Handstripping vs Clipping

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Handstripping vs Clipping

There is always debate when it comes to clipping instead of hand-stripping a wire coated dog.

For some reason it is generally seen as acceptable to clip gundog breeds like English Cockers, but when you mention clipping a handstripped terrier other people (whether they’re professional groomers, breed enthusiasts or the dog’s owner) will try to convince you that the coat can be saved at any cost.

Airedale after Handstripping

I personally love handstripped dogs, I think a good quality handstrip finishes off the look of the dog to a slightly higher standard.

If a dog can’t be stripped I don’t think it’s the end of the world and they can still look very nice with a professional finish.

If the owner isn’t desperate for a handstripped look or they’re planning on neutering the dog at six months old, clipping is what I would recommend.

Pros and Cons of Handstripping


Maintains the correct texture of the coat

Time consuming and therefore more expensive
Preserves the colours of the coat and prevents fadingPhysically harder than clipping
Dog is able to be shown due to correct coatNot every dog is suitable for handstripping
Reasonably weatherproofRequires specialist training as can cause damage to the hair follicles and skin when done incorrectly
Dries quicklyNeed specialist tools
Carding unclogs the dog’s pores and prevents excess sebum production

When deciding whether to clip or handstrip a dog on your table, you need to weigh up several different factors:

Dog Temperament

When handstripping a dog, if it’s attempting to bite the entire time then it is time to clip. It is clearly uncomfortable during the process, and no matter how nice the finished groom may look it’s not worth losing fingers for it.

Handstripping should not be painful for a dog, if it is clearly suffering discomfort, then either your method is incorrect, or the coat is not suitable for stripping.

Puppies in general may be quite mouthy initially, you have to trust your own judgement to decide if this is typical puppy behaviour or if they are telling you the process is painful.

Some dogs just don’t have the temperament for handstripping, and although you can try to work on poor behaviour you need to remember you are a groomer not a behaviourist.

If the owner isn’t willing to work on behaviour at home, there’s not much that you can do in a two hour slot every eight weeks. 


handstripping schnauzer

Health conditions play a role in the decision to strip or clip. Never ever handstrip a dog with a skin condition, handstripping can aggravate a minor issue and cause severe problems.

If this is a temporary condition (ie an allergic reaction), then rebook the dog in for a different time to allow the dog to heal and recover. If it is an ongoing problem and the skin is never 100% healthy then clipping is a much better alternative.

Also consider other health problems such as hip and elbow dysplasia, spinal problems, cruciate ligament ruptures and luxating patella.

Handstripping is a time consuming process, and once a dog has a health condition that affects mobility, they may have much more difficulty standing for extended periods of time to be stripped.

Additionally, the dog may be quite achy and stiff now, and no longer have the suitable temperament to be handstripped. This is not the case for every dog, so assess every potential handstrip on an individual basis.

Coat – Handstripping Vs Clipped

coat that has been handstripped

There are two types of handstripped coats: Wire and silky.

Assessing whether they can be handstripped based on sight alone takes experience, and even then it’s possible to get it wrong. For that reason I recommend that you get your hands on the dog before you guarantee to a customer that it can be handstripped.

Wire coats tend to be more resilient than silky coats, and you might find some terriers can be clipped a few times and still grow back a perfect strippable coat, while spaniel coats may only be scissored once and become impossible to strip.

If a dog has any kind of hormonal disorder (ie thyroid condition, diabetes), it is likely the coat may not be possible to strip. Hormones control the coat, so the more imbalanced the hormones are the harder the coat will be to work with.

This is also the reason neutered dogs may become impossible to strip, as neutering affects the hormones too. Again, in terriers the coat usually remains strippable for a longer period of time after neutering compared with gundogs.

Groomer’s Ability

It is important to be realistic about your own ability. If a potential client calls me and requests a groom on their Dandie Dinmont ready for the show season, I will turn it down because that is not my expertise.

Most pet grooms are relatively easy to learn, and a lot of the techniques can be applied to various breeds without problems. Show standard grooms , however, really require a breed expert who can recognise and hide faults in the dog. 

You also need to consider your own physical strength. I can no longer handstrip an entire Irish Wolfhound alone, my arm would fall off after completing one side.

I would also not book in five handstrips in one day (I learnt the hard way that I should really finish on number three).


Handstripping an Airedale

Handstripping takes a lot of time.

Can you allow the extra time on the dog to ensure you complete it to a high standard? Whenever a new handstrip client books in, always allow an extra thirty minutes on top of how long you think it will take.

There is nothing worse than stripping an entire jacket beautifully, and then running out of time to finish the legs and head to top standard. You must also charge accordingly, if you quote the same price as for a simple shave off and then proceed to spend five hours stripping the dog, it would have been better to turn the groom away and book in two shave offs for twice the price.

Owner’s Budget & Commitment for handstripping.

A lot of people love the look of a handstripped dog, but can’t afford the maintenance. Most breeds need handstripping every four to six weeks, with rolled coats needing to be done closer to every two weeks. Many of these dogs also need to be carded at home regularly, something that not all owners are willing to do.

Handstripping costs much more than clipping because it is so time consuming. It’s common to undercharge when you’re initially discovering how long each breed takes to groom on average, but even then most owners can’t afford the upkeep. 

A lot of owners let the dog blow the coat instead of keeping it on a regular schedule, and while it is usually still possible to handstrip the dog it can leave bald patches and pink skin, and it is even more time consuming than a regular handstrip so it costs even more.

The only exception generally speaking is the Border Terrier. They tend to have beautifully resilient coats that can be rolled every two weeks or stripped once a year with little consequences, but of course it all depends on the individual dog. 

If an owner states that they want their dog to look like a show dog, they must be prepared to attend regular grooming sessions, card at home when necessary, and pay for the additional skill and time.

This is a specialist skill that not everyone can do, so charge accordingly

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