Hand Stripping Tutorial - Book 1
A series of articles by ARDEN M. ROSS - Illustrated by
MRS ROSS and LORI BUSH
The secret to properly preparing a Wire Fox Terrier for the show ring is a simple one, I was told. "A good eye, and a lot of hard work!" This simple advice is what leads the average novice exhibitor into searching our your Dad's razor (to slash your wrists, what else!) or switching to the Smooth variety. Nevertheless I put in a lot of hard work, and as my eye developed, I could plainly see that my dogs did not look like the others in the ring. So, humbly approaching Jimmy Butler, I asked him to consider taking me on as an apprentice. This is how I came to work for Jimmy during his last year as a Professional Handler (the late Mr Butler had for some twenty years been recognized as one of the leading authorities on preparing broken-coated terriers). It was an exciting and most revealing experience, realizing more completely just how important that first piece of the secret is ……. a good eye. A good eye, and many, many hours of labor is the secret.
Objectively assessing your dog is no easy task. Often years of experience are necessary. But, those of you who can truly be objective will find that task far less complex, as the whole secret of good grooming begins with an honest appraisal of the animal to be groomed …… "this area needs a bit more taken off ….. this area wants filling in, etc." The work is all too obvious. Every time a hair is pulled you are working the coat, and as your grooming becomes more sophisticated, the harder you will find yourself working.
More recently I have come under the influence of yet another top Professional Handler, Ric Cashoudian (currently one of the nation's top pros, and definitely one of the leading authorities on preparing terrier coats). Ric's style is completely different from Jimmy's, yet both men have the same high standard of perfection, and the final products are like rare jewels in a fine setting. I have watched both these men spend four to five hours at a stretch on a single animal, just doing the "fine" trimming in preparation for the week end's shows.
The professional works 365 days a year (with no time off for good behavior) in their game! Many of them have had 20 to 30 years experience trimming broken-coated terriers. They have worked on every conceivable type of coat in all its stages, to say nothing of the variable dispositions which must be considered as part of the task. AND THEY PRESENT THE MOST FORMIDABLE COMPETITION. Can we, the amateur, hope for success in competition with such professionals? You bet we can! In matters of grooming they are the experts …. the quality of animals they select to exhibit are generally superior … their vast experience surely gives them an edge. Or does it? They may have as many as twenty dogs to prepare for one show. We have only one, or possibly two to prepare for one show. If we apply our time and talent as diligently to our dogs as the professional does to his twenty, our dogs WILL BE COMPETITIVE! The mere fact that you have made an entry and managed to get your dog in the ring does not put you in competition …. at least not if your dog looks like a woolly, ill-mannered stuffed toy. You will, however, serve some purpose in being there … if only to build points for someone else! If this is your intention, please send ME a list of the shows you are planning to attend in the near future!
When reviewing the Fox Terrier Standard, the only mention of the Wire coat is as follows:
"This Variety of the breed should resemble the Smooth sort in every respect except the coat, which should be broken. The harder and more wiry the texture of the coat is, the better. On no account should the dog look or feel woolly; and there should be no silky hair about the poll or elsewhere. The coat should not be too long, so as to give the dog a shaggy appearance, but at the same time, it should show a marked and distinct difference all over from the Smooth species."
Since this portion of the Standard deals exclusively with the coat, it is apparent that care must be taken to see that Wire coats are presented in the very best possible manner. The "old timers" refer to the hard wire coat of the terrier as his "jacket", and believe me, they meant one fashioned on Bond Street! Not hastily picked up at the nearest Army surplus store! This type of jacket is not fashioned in a day, and so we must be prepared to work, work, WORK!
Not so long ago, while working at Mr Chashoudian's kennels, Ric asked me to hand him a "mitt". In my mind, a "mitt" is something you slip on over your hand, so I handed him the nearest hound glove. "What's this" he asked, dangling it between thumb and finger as if it were a dead rat, "if I had need for a hound glove, I would have asked for a hound glove". This is precisely what happens when you read an article intended to instruct you on any particular procedure. Jimmy Butler once told me to "trim"! Naturally I grabbed the scissors. "What", he shouted, "are you doing with those?" "You said trim", I replied reasonably. "For heavens sake, Den, when I say trim I DON'T mean SCISSORS!" So, for the sake of clarification, I had best explain what I mean, when I say what I say, lest you think I mean something entirely different.
