Getting Puppy Ready for the Groomer

Lori Carman

Help your puppy learn to love visits to the groomer

Grooming can be a stressful experience. Think about it from your puppy’s perspective: She will be left with a stranger for a good part of the day. That stranger will handle her a lot—holding her still, touching her all over. There will be new objects like scissors and nail clippers. Also, a bath. And loud, potentially scary things like clippers and hair dryers. In short, if she’s unprepared, a puppy might find the grooming salon a scary place to be. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

If you want your puppy to grow up loving every visit to her groomer—instead of being gripped with fear and refusing to enter, then shaking and shivering throughout the experience—you need to get her ready before her first appointment.

Handle your puppy, and get others to handle her, too.

Think about all the ways the groomer will need to handle your pup: holding her feet, ears, and tail, touching her all over, and restraining her. Then do these things yourself on a regular basis, at home where she feels safe with you. Teach your dog to tolerate this kind of handling by taking note when you discover any areas of discomfort (when she cowers, pulls her paw away, or tries to leave) and make those moments pleasurable by offering praise and treats. Before you begin these sessions of intentional handling, get prepared:

■Have treats tucked away but readily available.

■ Touch the body part for a second, give a treat. Repeat.

■ Gradually increase the time and firmness of your touch, continuing to pair with treats.

■ Go at your pup’s pace, only increasing time and firmness when you can see your puppy is actively enjoying the game.

Introduce your puppy to the equipment.

Don’t let a visit to the groomers be the first time your puppy sees nail or hair clippers or hears the hair dryer. Introduce her to these things gradually at home. For example:

■ Again, get the treats ready, but keep them out of sight.

■ Show your dog your hair dryer, then give her a treat. Repeat several times.

■ Position the dryer a good distance away— say, 10 feet—turn it on and off quickly, and then toss her a treat. Repeat.

■ Gradually move the dryer closer to her (or, better yet, let your puppy come closer to you), continuing to reward her bravery with a treat. Then give her a break from the dryer and stop the treats. When you turn the dryer back on, start treating again.

■ Gradually leave the dryer running longer, continuing to treat whenever it’s turned on.

■ When you finally blow a bit of air her way, go back to a single second, treat, and then slowly work up from there.

Make bath time fun.

Of course, a primary reason for taking your puppy to a groomer is so you won’t have to bathe her yourself. But doing so a few times before a professional takes over will go a long way toward happy and stress-free grooming appointments in the future.

Put your puppy in the tub or sink. Give her a few treats and lift her back out. Do this enough times that she is visibly excited to be getting back in— eagerly looking out for those treats.

■ Get out the good treats. The really fabulous ones … think leftovers from dinner last night—something truly special.

■ Put your puppy in the tub or sink. Give her a few treats and lift her back out. Do this enough times that she is visibly excited to be getting back in—eagerly looking out for those treats.

■ Turn the water on for a second, but pointed away from your dog. Give her a treat. Repeat many times. Eventually let the water run a little longer and a little closer before you give her a treat.

■ Spray your dog’s feet with water for a quick second and then quickly give her a treat. Repeat.

■ Continue to work your way to getting your puppy progressively wetter, always rewarding with a treat.

If you can help your puppy associate a visit to the groomer with pleasurable experiences you’ve introduced her to at home, you’ll be setting her up for a lifelong comfortable relationship with her groomer. And your dog’s confidence will mean less stress for everyone at bath time!

Training Tips

■ Puppy bath time can be easier with two people: one to do the work, the other to give the treats.

■ Go at your puppy’s pace. Make sure she’s wagging her tail and having fun. If she seems stressed or nervous, back off to one of the earlier, easier, less scary steps.

■ Don’t rush it. You may not actually succeed in giving your puppy a fully successful bath the first two or three times. How clean she gets will depend on how quickly she relaxes and starts to enjoy this game. But don’t worry—if the first session is nothing more than getting in and out of the tub, that’s fine. The point is to take things slowly so you lay the groundwork for making it an experience your puppy will enjoy for a lifetime.

Lori Wainio-Carman, VSPDT, professional dog trainer and owner of Dream Dogs, has been successfully training for more than 20 years. Positively.comdreamdogs.com760-899-7272.