Body-Handling

How many dogs do you know that freak out when their nails are clipped or they have to be bathed or restrained in any way? Do you know a dog who needs to be muzzled or sedated for vet visits and grooming?

Right now, with your sweet puppy, you cannot even imagine them in that light. I know! Most puppies are comfortable with a great deal of handling, but as they approach 6-7 months of age, they become much less tolerant and it doesn’t get easier as they get older. I promise. It is NOT a phase.

Being handled the way we handle our dogs is often unpleasant, unpredictable, and frustrating for dogs. We have to start really early in their lives so that we don’t have a future full of muzzles and sedation and a list of groomers who have fired us.

Let’s get started now! It’s never too early.

Teach your dog to be a willing participant

in their care and you’ll be carefree for

the life of that dog!

Here is how it looks:

Let’s look at the areas that are least-to-most sensitive for dogs, meaning, the areas that dogs generally prefer that we avoid touching.

  • Shoulder – green
  • Chest – green
  • Chin – green
  • Neck – green
  • Rump – green
  • Back – yellow
  • Side – yellow
  • Belly – yellow
  • Cheek – yellow
  • Top of head – red
  • Ears – red
  • Mouth – red
  • Tail – red
  • Legs – red
  • Paws – red

Just like in all training endeavours, we want to start easy and work our way up to the most difficult,very gradually. As we did in our socialisation guide, we must create fantastic associations with handling. The handling must predict food. We are not using food as a “reward for good behaviour” here; we are using it as an associative tool.

Think “Pavlov”!

Green Areas

Let’s start with these. These are generally okay for dogs, but that’s not a hard-fast rule. Your dog may differ and you may have to adjust your training plan to accommodate your dog’s specific likes and dislikes.

Yellow Areas

When you’ve absolutely nailed the green areas, work on the yellow areas, but go easy. These are going to be a little harder for your dog. You might have to go a little slower, take more breaks, and let your dog “vote with their feet”, meaning; they can walk away at any time if they’ve had enough.

Red Areas

When you’ve absolutely nailed the yellow areas, it’s time to tackle the red areas, but go really easy. These are going to be the most challenging for your dog. You might have to go a little slower, take more breaks, and let your dog “vote with their feet”, meaning; they can walk away at any time if they’ve had enough.

Level One

  1. Hide a handful of delicious, pea-sized treats behind your back
  2. With the other hand, touch your flat, open palm the zone
  3. Happy-talk “ooooh good boy/girl! That’s nice! Great job!”
  4. Feed 1-2 tiny treats
  5. Remove both hands and put them both behind your back
  6. Repeat, repeat, repeat.Remember to get both sides of your dog – not just one.

Level Two

  1. Hide a handful of delicious, pea-sized treats behind your back
  2. With the other hand, gently stroke the zone for 1-2 seconds
  3. Happy-talk “ooooh good boy/girl! That’s nice! Great job!”
  4. Feed 1-2 tiny treats
  5. Remove both hands and put them both behind your back
  6. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

Level Three

  1. Hide a handful of delicious, pea-sized treats behind your back
  2. With the other hand, gently hold/restrain the zone for 1-2 seconds
  3. Happy-talk “ooooh good boy/girl! That’s nice! Great job!”
  4. Feed 1-2 tiny treats
  5. Remove both hands and put them both behind your back
  6. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

Level Four

  1. Hide a handful of delicious, pea-sized treats behind your back
  2. With the other hand, gently restrain the zone for 3-5 seconds
  3. Happy-talk “ooooh good boy/girl! That’s nice! Great job!”
  4. Feed 1-2 tiny treats
  5. Remove both hands and put them both behind your back
  6. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

How do you know you’re moving too fast?You’ll know you need to stop and reassess if your dog is backing away, avoiding the touch,cowering when you reach, growling, stiffening up, giving side-eye, showing teeth, air-snapping, orbiting.

How do you know if it’s working?You’ll know it’s working when your dog happily anticipates it and upon being touched, looks towards your other hand for the food. Your dog might even lean into your hand. We’ve created a perfect Pavlovian response! Hooray!

Okay, what if the dog pulls away

or walks away?

Your dog must be able to vote with their feet. If they feel they have a choice, they will be more compliant. If they feel “stuck”, they will be more resistant. Just like people!

If your dog walks away, let them go have a break for a minute – you stay put. No treats or happy- talk during this break. Just b-o-r-i-n-g. If they come back near you, start again! If they immediately walk away, put the treats away and move on with your day. If they stay for a few more rounds, great! Let them take breaks as they please and you’ll get more done in the long run.

Picking your dog upThis sounds easy but it’s not always so! More often than not, especially with puppies and small dogs, we handle them too much or too roughly without considering consent or comfort. A dog being picked up is really unnatural and so we have to be mindful that past pliable puppyhood, our dogs will likely resist this and you may soon see growling, running away, and even nipping or biting.

Let’s start off on the right paw here and get them comfortable and consensual FIRST. This will make life much easier and safer for you, your family, your Vet and your groomer.

Start with the exercises above, so that handling is a breeze, particularly over the shoulders and under the belly.

We should never pick up a dog the way we pick up a baby (under the arms). Here’s how to pick up a puppy or small dog properly:

  • Squat beside the dog so that you are both facing the same way
  • You can use food in the opposite hand to feed during this process
  • Reach over the dog’s shoulder and place your hand under their outside, front leg; your palm and four fingers should be under the chest, between the front legs and your thumb should be on the outside of the upper leg
  • Lift the dog and gently press their body to your side, under your arm, using your elbow to stabilise their hip
  • Stand up and off you go!
  • You can hold their collar gently under the chin with your opposite hand as you walk (optional)

If your puppy flails and struggles, they are not comfortable and they may not feel secure. Practice on a stuffed animal many times beforehand and be sure you have been thorough in your handling exercises above.

PunishmentNever respond to growling or snarling with punishment or corrections – we want our puppies tobe able to communicate effectively, and that means the growl is a gift. The growl tells you “I’m Uncomfortable and I need you to stop doing that and give me space.”

Wouldn’t you much rather your dog warns you (or others) before they bite?

Punishing the growl will cause your dog to stop growling, but then they’ll skip right to the bite without warning. Not ideal. Heed the warning and make it easier for them. “But my vet and groomer are going to do all of this – I won’t be doing it.”Ah yes. This is what I’m commonly told.Vets and Groomers do not make enough money to train your dog AND do their job. YOU must do the heavy-lifting so that your dog is a dream to handle at the vet and groomer. That’s no one else’s job but yours. Be kind. No Vet or Groomer wants to be bitten and should not be put in harm’s way. Thank you!