The importance of handling your puppy
When a new puppy is brought home and introduced to the family, there is always so much to do and think about. From toilet training and meeting other pets, to going for the first walks and attempting to sleep through the night, it seems that there is a lot for puppy to learn.
It is in this busy and exciting time that puppy is very impressionable, and her experiences at this age help to shape the adult dog she will become. This is why it is important that as well as focusing on the immediate tasks of basic training, we should also take time to prepare puppy for the future.
Many dogs are scared of the vet, and will whimper and quake as they are examined. Similarly, some dogs dislike being groomed, which can make both the groomer’s and the owner’s lives difficult. We can help to prevent fear and discomfort in these situations from arising, by encouraging the puppy to be comfortable with being handled.
A short session each day will go a long way to preparing puppy. Beginning with gentle stroking, moving the hands over her body and rewarding her for being accepting is the best way to start – she should not be restrained in any way or made to accept being handled, but should be willing and relaxed.
If puppy is happy and comfortable with this, move on to touching areas such as the legs, tail, ears, and muzzle, making sure never to force puppy to comply, and rewarding her as you proceed. There is no need to rush with these steps, and by paying attention to how our puppy is feeling we can take it at her pace, instilling trust in the relationship by never pushing her to be uncomfortable.
Gradually, the gentle touching can progress to more meaningful movements, such as holding legs to lift them up (an example of when this is useful is if your dog gets a thorn in their paw), moving ears to look inside them, and lifting up the lips to check the teeth. These are all examples of things that most dogs will have done at some point in their lives, either by their owner or by the vet.
Starting young and taking it slowly is the best way to build a strong relationship where the dog trusts and looks to you for comfort or help.
(Although this post applies to puppies, it’s never too late to start! Using positive reinforcement, dogs of all ages can learn to enjoy being handled.)