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  • Writer's pictureLiz MacHaffie

Body Handling for Puppies

Updated: Sep 15, 2021

Your dog, your vet, and future YOU will thank you for this!

Head, Nose, Tail, & Toes!

  • Help your puppy learn to be comfortable with being handled all over their body. Just because they're okay with it now doesn't mean they'll continue to be! Be ready to do this throughout your dog's life, particularly during puppyhood and teenagerhood.

  • This makes for a better life for your dog AND you, your vet, and your groomer!

  • One most common mistake we make as humans is to force our puppies to be handled even if they don't like it. This can actually create stress and aggression in our dogs as adults. Here's how to maximize success and minimize stress!

The Formula

  • Tell, touch, treat!

  • Tell: First, we tell our puppies what we're going to do by saying a word that corresponds to that part of the body.

  • Touch: Next, we begin to touch or manipulate that part of the body.

  • Treat: Immediately after we start this, we begin to feed our puppy! Treats should continue until the touch stops.

  • We always work at a level our pup is comfortable with.

  • If your puppy shows signs of stress or frustration, give her a break.

  • Signs of stress or discomfort can include:

  • Trying to move away.​

  • Avoiding you.

  • Lying down.

  • Pawing at you.

  • Lip licking.

  • Mouthing you.

  • Growling.

  • Start with a less intense version of that touch at your next attempt.

  • For example, say you're working on nail trimming and your puppy was relaxed when you picked up her paw and held it, but when you moved on to spread her toes apart, she pulled her feet away and laid down. Give her a break, and when you go to try again, go back to just holding her paw. If this goes well, then try just barely spreading her toes apart.

  • If your puppy continues to be uncomfortable, stop and let us know!

What to Include

  • Ears

  • Touch the ear.

  • Lift the ear flap.

  • Lift the ear flap and stick your finger gently inside. (Can use a tissue.)

  • Eyes​

  • Touch skin above the eye.

  • Touch skin below the eye.

  • Touch and put very mild pressure above or below the eye (on the skin), as if to examine below or above the lid.

  • Mouth/Teeth

  • "Cheese" is a favorite phrase for this!

  • Touch one side of your dog's upper lip.

  • Gently lift one side of the lip for 1 second.

  • Lift one side of the lip for 3 seconds.

  • Lift both sides of the lips to expose the canine teeth.

  • Lift one side of the lip and move from front teeth to back teeth. ​

  • Feet and Legs​

  • "Footsies" is a favorite phrase for this.​

  • Run hand down leg.

  • Run hand down leg and touch paw.

  • Run hand down leg and gently lift paw.

  • Run hand down leg, lift paw, and separate toes. (Feel those webbies between the toes!)

  • Gently pick up leg. (Pick up at a natural angle, try not to pick it up and away from the body.)

  • Gently pick up leg and manipulate it briefly.

  • Tail

  • Run hand down back and then down length of tail.

  • Run hand down back and then down length of tail, pausing to briefly brush some hair in the opposite direction. (As if to inspect the skin.)

  • Lift tail from base and hold briefly. (As if to examine under tail.)

  • Boy/Girl Parts

  • Run hand across belly and then across boy/girl parts.

  • Gently, briefly manipulate boy/girl parts. If you have an intact male, briefly palpate the testicles.

  • You can use a gloved hand and I recommend washing hands after this.

  • Particularly for our boy dogs, this is something that gets overlooked so often, and then can be VERY stressful for our boys when they go to the vet. Help your dog out and make sure he's okay with this!

Cooperative Care

  • A fantastic resource and way to really maximize your puppy's chances of feeling good about body handling and vet procedures is Deb Jones' Cooperative Care Certificate Program. There is also a helpful Facebook group and a book!

  • You can work on this on your own, and/or we're happy to integrate whatever you like into your dog's training program!

Top Tip

  • Adolescence (From 6 months to 1-2.5 years, depending on your dog's breed and size) is a time when many dogs start to feel less comfortable with touch. (Yes, even those who were fine with it as puppies.)

  • Be prepared to have handling sessions with your puppy throughout his puppyhood and into adulthood.

  • We recommend multiple sessions per week for puppies until they're 16 weeks old (or until they're comfortable with each body part being handled), and then once weekly or bi-weekly throughout adolescence.

  • If your pup is showing signs of significant discomfort and aggression, stop and let us know!

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