We will have to really watch our dogs for their communication, which is much more subtle than ours. The key to handling training is to ensure that your dog always feels like they can get up and walk away at any point.
Example: You sit with your dog to practice handling their paws and after you hold+feed four times, your dog pulls their paw away, gets up, shakes off, and walks away.
In moments like that, we are conditioned to ask them to come back and sit down or restrict their movement somehow, preventing them from walking away. This is the moment where we fall apart and our dogs learn that we are not on the same page. If we allow them to walk away, they are more likely to come back. They just need a break and there’s only one way to tell us (politely).
Some dogs become quite aggressive during handling and this is a result of the above – not feeling like they can flee instead of fight but it doesn’t have to stay that way! We can help them feel better. We just have to work from their baseline, not ours.
The more pressure we apply, the more restraint we will need. The more force we use, the more resistance we will get. The more choice we give, the more compliance we will see.
It may feel counterintuitive at the start and it may take a little longer, but trust me. You will see progress.
Reading body language:
Your dog is relaxed, perhaps engaged. They are allowing you to handle them without pulling away. They will take food happily. Keep going!
Your dog is alert. Perhaps they look a little suspicious when you get close. They take food hesitantly OR they take it with a bit of a harder mouth than usual. When you handle their paw, they pull away, yawn, or lick their lips. Slow down, make it easier for them! Your dog is alert and avoidant. They either take food with a harder mouth than usual and then retreat, OR they refuse the food altogether. When you handle their paw, they freeze or stiffen up. You might see a hard stare, a lip curl, or hear a growl. Stop! Give your dog a break, reassess your plan.