When Do Puppies Learn to Clean Themselves? (Surprisingly Quickly!)

Puppies are born with limited skills, and self-cleaning isn’t one of them.

So if you’ve recently acquired yourself a new bunch, you may be wondering, “When do puppies learn to clean themselves?”

For the first couple of weeks, the mother dog should take care of any necessary cleaning.

As the puppies’ diet becomes more solid, the need for regular cleaning becomes minimal. Most puppies will then begin learning hygiene habits between 2-4 weeks of age.

How Do Puppies Clean Themselves?

While some life skills are inherent, good hygiene is mostly learned from the litter and the mother.

When it comes to self-cleaning routines, dogs are not as diligent as their neat-freak feline counterparts. However, they do engage in some necessary cleaning habits.

Rolling and shaking are a common part of a dog’s grooming routine, and are easy and effective ways to remove dirt, debris, and loose hair from the coat.

Nipping or flea-biting is another method of cleaning, and is accomplished by combing through the fur with the incisor teeth to remove more stubborn bits and mats. Finally, like cats, the tongue can clean up around private parts.

How To Clean Young Puppies When Mom Isn’t Doing It

Yorkie holding onto brown towel

If you are the caretaker of a litter of puppies who have lost their mother, or if there is another reason where the mother needs your assistance, neonatal puppies have special bathing needs.

Keep in mind that most litters do not need your assistance with bathing, so this would only apply to special circumstances.

Use Spot Cleaning Methods

Beginning with a warm washcloth soaked and wrung out in plain water, gently wipe the dirty areas of the dog’s coat and body.

Do not use any soaps, detergents, or even dog shampoos as they may cause skin irritation on neonatal puppies. Also, try to avoid cleaning unnecessary areas. This spot cleaning should be limited to their butts and selective spots.

Thoroughly dry the puppy with a soft towel. Keep the puppy swaddled and warm until you can return the puppy to the mother.

Young puppies in the neonatal stage are at an elevated risk for hypothermia, so extra care should be taken when cleaning, drying, and warming these babies.

How Growing Puppies Learn To Clean Themselves

Ollie and his littermates sleeping together in a box

After the two-week mark, puppies experience a whirlwind of developmental changes that give them the beginning of independence.

While it will still be several weeks before they learn all of the necessary skills to go out independently, puppies begin learning how to do things on their own between 2-4 weeks of age.

This roughly coincides with when puppies open their eyes and their vision becomes clearer

Toilet Training And Hygiene Habits

Growing puppies begin to feel the urge to urinate and defecate independently without needing stimulation, but they are far from being ready for proper toilet training. Puppies at this age often eliminate wherever they are standing when the urge strikes.

With a whole litter of puppies that lack bladder and impulse control, the burden of hygienic kennel-keeping falls on the human caretakers.

By the time that puppies leave their littermates for independent homes, they likely have an inkling of an idea of where they should eliminate. Many breeders already have them using puppy pads.

At this stage, dietary changes may cause occasional messes with stools, but your dog should require minimal cleaning after toileting. If you find that you are wiping them after every potty, it is time to consult a vet about possible causes.

Basic Coat Grooming Habits

Some so-called grooming habits are instinctual, like the dreaded whole-body shake. If you have ever bathed a dog and witnessed the vigorous shake that sends water flying everywhere, you know what I’m talking about!

Dogs are born with the instinct to shake off excess water so that their coat will dry quickly and prevent hypothermia. You might be surprised to learn that dogs can effectively remove up to 70% of the water in their coat through a whole body shake!

Dogs learn most of their hygiene habits from their mother and littermates before eight weeks of age.

Flea-biting, a grooming habit, is a common social behavior shared with littermates. The puppies use their teeth on themselves and the other pups to comb fur, remove debris, and stimulate oil glands to condition the coat.

Encouraging Good Hygiene Behavior In Your Canine

Toy poodle puppy in bathtub

Dogs have a few tricks up their sleeve when it comes to self-grooming, but most breeds still need some support from their human owners.

Regular brushing and giving your dog a bath is necessary for any breed, and those with longer coats may need it more frequently. Grooming your dog regularly makes its condition easier to maintain, and keeps your pup in good health.

When Grooming Isn’t Grooming

Cats spend so much time compulsively licking themselves that we may not notice when these excessive grooming behaviors present themselves in our canine friends.

Dogs are not like cats in the grooming department. If your pup is spending significant amounts of time licking or repetitively licking the same area, this isn’t grooming at all- it might instead have developed a compulsive disorder!

Your dog could also be suffering from an allergy or medical condition. In addition to grooming, a dog’s saliva contains components that act as an anesthetic to reduce pain and stimulate healing. Dogs will lick wounds like scratches, as well as inflamed areas in the paws.

How Often To Groom Your Dog

Grooming requirements vary by breed, but most dog owners agree that bathing once per month and brushing once per week effectively maintains good hygiene. Be careful to avoid bathing your dog too frequently, as commercial shampoos can take their toll on their skin.

Frequent bathing should also be avoided if your dog has recently gone through any surgical procedures such as neutering until the wound has healed. Bathing too early could re-open the wound and cause excessive irritation at the surgical site.

Other Habits To Promote Good Canine Hygiene

Miniature Pinscher relaxing in her dog bed

Half of the battle in helping your dog stay clean is simple housekeeping that is sometimes overlooked.

Of course, we all diligently clean up messes when we see them and hopefully put some effort into routine house cleaning. But how often are you cleaning your dog’s bed or crate?

Stick with dog beds that have a removable cover. Vacuum the dog bed at least once per week and wash the cover in the laundry twice per month. Don’t forget to spot-clean or machine wash collars, leashes, or harnesses as appropriate- depending on the materials.

Paws are another area that may need additional grooming. Your dog probably cleans his or her pads with gentle licking.

However, long-haired dogs also need the hairs between the pads trimmed regularly. Finally, all dogs can benefit from a thorough paw soak or cleaning at least once per month.

In Summary

Though not the meticulous groomers that their feline friends may be, dogs and puppies do develop some basic cleaning habits relatively early on in their lives.

Most puppies will begin to adopt hygiene habits when they are as young as 2-4 weeks of age, usually from their mother, littermates, or out of pure instinct. These come in the form of rolling, nibbling, licking, and learning where to defecate.

As they grow older, these habits become more and more ingrained. However, that doesn’t mean that you can leave them to their own devices like you may be able to with cats!

Most dog breeds (especially those with long hair) require regular brushing to remove shedding fur, and a bath at least once a month is generally recommended for optimal coat health.

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