Puppy Handling and Grooming

Our guide to introducing your puppy to being handled and grooming

Many adult dogs will not tolerate being groomed or handled by their owners. If your puppy grows up to be a dog like this, think what it will mean. You may not be able to remove anything from his mouth, get a thorn out of his foot or give him medication if he is ill. You may not even be able to dry him or wipe his feet after a walk in the rain. The problem can affect ordinary, everyday tasks and even mean your dog could be placed in a life threatening situation e.g. if he has something stuck in his throat.

You can help prevent this problem by habituating your puppy to being handled and groomed regularly and even making it fun!

Daily routine

An example of a daily handling routine is described below. When handling and checking your puppy each day, make a mental note of the normal appearance of his eyes, ears, skin etc. You will then notice straightaway if anything is out of the ordinary. After each step of the programme, reward your puppy with a super-nice treat, a toy or a game he likes.

Each handling session should be SHORT and followed by praise and a REWARD. Do not spend long periods examining him closely as this will make him nervous. The idea is to build up gradually from gentle, short sessions. Make sure you do not reward your puppy for wriggling or mouthing you while you are handling him. Wait until he is relaxed before you start and if he seems worried then make the handling sessions even shorter to begin with.

  1. Start by stroking your puppy all over, first gently and then increasing the pressure. Stroke his head, his body then, when he rolls over, rub his tummy. Look at his skin and check for any sore patches. Once a week check for parasites like fleas and ticks especially in the summer.
  2. Handle his feet gently progressing to looking between his toes and at his pads. Look at his nails and put gentle pressure on them. This introduces him gradually to pressure from nail clipping if he ever needs it.
  3. Lift his ear flaps and look in his ears. A quick glance is all that’s needed to start; you are just  getting him to like it!
  4. Gently pull the lower eyelid down on each eye and look at his eyes. Do  this quickly, don’t stare into his eyes.
  5. Wipe his face with some cotton wool.
  6. Look under his tail. A very sensitive area!
  7. Handle his muzzle, open his mouth and gently wipe over his teeth with a soft finger brush. There is no need to use toothpaste. He’ll lose his baby teeth anyway and you are simply getting him used to the idea of someone poking around in his mouth.
  8. Groom your puppy even if he is a short-haired breed. It gets him used to you doing things to him. Use a VERY SOFT brush preferably a Zoom Groom made by “The Company of Animals”. These are available from the surgery. This type of brush is designed to feel like a pleasant massage. DO NOT use a wire brush or comb. These are too harsh for puppies and you want him to enjoy being groomed.

Everyone in the family should be able to handle and groom the puppy.

Picking your puppy up

Everyone loves puppies and can’t help picking them up. Imagine someone coming up, grasping you round the middle and suddenly you’re flying through the air! This happens to puppies all the time and to small breed puppies even when they are grown. Some animals are very anxious about being picked up. They can be helped by preparing them for it first.

  • Decide on a word that tells your puppy he is about to leave the ground e.g. ‘lift’.
  • Each time you pick your puppy up, say ‘lift’, then slowly pick him up and give him a treat.
  • The word prepares your puppy and the treat makes being picked up enjoyable.

Wiping your puppy’s feet

You can also have a word that tells your puppy you are about to pick his foot up to dry it. Say the word before picking up each foot. The word will tell your puppy what is about to happen and eventually, if you wait a few seconds, he may lift his paw in anticipation of it being touched.

Introducing a collar and lead

A collar and lead should be introduced to your puppy in the house, well BEFORE he starts going outside for walks. Puppies often never have a collar and lead on until the day they are ready to go for their first walk. Imagine suddenly having a piece of cloth tied round your neck, a length of rope attached to it and then being pulled towards a place you’ve never been before.

Would you want to go? I imagine your first response would be to try and get the cloth off your neck and get away. Your puppy will end up being afraid of the lead and consequently will associate going outside with a very unpleasant experience. Try introducing a collar and lead this way:

  1. The collar should be introduced first. It should be made of a soft, flexible material.  Choke chains are outdated, unnecessary and certainly not suitable for puppies.
  2. The collar should be placed on the floor when you feed your puppy. At each meal, place his food bowl next to the collar. When he has finished eating, pick the collar up. Repeat at the next meal. Do this for a couple of days.
  3. The next step is to put the collar on the puppy, then put his food bowl down. When he has finished eating, take the collar off. Do this at each meal for a couple of days.
  4. Gradually leave the collar on for longer periods after he has finished eating.
  5. Once he tolerates the collar, introduce the lead. This should be made of webbing or leather and not have any chain links.
  6. Clip the lead on the collar, then put his food bowl down. When he has finished eating, unclip the lead. Do this at each meal for a couple of days. Supervise the puppy when he has the lead on in case he gets caught up.
  7. Start picking up the other end of the lead while he is eating so that he gets used to the change in pressure on his neck.
  8. Once he is happy about all this, take him for short walks round the house on the lead. Always encourage him when he walks forward and reward him intermittently with a treat.
  9. By the time he is ready to go outside, he will be quite comfortable about the lead and collar and you will only have to concentrate on introducing him gradually to the big wide world!
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