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New Puppy Smell is Real. Here’s How to Make it Last

Celebrity dog groomer Jess Rona’s puppy grooming pro tips.

by Madeleine Aggeler | expert review by Jess Rona
January 31, 2022
Iurii Sokolov / Adobe Stock

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So, you have a new puppy. A small, soft bundle of joy and delight and sweetness and frustration, with tiny needle teeth sharper than any object known to man. No matter what breed or mix your puppy is, grooming is (hopefully) about to become a big part of their life. So how do you set this little one up for success? How do you teach them that grooming is a regular, pleasant part of life, and not a terrifying ordeal to which they must periodically be subjected?

“There are times when dogs freak out if they have never been to a groomer,” says Jess Rona of Jess Rona Grooming in Los Angeles. “They pee on the table, they panic, they scream. It’s so stressful for them, and it could have been prevented by an owner taking them to get groomed sooner.” The celebrity dog groomer laid out some crucial tips to help familiarize your puppy with the grooming process.

1. Start As Soon As Possible

Rona recommends booking the first grooming appointment for your puppy before the final set of vaccinations are complete, usually around 16 weeks of age. This way you can make sure your puppy is at the groomers as soon as their shots are done. 

However, the choice of groomer is key. As Rona puts it, “If you want to set your dog up to love grooming, go to a place where you know the person will be kind and gentle.” You can figure this out through referrals, or by going to a groomer that has windows through which you can watch your pup being groomed — though the latter option isn’t guaranteed. Some groomers don’t encourage owners to watch through windows, as their dogs might see them and get agitated. 

Rona also suggests making sure you’re the very first appointment of the day. Later in the day, “you’ve got all your dogs in there, and there’s bathing and drying happening, it’s loud, there are dogs running around… It’s the hustle and bustle and chaos.” Mornings, she says, are usually much quieter, which will make for a calmer and more pleasurable experience for your puppy. It’s also okay to ask the groomer to go slow and gentle. This will help your dog get used to grooming and not fear it. 

2. Go Frequently, If Possible

In order to ensure your puppy starts to feel comfortable with the grooming process, Rona recommends bringing them in frequently. Roughly twice a month for the first six months, ideally. “And then, maybe a month after your first appointment, that’s when I would do the first haircut. Just so they can really get used to the blow dryer, get used to a new stranger, and just get used to the process,” she suggests. 

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3. Show Them It’s No Big Deal

A key part of normalizing the grooming experience for puppies comes at the end, when you go to pick them up. In all likelihood, they’ll be super excited to see you. They might bark, run around, or try to jump up on you. The best thing you can do in this case, Rona says, is to ignore them until they calm down.

“I had to learn that the hard way with my dog, because she would pee when she got excited. Dogs get overwhelmed, and the excitement can turn into anxiety, and it can sometimes turn into aggression. So I would say to keep a ‘no big deal’ attitude about the groomer. That’s the best thing you can do for your dog whenever there’s a stressful moment, whether it’s at the vet or the groomer. ‘No big deal’ energy is the best for your dog.”

4. Make It Work At Home

If you have a small, short-haired dog like a Chihuahua, or if bimonthly groomings are out of your budget, you can always familiarize your puppy with the grooming process at home.  Rona recommends that, before anything else, you ready all the materials you’ll need, like a warm towel, squeeze bottles for water and for diluted shampoo, and a sponge. This way, everything is within reach “so you aren’t juggling too much when your dog is all wet and acting like a loon.”

When everything’s ready, wash your puppy in water that is warm, but not too hot. If they’re afraid of water around their face, Rona recommends using a squeeze bottle which is more gentle. Additionally, using a sponge soaked in water that you can softly squeeze over the dog’s body and face would also do the trick. If your puppy has a long coat, brush them out before the bath, and then after, once they are 100% dry. “If your dog is matted, and you bathe them and don’t work out the mats, the water will tighten them and make them worse,” Rona explains.

Puppies thrive on routine, so by doing this on a regular basis — and making sure the process is always pleasant and positive — you can help set your puppy up for a life of calm and enjoyable grooming experiences. 

madeleine aggeler

Madeleine Aggeler

Madeleine Aggeler is a freelance journalist and copywriter in Washington, D.C. Previously, she was a writer at New York magazine’s The Cut. She lives with her dog, Cleo, who works primarily as a foot warmer.