Puppy Training Tips for Grooming

All dogs have to be groomed, no matter the breed or fur length. Certain behaviors taught early can reduce stress and fear for the puppy whether groomed at home or professionally.

Puppy training is a must when you add a canine family member to the home. House-breaking, halting the teething on furniture, leash etiquette, socializing, and "Gimme that!" are all routines that have to be reinforced daily as your puppy grows. A well trained dog means a well behaved dog, a happy dog, and a happy owner. Puppy training routines should also include teaching the proper behaviors for grooming.

All dogs, no matter the breed, have to be bathed and brushed, have their nails clipped, their ears and teeth cleaned, and undergo periodic thorough checks for pests, wounds, and skin conditions. Whether you choose to groom them at home or take them to a professional groomer, dogs will experience a lot less stress and fear if you follow some simple puppy training steps to get them ready.

1. HANDLING THE PAWS: Most dogs have a natural aversion to their feet being handled. The sensitive pads and hairs on the bottoms of their paws help them to feel their way through terrain and protect them from injury. However, this sensitivity can make it difficult to trim their nails and check the pads for cuts, stickers, and other problems. As soon as you bring home your new puppy, start including the paws in your petting/bonding time. Pick up each foot and hold it gently. When the puppy pulls it away, pick up another paw. Softly rub the leg and foot, squeeze the paw, and run your fingers under the nails. You may find that a massaging motion is actually relaxing to the puppy once it gets used to the touch. By training your growing puppy to let you or a veterinarian handle its paws, clipping and wound care will be a lot less stressful for everyone.

2. BATH TIME: Dogs have to be bathed regularly. The ASPCA recommends bathing your dog every three months, or more in the summer if they spend a lot of time outdoors. Bathing keeps the skin and coat healthy, eliminates odors, and is the perfect time to check for unwanted pests such as fleas and ticks. Certain steps added to your puppy training regimen can make bath time a breeze instead of a comedic routine with you chasing a wet, soapy dog all over the house. Start off by simply getting your puppy used to the sounds of the faucets running and the water draining. Take him in the bathroom with you while you are taking a shower or running water for your own bath. Most groomers use a hand-held nozzle similar to a shower head, so getting the puppy used to one at home will make groomers' tools more familiar.

Let the puppy smell the water on your hands, and run wet hands over his head and muzzle so he can get used to the feeling of being wet. Make bath time a fun activity and your dog will be more willing to do it again the next time. Use an old, soft towel to rub the puppy dry, and then let him play with it and shake it. Train him to sit or stand still during the bath, but allow him to run off the extra excitement once he is out of the water. By introducing bath routines and commands early in your puppy training sessions, later "real" baths at home or by a groomer won't become a dreaded event.

3. BRUSHING AND COMBING: No matter the length of the coat, regularly brushing and combing your puppy will keep the fur healthier, free of mats and tangles, and reduce shedding. Long haired breeds need to be brushed daily, while shorter haired breeds usually need it three to four times a week. Within the first couple of days after bringing home your puppy, introduce the brush and/or comb. Let her smell it, feel the bristles, and mouth it. Young puppies are similar to young babies in that one way they learn about the environment is with their mouths. Certainly, don't let the dog chew it up, but a couple of "tastes" helps her to explore and categorize it.

Start off by brushing a part she can see, such as a front leg or chest. If you immediately go behind the head, she will get scared by the unfamiliar feel and sounds. Once she has let you brush a front paw without squirming, then move to the top of the head, ears, and rest of the body. The contortion tricks will stop when she figures out it is the same feeling that was on her leg. While training her to be brushed or combed, you can also reinforce other commands such as sit, up, stay, and shake. Early training for grooming is a must if you don't want your puppy running behind the couch every time you say the word "brush."

4. EARS AND TEETH: Ear mites are a common but torturous pest for your dog. Due to the itching and burning they cause, you may find your puppy scratching his ears a lot or shaking his head. If your puppy training routine includes the ears and general face and muzzle area, checking for these mites regularly will help you catch and treat any infestations early, and allow for general cleaning. While you are handling the ears, it is a good idea to go ahead to check the teeth and gums for problems and cleaning as well. Your veterinarian can advise you about medications for ear mites, as well as what to do to keep your puppy's teeth in top condition. Training for these check-ups should include a general fondling of the ears and muzzle, similar to the paw training.

Rub the ears, fold them back, massage the base, and use a damp cloth to clean around the opening. Also rub the muzzle, gently tug the fur on the sides of the snout, and open the mouth. Depending on the size of your puppy, your training for this aspect of grooming may have to include another person to keep the dog still until he learns the correct behaviors. Your veterinarian will thank you both for the extra work, though!

5. BRIBES REWARDS: Yes, even dogs can be bribed…ahem, rewarded. Once you have discovered your puppy's favorite treat, don't be afraid to use it in your training sessions. A periodic reward will keep her interested, especially during particularly long grooming sessions. My yorkie-poo loves dry cat food. He gets three or four pieces of it for each paw during nail clipping, or every few minutes during trimming and pest control. Although cat food is not recommended for dogs, a treat now and then is worth the trade-off for good behavior. I have often said that the first company to make a cat-food flavored dog food will be an overnight billion dollar corporation! But whatever food your puppy loves, remember that he craves your praise and attention more than the treat. His natural desire to please you is what drives the success of any puppy training routine.