STRIP (stripping): Stripping is the act of pulling the hair out completely from the skin surface. The hair is not cut, but is pulled out much as a person will pull out those first few gray hairs from their own head.
STRIP OUT: This is the process of stripping the animal down to its bare skin, or nearly so as possible. Here the object is to entirely remove the old coat so a new, fresh coat may grow in its place.
FINE (finely): I use the term "fine" to designate a very close, short hair. This hair lays flat against the skin and is NOT THICK. It is also completely free from undercoat. Generally it is encouraged to grow by taking some and leaving some. This might also be described as a "thinning process". Fine hair is needed on the skull, the sides of the neck nearest the head, underneath the throat sometimes the chest and shoulder areas. With the cheeks "very finely" stripped, the skin is just barely covered with a fine layer of hair; so close does it lay to the skin, and so short, that it is almost impossible to lift it with your fingers and grasp it.
FINE STRIPPING: I associate the art of "fine stripping" with the use of stripping knives. Here specific areas are stripped down very finely, or close to the skin, but allowing the short hair to remain. There are, of course, varying degrees of fine stripping, and it is all to achieve varying lengths of short and close hair. For example, a good clean shoulder is stripped fairly fine, whereas a heavy or "loaded" shoulder is stripped veryfine.
PLUCKING: Essentially plucking is just another word for stripping, but the word "pluck" is so descriptive that I use it to designate pulling small groups of hair. Let us suppose you are preparing your dog for this weekend's shows. This is his final "at home" session, except for the actual preparation needed to present him in the ring. Every hair is in place except for a little clump in the middle of his back, which persists in sticking up so that the outline is distorted. You reach over, lift up the offending hairs and "pluck" them out! I also associate this word with the use of thumb and forefinger in removing hair. I may "strip" adults, but I invariably "pluck" young puppies. Upon occasion we may "pluck" with the knife … usually live hair that our fingers are just not tough enough to remove.
BLENDING: The hair on the Wire in show condition is many different lengths. The fine hair on the skull, the full hair on the muzzle, the short hair on the shoulders, the lush fullness of leg furnishings are just some examples. All this must be "blended" together so that there is no severe line of demarcation. Blending is done by allowing the longer and shorter hairs to "intermingle". It takes practice, but our object is to have the long and short hair "blend" to form a smooth transition. We don't want "stair steps".
TRIMMING: Trimming is nothing more than the judicious use of the above methods to achieve a "finished" product … a dog ready to be shown! This is not your initial stripping out, but a careful removal of hair designed to produce the symmetry of a well-fitting "jacket". Symmetry is, indeed, the key word. We want the coat to mold itself to the contours of the dog's body … the whole to present a smoothly pleasing appearance with no one portion of the coat calling undue attention to itself. Trimming might easily be called "high styling" in the same fashion it is used by a woman's hairstyle. Our dog's coat should "complement" our dogs, not detract from them.
PUT DOWN: Unfortunately this term often refers to an old dog being "put down", meaning Euthanasia, but in matters of grooming, we refer to the act of preparing the wire coat as "putting the dog down". In essence, this means simply, "have you done all the work on his coat yourself"?
IN THE ROUGH: A dog is known to be "in the rough" when we have allowed his coat to grow out and left in this long, shaggy condition. This certainly is the direct opposite of the act of "putting down" your dog.
COAT, WIRE, HARD COAT etc.: Nature abhors nakedness, so she has furnished her four-footed children with suitable clothing. The Wire Fox Terrier belongs to the class of hard coated (or broken-coated) terriers. The term "hard" and "wire" are used to describe the type of harsh outer coat these animals grow. The most desirable of these coats is the "pin wire" coat, and this coat, particularly after trimming, does closely resemble very fine wire (screen wire comes to mind). It has such a wiry texture that the sharp ends will actually prick your finger! The "pin wire" coat is more desirable in the show ring than sitting on your lap! Wire coats range in texture from the supreme pin wire type to that which approximates the harshness of the Smooth variety. A "woolly" or soft coat is definitely a fault and will strongly count against an animal in the show ring.
