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PUPPIES & GROOMING

The Importance Of Early Puppy Grooming

Becca Meighan

29 March 2021

Congratulations! You made the commitment to be a pet parent to a new puppy. This is a very exciting time indeed and one to be cherished and savored. This is also a time of intense learning for your puppy with critical developmental periods. Our focus here is on the importance of acclimating your puppy to grooming and handling. This process is about so much more than the actual tasks accomplished with grooming. It includes your puppy’s confidence, security, and general sense of well-being with the world at large and with the salon experience.

First let’s take a look at puppy development and then we will touch on the why and how of early grooming exposure. “A Dog’s Life: The Canine Developmental Stages” by Kerri Caughill goes into detail about the transformative journey dogs undergo and how pet parents and caregivers can positively impact this growth period. Melissa Jepson in her “Puppy Handling 101” course hosted by Barkleigh Productions expands on these stages and gives insight to groomers on how to address the needs of puppies so as to establish a positive working relationship with them. Below is a brief summarization of these early stages.

The Importance Of Early Puppy Grooming

  • 7-12 weeks:  Human Socialization Period. Puppies now possess the capacity to learn by association and commands can begin to be taught. Confidence is budding! This is the most important time for bonding with humans and frequent, low-stress socialization opportunities are important.
  • 8-15 weeks:  Fear Impact Period. Smaller dog breeds will experience this sooner and this stage can last for 2-3 weeks. Introductions during this time should be done slowly and with care and supervision. Don’t overwhelm puppy with too much activity or stimulation as their fears can overwhelm them and imprint negatively. Gentle, calm interactions coupled with consistent, positively reinforced training are key. 
  • 12-16 weeks: Seniority Classification Stage. This time is critical in puppy learning and is also known as the “age of cutting” – starting with their teeth and ending with the apron strings. Puppy is learning it’s place in your “pack”. Now is the time where gentle admonishing can be had if the puppy bites and praise will start to be extremely effective. Be consistent. Aggressive nipping and mouthing need to be addressed by all family members consistently. Structure, boundaries, and leadership by people, is critical during this time to build self-confidence and trust. 
  • 4-8 months: Flight Instinct Stage. These are the teenage years. During this period puppies will test their wings and often turn a deaf ear when called. This can last for as little as a few days up to several weeks. It is critical to praise good behavior during this time period so as to avoid bad habits in the future. Keep calm when tested and keep positive rewards consistent. Regular exercise is an absolute necessity. 
  • 6-12 months: Second Fear Impact Period. Also known as “fear of situations”, this usually corresponds to growth spurts and early sexual maturity. Great care should be taken not to reinforce negative behavior at this state as the brain is on a hair trigger.  You may notice subtle changes in awareness and alertness. Fear should always be handled with patience and kindness, but never more critically than when in this stage. New situations can be scary and your pup may act out to test boundaries. Help your pup address fears slowly and gradually. Be patient as lots of emotion and energy will most likely accompany their physical, mental and sexual maturation. 
  • 1-2 years: Full Maturity. The average dog will develop maturity between 1 ½-2 years with smaller statured dogs experiencing this sooner than larger breeds. This period can be marked by an increase in aggression and leadership testing. This should be handled firmly and consistently. 

 

“Dogs are not born with an innate ability to
understand what grooming is or how to cope with it and process the experience. We must teach them.”

Now let’s link puppy development with grooming. Dogs are not born with an innate ability to understand what grooming is or how to cope with it and process the experience. We must teach them. As puppies move through the 12-16 week period they are in prime learning and imprinting mode. While they are also experiencing a time of heightened fears, introducing your pup to their groomer and the salon environment during this time can be an extremely positive experience. 

These initial appointments will be conducted in a calm, low stimulation atmosphere with all aspects of the puppy’s experience being considered: sound, smell, feel, movement. Grooming tasks will be determined based on the puppy’s response, but first appointments should not be focused on haircuts! The goal is building trust and confidence and a sense of feeling safe. There are many aspects of grooming that a puppy needs to learn about before they are asked to tolerate a haircut.

Every pup is different in how they respond to stimulus and their responses to each stimulus can be very different. In addition, each puppy has a different home life and social life that plays a part in how capable they are at handling stimuli. When puppies become overwhelmed, or their fear response is not recognized, they shut down and are no longer capable of learning. Pushing through grooms when puppies have shut down, just to get it done, can do more long-term damage than good as negative imprinting takes place. Thus, the goal of early grooms is on allowing the puppy to slowly experience new aspects of grooming and reinforce aspects previously introduced.

Central to puppy training of any kind is positive reinforcement. This involves praise, touch or high- value treats (https://www.akc.org/expert advice/training/teach-your-puppy-these-5 basic- commands/). We do make use of high quality dog treats during our puppy groom training as most puppies are food motivated and doing so helps to quickly imprint positive actions into their brain. It will be vitally important for our puppy parents to do their part at home too! All parents will be given homework as puppies have very short attention spans and benefit most from short, consistent sessions or reinforcement. Just like when we were all in elementary school, it is easily apparent who is doing their homework! 

Parenting puppies is not only thrilling and full of precious moments, but can be exhausting as they require 24/7 consistency and a lot of attention. The time invested in training during their first year, both in your home and with trusted professionals, will greatly assist your puppy in becoming a confident, trusting and happy dog.

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