Grooming A Puppy: His First Time

I'm often asked, "When's the best time to begin grooming a puppy?" and my answer is always the same, "The sooner the better!"

Grooming is not only relaxing, it will help you to bond with your new puppy, and more importantly, it will help get him used to being handled too!

Why Should I Groom My Puppy?

Now, you're probably wondering what it is you're supposed to 'groom' because your puppy won't begin to develop feathering until he's about 6 months old.

Cocker spaniel puppy, blue roan with tan markings, freshly groomed and resting.Cocker spaniel puppy, relaxed and freshly groomed!

The whole point of these grooming sessions is simply to 'go through the motions' of grooming to help him get used to being handled, brushed, combed and examined.

It shouldn't take too long, just a few minutes each day is all you'll need for now and I promise you, it will pay dividends in the long run!

Let's take a quick look at reasons why it's important to begin early.

  • Grooming a puppy will help the pup to get used to being handled by humans.
  • Early grooming can help you to form a strong bond with your puppy.

  • Grooming a puppy can help you to spot early signs of health problems, for example, skin eczema, infection, skin damage and parasites.

  • Pet grooming is so relaxing for both owner and pup, (or it should be!).

  • It will pay dividends when it's time to take him to the groomers.

    Your puppy will be used to having his paws and ears handled (as well as all his 'important little bits') and he'll be familiar with grooming tools, making it highly likely that he'll sit quietly on the grooming table.

    No tears or tantrums, that's what I call a result!

Grooming A Puppy

Okay, we've established that it's best to begin grooming your puppy right from day one. Now we need to take a look at how it's done, with a few grooming tips thrown in.

Do You Have Everything You Need?

Make sure you have all the puppy grooming tools you're going to need for your grooming session before you begin. 

The very basics you'll need are a bath mat or access to a table, cotton wool or buds, a soft puppy brush, a metal comb, and a pair of scissors.

A bowl of water, tweezers and a towel may come in handy too.

If you're planning on trimming your Cocker yourself, have the electric trimmer to hand too.

Grooming a puppy on a table is best, (it will also be easier on your back) but be careful not to leave him alone otherwise he may fall and injure himself. 

Brush Your Cocker Spaniel Puppy

  • Brush your puppy gently, from head to tail with a soft bristle brush.

  • Then use a metal comb or a metal pin brush (also called a slicker brush), gently comb his ears and his legs. Be very gentle with these as they can scratch delicate puppy skin if you exert too much pressure.

  • If there are any knots or tangles, try to tease them out with your fingers, or with the end of the metal comb.

'Trimming' Your Cocker Spaniel Puppy

  • The sound of snipping scissors can often 'spook' a dog. You can help your puppy get used to this sound by pretending to cut your puppy's fur around his paws and ears with a pair of blunt round-ended scissors.

  • If he gets used to this sound while he's very young, you should have no trouble when he's older; he'll sit quietly and will allow you to trim him (well, that's the theory!).

  • If you have an electric trimmer or razor, place it on the table (unplugged) and let him sniff it. Leave it lying on the table while you work your way through the grooming process.

    When he's used to seeing it lying around, you could switch it on from time to time to help him get used to the sound so that when (and if) you take him to the groomers, he won't be afraid of the noise the trimmers make.

    Just don't switch them on right in front of his face otherwise you'll probably startle him.

Your Cocker Spaniel Puppy's Paws and Claws

Dogs can be very sensitive about having their paws handled, so it's best to get your Cocker Spaniel puppy used to this at a very early age.

  • Begin by picking up each paw and stroking them gently.  
Getting puppy paws used to being handled is an important part of puppy groomingGrooming A Puppy: Don't forget his paws!
  • Examine his paws. Seeds, sharp grasses, twigs etc., often get caught in between the toes or pads of their feet and if these aren't found and removed the sharp seeds may work their way into your dog's skin which will be painful for him and could lead to infection.
  • When grooming a puppy, you must check the fur between his paws regularly to make sure nothing's trapped in there that could cause pain for your puppy.

    Even matted fur between the pads can cause pain so keep the fur growing on the underside of the paws trimmed level with the pads.

    Never remove the fur from between the pads as your puppy needs this to protect his paws.

    This process will get your puppy used to having his paws handled, which is very important.

  • Gently comb your Cocker Spaniel's paws. He needs to get used to the feel of a steel comb between his toes, but be very gentle as this can be an extremely sensitive area.

  • When you think your Cocker Spaniel puppy is becoming used to having his paws handled, hold his paw in both hands and squeeze very gently.

  • Next, carefully lift each nail, in turn, between your finger and thumb, praise your puppy if he doesn't pull his paw away.

  • Repeat the above two exercises each day until he's happy to let you examine his paws without objecting.

Grooming A Puppy: Trimming His Puppy Nails

Your new baby won't need his nails trimming just yet, but now is the time to acclimatize him to the sight, feel and sound of nail clippers, scissors, and nail file. 

