Puppies are basically adorable no matter what, it’s easy to forget that you should groom them regularly. You wouldn’t skip this step with a full-grown dog, so it’s best to get into the habit when your puppy is still young enough to adjust to the routine. Read on for tips on how to keep your best friend looking pageant-ready from an early age.

When to Start

Your puppy can be ready for his first groom at about 10 to 12 weeks old, but there are ways to prepare him earlier. Get him used to be handled by gently touching his coat all over, outside of your usual playtime and training. Lift his paws, massaging his pads and the tips of his toes. If he has an exceptionally thick coat, pay close attention to the area around his ears. You might also want to reward him with pea-sized high-value treats (such as chicken or cheese) during this time. If he comes to associate this attention with delicious rewards, he’s more likely to enjoy the procedure when it’s time for the actual grooming ritual.

Start With Playtime

A tired puppy will be more likely to settle into the grooming routine. Before you begin, set aside ten or fifteen minutes for active play. Choose a game that you already know she enjoys, and preferably one that burns off plenty of energy. Don’t forget to provide her with frequent rewards, so that she’ll be primed to listen to your commands during grooming.

Stick to a Routine

Dogs are creatures of habit, so designate a special area that’s used just for grooming, if possible. When you bring him to this spot, he’ll know that it’s grooming time, and will react accordingly. If you’ve associated the process with treats and affection, his reaction should be a positive one, which will make the procedure more enjoyable for both of you.

You Need the Right Tools

The various breeds of puppies have different needs when it comes to grooming their coats, and satisfying them may require specific tools for different tasks. This is especially true when it comes to combs and brushes. A thin coat, for example, requires a fine-toothed comb, but if your puppy has a thick coat, you should invest in a wide-toothed version. Similarly, a curry brush works best for short hair, while a pin brush is a better choice for long-haired dogs. If you’re not sure which category your puppy falls into, choose a slicker brush—it’s a good multi-purpose tool that does a decent job on all fur types. In addition to brushes, you should have a starter supply of dog shampoo, toothpaste, a special toothbrush, toenail clippers, towels for drying, a set of electric clippers, and cotton balls for cleaning out her ears.

Dental Care

Dogs generally dislike it when you reach into their mouths, but you can help acclimate your puppy to a brushing routine by gently massaging his teeth and gums during quiet time. When he has his adult teeth, begin a weekly brushing routine using a flavor that appeals to him. Make sure to buy the correct toothpaste made for dogs from a pet supply store—never use human toothpaste on your pet. Human toothpaste can contain xylitol as a sweetener, which can be extremely harmful and possibly fatal for dogs if they ingest it.

Bathing

For puppies under three months old, resist the urge to use cleaning products. Instead, run a warm rag over her coat to help her acclimate to the process. Once she’s reached the three-month mark, she can graduate to a tub of lukewarm water and specially formulated shampoo. Apply the product gently, smoothing it in the same direction as her fur growth, and rinse thoroughly. Try to keep the soap away from her eyes, ears, and nose. Once she’s been rinsed off, you can follow up with conditioner to help keep her skin smooth, but make sure it’s also formulated for dogs.

Nail Care

Many dog owners balk at the prospect of trimming their dog’s nails and enlist the aid of a vet or professional groomer instead. While you do have to be careful not to cut too close to the quick—the pink area that runs into the top of the nail, closest to the paw. There are special clippers available that can make the task easier. Allow your puppy to sniff the clippers before you attempt to use them. If he displays interest, reward him with a high-value treat. Next, tell him to sit or lie down—whichever position allows you to reach his paws easily. Fit the clippers over each nail, trimming just a few millimeters at a time. Take extra care with brown or black nails, since it’s impossible to locate the quick against these darker colors. It’s best to keep styptic powder on hand in case you accidentally cut the quick, but your pup should be fine as long as you trim only a tiny bit from each nail.

Trimming the Coat

The best time to trim a dog’s fur is after a bath when it’s still slightly damp. This step might not be necessary for very young puppies, but as he grows, you’ll want to give him frequent trims, especially if he has a thick coat. Dog clippers are easier to handle than scissors and will do a more thorough job with less effort on your part. Work from the back of his neck all the way down to his rear leg on one side, then repeat the process on the other. As with the nail trimming, you’ll want to take off just a bit at a time until you’re comfortable with the procedure.

Read Your Dog’s Body Language

When you groom your dog, make sure to pay attention to her body language so that you can make sure she is comfortable during the process. You don’t want to accidentally get bitten by an upset dog. If she is stressed or afraid, she will show physical signs of it. Some signs, like growling or a curled lip are more obvious. Others—not so much. For example, you should watch to see if she is licking her lips even though she hasn’t eaten or drunk anything recently. This and panting when she is not hot are both signs of a stressed dog. When such a behavior occurs, make sure you do what you can to calm your dog down before continuing to groom her.

When you provide your puppy with a solid grooming regimen, you’re setting the whole family up for a lifetime of good clean fun. Following the steps we’ve outlined will help make the routine an experience that both you and your pup will enjoy.

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