Preparing Your Puppy for Grooming and Veterinary Visits

August 17, 2022

Preparing your Puppy for Grooming and Veterinary Visits

Do you get excited to go to the doctor? We didn’t think so. Going to the doctor can be uncomfortable and sometimes scary, even for adults. Now imagine a doctor’s visit from your puppy’s point of view. You’d have no idea where you are, or why you’re being poked and prodded by total strangers! For your puppy, the experience of going to the vet or groomer can be overwhelming. And of course, we can’t exactly explain to our dogs how important these visits are. So what can we do? Fortunately, there are plenty of preventative measures and exercises that can make the experience comfortable and stress-free for the both of you!

Why preventative exercises are so important

Veterinarians and groomers have quite the job to do – even when it comes to working with calm, relaxed dogs. Add in fearful or avoidant behaviors, squirming puppies, or worse – aggression – during visits and their jobs just got a whole lot harder, if not impossible. These problem behaviors could lead to injury or improper care of your pet. Staff may have difficulty trimming your dog’s hair and nails, diagnosing medical issues, or administering medications, and they also put themselves at risk by working with a dog who isn’t calm during examinations. To ensure their own safety, professionals may resort to using muzzles, tranquilizers, or full anesthesia, even for the simplest, routine visits. Not only are these restraint methods costly, some may carry negative implications for your dog’s long-term health, and most owners are determined to find a better solution for their beloved pet. 

So what can we do about it? Cue: preventative exercises

The goal of preventative exercises is to pair activities such as nail trimming, ear and eye examination, light pressure, physical restraint and even going to new places and meeting new people and dogs with something positive. Done properly, pairing will create positive associations with these potentially uncomfortable or scary things. With a combination of both body handling exercises and socialization, you can help your puppy develop into a well-adjusted and calm patient throughout their life! 

Body Handling

In body handling exercises, we associate being touched and handled with something super positive – a delicious treat! 

  • Place your puppy on their back between your legs. Say a marker word (e.g. “good”) and give them a delicious treat, holding them in place even if they are squirming. If you can’t flip them over, you can practice this with them sitting or standing in front of you.
  • Choose a part of their body to start with. In particular, make sure you work on handling their paws, nose, mouth, eyes, ears, belly, and hindquarters.
  • Reach for the spot, applying light pressure, while saying “good.” Then feed your puppy a tasty treat!
  • Start with a minimum of 3 trials on the same body part. Once your puppy is relaxed and remaining still during that touch, you can move on to another part of their body.

Important Tips:

  • You will feed your puppy a treat regardless if they pull away or not. Feed every time you touch them! These exercises are all about helping your puppy feel comfortable, after all.
  • If your puppy isn’t taking the treats you offer, try using something even more tasty like chicken, cheese, or deli meat.
  • If your puppy “fails” – i.e. shows signs they are uncomfortable – you will need to decrease the intensity of the touch by touching for less time or using less pressure.
  • Practice for 5 minutes every day, slowly building up how invasive your touches are. Always end on a successful trial!

Socialization – not JUST about playing with other dogs! 

One common misconception for new puppy owners is that socializing simply means allowing a dog opportunities to play with others. While appropriate play is one aspect of socialization, it is not even close to the whole picture! In fact, socialization is crucial to getting your puppy accustomed to all types of stimuli and experiences – new environments, people, sights, sounds, wild animals, and vehicles such as bikes and cars! Through proper socialization, puppies begin to associate new things with something positive, and ultimately learn they do not need to be afraid or resort to unwanted behaviors in an attempt to stay safe. Thus, socialization is one of the most important things you can do to ensure your puppy has an all-around happy, fulfilling life, and is critical to helping them feel safe at the vet or groomer! 

Like we did with body handling, socialization exercises pair new people, dogs, places, and experiences with food or treats! It’s important to start these exercises early. The critical window for socializing your puppy is between 3-12 weeks, and may extend up to 16 weeks. However, it is always better done late than never! We recommend bringing your puppy to 3-5 new places a week, and encounter 30-50 new people and dogs per week! When your puppy sees or interacts with a new person or dog, say “good!” and feed them. Likewise, if your puppy encounters something new to them, say “good!” and feed them. Examples include when a car, bike, or scooter passes by, and anytime a sudden sound or movement startles them. Even everyday things around your home such as a dish falling to the ground, or the blow dryer starting up are great things to pair with a treat! 

If you’d like to learn more details on socialization in puppies, check out our YouTube vlog on Socialization, led by our CFO, Sean Savage, CDBC, CPDT-KA. If you’d prefer to read, we’ve also linked our “How to Socialize your puppy” blog for you. 

Ready for your first trip to the vet or groomer?!

We hope you are feeling more equipped to set your puppy up for success! Remember to implement these practices early, but don’t expect immediate results. Take things slow, be consistent and practice regularly to make steady progress! If you ever see your puppy getting uncomfortable, take a step back and make things easier for them. And if fearful or aggressive behaviors arise, please reach out to a professional. We have a team ready to help.