One of the most important but often overlooked skills to work on with any puppy or new dog is handling. Handling refers to your dog being comfortable being touched and manipulated by people – both their owners, and other people. This is an incredibly useful and important tool to have in your kit. You need to be able to touch your dog all over his or her body – for instance, to groom and brush your dog, trim their nails, or to check for signs of injury or illness. Strangers also need to be able to touch your dog without making them nervous or uncomfortable – anyone from a veterinarian or vet tech to a groomer or a handler at your day care facility. If you follow these simple steps, you can assure that your dog won’t become skittish to your touch, or the touch of another person.
1) Find out which areas your dog may be sensitive to.
- Have some treats in one hand, and try to pet your dog in various locations with your other hand. Go slowly and try not to make any sudden movements. We are trying to keep your dog calm and happy! If you notice your dog flinch, turn away, or show any other signs that they may be uncomfortable with your hand being in that place, you’ve got work to do!
2) Teach your dog that your touch is a good thing!
- Taking those treats that you have tucked into your hand, start to slowly feed and let your dog lick at the treats. Remember to use very tiny amounts of very yummy treats!
- Then, with your other hand, slowly pet and touch your dog, starting in area they’re not nervous about, and slowly moving towards the spot that they flinched at.
- Go slowly! We are working to teach your dog that when you let them touch you, that they’re rewarded with a good experience, like treats. This can take some time, so make sure to tune into how your dog is feeling. If you think they’re getting overwhelmed or stressed, take a break so they can relax.
- Eventually, your goal is that if your dog lets you touch them in an area that they were once unsure about, they’re rewarded for sitting or laying calmly and accepting your touch.
3) Let other people work with your dog.
- The next time you go to the vet or the groomer, let them know that you’re working on making your dog more comfortable being handled, and let them give your dog treats while touching or petting them as well, following the same steps you worked on at home. They’ll be thrilled that you’re trying to make their jobs easier for them!
- This is also important to work on with kids, neighbors, even the mailman – anyone who might have the opportunity to pet or touch your dog. This will not only make them more comfortable with human touch, but can also provide opportunities for socialization for your dog with different people.
Here are some areas to consider when working with your dog on handling:
- Ears. Being able to handle your dog’s ears is important for a variety of reasons. They need to be cleaned, examined for injury, and checked at the veterinarian’s office.
- Teeth and Mouth. You should brush your dog’s teeth on a regular basis, as well as check them often for signs of decay. You may also need to be able to reach into your dog’s mouth from time to time to remove a toy or something that they shouldn’t have.
- Collar. Some dogs get nervous when they’re grabbed by the collar or even when someone’s hand reaches for their collar, but it’s important to be able to do this in case you need to move your dog, and may also be important when your dog is at the vet or in a day care or boarding situation.
- Paws. You should be able to lift and handle each of your dog’s paws, as well as being able to spread their toes apart, and handle their nails. If you trim your own dog’s nails, you can also use the method described above with the clippers near your dog’s paws or even touching their paws, to teach them that the clippers don’t have to be a scary thing.
- Tail. Make sure your dog allows you to touch their tail and examine at the base of it. This can be important to check for injury, and will also help your vet when they need to take your pup’s temperature or express their anal glands.
Work on handling with your dog for a few minutes a day until they’re comfortable being touched all over. As well as the benefits I’ve already mentioned, it’s a great way to improve your bond with your dog. They’ll learn that your touch means good things are coming to them, and that it’s not scary or painful. Not to mention, your vet and your groomer will thank you for making their jobs easier!