Training a Puppy for Grooming By Janice Jones |Last Updated 08-03-2023
Have you ever watched a gorgeous show dog being brushed by his owner or handler while lying serenely on a grooming table - barely moving, yet giving the impression that he was enjoying every minute of the pampering?
Each stroke of the brush seems to relax both the brusher and the brushee to the point where both are oblivious to any outside noise or activity. Both are "in the zone" so to speak.
Was that show dog born with some unusual genes that permitted him to love grooming from day one?
That lovely show dog was once a puppy with a short attention span and an agenda that didn't include hours of brushing. Just how did that handler transform a wiggly impatient puppy into an adult that seemingly loved all that grooming has to offer?
Training a Puppy to enjoy grooming is just one of those tasks that go along with puppy care and training. According to Pat Hastings, author, breeder, handler and judge, puppies need to be able to tolerate grooming even if they don't like it.
Even if you chose a short-haired breed that won't require hours of your time to groom, puppies still need a bath, nail clip and teeth brushing. Just how can you accomplish all of these tasks when the puppy won't sit still for a second?
When you think about a training, you probably think your task is complete after housebreaking and basic commands, but grooming is important not only for looks but for the health of your dog.
Training a puppy to cooperate and enjoy a grooming session is a must.
At the very least, a puppy will need to be:
When that puppy is a member of a long-hair breed such as a Maltese, Havanese, Shih Tzu, Lhasa Apso, just to name a few, that list of grooming tasks can grow exponentially.
These small breed dogs will require a great deal of grooming attention over their life span. Most puppies are not born knowing how to behave when groomed.
Rather, puppies must be taught to stand, sit, or lie for grooming because if they do not you will find yourself trying to brush a moving target - a frustrating experience for you and a potentially dangerous one for your puppy.
Just like small children, puppies are much too busy to sit, stand, or lie down for grooming. The trick with puppies is to convince him that a grooming session is highly desirable and there are rewards for cooperating.
The sky's limit when it comes to puppy grooming supplies. A new puppy doesn't need much but it is a good idea to look ahead and plan accordingly. In this article, I have tried to touch on the major grooming tasks but there are many more depending on the breed of dog.
Depending on your breed of dog, training a puppy for grooming may also mean that you will be introducing some of the following:
There is always that outlier puppy -- the one who has decided at an early age that he wants no part of grooming. Luckily they are few and far between. You may even be thinking right now that your puppy falls into this category.
But, before you throw in the towel, take a look at some of the tips that I have used successfully with puppies who run at the sight of a brush.
Tips For Training a Puppy for Grooming
There are three locations that can be used to groom a puppy:
If you have a long haired breed, you will ultimately want to train your dog to sit, stand, or lie down on a hard surface such as a grooming table or kitchen counter.
Unless you plan to show your dog or keep a long haired breed in full coat, a commercial grooming table is not necessary, but very helpful. The other option is to groom him on the floor or on your lap.
It is easier in the long run to groom a dog on a table rather than hoping they will behave on your lap.
You have the most control over the grooming experience if you use a grooming table, and a small one does not take up much space and is easy to transport if you decide you want to get into showing.
Otherwise, use a counter or table with a height comfortable to you so you do not need to bend over in an awkward position.
When you think about it, sitting or standing on a grooming table can be a scary proposition to a small dog. The table is at the correct height for you, but it must seem like a mountaintop to a small dog.
The reason I suggest putting the puppy on a surface other than your lap is that he will eventually need to stand on a table at a veterinary office. If you plan to take him to the groomers, he will need to stand on the groomer’s table.
If he has already experienced this in the comfort of your home and in your presence, these trips to the groomer and vet will be much less stressful. A small towel or pad placed on the counter helps the puppy feel secure.
If you are worried about a puppy jumping off of a table, the next best place to groom is the floor. There's no chance of injury and if you want your children to learn to brush their puppy, the floor is a good choice.
The disadvantage is that the puppy is much more likely to escape. Once the puppy learns to get away, it will become a game where you are not likely to win.
If the floor is your best choice, consider attaching a small leash that will keep the puppy from running too far.
This is the most popular way to familiarize a puppy to grooming is while he's comfortably resting on your lap. If the puppy is a budding young lap dog, this could be a perfect choice. He's comfortable. You're comfortable. A match made in heaven.
But, brushing and combing a puppy's back and head may be easy while he's resting comfortably, other parts of body may be difficult to reach. Training a puppy for grooming on the table may be a better option.
Start by taking every opportunity to pick up your dog and sit them on the grooming table or surface you plan to use. Pet them gently, rub your fingers through their hair; touch their paws, tail, ears, and muzzle.
Tell your puppy to “sit” or give the “down” command, which is the word you will use to teach him to lie down. Praise them if they respond and give a small treat. Do this several times a day, gradually working up to introducing a brush.
Most puppies love to be touched but may not enjoy having someone pinch his paws or roll him on his back for a tummy rub. It is important that puppies be comfortable being touched.
