If you plan to have your puppy professionally groomed when she grows up, you should also show her what to expect at her first grooming appointment. Unless you have a wash-and-wear dog who can get by with just an occasional bath—and you are willing to be the one to give it—you will likely want to use the services of a professional groomer. This is especially true if your puppy has long hair that needs to be styled and clipped. However, your puppy will have to wait until she’s at least 16 weeks old to visit a groomer since most salons require dogs to have all their vaccinations before their first session. In the meantime, you can start preparing your puppy for her first grooming appointment. Doing so will help her feel more comfortable while she’s being groomed, and will make the groomer’s job easier.
Start at Home
To help your puppy, you’ll need to start grooming her first at home where she feels safe. Buy a soft-bristled brush for dogs and a guillotine-style nail trimmer for pets. If your pup has long, silky hair, buy a wide-toothed comb. If you’re able, you may also want to get your puppy used to be being bathed, so buy a quality dog shampoo and conditioner. Last, have a good pair of hair-cutting scissors on hand and some towels.
Begin by teaching your puppy to be touched the way a groomer would touch her. Start by handling her paws, lifting each one and gently massaging it with your hand. Reward her for cooperating with praise or a treat. Do this every day, to all four paws. Once she puppy is comfortable with having her paws handled, you can begin trimming her nails. Use the nail trimmer you bought, and gently snip off just a tiny portion of one nail. Don’t cut much. Right now, you just want your puppy to get used to the sensation of the nail trimmer. Give her a treat after you make a small snip, and then move on to the next nail.
Don’t ask your puppy to tolerate having all the nails on all four paws snipped in one sitting. Just do a few nails to start, and then return to do a few others the next day. You don’t want to overwhelm your puppy with this new experience. A few snips and a treat in each session will leave her with a positive experience of nail trimming. If your puppy has a lot of hair, you may also want to gently clip some of the hair on her feet using the hair-cutting scissors. Trim a little bit off one foot, and then reward with a treat. The next day, do the same with another foot. You want her to gradually learn to accept having the hair on her feet trimmed.
Next, get your puppy used to being brushed. Even shorthaired dogs can benefit from regular brushing, and longhaired dogs absolutely require it. Make sure you are armed with a handful of treats, and start gently brushing her back and sides. If your puppy stands quietly while you do this, give her treats with your free hand to reward her. If she’s like most puppies, she will scoot out from under the brush and try to bite it, thinking it’s a game. If she does this, gently hold her by the collar and give her a few strokes with the brush, then a treat. Eventually, she will learn that standing still and getting brushed not only feels good, it results in a food reward.
Electric clippers can be one of the scariest things about getting groomed for a puppy, so it’s a good idea to get her used to the sound and sensation of clippers before her first grooming appointment. You can gradually accustom her to the vibration of clippers by using a beard trimmer or an electric toothbrush, rubbing the bottom of it around her feet and face. You will probably have to let your puppy get used to the sound of the trimmer or electric toothbrush before you even touch her with it. Do this by turning it on and then giving her treats while the “clippers” hum along in the background. Gradually bring it closer and closer, rewarding her each time she accepts the sound. When she seems comfortable with the trimmer or toothbrush, touch it to her body, praising her at the same time.
Every visit to the groomer comes with a bath, so it’s a good idea to get your puppy used to being washed before someone she doesn’t known does it—and in a strange place, too. Fill your bathtub (or sink, if your puppy is a small breed, image right) with a few inches of lukewarm water. Place your puppy in the water, using a happy voice to let her know this is a good thing. Using a cup, pour water on her body. Avoiding wetting her face at this point; you want to gradually get her used to the idea, and wetting her face the first time out might upset her. Once her coat is wet, massage her with shampoo, continuing to talk to her in a happy, upbeat voice. Follow with a thorough rinsing of clean, lukewarm water by using the cup.
You may want to give treats throughout this process to help your puppy associate being bathed with something positive. Keep treats near the tub or sink, and offer her one every few minutes during the process. Once you’ve rinsed out your puppy’s coat, remove her from the water and towel her dry. Talk to her to the whole time, telling her she’s a good girl.
Even if your puppy is a longhaired breed, she probably still has a short puppy coat that can be dried with a towel or two. But when she grows up and goes to the groomer, her coat will likely need to be dried with a blower. You may want to start getting her used to the blow dryer now so she isn’t freaked out by the sound and feeling of it the first time she goes to the groomer.
Begin by turning on your hair dryer while your puppy is in the room so she can get used to the noise. You can do this by having your puppy nearby while you dry your own hair. Eventually, start bringing the dryer closer to her while it’s on, offering her treats. You can even try letting it blow on her while on the low setting for just a few seconds, and then praising her and giving her treats as a reward. Once she seems okay with having the dryer blowing on her, you can use it to finish drying her off after a bath.
The time and effort you spend preparing your puppy for her first grooming appointment will pay off for you, your dog and your groomer. Your puppy will have less anxiety whenever she goes to the grooming shop, and your groomer will really love working on her.
About the Author: Audrey Pavia is an award-winning freelance writer and author of “The Labrador Retriever Handbook.” She is a former staff editor of Dog Fancy, Dog World and The AKC Gazette magazines. To learn more about her work, visit www.audreypavia.com.