If you think you might end up taking your dog to the groomer at any stage in your dog’s life send it to a groomer as a puppy. I recommend that you take your puppy to the groomer from 8 weeks of age. Puppy training and socialisation classes start from that age to take advantage of the developmental stage of the dog. Between 4-16 weeks is the critical period of socialisation, where the dog is open to learning, what happens during these weeks can greatly affect the behaviour of the dog when he/she is older, be it good or bad. Puppy grooming programs need to start then to set them up for a happy and confident time in the salon. Puppies will have a degree of immunity to disease, passed on from the vaccinated bitch as well as having their booster shots. You are taking a similar risk going to a puppy class at a veterinary surgery, where sick dogs go, as you are taking them to a grooming salon. Check with your vet about how high the incidences of Parvovirus, Distemper, Hepatitis, etc are in your area so you can make an informed decision. Confining a puppy from the outside world for the first few months will be detrimental to your dog’s development.
First you need to find a suitable groomer. Groomers that are members of the Pet Industry Association of Australia (PIAA) have a national code of practice and a code of ethics to abide by. Members can be found listed at www.piaa.net.au or call PIAA on 02 9659 5811. Groomers that have passed a twenty five point audit of their salon, or mobile grooming unit can become accredited members. These audits are implemented by PIAA executive staff and are re-audited every three years. Dog owners can have confidence with leaving their dogs at these businesses. Accredited members can be found at
Not all groomers have an understanding of dog behaviour and training, in particular a puppy’s needs, nor are they up to date with modern positive techniques and tools. Some groomers simply don’t have the experience. By choosing a PIAA member you have a groomer that agrees to prevent mistreatment of animals in their care and protect them from undue stress or discomfort in clean and safe premises.
There are steps you can take to prepare your puppy for the grooming appointment. Start by handling, brushing and combing your puppy at home yourself. It is important to handle your puppy’s feet and nails in preparation for nail trimming. Holding their ear flaps while you look inside helps for future ear cleaning. Open their mouths, feel their muzzles and lift their lips to look at their teeth will prepare them for taking medicine in the future. Small breeds like the Maltese and ShihTzu need to be used to having their head held for the safe scissoring around their eyes and nose. When holding their heads you can pretend that you are holding a hamburger, that you don’t want the beetroot to fall out of onto your brand new white pants. The more you touch, stroke and restrain your puppy, the less fearful and the more accepting of grooming they will become. Remember to keep sessions short and often, make sure there is something in it for them, like a treat, play time, a walk or dinner. Once your puppy is happy with that, ask other people to do the same. Have your puppy familiar with being on a table for grooming, standing or lying down to be brushed and combed.
Your puppy needs to be used to a collar and lead, try not to carry them everywhere and walk them confidently into the salon. Your puppy may have started puppy preschool, do your homework and train those basic commands. It’s important to involve children in the grooming of their pet; these sessions should be enjoyable but not have the atmosphere of a game. Please do not let anyone tease or “ruff up” a dog with their hands, groomer’s hands are their livelihood and we don’t like being bitten or mouthed. If you must rev up a dog use a toy as the tool. Don’t change your dog’s diet the night before a grooming appointment; this can have disastrous effects, apart from being messy, your dog can be off colour. Don’t feed your puppy just before the car trip, in case of car sickness. Try to toilet and exercise your dog before the appointment. Groomers don’t want the puppy panting and exhausted but sometimes it helps if some energy is burned off beforehand. I encourage owners to bring their puppy’s favourite treats, a toy, blanket or something that smells like home to help them settle in new surroundings.
Firstly, owners are welcome to see the salon, this gives them peace of mind knowing where there precious furry family member will be and what will be happening to them. I like to know where they purchased their puppy. I find that pet shop puppies and rescue dogs need more time allocated and sometimes can’t be completely groomed in one session. I can’t always do a perfect trim on a puppy because I would rather aim for perfect grooming behaviour in the future. Some puppies are sensitive and groomers need to know when a cry means that they are nervous, scared or frightened. Some puppies are bold; they throw tantrums or scream as though you are hurting them to get out of doing what is asked. I’m sure some pet shop puppies have learnt to scream and carry on so that they don’t have to be handled and are put back in the window box. Either way, don’t be bossy and don’t try to be dominant, whatever they didn’t like, try it again just more slowly and gently. Hold them firmly but not too tight and sometimes you just need to start from the beginning and insist on simple tasks that they already know.
My puppy program starts with a complimentary session of 10 minutes. In this time the puppies have their nails trimmed and are brushed and combed. They are handled, kissed, cuddled and have time just sitting on the grooming table just watching the surroundings and hearing the sounds of a salon in action. They get treats and lots of praise while their owners wait outside and get a taste of leaving their puppy alone somewhere.
Your dog too can experience a normal happy relaxed time at the groomers or doggy day spa. Jumping in the bath or up on the table with tail wagging to be groomed. I have client’s dogs that have jumped out of the car window metresdown the road to get to us, they love us so much.
Yours in Grooming,
Printed in The Canine Journal March 2006