Grooming isn't just about making your puppy look good. Regular care removes dead hair, keeps the coat and skin healthy, and gives you the opportunity to check your pup's general health. It's also important time spent together, building your relationship, trust and understanding. Starting early means dogs get used to being handled and this also makes any veterinary examinations much less stressful in the future. There's even scientific evidence that grooming sessions reduce stress and blood pressure - for both of you!
Initially, a puppy's coat is quite different to an adult's. It may be softer, fluffier, and shorter, but it's still important to get your pup used to being groomed, even if it doesn't actually need it much yet. If your dog gets into the routine of being handled, and learns to enjoy it, grooming will be much easier in the future.
- Encourage your puppy to come to you, have a quick cuddle and gently start to brush in a quiet area where you won’t be disturbed and the puppy feels comfortable, this can be outside during good weather.
- Start by brushing the puppy’s body rather than feet/head.
- Give praise in a quiet, soothing tone of voice, for being good.
- After just two minutes, stop brushing and offer a treat.
- Repeat several times a day, gradually increasing the length of brushing time.
- If your puppy attempts to bite or play with the brush, turn away but without letting go. Do not tell the puppy off or it may perceive this as part of a game, or remember a negative experience of grooming. Ignore negative behaviour and puppies soon learn that such behaviour will lose your attention. Reward positive behaviour.
- After about five days, once your puppy is familiar with the sensation, start to groom the belly, tail, ears and other sensitive areas. Be extra gentle, and keep the initial sessions short and enjoyable, always praised and always rewarded.
- Touch the feet and examine the nails and toes. It is important your puppy gets used to having nails touched in case future nail clipping is required.
- Look inside the ears and gently open the mouth.
- This programme ensures your dog gets used to being handled. Always end a session with a treat and a game/walk.
- Maintain this habit, it is easy to stop if the puppy has a short coat for example, but this familiarity with close contact really will make life easier, and less stressful for the dog, in the future.
- Encourage older children to be involved to teach them gentle handling and responsibility.
Once your puppy is settled, your grooming routine will depend on your puppy's coat type.
- Breeds with smooth coats don't really need a lot of grooming. A quick once over each week is enough, but remember to continue handling practice more frequently e.g. touching feet and opening the mouth. You'll need to use a rubber brush or grooming mitt to loosen dead hair and dirt and a bristle brush to remove it.
- Breeds with short coats need regular brushing to prevent matting and this will also reduce the amount shed in the house. Begin with a pinhead (metal) brush or comb gently to remove mats and knots, then follow with a bristle brush to remove the dead hair and dirt. Never cut out matts using scissors or you risk injury to the dog. A rubber brush maybe used to remove dead hair.
- Longer coats need daily attention to avoid knots. Begin using a pinhead brush or comb to untangle matted hair. Never cut out matts using scissors. Comb the hair with a wide-toothed comb, taking particular care around the backside, tail and legs. Trim any hairs that have got out of control. If your puppy does become very matted, don’t pull at them or try and cut them out. You may need help from your vet or a professional groomer to remove the matts. You may prefer to keep long coats shorter to avoid such problems so again a professional grooming may be better in the longer term.
- Silky coats need a lot of attention and are usually long too. Start by teasing out tangles with a pinhead brush or comb, then, to bring out the natural shine, use a bristle brush. To give your dog a bit of style, opt for a centre parting, brushing downwards on either side. Trim wayward hairs. As for puppies with long hair professional grooming, including a short back and sides may make such a coat more manageable. Consult your vet/vet nurse or professional groomer.
Some breeds require special grooming techniques.
- Some terriers need stripping, where dead hair is plucked from the coat. This is usually done by a groomer as it requires skill and special equipment.
- Some breeds, including those with long hair or those that don’t shed hair such as the Poodle, need scissoring into shape.
- Breeds with very thick, long coats may need a short clip in hot weather and to prevent matting, e.g. Old English Sheepdogs, Bearded Collies.
- Some long-coated breeds, if used for showing, such as the Yorkshire Terrier, need the coat put into wrappers (papers) to protect it. If not used for showing them this hair is better trimmed shorter.
Your breeder, veterinary practice or a professional groomer can always advise you of your breed's specific needs. If you have a puppy of a breed requiring a lot of coat care, or plan to use a groomer regularly, introduce this experience early, with lots of praise and reward so the dog doesn’t fear the experience.
Extensive matting or snarls can accelerate damage to surrounding hairs and are very uncomfortable for your puppy. If your dog has a challenging coat, enjoys a daily dip in the pond, or if you'd rather be walking your dog than combing it, consider regular visits to a professional groomer who can provide a soothing bath, gentle hair drying and a thorough brushing. If your puppy’s coat has become very tangled/matted, or you have rehomed a dog with such a coat this may be more than you can manage to sort out. Consult your vet or a professional dog groomer as some hair may need to be shaved off to allow you to start afresh with coat care. Occasionally in severe cases a sedative/anaesthetic may be required (only given by a vet of course).
Many dogs rarely need more than two or three baths a year - some show breeders even discourage baths altogether for some rough and wire coat breeds, certainly bathing too often can dry out a dog’s coat. However, many dogs have the habit of rolling in something unpleasant or walking through puddles, or may need more regular baths for medical reasons and it is worth getting your puppy familiar with the process. Often a quick foot wash will be enough but occasionally a full bath is required.
- When your puppy is still small, the sink will make a good bath. Alternatively, use a plastic tub. As your pet gets larger, switch to the shower or a bath (an old baby bath works well) and use a non-slip mat so they don’t panic if they lose their footing.
- Make sure the environment is warm enough as small puppies will get very cold after their bath.
- Do not overfill the bath as this could make the puppy panic, a few inches is usually enough or none if you have a shower attachment.
- Use a shower attachment, or jug to wet the coat, making sure the water is warm, but not hot.
- Wet the coat thoroughly, careful to avoid getting water in your puppy's eyes. Part the hair down to the skin to make sure that it's wet all the way through.
- If your puppy shows signs of nervousness, especially the first time, offer praise and reassurance throughout. Try distracting the pup with a treat. You can also take the tub outside to a less confined space, which can be less threatening. Ask a family member/friend to help by stroking and re-assuring the puppy whilst you do the washing!
- Use a special puppy shampoo that's designed for your puppy's coat type and always read the label instructions - some shampoos require dilution and some medicated shampoos require a certain contact time.
- Once the coat is lathered, rinse thoroughly. If any soap is left in the coat, your puppy may be itchy afterwards.
- If you're using a pet conditioner, ensure that it's rinsed out too.
- Keep a stock of old towels to allocate as ‘dog towels’ in the airing cupboard for drying the puppy.
- Stand back as most dogs love a vigorous shake after a bath! Or try and towel-dry before your puppy has a chance to shake.
- Make sure the puppy is kept in a warm room until fully dry. Some thick coats can take a surprisingly long time to be completely dry.
- If the coat is very long, it may need blow-drying while brushing it. Your breeder or groomer will include this in your grooming instructions. Make sure the dryer is not too close to the skin, directed near the eyes, or on a hot setting, as the skin can burn easily. Hair dryers can be quite frightening for a puppy, so ensure you reassure him throughout the process and reward good behaviour. If your puppy is likely to need hair drying; start introducing this early, initially just the noise in the room, and moving onto directing the dryer onto the puppy, following with praise and reward so the experience is not stressful in the future.
- Make sure the coat is completely dry before he/she goes outside.