Puppy’s First Grooming

Lhasa apso at grooming salon
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A puppy's first pet grooming session is a momentous occasion for pet owners, almost on par with a parent taking their child for their first haircut. The experience, which can often try the patience of even the most skilled ​pet groomers, can have a lifelong effect on a pup, be it positive or negative. Here are some important tips for dealing with the occasion for the benefit of all involved.

Preparing Puppies

During the first grooming session, the main idea is to familiarize puppies with the process. A pup's initial experiences at the grooming salon can set the stage for how he responds to being groomed for the rest of his life. So it's important to make the experience as pleasant as possible.

Groomers can get a jump on navigating the challenges of introducing a puppy to the pet grooming process by giving their owners some tips for preparing the pups for what could be a scary experience. The more socialized and used to being handled a puppy is, the better. 

Groomers should encourage pet owners to prepare their pups to be handled in ways they might not be used to. For example, they may want to regularly tickle their paws (including between their toes), ears, and tushies, which are some of the areas the groomer will be working on.

Getting Started

On the big day, when the puppy first arrives to be groomed, groomers should start by slowly introducing themselves to the little one by speaking in a soft, soothing voice, petting and cuddling the puppy and playing with them for a bit. By gaining their trust, the groomers enable the puppy to regard grooming as a fun, enjoyable experience. Above all, patience is key.

Pet groomers should stick to an abbreviated session to avoid stressing the pup, enabling pup to get used to being handled by a groomer. Bear in mind that pups may be frightened when they are first exposed to such alien devices and tools as clippers, noisy dryers, and grooming tables.

Chuck Simons, the inventor of the Groomer’s Helper grooming table device and co-owner of the popular Pet Salon in Margate, New Jersey, offers this advice: "We don’t do a lot during the first sessions; we want the puppy to become acclimated to being handled. The first experience must be a good experience, with lots of love and treats. This is their special place away from home. If you push them through the experience and restrain them, then you ruin that dog for the rest of his life."

When to Schedule

Many puppy owners make the mistake of waiting until their pups are six months of age or older before taking them for grooming. As a general rule, puppies should be no more than 16 weeks old, as younger pups are easier to train. They also need to have had all of their shots before being groomed for the first time. The initial grooming sessions should be kept short and sweet. Many groomers recommend sticking with the following services the first few times that they groom pups:

  • Bathing
  • Light brush out
  • Nail trim
  • Ear cleaning
  • Light trim where especially needed, such as around the face

Starting slowly will enable a groomer to build up to a full cut and other more elaborate services. The pups should also be loosely restrained. “Everything should be loose, never tight,” Simons further advises. “They’re not going to be leash trained, but they can be table trained. They are going to be on a loop, but you should stay with them at all times for their safety and to help them adapt to this.”

The same goes for bathing. "A bather has to be with the puppy at all times; it has to be a loving experience. It’s just like with a baby; you help them through it so that bath time becomes a fun time. Just lavish them with love. It’s through that regularity that they come to terms with the grooming experience."

Simons adds that it takes two to three sessions for a pup to become totally acclimated to and comfortable with the grooming process. But if approached the right way, this can enable a pet groomer to establish a lifelong happy relationship with their new pooch clients, which will ensure their long-term health and happiness.

"You are going to be grooming that dog four to five times a year for the rest of his life," according to Simons. "If you provide a pleasant experience, they will see the grooming salon as their loving place away from home, and will be happy to come there."