How to successfully introduce grooming to your new puppy

Written by Stephanie Zikmann – Founder of The Holistic Grooming Academy Ltd.

Disclaimer: For the purposes of ease of flow, I will be referring to the dog as masculine (he/him).

A puppy should be getting positively introduced to handling, brushing and other basic husbandry tasks from a very young age.

While still in the litter, a puppy will be groomed regularly by the mother and siblings in what is often referred to as “comfort behaviours” by zoologists.

Grooming, in its most natural and indigenous sense, is an enjoyable activity that helps to enhance social bonds, health and overall well-being. The process of allo-grooming is a mutual beneficial experience that releases hormones associated with love and relaxation – Serotonin and Oxytocin.

From the moment a puppy is born, the mother will lick him clean — this first interaction not only ensures that the puppy’s breathing orifices are clear to enable him to breathe, but it provides instant comfort helping to keep the puppy calm while he decompresses to the new environment around him. What’s more, the mother dog will also release endorphins, helping to bring her back to a parasympathetic state after delivery.

When a puppy is taken away from all that he knows, the environment can instantly become incredibly stressful. This unfamiliarity and uncertainty can cause a whole host of anxiety for a puppy who is missing the warmth and comforts of the only family he has ever known.

Comfort grooming, a series of low-stress comfort behaviour exercises, can prove to help soothe a fearful puppy by offering him something mildly familiar when introduced in a calm and positive way, setting really strong foundations to more progressive grooming tasks to come

Gentle Stroking

Believe it or not, stroking falls under the grooming bracket, and is the least invasive way to begin introduction to grooming tasks. Spending some quiet time with a puppy while very gently stroking him will not only help reduce stress especially during those early days, but also get him used to being handled by a human hand. As we know, conventional grooming relies on a significant amount of physical contact.

During these short bonding sessions, it’s important to gradually introduce physical contact to all parts of the pups body, paying close attention to how he responds and ensuring that it remains consensual throughout. These sessions can be combined with long-lasting rewards such as liver paste on a LickiMat® or Kibble in a Snuffle Mat.

A puppy should get used to being handled everywhere, particularly in areas where hair or dirt might cause issues such as, the ears, under carriage, groin, legs, paws, tail, neck and chest.

Getting familiar with what is normal when it comes to how the puppy feels (coat texture, skin surface, lumps and bumps) will help to identify any changes as time goes on.

Setting aside 5-10 minutes each day to bonding with a puppy in this way will help build his confidence to being handled and touched better preparing him for professional visits such as the Vets and Groomers.

Nail Trimming

Puppies have rather sharp nails which can cause considerable pain to those who get in their way, but also as a puppy explores his new territory he can quite possibly catch his nails on bits of fabric causing himself considerable pain too therefore the sooner we can trim them, the better!

Being proactive when it comes to introducing a puppy to having their nails trimmed will set him up for success so it is important to introduce every new object, sound, texture and activity in a short, fun and positive way. This will ensure we do not exceed his short attention span and ensure he remains eager to participate.

Stocking up on some high-value treats (the juicer the better) and beginning with a basic ‘show and reward’ game will help to build a positive association with the sight of the nail trimmers before gradually extending it to touching the puppy on the paw with the nail trimmers followed swiftly with over-animated praise and reward.

The next step is to get him used to the noise of the nail trimmers actually cutting through something of similar consistency – I like using a carrot stick – as he sniffs out plenty of high value treats hidden in a Snuffle Mat or similar. It’s important that the cutting only occurs while the pup is actively engaged in sniffing and chomping on his reward.

After several successful sessions of each of those steps, the deed itself is attempted.

How we handle a dog during this process is significant since it’s important he feels safe. A small dog might be more relaxed on the lap of someone he knows and trusts, while a larger dog might be more comfortable lying or sitting down on the floor. All dogs are different, and puppies tend to be slightly more restless when they feel they are being restrained so be mindful of this.

We first carefully raise one paw up from the surface, gently bending it with its natural movement to prevent a pull-back reflex that could otherwise cause injury before snipping very little off the edge of the nail – this will reduce the likelihood of cutting the much-dreaded quick!

While this is happening, it is worthwhile having a helper present to feed the puppy something high value throughout and to provide a positive distraction during the process.

It’s far better to attempt one or two nails during the early days of introduction, and gradually build up to more over a longer period of time to prevent an averse reaction – keeping these sessions within a couple of minutes before allowing the dog to run around and engage in something fun will help the dog remember the experience in a positive way.

Brushing and combing

Regardless of what type of breed a puppy is, he will still require some degree of brushing throughout his life if you aspire to have him enjoy physical contact.

