How To Groom Your Puppy for the First Time

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You have a new puppy. There’s so much to do with your new furry bundle of joy: house training, socializing, and obedience training. 

And don’t forget grooming. Teaching a puppy how to be groomed is important for his health as well as for his appearance.

So how do you get ready to groom your puppy for the first time?

When I get a new puppy, I do all I can to make the grooming process a positive one. 

Puppy getting fur brushed

I’ve rescued adult dogs who weren’t used to being groomed. And many were very difficult to groom at first.

It’s usually much easier to get a young puppy used to grooming than to work on an older adult who has never been groomed.

All of my current dogs have long coats and require a lot of grooming. With two shelties, a golden retriever, a Lhasa apso, and an Aussie mix, I spend a considerable amount of time grooming. 

When they were puppies, I placed them on the grooming table every day and got them used to handling with positive reinforcement using treats and praise. 

My Aussie mix Millie hated having her feet handled, so I worked on it every day. I would spread some Kong stuffing on the rubber grooming tabletop. 

While she licked it off, I gently handled her foot, massaging her pads and touching her nails. Eventually, she came to happily accept my handling her feet–and clipping her nails.

In this article, I’ll discuss what you should have ready prior to grooming your new puppy. And I’ll review the steps necessary for preparing your new furry bundle to be groomed and enjoy–or at least accept–the process. 

I’ll also set forth how to first groom your puppy and what you shouldn’t do.

Article Summary

  • Grooming your young puppy for the first time should be done as gently as possible. It requires a lot of patience and preparation.
  • You have to have all the items you’ll need for the grooming ready. These include a brush, comb, ear cleaner, shampoo, towels, and nail clipper.
  • Before the actual grooming sessions, it’s important to get your puppy used to all the handling and sounds and sights of the grooming tools you;ll use. 
  • And don’t forget to exercise him and make sure that he’s pottied before any handling and grooming sessions.

The Importance of Grooming

Grooming is important not only for your puppy’s appearance. It’s also a crucial part of good health. 

Brushing removes extra, dead hair, burrs, and dirt. It also stimulates his skin and helps remove dander. If done regularly and correctly, it also helps prevent painful mats.

Checking your puppy’s coat and skin, you can find potential problems before they become big issues. 

You can find ticks and fleas and remove burrs and other yard items that can become harmful to your dog.

If done with positive reinforcement, grooming your puppy should also help improve the bond you have with him. It should feel good for your puppy.

It also helps keep your house clean–without floating puppy hair on the floor.

Grooming nails also helps your dog’s structure, because overgrown nails can lead to many issues, including spinal problems. 

Long nails can cause a splayed foot and a loss of traction, leading to potential injuries. And, if the nails are long for a prolonged period, tendons may be injured. 

The over-grown nails also put an excessive amount of pressure on the feet and legs.

Checking and cleaning ears is important too. You don’t want your pup to have painful and potentially dangerous ear infections. 

By routinely checking your pup’s ears and cleaning them with an ear cleaner made for that purpose, you’ll avoid issues as well as expensive vet bills.

Getting your puppy accustomed to having his mouth handled will also help when you eventually have to brush his teeth. Dental health is important for a dog’s general health.

Bathing your puppy can also remove dirt and other matter that can irritate his skin.

What You Need To Groom Your Dog

There are many items that you should have before you proceed to fully groom your puppy.

Of course, you’ll also need to teach your puppy to happily accept–and even look forward to–grooming, which I’ll discuss below.

As far as items you’ll need, one of the most important is a brush and comb. There are various types of brushes depending on your dog’s coat. 

Many young puppies don’t have the same coat that they’ll have as an adult. To correctly groom your specific puppy’s coat, it’s advisable to contact your dog’s breeder, a groomer, or your vet for directions

A slicker brush can be used for most coats to begin with when the puppy’s only two or three months old.

A pin brush is used for longer-coated dogs. And a greyhound comb that has wider and narrower tines in the comb can be used to comb through your puppy’s coat.

A curry brush or rubber Zoom Groom can help brush a smooth-coated dog with short hair.

You’ll also need a nail clipper for dogs. And, just in case you nick a quick, have some styptic powder ready. 

An ear cleaner is necessary to be sure your pup’s groomed properly. 

For your puppy’s bath, you’ll need a high-quality shampoo made for puppies. Human shampoos can be harmful to a puppy and dry his skin. 

