Want to know how to train a puppy for grooming? Heres how.

Puppy scared of shadow
Want to know how to train a puppy for grooming? Heres how. Whippet Media
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The Importance of Puppy Intro Grooms

Those early years of puppyhood is an ideal time to introduce a puppy to the grooming world. It helps solidify the fact that grooming will be a part of life and in turn be less stressful for the dog. This is how to train a puppy for grooming.

Groomers have different names for what I call Puppy Intro grooms. But essentially what I mean is the very first groom (or first few grooms). This usually involves a bath, brush, nail trim and possibly eye and bottom trim if needed. I don’t do any clipping for these grooms and build up any scissoring gradually. The whole point of these Intro grooms is to get the puppy accustomed to the grooming environment. Including the noises, smells and of course the groomers. 

We all encourage our owners of ‘fluffy’ breeds to bring their pets for a Puppy Intro as soon as possible. But do we always understand the reasons why? We know that introducing a twelve week old puppy to a new situation is much easier than with a two year old dog. We don’t always understand the science behind it.

One of the main things to consider is the second socialisation phase, which also includes the first fear phase.

maltipoo puppy sitting
How to train a puppy for grooming. The Whippet media

The very first socialisation phase occurs up to the age of around seven weeks. And it mostly revolves around the pups learning how to interact with the other puppies and the mother. During this phase they have almost no fear.

They have no need to be scared, because the mum is still with them and protecting them. During the final part of this phase, they begin to develop curiosity and remain fearless in exploring the world.

The second phase is what affects us as groomers. How to train a puppy for grooming

We unfortunately miss the early ‘brave’ period, where the pups are ready to take on the world. (Although many breeds are groomed by the breeder on a regular basis during this time, which greatly helps us). Instead we first meet the dogs after their vaccinations, when they are around twelve to sixteen weeks old.

Between seven and fifteen weeks of age, the puppies enter a phase where they begin to think of humans as companions .(Having previously only included dogs before this point). And they enter the stage of maximum learning abilities in their lifetime. 

This is when puppies should be carefully socialised to expose them to as many new situations as possible. This should be done in a calm and careful way to give them positive experiences without overwhelming the pup. It is during this time that the pup begins to associate events with emotions.

So any positive or negative feelings towards grooming can be solidified at this point. 

puppy getting blasted dry
How to train a puppy for grooming. The Whippet media

Unfortunately the first fear phase takes place between eight and eleven weeks of age.

Right in the middle of this socialisation phase. This is when pups would begin branching out without their mum’s protection, and learn to become aware of potential dangers.

We don’t see many puppies at this age due to vaccination schedules. However if we do groom a puppy of this age we need to be extra careful to make the groom as positive as possible.

However if an owner has purchased a new puppy and decides to bath them the moment they’re home. There’s a possibility that something as simple as the water being slightly too cool can cause the pup to have negative feelings towards grooming. That then affects us when the puppy first arrives for a Puppy Intro groom. 

puppy covered in paint. Creative grooming
How to train a puppy for grooming. The Whippet media

When the puppy arrives to us, once it has finished its fear period but still in its socialisation period, we need to introduce sights, smells and noises. This needs to be done in a calm way that doesn’t overwhelm the pup.

Hopefully at this point the pup has only had positive experiences with humans. However be aware that any negative experiences in the previous weeks may make it nervous and skittish around new people. 

To begin with, let the puppy enter of its own accord.

It will likely sniff the entire floor on its way in, exploring the smells of all the previous dogs that have entered. Many owners drag their pup along instead of letting the pup explore, but this is important in their early development.

When the pup is in your care in the salon, give it some time to greet you. Build up its confidence with you and any other groomers. For some dogs that have been well socialised it can be instantly confident in a room full of strangers and accept any groomer working with it. For others it can take a bit longer to warm up to you. 

puppy getting bathed
How to train a puppy for grooming. The Whippet media

If the owner is willing to bring the pup for a few Puppy Intro grooms this is ideal to avoid overwhelming the pup. In these cases I break the groom down into stages to give the pup the best possible experience. So while I introduce the pup to the bathing, drying and brushing out, I wait until the next session to introduce the clippers and scissors.

And when I say I introduce the pup to clippers, I don’t actually the clip the coat at this point. I just get the pup used to the noise and the vibrations of the clippers on its body.

The only reason I don’t clip the coat at this point is because I would never expect a pup to put up with it. Being clipped and brushed and re-clipped and re-brushed on its very first groom is too much. I wait until the pup is comfortable with the clippers and the noises before I start clipping. 

With each visit, you can gradually increase the amount of equipment and noises the pup experiences. This not only socialises the dog gradually and avoids overwhelming it but keeps the pup’s confidence levels raised. This ensures it continues to associate grooming as a positive part of its life. 

But there is a second part of the dog’s life we should be aware of…

The second fear phase. How to train a puppy for grooming

Unlike the first, it’s hard to determine when this phase will occur as it changes depending on the individual dog, but it usually takes place between six and eighteen months. During this phase the fear levels are once again raised for a few weeks. 

This second fear phase also happens during the dog’s adolescent stage. This is when the dog becomes more rebellious. They test the boundaries of what it is and isn’t allowed to do.

For that reason it’s important to be able to tell the difference between a typical naughty teenager, and a dog that is genuinely worried or scared. 

During this phase, a dog that has always been an angel to groom may suddenly become fearful. This is often due to a negative experience that may not even be related to grooming. The dog may have got splashed by a car driving through a puddle. It could have met a scary stranger during this fear period, and that will then impact how it behaves during the groom.

The most we can do is keep the experience as positive as possible and reintroduce all of the parts of the groom the way we would to a puppy. On a final note, it is always worth encouraging and educating the owner to work with the dog at home too!

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