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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