How to make your puppy feel comfortable when being handled

by Tamsin Durston

How to make your puppy feel comfortable when being handled 

Why teach your puppy to feel comfortable being handled?

Handling dogs in order to restrain, groom or medicate them is something that many of us take for granted, however the reality is that this can be scary and confusing for our dogs! Lots of dogs love to be stroked and certainly enjoy a good old fuss, but might become worried about more formal handling such as when we closely examine specific parts of their bodies.

Dogs don’t necessarily understand why we have suddenly changed the way we are touching them, and rather than fussing them we are now holding parts of their bodies – such as their ears or paws - firmly and still. They have no way of knowing that we are looking ‘just to make sure everything is alright’, so this can result in them becoming worried or frightened, especially if handling is uncomfortable or painful for them. If your dog is in pain they are more likely to show fear and respond aggressively. If you think they have a health issue, it’s best to take them straight to the vet.

How to introduce handling so your puppy doesn't find it worrying

  1. Start where your dog feels comfortable

Practice in the environment that they are most comfortable in, because they’re likely to feel safe here. Start by touching them on a part of their body where they’re used to being touched, and enjoy it – this will be different for every dog! 

  1. Reward as you go along - make every step of the way enjoyable!

Give your dog tasty treats – something they really love eating – just after you have touched each part of their body. For example, touch their ear then remove your hand and give a yummy treat, and then repeat, touch their ear and then give them another treat. 

Reward as you go alongGive rwards

  1. Be gentle, brief and always follow the same steps!

Keep handling slow, relaxed and drawn out using prolonged, calm movements. Dogs feel confident when they can predict what is going to happen so if you always examine your dog’s body in the same order they’ll know exactly what to expect, which will give them confidence. And by touching them for just a second or two at a time, and then having a break before moving to the next part of their body, you’re giving them breathing space in between! 

  1. Gradually increase the time you handle your dog

Once your dog is readily accepting brief handling you can gradually start to build up the length of time you are handling them. Slowly, just gently hold or stroke each body part for a teeny while longer each time you practice, and always follow up with a tasty treat! Remember, going at your dog’s pace is key to them putting their trust in you! 

  1. Stop if your dog seems worried

It’s really important that your dog knows that if they’re becoming worried you’ll stop – because carrying on might make them panic! Think about which part of their body you were handling when they became worried and, after taking a break, start again at a part they do seem to enjoy being handled. 

  1. Introduce new places, and people

Go right back to the beginning again and start by gently touching them for a brief moment and giving them the extra tasty treat. And again, build their confidence in this new place by gradually building up the length of time you handle them. You can then introduce new people in the same gradual way! Give them clear instructions on how to touch your dog, exactly where and for how long – and remember to begin with this will just be a gentle fuss in a place where your dog really enjoys being fussed, and always followed by extra tasty treats! 

  1. Take a regular walk to your vet practice

Plan a weekly walkies to your local vet practice! Go at a quiet time if possible, take your dog’s favourite treats and let them sniff around and make it a fun experience. Ask to weigh your dog to give them lots of treats for getting onto the scales! 

  1. If your dog is struggling with learning to be handled

Simply stop and have a break, which you’ll both appreciate. Only practice handling when you and your dog are both relaxed so that they won’t pick up on any tension you might be feeling, and you will be ready to help them remain calm.

 Want to progress your dog training? Find your local Dogs Trust Dog School.