• American Kennel Club

Setting Puppies up for Success: Handling and Grooming

We know that puppies should be handled often to get them comfortable with human touch. Going further by teaching them to enjoy grooming can make it much easier and more fun for new owners to keep their pups looking their best throughout their lives.


This is important for all breeds, not just coated ones. Puppies that are relaxed for husbandry procedures like nail trims, teeth brushing, ear cleaning, and brushing will make it easier for owners to care for them at home.

  • Nail care is a big challenge for many owners. Most puppies need a nail trim at just a few days old to prevent their sharp nails from scratching their dam’s belly and getting caught on fabric bedding. Depending on the breed, you can use nail clippers for small dogs or cats or even human nail clippers for very small breeds. As the puppies get older, do this weekly, with treats. Be very careful not to cut nails too short so that it’s always a positive experience.

  • Groom in short sessions so as not to not overwhelm or flood a young puppy. Rather than expecting puppies to “get used to it,” teach them to look forward to grooming with high value treats. A few brush strokes are enough. Stop on a high note and provide special treats during the grooming session. A little plain yogurt, goats’ milk, or canned puppy food on a spoon to lick while you groom will make it something a puppy enjoys.

  • If your breed is one that will need hand-plucking, start pulling a few hairs when they are several weeks old, and even pretend to gently pull a little on some hair before that.

  • Have puppy playtimes in the bathtub, grooming tubs, and on grooming tables, being sure to include favorite treats and toys.

  • Introduce puppies to wearing collars and leashes. Let them drag a leash around, under supervision, of course. Once they are used to that, pick up the leash and encourage them to follow you, using treats and toys.

Be sure to tell your puppy buyers how to do these things and to keep lessons short, sweet and fun. Always end on a success, and don’t be tempted to push a puppy farther than she is ready to go. The pups are very young when they go to their new homes, but a few introductions to things like grooming and basic training will help them get off to a good start with their new owners.

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