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Start Smart: Setting your Puppy up for Grooming Success

Each puppy is an individual with a growing understanding of the world and their place in it. When grooming is introduced while the puppy is young, they can learn it is a part of normal life, and it's not scary. When a puppy goes through their younger months without those grooming experiences the grooming process can feel out of place in their world. It can feel like a strange, sometimes, scary time that they have to learn is safe. 

First puppy appointments at the grooming salon don't have to result in a drastic haircut, in fact it is better to use that time as an introduction to the sights, sounds and smells of the salon. I encourage my clients to set up a couple of these appointments so there can be a slow, gentle graduation from one new experience to the next. This way trust can be built and they can learn how to work with their groomer, and grooming is better for everyone if it is a mutual cooperation between dog and groomer. 

There is a common misconception that grooming a young dog will ruin their coat, however there is no fact to back that up. Nothing about bathing and appropriate trimming would negatively affect the skin or coat. However, like most babies, puppies have hygienic needs that should be regularly met to prevent potential issues. Ideally getting a bath every 4 weeks with breed appropriate products that nourish and replenish the coat (This is the time for one skin cycle to turn over, meaning after 4 weeks the dead skin and oil begins to build up and you may notice a grey substance on your finger tips after a good petting. Dander, itching and body odor are common for dogs who are bathed less than their skin cycle).

There are steps you can take at home to prepare your puppy for grooming success, and they are important developmental milestones especially if you can't get a training appointment or you plan to groom your own dog.

1.) Make the bathing place (tub, sink, etc) a safe place by letting your puppy explore it, dry, a few times before turning the water on. Visit the area once a day for 4-5 days and make it fun with treats and happy praise. When you reach day 5 turn the water on without wetting your puppy and allow your puppy to investigate it.

2.) Handle paws, ears and tail gently, calmly and with respect. These are areas dogs commonly resist attention and touch due to their instinctual protective impulses. You can desensitize your puppy to human touch by gently rubbing their paw pads, behind their ears, opening their ears to look inside and lightly running your hand down their tail. Your puppy will then feel more at ease when your Veterinarian or Groomer touches those areas.

3.) Show them a brush, practice running it softly down your puppy's back without them playing with it. ( See previous article: Pro Tips: Brushing at Home, at

4.) Turn on a loud dryer or vacuum. Grooming involves a fluff or velocity dryer which has a motor. The noise of these important tools are not common in a puppy's life so if you can replicate it they will have a chance to feel familiar with the experience and accept it more calmly. Even a human hand dryer is a good start. I like to get the puppy's attention with a treat and blow myself with the dryer (and look like it is enjoyable), then offer the treat as I shift the dryer toward the puppy with happy praise. Move slowly.

If you can put yourself in your puppy's paws, and see the world from their perspective, you can help set your puppy up for fear free grooming for life!

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