Todays ask the coach question comes from Kathy and she asks,
“At what age should I have my new Shih-tzu puppy groomed? We just adopted an 8 week old male shih-Tzu and have been told he will need grooming. His fur is currently short and doesn’t seem to need grooming yet. Someone also said we should wait until he has had all of his vaccinations before we have him groomed by a professional. What is the best age to start grooming our puppy?”
This is a great question and one that we not only get asked frequently but also one that creates confusion for new puppy parents. The short answer , and this is critical – “AS SOON AS POSSIBLE!” The key is to find a groomer that is experienced in how to socialize the puppy to the grooming process in a positive, low stress way.
Regardless of the breed, all dogs need some form of grooming. To maintain good health and coat, all dogs need at least to be brushed, bathed, and have their ears cleaned and toe nails trimmed. Ear infections are common in dogs and are very painful, keeping your pets ears cleaned will help prevent this. Nails that become too long may deform the feet, make it hard for the dog to walk, and will curl around and embed in the skin, causing pain and infection.
That being said, some breeds need more grooming than others and need to see a professional groomer every four to six weeks. It is also a good idea to send short coated breeds to the groomer regularly as well, even though they do not need their fur trimmed, having a professional groomer clip the toenails, clean the ears, and bathe your dog is beneficial. Professional groomers have professional products and equipment that will help with your pets skin and coat and even help with shedding. Many times a groomer will identify problems that you could be unaware of, such as ear infections, fleas or ticks, lumps and skin problems.
It is a common misconception that you should wait to have your puppy professionally groomed until it is around 6 months old. Reasons cited are that the puppy’s fur is not that long and they want to have all vaccinations before sending their dog to the grooming salon. I can attest, groomers everywhere cringe when they look at their schedule and see a 6 month old puppy coming in for the first grooming.
Years ago, the advise to new puppy parents was to keep their puppy at home until it had its final set of vaccinations which is around 12 – 16 weeks old. Most veterinarians, dog trainers and pet professionals have changed their view of this in the recent years. The evidence is that the risk of your puppy developing a behavioral problem from lack of proper early socialization far out ways the risk of them contracting a fatal disease if you socialize them before the full set of vaccinations. The key here is “proper early socialization”. You do not want to take your new puppy to places where the health and vaccination status of other animals is questionable, like a dog park or a pet store, or where there are known sick animals, however puppies need proper socialization to become stable adults. Lets take a look as to why this is so….
From seven to sixteen weeks of age your puppy enters the socialization stage which is a critical stage and the most important stage in his development. This critical stage, and what happens to your puppy during it, will determine how behaviorally sound he will be when he becomes an adult. Puppies that are socialized properly during this stage become stable adult dogs with minimal issues of fear or aggression. Puppies that are not socialized properly at this stage, can develop fear, anxiety, aggression and behavioral issues. Many behavioral problems in dogs are due to the lack of proper socialization during this imprinting stage of development. During this stage of development, puppies also go through a fear imprinting phase or “fear period” which means whatever the puppy comes into contact with that causes fear or pain, can stay with him for life. This is why it is important that everything you expose your puppy to be kept positive.
If you wait to expose your puppy to the grooming process until he is older, he will not have been exposed to all the sights, sounds, smells, and required handling during this critical phase, therefore will become fearful and anxious of the new experience, which often times will lead to aggression on the grooming table. Many dogs go through a second fear period during adolescence (six to eight months) and if taken to the grooming shop for the first time during this period, may become so frightened that it will be hard to desensitize them to the grooming process later.
Sooner is better than later when it comes to exposing your puppy to the grooming process. Many show- dog breeders start grooming their puppies at 3 weeks of age, before they are even weaned. This early exposure leads to a dog that is extremely comfortable on the grooming table as he has done it his entire life.
Another reason waiting to groom your dog is so detrimental is because, unless you are very good at thoroughly brushing your dog, he more than likely will develop matted fur. Matted fur is painful to remove, which in turn will cause negative associations to the grooming process, which in turn will contribute to problems on the grooming table.
When it comes to grooming your dog, the key is to find a groomer that understands and is familiar with puppy development and how to create a positive experience for your puppy. Make sure the salon requires all adult dogs be fully vaccinated, and the puppies at least have one set of puppy vaccinations. The first grooming, most likely, will not be to remove much fur from your puppy. Generally, the first grooming consists of a bath, nail trim, ear cleaning, blow dry and trimming around the eyes, feet and sanitary area. The key is to keep the interactions as short and as positive as possible. If the salon requires your puppy be there for the day or if your puppy will be put in a kennel during the process, it is a good idea to take a toy or chew for your puppy to play with while he waits. You may also request that they take the puppy outside for a bathroom break or two while he is in their care. At Super Mutts, since we are also dog trainers, we always provided these things for the puppies in our care because it is the right thing for the puppy, but many salons do not. Always ask if the salon has a protocol for puppies, if you are not comfortable, don’t hesitate to find another salon that does.
There are a number of things you can do at home that will help your puppy before he goes to the salon. Many salons have pamphlets on things you can do to help socialize your puppy to the grooming experience. Take your puppy to the salon ahead of time just for a meet, greet and treat! Ask if they have any handouts for you to get started at home. A good salon will appreciate you taking initiative in your puppies grooming needs. They can also show you how to properly brush your dog at home and may have handouts on specific breeds and grooming requirements.
Our book Puppy Montessori is available on Amazon.com and is a great resource for new puppy parents. The book goes into further detail about developmental levels, socialization, and things you should do before your puppy goes to the salon.
Cindy Quigley is a Canine life cycle coach, and pet stylist. She is the owner of Supermutts.com and author of Puppy Montessori. She has 23 years’ experience professionally working with dogs. She has worked in grooming shops, boarding facilities and veterinary hospitals, all of which taught her how to read canine body language and understand dog handling. As boarding and daycare facility owners together with her husband Kenneth she has cared for thousands of dogs and has thousands of hours observing, studying and modifying canine behavior.
You can read more or purchase her book at www.supermutts.com