Nature also furnishes the dog with under-clothes! This is called under-coat and its purpose is to insulate against adverse weather conditions. This under-coat should be precisely that …. under the harsh or wire outer coat. The outer coat serves as protection against everyday contact with brush, or potentially dangerous skin tears when the animal is engaged in routine work or play period. It also has the ability to shed rain. The undercoat is dense and soft, and insulates the dog's body against both heat and cold. While some animals, such as horse and cow, grow undercoat primarily for protection in the winter, the dog grows undercoat the year round. The summer undercoat serves to insulate against extreme heat; it also protects him against the bites from insects; contrarily, it also serves as a marvelous "nesting" place for fleas. Whereas this undercoat may be Nature's answer to our Thermal Blanket, it frequently leads us to the Aspirin bottle! The hard coat of the terrier is rather unique. The average dog has a heavy coat for winter, which he sheds in the spring (or when the weather turns warm enough). On long-coated breeds this shedding process is fairly dramatic. Simultaneously with the shedding of the heavy winter coat, a new, finer and much lighter coat is grown. During the summer months, as the weather grows warmer, even this light summer coat will shed, but this time a few hairs at a time. Except for the density of undercoat, there is little or no difference between the wire coat, summer or winter. His hard coat grows in, and after reaching a certain length, "turns loose", all over. This is known as "blowing the coat".
So we see a different picture from that of other breeds. The hard coat grows in, reaches a certain length, and dies. This is done regardless of the time of year or weather conditions. This dead or "blown" coat falls out and the new coat comes in to replace it. This constant renewing of the outer coat is unlike other breeds, and during the time when the coat is "live", there is little or no shedding. This has given rise to the conception that hard coats do not shed. They do, but not like other breeds. Indeed, even the Smooth variety will shed constantly , a little here, a little there, but the Wire very little at all.
The length of coat before blowing depends on many factors ….. the health of the dog, the weather, the season of the year, humidity …. and in bitches, their menstrual cycle as well as that occasional "false pregnancy" will be factors. The area in which you live and the housing provided for your dog also play their part in the cycle of your Wire Fox Terrier's coat. English dogs seem to hold much better coats than dogs raised in the United States, and Eastern dogs have more workable coats than those raised in Southern California. The hot, dry desert is probably the worst climate in which to attempt raising and conditioning a wire coat. All these factors have a definite effect on your dog's show condition.
I have illustrated, in a very simplified form, the cycle of the Wire coat. This "cycle" is worked to our advantage in producing the "show" coat. If we were to remove the coat of the average dog, in the same manner as we do the Wire Fox Terrier, he would be in serious trouble. If we attempted to strip him we would find it an extremely painful business, both during stripping and after the resulting baldness. Eventually, he would grow in a new coat to replace the old one, but he would be a sorry mess for months. On the other hand, the preparation of the Wire involves just that! Strip him out! If he is in the rough, we will most likely end up with a bald dog. But, in a matter of weeks, a fresh coat will make its debut. This constant renewal of the outer coat is what makes the hard coat unique.
In all likelihood, the most valuable piece of advice that I can impart to anyone considering conditioning and grooming his own Wire is …. READ THE STANDARD! I'm sure you have, but read it again, and again, and again. By trimming our dogs we are seeking to present them in a manner as closely resembling the Standard as is made possible by our dog's physical attributes, and by our styling of the animal. So does it not make sense to use the Standard as a trimming guide as well? An example: the Standard states, "CHEST - deep and not broad". So if we were to leave a great wealth of hair on the lower shoulder so that the dog appeared to have a broad chest when viewed from the front, we would not be trimming the dog correctly, and we would therefore not be presenting our Wire as the Standard describes. So we do not pull hair simply because someone says "pull hair"; we pull and trim to produce the dog in the most favorable light, and to do this we must have in our mind a clear picture of how we want our dog to look. This picture is drawn with words by our Fox Terrier Standard. Many of us produce images in our minds, and can view these same images as though peering at a photograph. However, equally as many of us cannot! Some of us can create this mental image, but not so clearly that we can retain fine details. So we will make use of actual photographs as reproduced in the many dog magazines and books on the subject of our chosen breed. Yes indeed … you read my words correctly …. STARE AT PHOTOGRAPHS! These photos of the top specimens, prepared by the top people in our breed, serve as our guideline when we are in doubt. BUT, you say "I can't see which hairs are what length, and where what has been pulled and what has not". You are not supposed to!! YOUR dog is not THEIR dog, and vice versa. All you are looking for is the overall effect. If your friend is a size 10 and you a 16, she may buy a dress that is simply smashing, and you may buy the same dress (a different color, I hope), but you are not going to buy it in a size 10 for yourself. So, between reading the Standard and studying photos, you should have a pretty clear image of how you want your dog to look. Now it is up to you to trim him to conform to this image. Trite, but only too true is the old adage, "One picture is worth a thousand words".
