Bringing home a new pet over a holiday has its pros and cons, but supposing you are waking up to a puppy tomorrow, one of the first things you may have to tackle is keeping your little pet clean.

Dogs aren’t capable of keeping themselves pristine the way cats do, so usually their human family gives a hand with grooming. However, if you’re the type of person who thinks that a bath is a good start, be warned: this may not be a great idea.

Yin Tan, owner of Yin Mobile Pets Grooming Service in the Klang Valley, has been a pet groomer since 2014, and is certified by the Malaysian Kennel Association, Malaysian Groomers Association, and International Society of Canine Cosmetologists, USA.

“Having a bath can be frightening, and as pets will be nervous about being in a new environment with new people, you need to wait until they’ve settled down,” Tan advises. “How long that takes, depends on the dog. A sign they trust you is when they come when you call, and let you hug them and pick them up without crying or barking.

“Also, talk to your vet. If your pet has just had a vaccination or flea treatment, you may need to wait. So get good advice.”

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While suds are out, a brushing session is a great idea, according to Max Kek, a groomer since 2003 and now owner of Do Do Pet, an ethical pet supply shop and groomer in Subang Jaya, Selangor.

“When you first brush your pet, he will wriggle and you may still be learning, so it won’t be easy,” he smiles. “You should try, though, because this is where you are building a relationship.”

A short-haired dog is simple to maintain. Buy a soft bristle brush, and lean it gently against your pet’s flank. Then brush, following the coat. Brush the lower back and flank, the move forward, do the chest, and finish with the tummy.

It’s like being petted, so your dog should love it. However, pawpits and tummies are often ticklish.

Also, if your dog is shy, he may be afraid of lying on his back. This is because dogs feel very vulnerable when in that position. So take it slow and if your dog is nervous, stop, praise and leave it till next time. When every experience is positive, your pet will learn to relax and trust you.

For playful pups, expect to have the brush bitten and the session turn into a wrestling match. Be gentle!

Long-haired dogs are more complicated because feathery coats can be thick, layered and need special care.

“You can’t use a human comb as they’re not tough enough,” Kek points out. “You need a doggy comb. Prices start around RM20.”

Remember when you were a kid and you squealed when your mum combed the knots out of your hair? Long-haired dogs are prone to tangles and it hurts to have them combed out, too.

Groom your pet gently, starting at the flank, just like brushing a short-haired pet. If there are small tangles, hold the fur above the tangle with your fingers, to minimise tugging.

While you groom, talk nicely to your dog. Make it a loving session aimed at bonding, not a chore.

You should be combing a long-haired dog every day, but even then, the occasional knot is inevitable.

“You can’t ignore knots because they pull on the skin, leaving it red and painful,” Kek warns. “They have to be dealt with. Comb it out if you can. But if it’s a bad tangle, you may need to cut it out. If you’ve never seen it being done, then go to the groomer and get a lesson.”

After a week or two, when you and your dog have bonded and there’s trust between you, you can start to think about bathing your pet. Short-haired dogs are easy as they dry fast. Just be certain to use a very mild shampoo that preserves the skin and natural oils.

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As long-haired pets may have difficult coats, do consult a groomer first to see if you need special gear. You don’t actually need to sign up for a bath; you can book a consultation where you get a lesson in what needs to be done.

“I’m always happy to teach,” Tan says. “We all are, I think.” And Kek agrees.

For that first bath, make sure you are working at a height you’re comfortable with and have all your gear ready. You don’t want to be searching for a towel with soaked pup in your arms!

“When you wash your pet, always start with the back of the body, and go slowly,” Tan cautions. “Your furbaby may be frightened. Soap gently, and rinse carefully.

“The head is the most sensitive part of the dog, so whatever you do, don’t start there. You don’t want to get soap in their eyes or nose. In fact, if you want, leave the face, and just wipe afterwards with a damp cloth.”

When you’re done, stand back. Dogs with a fresh, clean coat tend to be frisky and ready for a game. So be prepared for zoomies, lots of barking and a happy face. If they’ve had your vaccinations, go to the park and play a bit of fetch.

Merry Christmas!