Grooming Puppies

Your new puppy will eventually need to be groomed but how soon should you start? The simple answer is shortly after they leave the litter.

Most puppies should have their first professional grooming service by the time they reach 12 weeks of age. The first grooming session should be brief and pleasant for the puppy. Booking a bath package or a mini groom, which consists of light brushing and scissoring the face, feet and sanitary area is an ideal way to introduce the puppy to the grooming process without overwhelming them. This brief appointment will familiarize the puppy with the noise and sensation of the equipment, being on the grooming table, and holding still for clipping and scissoring.

It is important to introduce your puppy to grooming before the coat is matted or over-grown. The time and techniques required to groom a pet in this condition can be unpleasant and intimidating for a puppy. Many pet owners have made the mistake of adhering to the arbitrary grooming schedules presented by well-intentioned breeders and internet bloggers. Currently, there is a bizarre trend to wait for six months to a year until the first grooming. The illogical reasons for waiting often include exposure to contagious illnesses, damage to the coat, emotional readiness for grooming, and other fallacies.

Exposure to contagious diseases is a valid concern among pet owners and veterinarians. Follow your veterinarian’s recommendations for vaccinations. Choose a groomer/facility that is clean and doesn’t accept pets of questionable health. A mobile groomer, that only takes one dog at a time, could potentially reduce your puppy’s exposure to contagious diseases. Most contagious diseases are easily treated and have no lasting effects whereas delaying grooming could potentially risk a puppy developing fear and a dislike for grooming for years to come.

The difference in “puppy coat” and “adult coat” in regards to grooming is irrelevant. Your puppy’s coat will likely change in thickness and texture as it matures, but either way, their coat requires grooming. Whether you choose to maintain a full, natural coat with brushing and combing or trim it to a manageable length, it is best to get your puppy properly acclimated to grooming early on. Trimming your puppy’s coat will not adversely affect the adult coat that you intend to maintain in a clipped style. Please note: some breeds are not intended to have a clipped coat and the texture and appearance can change if clipped. Examples of this effect include terriers (e.g., schnauzers) and double coated dogs (e.g., golden retrievers and pomeranians). Do not be deterred by this coat change if your situation and needs necessitate clipping or shaving on breeds that are not typically clipped or shaved.

When it comes to emotional and behavioral development a puppy needs to get acclimated to grooming within the socialization period. The socialization period for puppies is a small window of time when the puppy is eager to explore it’s environment and begins to form positive and negative associations with what it is exposed to. This socialization window is from 4 weeks to 16 weeks of age. It is extremely important to provide your puppy with a pleasant grooming experience within the socialization window. Your puppy will have many more grooming sessions over their lifetime and you want your pet to have the least amount of fear and stress associated with their grooming.

Your puppy’s initial grooming sessions may not yield optimal results. Some puppies may be slow to accept some aspects of grooming such as: blow drying, clipping, scissoring, and brushing. It is in the puppy’s best interest to not force the issue and adopt a “good enough for now” attitude. At their own pace, with patience and persistence, puppies will acclimate to grooming over time. Your groomer will most likely tell you how your puppy is doing with grooming and may make recommendations for helping your puppy along.

Your groomer might suggest ways that you can help your puppy learn to accept and like being handled for grooming. Some common handling exercises include gently holding the foot and spreading the toes, applying a firm yet gentle hold to the hair on the muzzle, gently placing your fingers over and under the eyes, and lifting and gently holding the ears and tail. All of these exercises need to be done without the puppy becoming overwhelmed, fearful, or resistant. Using a calm, soothing voice to praise them and offering treats during and after the exercises can help to create a pleasant experience for your puppy. If you have difficulty with performing these exercises it is best to not do them. If the puppy frequently becomes upset, the exercises can make the grooming experience worse. Don’t despair if you can’t manage to work with your puppy, your puppy can learn during the grooming sessions with the professional groomer.

If your puppy is past the prime opportunity for its first grooming experience, it is OK. It may take longer to get your older puppy or adult dog used to being groomed but it can be done. If your puppy or adult dog has developed an aversion to or fear of grooming, a competent and patient groomer can help them work through it.