And have towels ready too. They make hair dryers for dogs or you can use one for people if used only on a cool setting. Never warm or hot so that the puppy doesn’t overheat and so he won’t be burned.

Have a toothpaste and toothbrush made for dogs handy. Even though a young puppy won’t have his adult teeth for months, it’s good to get him used to having his mouth handled so that you can eventually brush his teeth.

And last, but not least, have a lick mat so that the puppy can be re-directed to something positive during a bath or grooming. 

A lick mat has suction cups and can attach to a bathtub or sink. You can place peanut butter or a similar substance for the puppy to lick off while being groomed.

How To Prepare Your Puppy for Grooming

It’s important to get your new puppy used to all the activities that he’ll have to face in everyday life. And this includes grooming. 

Once your eight-week-old puppy settles into your home for a few days, get him used to being handled. 

The training should use only positive reinforcement and no punishment. Always set him up to succeed. 

So first take him out for a walk or have a play session of fetching. Let him settle down after exercising before you begin a handling session. Of course, also make sure that he’s pottied too.

Your pup shouldn’t have too much energy when you need to handle or groom him. Instead, he should be relaxed so that he doesn’t fight against being groomed.

Use calming, soothing language when speaking with your puppy during your sessions preparing him to be groomed and during the eventual grooming session. 

Keep the training sessions preparing him for grooming short. 

You might do only one exercise such as getting him used to handling his body in a session. Then, in the next session, work with him becoming accustomed to having his ears, feet, and mouth handled. 

Just make sure that you cover everything every day to get him used to what he’ll need to be groomed.

Body Handling

Get your puppy used to you gently handling his whole body. Massage his shoulders and down his body to his hips. Do the same to each leg. 

You can give him a treat. Or, even better, give him something safe to chew, like a bully stick. This conditions him to enjoy the handling and also occupies his mouth so that he doesn’t chew on you.

For small puppies, you can have them on your lap in the beginning. Or you can have them on the floor in front of you or on a table in front of you. 

If you place your pup on a table, make sure that he can’t fall off. You can put a rubber mat on the top for traction. 

You can also have him in a harness that you (or a helper) can hold onto so that he doesn’t fall. It’s good to get him used to being groomed on a table if he’ll be groomed there for life.

Make sure that he’s relaxed. Keep the session short in the beginning. 

Just handle him for a few minutes each session. Work up to five or 10 minutes–and end on a positive note.

Handling Feet

Get him used to having his feet handled. Gently massage each pad and touch his nails, including any dewclaws. 

It’s important for a puppy to be accustomed to this because, throughout his life, his nails will have to be cut at times.

Puppies generally don’t like having their feet handled. So it’s important to teach your puppy that handling his feet is fun! 

Give him something great to chew while you accustom him to having his feet handled. After he’s used to having his feet handled, you can start a grooming session clipping one nail per session to begin with. 

If you need help, first have a groomer or vet show you how to clip a nail. You want to just clip the tip at first and not clip the quick. 

You can see the quick in clear, white nails. The quick is a vein and will bleed if cut.

Then, in subsequent sessions, you can clip additional nails. Praise and reward after you clip a nail. And don’t forget to clip any dewclaws so that they don’t grow into his skin.

Brushing

Get your puppy used to being brushed. Of course, during your first grooming session with your puppy, brush gently in the direction the hair or fur grows. 

You don’t want to stress the pup. Keep it short–from five to 10 minutes. Eventually, you’ll groom your puppy according to the type of coat that he has. 

Dogs with a double coat have a harsh outer coat that protects them against the elements and repels dirt. Their soft inner coat provides insulation. You can first use a slicker brush with their initial puppy coat.

Smooth-coated dogs require the least amount of grooming. These include pit bulls and chihuahuas. A bristle brush or Zoom groom can help keep them in good shape. Rubber curry combs can polish their coats.

Dogs with curly coats like poodles and Bichon Frises require regular grooming not to become matted. A curved slicker brush against the way the fur lays can help keep the curls fluffy. 

You can use a slicker brush on the puppy coat of wire-coated dogs like some terriers. Dogs with hair like Maltese and Shih Tzus can easily mat and need regular grooming. 

During the first grooming session with your puppy, you may brush only one or two sections of his body. So you may choose to do his back and rear legs. Then, in the next session brush his front and front legs. 

