Terriers are double coated. They have 2 types of hair that make up their coat; the dull coloured softer undercoat, and the rich coloured wire top coat. Handstripping is removing the dead hair off the top coat by finger plucking or by a stripping knife. It is performed on a dirty coat because it is easier to grip the hair and remove it. When you remove the top coat with this method, new hair will emerge from the hair follicle in it's place and will be thicker and have more vibrant colour.
Only the upper portion of a terrier's top coat is actually coloured and has the wire texture that terriers are known for. The lower portion of the top coat, the hair is very thin and dull in colour. A terrier needs to be handstripped when you spread the coat out with your fingers and you see dull and soft under coat. If they aren't handstripped at this time then the whole coat will change colour and will become softer in texture. This is known as a blown coat.
The top coat and the under coat grow out of the same hair follicle. If you don't have your terrier handstripped and carded the hair follicle will become clogged with fine hairs and oily sebum. This can lead to skin problems, such as the pimples or "acne" that is sometimes found on miniature schnauzers.
Does it Hurt?
The terrier coat was bred with this type of coat. If done correctly, it does NOT hurt. Some terriers may not care for certain parts to be done. If you are not showing the dog then there is no reason to strip out sensitive areas, they can be clipped or scissored.
Why not just clip the dog down?
When you clip off a terrier's coat you are taking all the colour out and leaving the under coat, which is soft, thin, and dull. Every time you clip the dog down the coat will continue to get softer and softer. The only way to get a nice harsh coat is to continue to strip out the under coat and have top coat slowly grow back in its place. It takes a very long time to switch a soft coat back to the correct colour and texture, but it can be done.
Different types of stripping
There are 3 types of stripping: "full strip," "carding," and "rolling."
Full stripping takes everything off and leaves the dog with just the undercoat fuzz, or bald with no hair (AKA "stripping to undies"). This will look really good at about 10-12 weeks but until then will be rather naked looking while the top coat grows out over the under coat if it was left.
Carding AKA "mucking out the coat" is where you remove the under coat with either grooming rakes or carding tools.
Rolling the coat is when you have many layers in the coat. Each time they come in a layer of coat is removed so there is a shorter coat underneath so the pet doesn't walk out of the salon naked. This allows new top coat growth to gradually overtake the soft under coat.
To Strip Or Not To Strip?
There are occasions where handstripping would not be appropriate, if your dog has been neutered the hormones in the body are changed resulting in softer hair growth which cannot be stripped without causing your dog discomfort. I can continue to strip any hair that will come out easily (this is usually on the body) but as a rule the hair around the neck, hindquarters, head and legs will need to be scissored or clipped, this will also alter the texture and colour of the coat growth, alternatively you can choose to have all your dog scissored or clipped in a breed standard pet trim. Older dogs may also find handstripping uncomfortable and I would advise alternative methods for dogs 10 years and older. Dogs with skin problems and/or sensitive skin should not be handstripped. There are also some dogs that do not have the correct textured coat to be handstripped and I would recommend these are groomed using alternative methods.
Benefits of stripping
Thick and harsh coats helps to repel dirt and water more reducing the need for baths.
Doesn't mat up like a soft coat would.
Hair grows slower so can go on some breeds 5-6 months between stripping once you have layers.
The cost of handstripping and carding is much more than just getting a hair cut. Stripping is very labour intensive and most groomers can't or won't do it. It's very much a speciality skill and will cost a lot more -at least double- the cost of a clipping price.
Regular dog shampoo and conditioner aren't appropriate on handstripped dogs. Those types of products will soften the coat instead of harden it. I use Safe4 shampoo after handstripping and carding as it is very beneficial due to being antibacterial and antifungal. I also give the dog's a spritz of Vita Canis Soothing Antiseptic Spray as this is very beneficial to handstripped and carded coats too as it helps close the pores, and has antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal properties.