Handling

It is important that your puppy gets used to wearing a soft collar and lead as early as possible. Prepare the nervous system by stroking the area that the collar will touch, put the collar on for short periods when the puppy is occupied eating or playing. When this is accepted, attach the lead and allow pup to drag it around, distracting with a toy or titbit if the temptation to bite the lead becomes overwhelming! If your puppy is still determined to mouth the lead, a taste deterrent such as Bitter Apple sprayed onto the lead will often help to over come this.

In order to develop a good relationship with your dog, it is important that he/she feels confident to be physically handled, groomed and contained by you. A dog who lacks confidence in being handled can become very reactive. Physical and verbal praise, essential tools in the good training of a dog should always available. However, they are only valuable as rewards if you mutually respect each other and the dog values your approval and praise.

Dogs can also become very stressed when visiting the Veterinary Surgeon, Grooming Salon or Boarding Kennel if they are not used to being handled. Regular grooming also lets you know how your dog normally feels, so that any lumps, injuries etc. can be recognised and sorted out quickly.

There is a big difference between RESTRAINING and CONTAINING. The former encourages resistance and the latter encourages confidence. For example, if you pick up a paw and the dog snatches it back or starts jumping around to move away, your instinctive reaction is to grip the paw harder. This triggers the dog to pull away harder and the human to grip the paw harder in an attempt to stop this movement. The dog’s next instinctive reaction is to mouth at the hand in order to release the pressure on his/her paw. This is often successful so the behaviour will be repeated when somebody tries to lift the foot again. It becomes an unpleasant experience for both. Consider a different approach.

Pick up the paw gently and if the dog tries to pull it back, go with the movement and control the temptation to grip the paw. Eventually the dog will tire of trying to move away and relax, there is no resistance from you, no discomfort so nothing to struggle against. With a little patience, the dog will soon feel confident that when you pick up a paw there is nothing to worry about.

If you would like your dog to sit still, gripping tightly will trigger a struggle to fight the restraint. To contain, have the dog sit in front of you, facing away and slightly between your knees.  Keep your arms relaxed and place your open palms on the dog’s chest. Give a little with the movement and then gently draw the dog back to you, relaxing your hands to contain him/her in the original position. Some dogs accept this very quickly, others continue to wriggle. Stay calm and keep repeating the gentle containing movement until the dog relaxes and is happy to sit quietly with you. Handle and contain for just a few minutes daily. Stay calm and talk quietly using long, slow syllables. Reward quiet, still behaviour. If your dog wriggles and tries to turn it into a game, quietly contain to ensure that there is no reward in wriggling. Attach a lead for this exercise until the dog has confidence to accept handling. It will avoid the temptation to grab at any movement away. You can quietly pick up the end of the lead instead. When the dog is still and accepts your handling make sure you let him/her know how pleased you are with treats and quiet praise.

Most animals hold tension in one part or another of their body. These areas can become very sensitive to touch. Run the back of your hand all over your dog. Take a mental note if he/she wiggles, moves away or looks around at an area you have just touched. Take note of any areas of heat or cold. Does the coat feel rough in some areas and soft in others perhaps?

Now you are ready to try TTouch in an area that the dog finds safe and comfortable. If there are any areas of your dog's body sensitive to touch, quietly reassure by touching in an area which he/she finds comfortable. Now, very briefly do a TTouch in a more sensitive area. Quickly return to TTouch the comfy area - almost before the dog realises what has happened. The nervous system will have registered that TTouch. Repeat this over short sessions until the area ceases to be sensitive. Your dog will soon become accustomed to being handled all over, ears, mouth, feet, under the tail etc. When grooming, it is important to use a soft brush in the beginning. This avoids the possibility of injury if the dog makes a sudden movement before he/she is confident with being handled.

It is also worth training your dog to be tethered from an early age.

  • When he/she is used to wearing a collar and lead, tether the dog (make sure you use a quick-release knot) and sit on the floor just out of reach. Click and drop a treat on the floor within reach of the dog when he/she is quiet. Ignore whines or barks, turn your head away and stay silent. Ensure that you breathe calmly to ensure that your body does not tense up.
  • Slowly build up the time by delaying the click. Keep the sessions as short as possible, aim for success. As the dog gains confidence, gradually increase the distance that you move away.
  • When this is accepted, pop out of sight. If the exercise has been built up slowly and consistently the dog should remain calm so that a helper standing nearby can reward. There are times in every dog's life when tethering may be neccessary for a few minutes, especially in an emergency. However, this can be very distressing if a dog is not used to it.

It is useful to teach your dog to wear a muzzle by training a positive association with it. You never know when
the dog might become ill or injured and react defensively from fear to neccessary handling for veterinary treatement. If he/she is used to wearing a muzzle it is one less area of stress for both dog and owners. I prefer the plastic,
basket-style of muzzle with a hole at the end to post treats through. This type still allows the dog to open his/her mouth comfortably to pant, eat and drink.

  • Allow the dog to sniff and look at the muzzle, rewarding with tasty treats. Clicker Training can really speed up the process of your dog forming a good association with the muzzle.
  • Place a treat just inside the muzzle and allow the dog to take it out.

Progress slowly until you are able to post a treat through the hole in the end of the muzzle and your dog will put his/her nose right inside to take it.

Progress by gently holding the straps behind the dog's ears as he takes the treat. If he panics and tries to shake off the muzzle, withhold the treat and allow him to shake it off. Do not attempt to correct the dog verbally or hold the muzzle on. The dog will quickly learn to accept the slight restriction in order to get the treat.

Only do up the straps behind the dog's ears when he is comfortable with putting his/her nose into the muzzle calmly and accepting it.

Continue to occasionally put the muzzle on your dog at home and feed tasty treats so that it is most often associated with pleasant experiences for your dog.

TTouches are excellent to enhance your relationship with your dog and to increase his state of confidence and relaxation. Click the TTouch Logo on the side panel to learn more about TTouch and how to use it to help your dog feel good about being handled for grooming and veterinary examination.

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