Gently brush his facial hair. If he has very short facial hair, you may want to just get him used to handling and brush for a few strokes with a curry brush or a rubber brush. 

If he has a lot of facial hair, such as Shih Tzus, Yorkies, or Lhasa apsos have, you should accustom him to combing through the beard and facial hair with a comb so as to prevent mats and remove any food that’s accumulated. 

Of course, you don’t have to do this in the first session in grooming your puppy. But do it soon thereafter so that problems don’t arise and so that he becomes accustomed to having his facial hair groomed. Grooming is for life.

Bathing

Bathing can also be crucial to your puppy’s health. So it’s important to get him used to the experience before the actual bath if possible.

A small puppy can be bathed in a sink or laundry tub. A larger one can be bathed in a bathtub. 

You can put a rubber bath mat in the bottom of the sink or tub for traction. Get your puppy used to being placed there without even bathing him. 

You can even place a lick mat to make the experience a positive one. Plus it will occupy your pup. 

The mat has suction cups to adhere to a flat surface. And you place something like peanut butter (without Xylitol) on the surface for the puppy to lick off. 

While he’s licking, he’ll form a positive association with what’s happening while he’s licking the surface.

You can also in another training session get your puppy used to the sound of running water. Place him next to the tub or sink and run a little water.

Reward when the water’s running so that he has a positive association with it. Do this every day for a week or so before giving him a bath.

Then, as a next step, for another week, gently wet his feet while in the tub or sink with a little lukewarm water so that he becomes accustomed to the feel of water.

Also, get your puppy used to a blow dryer if you’ll be using one to dry him. As part of your grooming training session, put the dryer on a cool, low setting near the puppy. 

Give him something positive to do like chewing a bully stick or a stuffed Kong. Praise when the puppy is calm. 

Over a few sessions, your puppy should start to become accustomed to the noise and airflow of the dryer.

If you decide to use a professional groomer, it’s still important to get your puppy used to all the things that he’ll face when being groomed. Otherwise, he will probably be very stressed when being groomed. 

Also, you will probably need to do some grooming between his appointments with the professional. 

When deciding to take him to a professional groomer, make sure that he has his first two sets of vaccinations, which occur around 10 to 12 weeks old. Your vet can provide guidance when it’s safe for him to be groomed in an environment where other dogs have been.

I advise having a helper assist you in handling the puppy for his first bath. Even with the best preparation, he will probably be stressed and somewhat squirmy. 

The helper can assist you in holding onto his harness so that he doesn’t get out of the tub.

If you don’t have a helper, they do make bathtub tethers to keep him safe. 

When I bathe a puppy for the first time, I have a harness on him so that there’s something for a helper to hold or to attach a tether to. It’s safer than a collar. Just wash it off and rinse it after the bath and let it dry.

Have the lick mat ready suctioned to the sink or tub with some peanut butter or Kong stuffing smeared on it to make the bath a positive experience and to redirect his attention,

If at any time your puppy truly gets aggressive, get professional help from a positive reinforcement trainer or behaviorist with experience with this issue.

Before the actual bath, you can place an eye ointment in his eyes made for the purpose of protecting his eyes from soap. 

You can also place a large cotton ball just inside his ear to avoid getting water in his ear canal. Just be sure to remove it after the bath. 

When giving your puppy his bath, make sure to use a mild shampoo made for puppies. 

Place him in the sink or tub after you have adjusted the water temperature to lukewarm. It shouldn’t be too hot or too cold. 

You can use a large plastic cup or a sprayer hose on a gentle setting to wet him down. Wet him thoroughly leaving his face for last. 

Then put some soap in your hands or stream some onto his back and work it into a lather, gently massaging him. Make sure to lather his entire body. 

Just gently wet and lather his face, making sure that he doesn’t inhale any water. You can even use a washcloth with his face to make the experience more pleasurable for your puppy. 

After you’ve shampooed his entire body, gently rinse him. 

Some shampoos, such as those that are hypoallergenic, may instruct you to leave the shampoo on him for a few minutes before rinsing. Make sure that you thoroughly rinse all of the shampoo off or it can irritate his skin.

In a pinch, you can even purchase a dry shampoo if you’re unable to give your puppy a wet bath when he needs one. You brush the dry shampoo through his fur to remove loose hair and dirt. 

After you’ve thoroughly rinsed him, let him shake off excess water if he wants to. Then, gently towel dry him.

