Puppy Introduction to Grooming (aka Puppy Tidy)
A puppy's first visit is an introduction to being handled by someone other than you, as well as getting used to the salon itself. It is a critical part of socialization and should happen around 3 months of age. They will be bathed, brushed and blow dried, then we will trim around their feet and pads, sanitary areas, nail trim and most importantly, their eyes! Most young puppies have a soft, easy to care for coat. It is very rare for them to mat at this age, which is why we can do the bath and puppy tidy. An older puppy that comes in with matted coat will have a more complicated experience, which is not an ideal introduction to the grooming world.
The first visit to a grooming salon can be very overwhelming for a puppy, but it doesn’t have to be! When you both arrive for the first time, have your puppy on a leash. When your groomer comes to greet you both, you can pass the leash over and let us get acquainted. If you are calm and positive, your puppy will be too.
There are things you can do at home that will make grooming enjoyable for everyone, including your groomer! Here are some tips that will help prepare your puppy for their first visit.
Handle their paws, ears and face daily: Gently lift and hold each paw, and gradually increase the time doing so. You can play with the hair between their toes and pads and tap their toenails (make it positive with lots of praise and cookies!). Flip their ears and touch around the ear canal (although don't put anything inside unless they are being medicated by a vet). Practice holding their chin, as this is a common hold for groomers while face trimming. Play with the hair between their eyes and wipe the corners with a damp cloth as necessary (daily for teary dogs).
Daily brushing in short sessions: Gentle brushing from head to toe can be as quick as a 2-5 minutes to start. At this age, you are just getting them used to the sensation so don't worry about getting every body part every session. You can even do multiple sessions in a day (mealtimes are good because you can use a portion of their meal as rewards). As they become more comfortable, you can increase session length and get the trickier spots. Don't forget your comb as well!
Mimic the sound and feel of a clipper: You can use the handle end of an electric toothbrush to touch their body, or just something roughly clipper sized (small cardboard box with something rattling inside, phone playing clipper sounds, etc). The idea is something other than your hands or a brush can touch them and they will be perfectly fine!
Kennel train: Kennel training has many advantages, including having a space to feel safe in if they prefer. They will more comfortable with it in professional settings such as a vet or groomer.
Keep it a positive experience: Your puppy has a whole life of grooming ahead of them, so keep it fun! If at any point they seem uncomfortable, you may have done too much too fast. Baby steps with lots of rewards are what we're aiming for. Use lots of tiny treats (even kibble if they're food motivated) and shower on the praise. Don’t forget to offer their favourite toy when you’re done!
Puppy's First Haircut
Around 4 to 6 months of age, your puppy will need their first full haircut. All puppies will go through a coat change around this time, switching from their soft, muppet-like and easy to care for puppy coat to that of a thicker, plush, and higher maintenance adult coat. You can see the difference when you separate the fur and compare the colour and texture of the fur closest to their skin vs the ends. The change varies with breed and coat type, so it’s important to talk with your groomer to discuss recommendations that are best suited to you and your puppy’s lifestyle. While some owners prefer the ease of a shorter haircut, others want a long scissor clip that requires more maintenance. Your pup should have already had an introductory visit, and their first groom will involve more handling and grooming tools. To help make their day a bit easier, try some of these suggestions prior to their visit:
Brush them on a low table: Some pups are easier to manage when they have a smaller area to move around on. Brushing or handling them on an elevated surface mimics the grooming experience at the salon. They are often better behaved on a table as there are less distractions.
Practice handling the "hard to reach" areas: Brushing their back is relatively easy, but there is a whole lot more dog that will get clippered! Try gently holding their elbow to brush their front legs, and just above their knee to brush their back legs. For an ear, hold it between your fingers and thumb, brushing to the end of the ear leather. Pay special attention to areas where there is longer hair, like ears and tails, and high friction areas: behind the ears, between toes or where their collar or harness sits (neck, between their front legs and behind their elbows). These are the areas most prone to matting!
Anti-static conditioning spray: These can be purchased from a groomer supply store, or you can make some at home. In a small spray bottle filled with water, add a few drops of hair conditioner and shake. You can use this spritz to add elasticity to the coat and prevent breakage. It also works when tackling some tangles. A little goes a long way!
Realistic expectations: Set you, your puppy and your groomer up for success by having realistic expectations for puppy's first full groom. Hopefully, this will be the beginning of a long working relationship! We want you to like the style, but we also want your dog to enjoy the process. Puppies are wiggly creatures; we would rather have them happy and safe than have an absolutely perfect first full do. They will grow into the process and their grooms can be more exact.
A note on older puppies coming for their first or second grooms: A young dog who is coming for their first visit at 7+ months of age is not going to have the same experience as a dog who has been practicing since they were little. This is especially true if they did not come for introductory visits; critical socialization has been skipped. The longer they go without getting professionally groomed, the more likely they are to get matted (especially with a coat change). A dog that is matted and also inexperienced with grooming is not a good combination. It is simply not fair to try and demat them when the whole process is new to them. Not to mention, it could be painful and dangerous. If we make the recommendation to take them short, it is in their best interest. We can absolutely work with a dog who is inexperienced, but it is unlikely they will be mentally or physically ready for a scissored cut. With time, we can grow and train into that.
In the end, we want puppies and all dogs to enjoy the process of being groomed. After all, it is a huge part of keeping them healthy and will happen throughout their whole lives. Why not set them up for success!