Q: I am considering getting a Westie puppy as a pet, and am thinking of hand stripping his coat. I understand that if done correctly, stripping should not hurt the dog at all. What’s your advice on this?  

A: Hand stripping is the proper way of grooming a large number of terrier breeds, and that includes the Westie. Wired coats comprise a guard coat and an undercoat. Hand stripping is the process of physically removing the hair from its follicle by pulling it out, thus stimulating the growth of a new strand that is coarser in texture and brighter in colour. It also allows the skin to breathe. 

This technique helps remove “old” hair to make way for new strands, and reduces the risk of follicles becoming irritated and clogged. When debris and oil gather at the site and the new, thicker hairs start to grow, irritation occurs. Additionally, when there is overcrowding of fur at the follicle, there is a high risk of fungal and yeast infections. The harder the coat, the better its ability to repel irritants like dirt, dust, and even insects, and hence the less often you need to shower your dog. 

If you choose not to hand strip your Westie’s coat and instead clip or shave it, the wired coat will lose its hard quality, and become soft, fluffy, and silky. The hairs will get finer as its internal structure will change over multiple sessions of scissoring and/or clipping. It will also eventually turn from straight to curly (or wavy), and tangle more easily. Without the guard coat’s protection and the undercoat to help regulate air flow and keep the skin healthy, your dog will get dirtier faster than it is supposed to. Pores can get clogged and irritated if they are not properly cleaned and cared for. If infected with fungus and yeast, the condition can spread to other areas like the ears, so do be careful. 

Westies that are clipped also often have coats that appear dull and/or are yellowish. Without stripping the coat, the skin loses the ability to push new hairs through the follicles, leaving your dog with only a very basic layer of fur. Hand stripping needs to be done by a professional as the proper technique requires specific training and the right equipment and knowledge. It can take years to master. The groomer will remove the hairs strand by strand, which although tedious, is the best way to do it. 

As such, hand stripping generally costs a lot more than regular grooming. But if well-maintained, it should only need to be done twice a year. A hand stripped  dog also needs rolling on its coat, which is another method of maintaining the coat after stripping. A breed standard is there for a reason, and the proper way to groom a wired coat terrier is by hand stripping. To date, we have not met a wired coat terrier (that has been hand stripped since puppyhood) with skin issues.