dog. In the case of hand stripping, it is important that the skin not move at all when the coat is pulled. The firmer you keep the hide the more comfortable it is for the dog. Not to mention you will get a smoother finish.
As for tools and products, to start you will need latex gloves (if you are not allergic), some grooming powder, a lava stone, and a set of stripping knives in fine, medium and course. Gloves are helpful when you are learning because they protect your hand from getting blisters. They also help with gripping the hair. If you do not want to wear the whole glove you can get latex finger sleeves instead.
Powder should only be used before the bath on pet dogs. There are several brands. They are white and they are designed to help you grip the coat. Show dogs have powder and all kinds of other chalks and products in their hair when being shown. For pets though, a clean dog is generally what the owners want.
Lava stone is a great beginner tool. It comes in a block and can be scored and broken to any size you like. It flakes off while you use it. Not to worry, it is inexpensive and will not hurt the dog or make the dog smell (it smells like sulfur). Pluck the longest hairs between your thumb and the stone. Again, watch videos, go to classes and take private lessons to learn the exact techniques.
Knives are generally for thinning a coat where stones are more for top trimming. But they can both be used for either task. It is best to have a variety of tools because you might find that one tool works great on one wire-haired Dachshund and is practically useless on another depending on coat type. I have as many stripping knives as I do scissors.
When pulling coat be sure not to move your wrist. Do all of your pulling from the elbow and shoulder. Flipping your wrist may result in damage to the coat and possible overuse injuries for yourself.
When you are learning hand stripping you might want to consider discounting your service. The discount would be to take the pressure off of you to produce a perfect groom. You will make mistakes. You will end up with blotchy results. You might even not be able to finish a dog in one appointment and that is ok. Hand stripping is an advanced skill. Like everything else you have learned about dog grooming, the beginning stages of learning can be tedious for the dog and the groomer. Be patient. It would not be uncommon for your first hand strips to take you half a day. As you get faster and have perfected your skill your prices should come into a range where you are making the same per hour as you would for any other service. Or possibly more for a specialty service. The service is a money maker once you develop some speed and skill.
There is so much more to be said about hand stripping. This is a very, very basic overview. Classes at trade shows, videos, mentors and private lessons are a must for perfecting the skill. Enjoy the learning process!✂
I am a multi-Best-In-Show and Best-All-Around groomer. I am the recipient of many Barkleigh Honors Awards including journalist of the year. I am a Silver and Gold medalist for GroomTeam USA. I am the winner of Show Dog Groomer of the Year 2015. I am a (VIG) Very Important Groomer-Ambassador for Purina and I have been teaching as The Grooming Tutor since 2000. And I groom to make a living, just like you. Please send questions to [email protected]