If it’s warm, you can even decide to let him air dry. But if you will eventually blow dry him, it’s important to get him used to being dried that way while he’s still young. 

Some people also use a conditioner after rinsing the shampoo out. Of course, rinse that out too before you dry him.

Cleaning Ears

You can clean his ears sometime after the bath. I advise doing it in a separate session so that he’s not too stressed. 

Use a cleaner made for the purpose and follow its instructions. 

Usually, you place a little ear cleaner in the dog’s ear canal and gently massage his ear. Then, wipe out the ear canal with a cotton ball or tissue. 

Never use a Q-tip, which may damage his eardrum. A good ear cleaner can even help dry out excess moisture. 

You should check in his ears regularly–at least weekly– to make sure that there’s no excess wax, dirt, insects, or infection. 

If his ear canal appears too pink or filled with debris, it’s best to have a vet check whether there’s any ear infection or critters like ear mites. 

An ear infection is not only painful but it can also potentially lead to hearing loss if not properly treated. 

Some dogs even need some hair plucked from inside their ears. It’s removed with tweezers made for that purpose or your fingers. 

There’s even a powder you can put on that hair to have some grip when removing the hair. It’s best to check with your vet or a groomer regarding whether this should be done for your puppy.

During an initial grooming session, you shouldn’t do too much. You may need to eventually clip some of the hair on his face, depending on his breed, or even clip around his private areas for cleanliness. 

But it’s best to have a professional show you how to do this so that you don’t inadvertently injure your puppy.

What NOT To Do: DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME

When choosing products to use on your puppy, try to select ones without harmful chemicals. For example, don’t use a peanut butter or toothpaste that contains Xylitol (also called Birch sugar), which is deadly to dogs. 

Purchase products that are made for puppies. Human products can be harmful to a puppy.

It’s important to also not use products with perfumes or dyes that aren’t vet-approved.

Don’t clip nails or do other procedures if you’re uncertain regarding how to do them. Instead, have a professional such as your vet or a groomer show you how to properly proceed.

As far as any injuries, sores, infections, or lacerations you may find on your dog while getting him used to being groomed or while grooming him, it’s important to seek veterinary care instead of treating them yourself.

If your dog has mats, have a professional show you how to deal with them. You may be able to work out one mat with a detangler, comb, and patience. 

But if he’s very matted or if you’re not sure how to work with any mats, it’s better to seek a groomer’s advice or services. 

Mats can be very painful to a puppy and unwanted skin conditions can develop under them.

When bathing your puppy, make sure that the water isn’t too hot or cold. It should be lukewarm. And blow dry only on a cool setting, never warm or dry. 

And don’t ever leave your puppy alone even for a second while bathing or drying him. 

If you’re bathing your puppy outdoors, make sure that the weather isn’t too cool or too hot.

If you discover any foreign objects in or embedded in your puppy’s eyes, ears, mouth, nose, or paw pads, seek veterinary attention. Don’t try to remove the object yourself. 

Of course, you should take any object that your puppy picks up such as a tissue from him. Not removing an item applies to items that are embedded and can’t be safely removed without veterinary care.

I also advise that you seek veterinary attention if your puppy needs his anal glands expressed rather than expressing them yourself. 

Sometimes you’ll see a puppy scoot along the floor. A vet is able to correctly perform this procedure.

FAQs

How can you calm a puppy down during grooming?

Use a calming, soothing voice. Make sure that the puppy’s been exercised with a walk or play session prior to grooming. Then, let him settle down just before your grooming session.

How do I prepare my puppy to be groomed?

In training sessions prior to his first groom, get him used to all the things that he’ll experience when groomed. Gently handle his body, including mouth, ears, and feet. Make the experience a positive one with treats and safe chews.

I’m going to have my puppy professionally groomed. What should I do before his first experience with a groomer?

You should still get him used to gentle handling with positive reinforcement. Otherwise, the grooming session probably will be very stressful for him.

Final Thoughts

Grooming your puppy will not only keep him looking great–it will also help maintain good health. But grooming a puppy for the first time takes a lot of preparation, positive reinforcement, and patience to be successful. 

You have to get him used to being handled and all the equipment that you’ll need to use. It can be done so that your puppy will be in tip-top shape and even further the bond with you.

Have you ever groomed a young puppy?

How did you get the puppy accustomed to being groomed?

Please tell us about it in the section below.

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How To Groom Your Puppy For The First Time - puppy getting his fur brushed

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