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Preparing for Your Puppy's First Groom

Updated: Apr 18, 2023

You have your new furry bundle at last. You are entirely exhausted and completely in love. Your days are filled with snuggles, cleaning up pee, frustrated "no's!" and delighted smiles. In the excitement of new beginnings, preparing for your dog's first groom is often not at the forefront of your mind. But we believe it is just as important as socializing or leash training.


Why is Preparing for a Groom Important?

Counter Conditioning for Grooming

How can I Prepare my Puppy for the First Groom?

 

Why is Preparing for a Groom Important?

Grooming is full of new experiences, from the sound of the blow dryer and the vibration of clippers, to the smell of other dogs. Despite grooming being so beneficial for your pup, it's not the relaxing "spa day" many of us envision. The first groom is an especially critical one, as it can create a groundwork of positive associations or negative ones. If groomers and owners work together as a team they can set puppies up for a lifetime of positive, low-stress grooming.


Counter Conditioning for Grooming

One great way to prepare a puppy for grooming is by using a training method called counter conditioning. The goal of counter conditioning is to create positive associations with something your dog may not like. This is done by exposing them to the negative stimuli at very low doses while offering high value treats. High value treats are things that dogs don’t get very often, but love. Examples include pieces of chicken, some peanut butter, or cheese. Find something they go crazy over!


Once you have your treat it's time to begin your counter conditioning session. Again, your goal is to create positive associations with something they currently don't like. If your puppy is terrified of your blender, for example, turn it on at a low setting in another room. As soon as you turn it on, start giving treats and talking happily. The second you turn it off, stop the treats. Eventually work up to having the blender in the same room or on a higher setting. Go gradually and let your dog take the lead. If you’ve pushed to the point of it becoming a negative thing, you’ve pushed too far. The goal is to build positive associations only. If you would like to read up a little more on counter conditioning before beginning, check out this post: https://www.animalhumanesociety.org/behavior/counter-conditioning-and-desensitization


How Can I Prepare My Puppy for the First Groom?

So, now that we know what counter conditioning is, how can you use it to prepare for your pup's first groom? Basically you mimic what your pup will experience in the groom while counter conditioning. Here’s some ways you can do that:


  • Put your pup up. Dogs have to stand on grooming tables during the groom, which can feel a little scary. Put your dogs on a higher up surface while you give them their treats. Of course, make sure they are safe and secure!

  • Blow dry. We use a high velocity blow dryer for our grooms. Try using a regular blow dryer at home while counter conditioning. Start with a low setting and work your way up. Be mindful of the heat level you’re using. Keep it cooler or make sure you’re constantly moving the air from spot to spot so it doesn’t get too hot.

  • Brushing. Brushing is a huge part of grooming and coat health. You can prepare for it by simply, well, brushing!

  • Clippers. We use electric clippers for most haircuts, so it’s good to get them used to the weird vibration feeling. Use an electric toothbrush or something similar and glide it gently over their coat.

  • Holding their face. Groomers need to keep dogs still when working on their faces especially. The most comfortable way to hold them is by their chin hairs, which is an unfamiliar experience for most dogs. Practice gently but firmly holding their chin hairs while giving them treats.

  • Scissors by their face. Seeing the shiny metal during a face trim can be a little unsettling for some dogs. Get them used to it by gently brushing a metal spoon on their face.

  • Balance. It can feel unnerving for dogs to have one foot lifted up, but it’s essential for grooming and nail trimming. Try counter conditioning while picking up various feet. Work up to holding a paw for longer periods of time before setting it down.

  • Happy Visits. Simply being in a new space can be intimidating for some pups. Stop in to the salon a few times before your appointment to get them used to the sounds and smells. As usual, dole out those high value treats and leave before they get stressed out.


Stay Positive, Stay Calm

In addition to preparing your dog for his first groom, it’s just as important to prepare yourself. If you’re feeling anxious or unsure about taking your dog to the groomer, your pup will sense it and become more nervous. Whether it’s deep calming breaths beforehand, a nice walk outside, or asking us questions about the grooming process, do what you need to in order to have a calm, positive energy when you arrive. Hey, if you need to counter condition yourself with a scoop of ice cream every time you come, go for it! :)



Doing Our Part

Now that you know what you can do to help your pup have a positive first groom, here's what we do on our end:

  • Stick to mornings. We only schedule a puppy’s first groom as an early morning appointment, when the salon is quieter.

  • Start with an intro groom. We always start with a puppy package, which is a bath, blow dry, brush out, nail clip, and light trimming. This gives puppies experience with all our tools and spaces before jumping in to a full haircut.

  • Keep it positive. We use lots of treats and happy voices. Feel free to bring those high value treats you’ve been using so we can give your puppy his very favorite thing.


In the midst of enjoying your new furry friend, taking some time to be intentional can make a huge impact on their grooming experience. These skills will give them resilience and confidence not only in grooming, but in many areas of life. So go find your treats and do some counter condition!


Schedule your grooming appointment at (612) 331-1025 or www.olludogwash.com/contactus.



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