The Puppy Well-Being Training System
In direct continuation to socialization comes handling. The term handling refers amount of physical touch and restraint the dog can withstand without showing signs of discomfort or aggression. Every dog should be able to absorb and tolerate human handling to some extent. The more a dog is used to human handling, the less the chances of a bite. Handling does not mean petting and belly rubs. It refers to more physical types of treatments such as nail clipping, grooming, bandaging, teeth brushing, etc. many dogs do not like those kinds of treatments but through careful desensitization to human handling, they can actually learn to love it.
Handling exercises should be done on a daily basis by all people in the household. It is usually a good idea to start doing those exercises when your dog is relaxed (evening time after a long play session is perfect). Gradually start handling your dog when it is more active or aroused. Start by petting your dog and give treats with the petting. Then, start touching the dog’s paws and give a treat after every touch. Increase the time you hold each paw before you give the treat and act like you are clipping the toe nails. If, at any time, your dog becomes agitated, go back to a stage when it was not. For example, if your dog mouths your hand when you hold his paw for more than 5 seconds, reduce the time to 4 seconds and give the treat. Repeat several times and go back to 5 seconds. Generally, it is time to move to the next level or increase the difficulty for the dog when you see that the dog is happy to be handled and looking for the treat – not just when it tolerates it.
Do the same with looking at the dog’s teeth: look at the mouth and give a treat, increase the duration and touch the teeth with your hand like you’re brushing them. Be patient and do this gradually – this exercise can seem to progress slowly but if you are consistent, the dog learns the drill and improves faster and faster. Now, look at the ears and with the same gradual manner continue to clean them. Examine the body, examine the tail, etc. Don’t skip any part of the dog’s body – you never know when you will have to attend to an injury or pull a foxtail.
When your dog is responding well to your handling when it is relaxed, you can start doing those exercises when your dog is in a more active mood. You will probably notice that your dog will be less patient with you so again start gradually. However, your dog will improve much faster as it is already experienced this type of exercise before.
Be very generous with treats and praise throughout those exercises. Remember to give the treat after the handling and not before. The dog needs to learn that clipping a nail equals a treat and not vice versa. With some dogs you may have to start by giving the treat during or even before the actual handling. You can start that way but gradually phase out the pre handling treat and change to post handling treat.
This exercise is important to a long life with a relaxed dog that loves to be touched by humans. It is good to have all people in the household do this training as dogs do not generalize well and the more experience they get, the better. The time investment in these exercises is insignificant compared to the life long benefits you and your dog will get. Enjoy these quiet times with your dog and at the same time get the dog used to that crazy human habit of touching.
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