In every book or article that I have ever read on the subject of grooming the Wire Fox Terrier, there has always been at least half a page devoted to the tools necessary. So far as I am concerned, the only tools you will NEED are 2 brushes, 1 comb and your thumb and forefinger! The various stripping knives are certainly handy, but it is not an absolute necessity that you have them. If this is the first Wire that you are gong to work on, my strong advice is NOT to use any stripping knife. Use only your thumb and forefinger. It takes much practice to develop the proper wrist and arm motion. If you start out with a knife (it is very aptly names, you know), all you will accomplish is to cut the hair, the dog and yourself! All of these are "no-no's". Particular care MUST be taken in all phases of trimming so that hair is NOT cut. If we want the hair cut, we would scissor the dog! When first using the stripping knife, the novice is hard put to avoid cutting the hair, but I have yet to see a thumb or forefinger cut hair, so let's "crawl" before we walk, and walk before we run. LEARN with your thumb and forefinger ….. there is plenty of time to master the stripping knife later.
You will need two brushes. One is a Slicker Brush (that is its proper name) and the other is called a Rubber Palm Brush. Both these items can be purchased at the average Pet Store. The Slicker Brush has a handle attached to a flat back and the "bristles" are made of very fine wire. This brush will tend to cut the dog's skin or puncture the dog, frequently even puncturing your own fingers. Therefore extreme care must be taken that the Slicker Brush is NOT used with a heavy hand. It should never be raked through the dog's coat in a manner that brings the sharp wire bristles in contact with the dog's skin. Always be very careful to insure that the wire bristles are lying face down when not in use: this primarily to avoid any accidents to you or your dogs.
The Rubber Palm Brush has a rubber back, is oval in shape and fits easily into the palm of the hand … hence its name. It normally has a strap that fits over the back of your hand to help hold it in place. The "bristles" are actually a fine nail, with the point blunted. It is not nearly as sharp as the wire of the Slicker, and does not have the tendency to cut the skin. Nevertheless, it can scrape the skin, making it raw and sore. You should be able, at this point, to see the necessity of developing a light touch when working on your dog. If the dog is constantly cut, scraped and made sore by the tools you use, he will soon come to fear and eventually hate his grooming sessions.
The comb is metal. One of the most common of these is called a "Greyhound Comb", and is made in Belgium. You will want the one that is 7 inches long with no more than a one-inch tooth. This comb is very like your own comb in that it has wider-spaced teeth at one end, and narrower-spaced teeth at the other. These, naturally are called coarse and fine teeth. There are many combs, some made in England, some in our own country, but as long as their construction is comparable, there is no reason to stick to the actual "Greyhound Comb". These combs, being made of steel, are very sharp! Here again, you must use extreme care not to cut or puncture the dog. I leave it up to you whether you wish to cut or puncture YOURSELF! Blood stains, whether from you or your dog are messy!
You should have one pair of scissors. These are used to trim the hair from between the pads of the feet, and around the bottom of the feet ONLY. Any barber shears that fit comfortably in your hand will do. I generally let mine get a little dull, as there is less chance of cutting the dog that way.
As your grooming becomes more proficient, you may wish to acquire some of the following aids …
Wire Hound Glove: This is valuable in brushing and "forming" the coat. Especially useful after the dog has been bathed.
Horsehair Hound Glove: Same as the Wire glove, except the bristles are made of horsehair. There is another type in which the bristles are made of an even softer material, both being useful primarily in smoothing the coat. Both types can be used simultaneously …. the wire type on one hand and the horsehair on the other.
Stripping Knives: Stripping knives come in varying degrees of coarseness. You will want some "fine" strippers, some medium fine and some coarse. I could not begin to list all the stripping knives, and indeed, one of the main problems seems to be finding a suitable one before they are no longer available for one reason or another. Here are a few that seem to be available at this time ….
