All puppies are going to need some form of grooming in their lives. Some can get away with a nail trim every few weeks, some light brushing and a very occasional bath when they are dirty. Others are not so easy and might require extensive grooming every few weeks for their entire lives. Regardless, it is important to teach them that these grooming activities are a positive experience and nothing to be afraid of. First impressions matter!
How quickly we introduce the various activities depends on the puppy. Here’s how I’ve been doing grooming activities with Flux (who luckily is likely to fall in the first category of dogs and not need extensive grooming!)
We’ve been starting with some basic foot handling in exchange for treats to teach him that me reaching for, holding, and manipulating his feet pays off well for him. He is much more comfortable having his front feet handled so with these feet the handling is more extensive. With his back feet we are only at about a 1 second hold. I try my best to keep it at a level where he doesn’t even think about pulling away.
Until he is amazing at this, I’m not going to try to cut his nails! That would be asking for trouble down the road. But those little puppy foot daggers have to go so we’ve been using a nail file. He tolerates this very well and it’s a simple, no stress solution for both of us. I wait until I have a tired puppy who is more likely to hold still, and he gets reinforced (while he is awake!) for being calm. Lately he’s been falling asleep during his filing, which I am not complaining about.
Here’s a video of what that looks like:
Flux has been a little itchy since he came home, so he’s been getting baths as they seem to help keep his skin calmer. I knew it might be something he needed to get on a regular basis for his whole life, so I wanted to set bathtime up to be FUN.
One of his (many) favorite foods is cream cheese, so I used this to my advantage. We did a few quick sessions of licking cream cheese off the walls of the tub with no water running. Because I am a lazy dog trainer and don’t always plan well enough ahead of time, these all happened on the same day I decided he needed a bath. Not always the best plan, but it was what we had.
Then I turned on the water (I have a detachable showerhead that is AMAZING for bathing dogs) and he got to lick off cheese. As this wasn’t bothering him at all, we moved pretty quickly into bathtime. As you can see, it worked beautifully. After his bath, he kept trying to jump back in the tub for more treats! That’s absolutely the reaction I want. He’s gotten two more baths since this picture was taken, and he leaps into the tub for them now telling me “I want MORE baths!” Good boy Flux!
Just a little bit of preparation can make all the difference for young puppies in framing their life-long opinions of grooming behaviors. Don’t just hope for the best!