Teach your puppy some basic commands such as sit, stay, stand, and down (lie down). You are likely doing this anyway, but now try to do some of this training on the top of a table or counter.
You will want to accompany this training initially with food or toy rewards. If your puppy is not motivated by food or toys, give plenty of praise, cuddles and love.
This seems like an obvious skill, but may not be something that really small puppies are capable of doing. Find something that the puppy loves such as tiny bits of chicken or turkey and practice until the puppy is comfortable taking food from your fingers.
Grooming Tables are quite reasonable and make grooming so much easier. Chose one that can be folded for small spaces or the circular one that allows you to turn without moving the dog. Check price and availability at Amazon.
Before I go into detail about specific grooming tasks, I'd like to remind everyone (including myself), that patience is necessary when working with some small puppies. Don't expect success in just one or two or even 5 training sessions.
Grooming a puppy takes some patience and willingness to go slow. When the puppy does what you want him to do, praise and give him another treat.
achieve the best results, repeat frequently, but remember all puppies have short attention spans. Frequent short sessions will be more successful than a couple long sessions.
The first few brushing sessions should be brief, positive, and enjoyable. At this stage, do not worry if you are not getting down to all layers of hair.
A human child-size brush with soft bristles is very calming to a puppy and helps train them to enjoy the experience. It will not get through a thick coat, so you will eventually need to trade it in on the type of brush needed for your breed type.
A soft bristle brush is also perfect for puppies who hate to have their face brushed. The soft brush is calming and makes grooming this difficult area a breeze.
Recommended Puppy Brushes for Training a Puppy for Grooming
In the meantime, you can use this soft brush to go over your
small breed puppy’s body—head, neck, body, tail, legs, chest, stomach and watch
how he responds. Some puppies will allow you to roll them on their back and
brush their stomach in that position.
Others will tolerate standing on their hind legs while you hold their front paws and brush. You can also gently pick up one front paw as you brush the chest area and the repeat with the other front paw and then with the back paws, one at a time. This is generally how groomers get to a dog’s abdomen.
If your dog protests, go back to the lap method and roll the puppy on its back while holding him in your lap. Rub his tummy a few times and then start brushing with the soft brush.
Most dogs will be happy for you to brush most of their body but they may resist in some sensitive areas such as paws, under arms and groin area. Be very gentle in these areas, but make it clear to the puppy that you will need to brush these areas too.
If they relax and allow you to brush them, reward with praises, kisses or hugs and a treat. Paws can be especially sensitive to puppies that have never had their paws manipulated. If this is the case, it can be a problem when you go to trim their nails.
You should plan to brush your small breed dog’s hair frequently, at least a couple of times per week, but preferably more often, even if the hair does not require brushing as in the case with short haired breeds.
This frequent grooming not only gets the puppy acclimated to the grooming process, but also gets him used to someone touching his body—a skill he will need throughout his life when he visits the veterinarian.
Read more about Dog Brushes (Review and Recommendations) or
Dog Combs (Recommendations)
Many puppies are skittish about getting their nails clipped. They may have had a bad experience before they came to live with you or they simply have had no experience at all.
The lucky ones are those that have come from caring breeders who clip their nails several times before they even reach the ripe old age of eight weeks. If your puppy is not one of these fortunate ones, don't fret, all is not lost. You can train him to tolerate having his nails clipped.
Some of the problems associated with nail clipping is the fact that puppies may not appreciate your attempts to touch their paws. While some don't care in the least, others are very nervous when someone starts to mess with their paws.
The first step is to get them accustomed to being touched all over the bodies and particularly their paws. If yours is one in this category, you will need to slowly acclimate them to nail clipping.
You can use a human nail clipper for tiny puppy nails or purchase a dog nail clipper that will work now and in the future.
"Got Your Paw"
"Touched your Paw"
"Gonna Get That Paw
Read more about Clipping Dog Nails or
How to Clip Puppy Nails or
How to Dremel Your Dog's Nails
Puppies get dirty easily and may need more baths than adult dogs. Having a cooperative puppy can make the task enjoyable for both of you.
Chances are, however, if you are reading this now, you probably don't have a docile puppy who loves bath time. There are tricks to use to assure you end up with a clean puppy that has not tried to escape and covered you with an unwanted shower. Sometimes management is just as easy as training a puppy for grooming.
Read more about giving a puppy a bath
Puppy Shampoo is recommended because it is mild and won't irritate delicate eyes.
(My favorite puppy shampoo is Isle of Dogs because it leaves the hair soft, shiny and smells divine.)
Training a Puppy for Grooming can be just as rewarding as teaching your little guy to walk on a leash or perform a trick. But just like housebreaking or teaching tricks, it does take time and patience. Consistency is the best advice.
Even if your puppy doesn't need daily grooming, a short session once a day will teach your puppy that grooming is just part of the daily routine.
For Puppy Owners
For Puppy Groomers