Chocolate cocker spaniel puppy, held in his owner's hands - he's so cute!How cute is this cocker spaniel puppy?

By the time your Cocker Spaniel puppy is ready to have his nails clipped, he'll be used to having his paws handled, and it will easily become part of his grooming routine.

Without these preparatory exercises, you don't even want to think about his behaviour when it's time to clip his nails! The words 'Tasmanian devil' spring to mind!

Follow this link, which explains all about cutting your dog's nails. When you've read the article, and you feel confident enough, you could begin by snipping a tiny amount from only one nail each day before gradually working up to all four paws.

If your puppy stays still, praise him and give him the occasional treat.

If you're not too confident about the procedure, why not ask your vet or groomer to show you how before you try yourself?

Grooming A Puppy: Cocker Spaniel Eyes

Gently clear away any sleep from your puppy's eyes with damp cotton wool.

Do this daily if necessary and use a separate piece of cotton wool for each eye to avoid the possibility of transferring infection from one eye to the other.

If you'd like to brush up on health problems that could affect your dog's eyes during his lifetime, simply follow the link.

Grooming A Puppy: Cocker Spaniel Ears

Handle your puppy's ears as often as you can. I'm sure that won't be too difficult to do, will it? Cocker Spaniel ears are adorable!

Examine them, smell them (they should just smell of puppy and nothing else) and above all, keep them clean.

You can do this by using a lightly moistened cotton bud, but do not push the bud into the ear canal as this could seriously damage your puppy's ear. Use a separate cotton bud for each ear to avoid cross infection.

You can learn how to clean your Cocker's ears and spot the signs of infections in your puppy's ears here.

Grooming A Puppy: Dental Care

Gum disease can be very painful and can lead to teeth loss and other health problems so it's important to check your puppy's teeth regularly for signs of gum disease or other health problems.

The main point here is to get your Cocker Spaniel puppy used to his mouth and teeth being inspected. It will be much easier for you both when he's older.

Here's what you can do:

  • Check his gums once each week. They should be a healthy pink colour. If your pup has bad breath, or his gums appear pale, or red and swollen, I recommend you take him to see his vet.

Grooming A Puppy: Brushing Puppy Teeth

Help keep your puppy's teeth clean by brushing them every day (or at least two or three times a week if you really don't have the time).

  • Begin by gently rubbing your finger over your puppy's teeth and gums. There's a good chance he'll not be too happy with this, but I recommend you persevere.

  • If he refuses to open his mouth, you could try dipping your finger into a little beef or chicken stock - that might just do the trick!

  • Dental sticks can help to keep your puppy's teeth clean and tartar free and you can pick these up pretty much anywhere, even your local supermarket.

  • Feeding your dog dry food (kibble) will also help to keep his teeth clean.

When your pup is used to his teeth and gums being rubbed, you can try to introduce the toothbrush and a little toothpaste. 

You can buy puppy toothbrushes and toothpaste from most good pet stores or from your vet. Don't be tempted to use toothpaste meant for humans as it froth's too much and can upset his delicate stomach if swallowed.

You can learn more about brushing puppy teeth and how to brush adult dog teeth here.

Examine Your Puppy's Bottom

Check your puppy's bottom area to make sure he's clean and that his bottom looks healthy. If necessary, use a cotton wool ball moistened with warm water to clean  him.

All dogs can suffer from impacted anal glands at some point which can be especially painful if infection occurs, however, a good healthy diet which produces firm stools will go a long way to keeping your dog's anal glands healthy.

Grooming A Puppy: Tactics!

  • Be gentle with your puppy at all times and talk quietly to him.

  • If he's good, praise him. Try not to reprimand him too much if he wriggles, just carry on regardless, otherwise he may come to resent being groomed.

  • If he becomes really stressed, try to lighten up a little and make it fun. If that doesn't work, stop for a little while and try again later.

  • If your puppy objects to being man-handled, be firm (but not rough) and continue grooming him. Don't stop, otherwise he'll learn that if he squirms, yelps, misbehaves (delete as necessary), you'll stop.

  • If he tries to bite your fingers, correct him with a firm "No" in a disapproving tone and carry on regardless. Although it's better to praise your dog (when he's good or quiet) than to 'punish' him, he needs to learn that biting is not acceptable.

Grooming A Puppy: Summary

Thankfully, at this young age we don't actually have to accomplish the full grooming routine because he still has his puppy coat and his feathers probably haven't grown in yet.

All we need to do is get him used to the handling process and the grooming tools we'll be using when he's older.

However, it's important to establish and maintain control right from the beginning. Show your puppy that you won't stand any 'nonsense'.

Take things slowly and gently, and praise him if he behaves, but give him 'time out' if he gets too anxious. Grooming is supposed to be a relaxing and happy time for you both.

And for future reference, this is how to groom an adult Cocker Spaniel.

Have fun!

Photo Credits: Grooming A Puppy:
1. Liliya Kulianionak at
2. Benedeki at
3. Rob W at