Investing in the right tools helps to make the experience more pleasurable since it avoids any potential discomfort from happening in the first place, followed by the right approach.

Brushing should never involve an attempt to break through matting as this can be incredibly uncomfortable on a puppy resulting in future apprehension. Instead, brushing should be the finishing tool after careful inspection with a Greyhound Comb has been done.

Tangles can be picked up on using a comb to scan through the coat in sections, where there are tangles found it is always best practice to either try to very carefully ease them out using our hands, or for more stubborn knots use conditioner to try and gently comb through them that way during bath time (more on bathing next).

Brushing a puppy should involve no force at all. The hair is downy and fine, and the skin is more sensitive than a human babies therefore opting for rubber curry, pin, bristle, porcupine and/or tangle-teezers are better than any cutting tools (de-shedders) and slicker brushes.

The introduction to these tools should again be done using positive reinforcements such as high value rewards and praise helping to keep the puppy relaxed, engaged and cooperative.

All sessions should be kept short and positive helping to form lasting positive associations.


It took me three weeks before I decided that my newest addition, Honey, was ready for her first bath. Yet all of my dogs have been different so it’s important to acknowledge that there’s not really a definite time that puppies will be ready to advance on to more strenuous activities.

When you progress to each step is a decision that must be made by you based on the individual needs of your dog.

Allowing your puppy to venture in and out of the bathroom while members of the family wash can help habitualise him to the sights and sounds of the process. The significant factor is that the puppy has the freedom to enter and leave the room when he chooses to, but it’s also worthwhile placing something of high-value in the room while you bathe to entice him in. For example, if he approaches you in the bath you can reward him by tossing a high-value treat on the floor helping to build positive associations with the room.

If the pup makes any attempt to jump into the bath with you, then you can safely assume he is ready for the next step. Equally, this applies if he is comfortable enough to sleep in the room while you shower.

The first bath experience is significant since water phobias, in particular, shower hose phobias are one of the most common grooming-related issues a Professional Groomer will face. This is why it is so important to never punish a puppy using water such as squirt bottles.

Note: I do not support or endorse any form of punishment or adverse training methods and follow a strict positive-based approach to caring for animals.

There are many ways to bathe a puppy depending on your facilities and his size including the sink, the shower, the bath tub, outdoors with a hose, outdoors with jugs of water, a mud daddy or similar. Based on my experience, I’ve found that the least stressful way for most pups is by getting in the tub with the puppy!

Simply throw on a bathing suit, run a small bath and set aside a jug with some diluted puppy shampoo and conditioner to begin introductions. Carefully bring the puppy into the bath (ensuring that the temperature is suitable for a puppy), and using a shower-purpose LickiMat® to help keep him relaxed is worthwhile. While you very gently massage the shampoo into his coat and exfoliate his skin, you can praise him throughout helping to show him there is nothing to fear.

To rinse you can either set aside the shower hose making sure it’s low-pressure and that the temperature is set to cool or you can have an additional jug with fresh water to rinse off residue carefully that way.

Remember – keep shampoo and free-flowing water away from the ear canals, nose, eyes and mouth. Instead opt for a shower mitt to manually wash and rinse the face in a low-stress way.

The next step is to drain the bath while gently squeeze drying his hair only with a towel before allowing him to blow-off steam on the floor while you prepare yourself.

This entire process shouldn’t take any longer than 5-8 minutes and it’s important you have everything readily available for a swift and positive experience, including ensuring there are ample bath mats placed on the floor to prevent slipping.

If you feel your puppy stresses quickly, you can choose to keep him warm in a snug room to air dry until you work at desensitising him to the drying process. If so, it’s important to brush the coat and ensure there are no tangles – brushing a coat while the skin is still damp creates less friction and is far kinder on the puppy because the skin is more elastic when wet.


Basic introductions to drying should simply involve allowing your puppy to free roam the area when any drying takes place whether with your own hair or other members of the family.

This is then advanced using high-value rewards as mentioned prior to help engage and distract the puppy while he is introduced to short bursts of air away from the face. It’s better to start at the chest or back legs to gauge tolerance, before attempting anything else.

The dryer should be set on a cool and low velocity setting initially to help gradually desensitise him to the sensation and noise of the process.

I’ve found that getting into the habit of drying for a couple of minutes each day, after a walk for example, helps to build resilience and confidence quicker. Always ensuring to end these shorter sessions positively with lots of praise and even a nice treat.

To summarise, the information provided in this educational piece scratches the surface of what conventional grooming entails. Professional groomers rely on dog carers investing time in helping to raise confident and resilient dogs, by working on these simple but significant tasks.

When both pet professional and carer can learn to successfully work together as a team, we see much greater progress over a shorter period of time.

Scroll to Top