Grooming Your Puppy

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"All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others." George Orwell, Animal Farm

In the quote above, Orwell was referring to animals' political rights but he might well have been referring to the grooming requirements of dogs. All dogs require grooming but some require more grooming than others.

A smooth-coated Dachshund or Doberman Pinscher, for example, require only minimal grooming as adults, whereas Silky Terriers and Afghan Hounds are in the high maintenance department.

It's a good idea to start out as you intend to continue with a dog rather than to suddenly attempt to impose your will on it when it reaches some arbitrary age. Since grooming is something that you are going to have to do, whatever type of dog you've got, this practice should be started in puppyhood.

The name of the game is desensitization. If a puppy learns right from the beginning that being handled, combed and brushed is not something not to be feared but is associated with pleasant experiences, things will go a lot more easily down the road (the road of life that is).

Remember, the sensitive period of learning continues through 14 weeks of age, though puppies still absorb information at a rapid rate through the juvenile period (up to 6 months).

If an owner teaches the pup how to accept grooming at this early stage, grooming will never be a problem for the rest of the dog's life. If, however, an owner pins the dog and comes at it rudely with a wire pin brush, the negative consequences of this experience could cause a lifelong aversion. The fact that some dogs enjoy being groomed while others try to bite their groomers is testimony to the dichotomy that exists.

How to Ensure that Your Pup Enjoys Grooming:

  • Acknowledge that an 8-12 week old puppy is a wriggle worm. Be patient. Handle it gently and reward even momentary acceptance or tolerance.

  • Don't set out to achieve too much. Be accepting of a modicum of success, especially for the first few times.

  • Lightly restrain the pup during grooming sessions making a conscientious effort to handle the youngster in the vicinity of its face and ears, chest and abdomen, beneath its tail and around its paws. Applying a little gentle pressure to the pup's paws while you address it kindly. This is a good way to teach the pup that when you handle its paws you mean it no harm.

  • Teach your pup to accept gentle restraint, either cradled in one arm, face down or belly up, and teach it to roll over on its side or on its back. Restraining a puppy gently on its back (not an "Alpha roll") is a good way of encouraging relaxation. The pup should enjoy being gently rolled onto its back and being supported there. Its body will go limp, its eyelids may flutter, and it may lick or yawn as it relaxes. When a square-backed pup is thoroughly relaxed, it may be possible to walk away and leave balanced on its back.

  • Either on the first occasion or after a few sessions of teaching the pup to tolerate your interventions, introduce a brush or comb onto the scene. Gently comb or brush the pup's rear end (just a few swipes of the brush will do). Reward acceptance with verbal praise, petting, or a food treat. If the pup is interested in the comb or brush, allow him to explore it and sniff at it before progressing. Gradually brush further up the pup, towards the nape of the neck and, finally, around the head/neck region. If there is any resistance, move further away from the head and continue brushing. Always end sessions on a good note.

  • To start with, you should not be trying to achieve a nose-to-tail grooming of the pup but rather to acclimate the youngster to the grooming tools and the feel of being groomed. Grooming tools include a comb, a bristle brush, sometimes a wire pin brush, and/or a slicker brush. Another tool that it could be helpful to introduce at this time is an emory board for filing nails (not that you'll need to do much serious filing at this age). The idea is to teach familiarity and tolerance.

  • With luck you should be able to comb and brush any area of your pup within a matter of days. If you continue with even the lightest perfunctory grooming on a regular basis throughout puppyhood, grooming will become an accepted facet of the pup's life.

  • Ensure that grooming, no matter how little or how much, is a positive experience and acknowledge that your pup's struggling or resistance indicates that all is not well. Do not push the issue. Do not force things to happen. Rather, back off and try again later, even more gently than before, to establish trust and understanding. If the puppy learns that you will respond in an appropriate way to any complaints that it issues, it will help build trust and mutual understanding.
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    The Benefits of Grooming

    In general, grooming helps to remove flakes of dry skin and dirt and debris from the hair coat. It also removes shed hairs and helps to stimulate sebaceous glands that condition the dog's coat. For longhaired dogs, owner grooming is essential if matting is to be avoided.

    It may be helpful for the owners of such dogs to consult with a professional groomer when the dog is at the puppyhood stage. There is nothing like a hands-on lesson to show the way.

    First time long haired dog owners will be taught the importance of grooming the undercoat as well as the overcoat. Properly grooming such a dog requires more than a superficial effort, it involves a conscious effort to groom deeply by using the right size and type of grooming tools. In that connection, wire pin brushes work best on wooly coats. Slicker brushes, with their fine wire bristles, should be reserved for dogs with dense undercoat.

    When to Groom

    Longhaired breeds need to be groomed every day. Medium hair length breeds should be groomed two to three times a week and shorthaired breeds may get by with once weekly grooming. When any of these various types of dogs are puppies, however, it's a good idea to engage in a sham or partial grooming session on a daily basis while the window of learning opportunity is open. In addition to regularly scheduled grooming sessions, puppies and adult dogs should be groomed as soon as possible after their coats have become wet. If not combed out immediately, such dogs' coats may become entangled and matted, leading to problems at the next grooming session.

    Who Should Groom

    It is important that every owner should be able to groom his or her own dog as part of a regular maintenance schedule. However, specialty grooming and special cuts are normally best left up to a professional groomer.

    Professional grooming can be engaged in as early as 12 weeks of age and may be advisable on a regular basis for certain dogs. Nevertheless, an owner's maintenance grooming, between professional grooming sessions, is also important to maintain a healthy hair coat.

    While some owners may have the confidence and coordination to do some trimming of hair around the dog's eyes, between its toes, or around its anus, many may prefer to leave such delicate operations to the professionals. Plucking hairs from overly hairy ear canals is another grooming maneuver that some owners become adept at, employing the philosophy that a little and often is the best approach. Other owners prefer to leave this tricky little task to the professional groomers.

    Puppies should be handled with kid gloves, using a soft touch and soft voice at all times. Massaging the pup gently during grooming may be pleasurable for it and may be something of an inducement for it to tolerate what must be a strange intervention at first.

    If you think of grooming a puppy like bathing a baby and use a similar approach you won't go too far wrong. Never use force to accomplish what you need to accomplish. Never persevere if the going gets tough. Never loose your temper and never yell at the pup. And don't forget, if you're having trouble ask for help. Don't plow on regardless.

    Having a dog with a well-combed coat is definitely something to strive for but you don't want achieving that goal to be something that impacts negatively on your relationship with it. If your puppy and, later dog, enjoys being groomed (which it should), then you are doing things right. If you encounter resistance, its time to rethink your strategy.

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