Train Your Puppy to Love Grooming Time
Potty puddles in unexpected places. Your favorite shoes in slobbery shreds. Doorbells. Kids. Other dogs. There’s no question that you need to focus on housebreaking and basic manners when you adopt a new puppy!
But what happens when it’s time to bathe and brush them after an afternoon of messy fun in the yard? Or when it’s time to trim or grind their nails? Perhaps your puppy had a harrowing start to life, and any kind of touch is brand new. And if they’ve never felt these sensations or heard these sounds, simple grooming and hygiene for your puppy can become traumatizing.
But I’m already throwing so much training at my puppy. Won’t this be too overwhelming for them?
If you’re already using counter conditioning methods to acclimate your puppy to their crate or the big, loud woofer next door, then you know where I’m going with this.
If not, you’ll be thrilled at how easy it is to get your pup used to — and even excited about — grooming and hygiene basics! After chatting with folks from Facebook to Reddit, I fetched the most common instances, sounds, and sensations your puppy will come across.
Set them up for success by starting simple
This goes for you, too! You don’t need to make elaborate charts, and you don’t have to hit every single one of these occasions off the bat. All you need right now is a boatload of their favorite healthy treats or kibble.
Whether it’s during play or sharing cuddle time, you’ll want to start with touch. Keep each one fleeting and reward their positive reactions with treats. Make sure you do these every day — even if you just start with one or two. Here are the most common (and cute!) areas to start with:
- Ears: Along the edges, then further as they get comfortable. See how they are with some ear-flopping and folding, too!
- Feet and Peets: Top along their toes, bottom along their pads, and don’t forget those tiny little nails, either!
- Tail: Before or after prized rump-thumps and pats will be best!
- Belly: You knew this wouldn’t be left off the list! Add a gentle prod or press with your fingertips along with those tum-rubs.
- Eyes: Gently pass your fingertips or thumb pad below their eyes or at the corners.
- Snout: Snoot boops are the best, aren’t they? But for now, start out by gentle touches with a single finger.
- Mouth: Treats definitely make this one easier! Moving down from the snoot, just touch their gums and teeth for now.
- Legs: You might’ve already touched or gently grabbed their little stilts while acclimating them to paw touches. If not, work it in!
It shouldn’t take long to get them used to these new sensations. Because these “touching moments” happen naturally (and often!) throughout the day, you’re immediately setting your puppy up for success!
When your puppy no longer flinches or ducks away at any contact on these spots, you’re ready to phase out the treats — but always stick with praise.
Don’t put the treats away, though! To get your puppy comfortable with any of the situations below, they’re going to come in handy.
It’s time to bite off a little more...
Keep up with daily touches on the body parts mentioned above, because I mean... why not? By now your puppy is content with contact in less common areas, so to them it’ll feel like more love and affection from you!
With that said, it’s time to ramp things up a little with another daily touch-task: your pups adorable little chompers!
You’ve been touching their gums and teeth all this time, but still go as slowly as your puppy needs. This is because you’ll be using both hands and your touch will feel a little different to your pup.
With one hand keeping their mouth steady from beneath, use your other hand to pull their lip up on the side — then let go! Because this is less natural to your pup than a butt scritch and tail check, verbally mark all positive reactions to this step by saying, “yes!” before giving their treat.
Work your way up to getting them used to you holding their lip up for longer increments, and don’t forget to do this on both sides. From there, start adding a little pressure along their gums from front to back.
Go at your puppy’s pace. You don’t need to spend tons of time on this, either — a couple minutes a day will do!
There’s a lot more you can do to set your puppy up for positive grooming experiences... but don’t worry — we’re down to intervals now, and these are easy to combine into one session.
Three times a week:
Brushing Sessions: Choose the proper brush for the current length of your puppy’s coat. Because their fur will change as they age, your tools may change, too. Start with 1 to 3 passes along their back and pepper the moment with praise and treats! Based on their reaction you can increase the passes and the pressure. From there, get them used to brushing along other parts of their body.
Hey — your puppy should be very comfortable with you touching their belly by now, so this should be a piece of steak!
Introduce a Toothbrush: That’s right, we’re back to the teeth! Listen, you don’t want to risk a bite, so all this conditioning is worth it. Start by letting your puppy see the toothbrush, and mark their positive reaction with “yes!” and the treat.
If your puppy is struggling with the notion of the toothbrush coming near his mouth, that’s okay. Just step back and use your finger, instead. You can try a finger toothbrush, too — your little pal is already used to your fingers all up in his mouth!
Once a week:
Nails: Have you kept up on the feet, paw, and nail touches? If so, this part will be a lot easier!
First, get your puppy used to clippers, a file, or a grinder. Let them have a good sniff session with some tasty treats on the side. If your method of choice involves sound, let your puppy get used to it from a distance, and then work from there.
Remember: you don’t have to go all out on clipping, filing, or grinding their nails! A tiny bit is all it takes. I felt better finding out I wasn’t the only one in the world nervous about clipping dog nails, and was even happier to learn I didn’t need to go all out each time!
In short, consistency outweighs the amount removed. Stick with it and they’ll get more comfortable — and you’ll feel more confident, too!
Paw Pad Hair: Some dogs have more fur growing on their feet than others, particularly those with medium to thick coats. Since your puppy is used to you playing with their feet and toes, your next step is to introduce them to scissors or clippers.
Just like nail trimming equipment, let your pup get comfortable with your tools before you try to use them, and start by just trimming small spots. Mark and reward your little friend each time!
Bi-weekly bath time
Because over-bathing can cause dry skin and irritation, you shouldn’t bathe your puppy more frequently than every other week.
We all know how much dogs love water, but there’s always exceptions to the rule. (Source: my dog!) So, if they’re nervous about water or getting inside something to do with it, sweeten the setting with some treats. Let them watch and listen to the running water while you mark their positive reaction.
Some puppies will love their bath off the bat while others might take a little time. If yours is the latter with a penchant to get messy, don’t fret! You can get them used to the routine of bath time while using a warm washcloth or cleansing wipes to rid them of the debris of their adventures.
My adult dog hates grooming... and the vet. Will this help?
I’m here to tell you that old dogs can learn new tricks — but they may have had some bad experiences that cause fearful or aggressive reactions: an injury on their paw, a burn from some clippers, or even abuse.
All the steps outlined above will work with your adult dog, too — but understand it might take a little time depending on their history. Everything can be broken down into smaller steps until your dog begins to build a positive connection with a variety of touch and tools.
Proper grooming is important for every dog — but being comfortable with certain styles of touch on certain parts of the body makes vet visits less stressful, too! Plus, if your dog is ever injured and you’re not around, you’ve just made it easier for them to get the help they need if someone else has to check them out or take them to the vet.
Does your puppy love their grooming and pampering time? Let us know — we love hearing from our readers!
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