FINE STRIPPING KNIVES: "Real" … this is a truly fine stripper. It has a white plastic handle and the legend "Real" inscribed on the blade. This particular brand also has a very coarse knife, but as I have other coarse knives in my possession, I have not used this one. "Magnetic" …. this knife has a rather distinctive shape to the blade. The blade has a rounded end with a hole in it. It has a black wooden handle and the teeth are fine and short. "Pedigree" … this knife is not nearly as fine-toothed as the other two; in fact, it is almost a medium, but has a very short tooth. The handle is most distinctive as it resembles a piece of deer horn.
COARSE STRIPPING KNIVES: "Twinco" stripper is the most common and easily obtained. It is great for stripping out dogs heavily in "the rough", as it is one long blade with the handle attached strongly to one side only. You need have no fear of the blade breaking. The "Warner" is all metal, and is equal in strength to the "Twinco", or maybe a little stronger. Both these knives are harsh to your hands. The "Warner" has the handle part painted red. Both knives have blunted edges. The teeth of the "Warner" are set a bit wider apart than the "Twinco". I have already mentioned the coarse bladed "Real" knife. All three of these are easily obtained.
Probably the nicest group of stripping knives are called "The Tom Gately Strippers". These knives are fitted with aluminium handles that are color coded. I have heard a hidious rumor that the are no longer in production. I sincerely hope that this is not true. However, there are still some of them around, mostly at the Dog Show stands.
The blades on all of these stripping knives are SHARP! Heaven help me if I ever have occasion to seek the aid of a psychiatrist, as my left wrist bears many slash marks. Will I truly be able to convince him that I was not trying to "end it all", but was just a little sloppy in my handling of my stripping knives? So you can readily see that for the sake of your own future, as well as your dog's well being, it is extremely important that the stripping knife be held in the proper position. For you ladies who have used paring knives for peeling (potatoes, carrots etc.) you will know what I mean when I say the stripping knife should be held in the position for SCRAPING, not peeling. For those of you who came after the invention of the potato peeler, think of a flat plain (as in "the rain in Spain falls mainly") and imagine a single telephone pole standing perfectly upright upon that plain. The plain represents the dog's skin and hair, the upright pole represents the position of the stripping knife in relation to the dog's skin and hair. Most stripping knives have grooves on one side of the blade. These grooves extend down to the lower, or bottom edge of the blade, and the ridges of these grooves form the teeth. The opposite side of the blade is smooth. The ridged, or grooved side is the side away from you: the smooth side is towards, or facing you as you strip. The position of the stripping knife is upright in your hand. The blade of the knife takes the place of your forefinger; your thumb still fulfils the same function. Since we are holding our knife in a "Scraping" position, and since the knife is sharp, once again we see the importance of LIFTING the hair to be pulled (see illustration). If you do not LIFT, you will scrape, cutting or scraping the hair, and as you work your way down through the coat, you will cut and make raw the dog's skin. At first it is advisable to lift the hair with your fingers and then pick up your knife to pull the LIFTED hair. If you have fair control of your left hand, you may lift the hair with that, pulling the lifted hair out with the knife held in your right hand. Unless you have a "left handed" knife (and occasionally these can be found), you must hold the knife in your right hand, since the grooves of the blade hold and separate the hair and help to prevent the hair from being cut. If you were to hold the knife in your left hand, the smooth side would be towards the "pull" of the hair, and it would take MUCH proficiency to prevent the hair from being cut. As you progress you will soon find that the stripping knife does indeed become your "finger" and you will be lifting and pulling all in one easy motion.
Whether you are trimming with thumb and forefinger or with the knife, the same rules apply. Remember, the knife merely takes the place of the finger. It might very well be likened to any convenience; it facilitates, it does not initiate. You should always pull in the direction the hair grows! I blithely say "always", but like most rules, there are exceptions which I shall mention in their proper place. If we are to pull in the direction the hair grows, and at the same time pull towards ourselves, this means that we must place our bodies in relation to where and in which direction our dogs are standing. The hair on the dog's back grows from the neck pointing towards the dog's tail. So if we are stripping the dog's back, our position should be with our body standing at the dog's tail, and us facing in the same direction. At times we will gain the distinct impression that in order to follow this rule, we must stand on our head, and this is almost what we do! But no matter how silly the contortions are, we should always PULL the hair in the direction it grows.
Many thanks to Terrier Type for permission to reprint these pages
BEFORE (RIGHT) AND AFTER (LEFT) TRIM