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For some dogs, any grooming or medical handling can create fearful responses which may end up with the dog barking, growling, snapping, even biting. Often dogs may then be restrained in order to have their nails clipped or be checked over in an examination room, and they may have a muzzle placed onto them where no formal muzzle training has taken place.

There are numerous reasons why dogs can become fearful of being handled or demonstrate ‘touch sensitivity’. In order to set our dogs up for success, it is critical that we introduce the idea of being touched from young, and that this is the predictor of pleasant outcomes – food, play, activities they enjoy such as scenting and so on. This article is designed to help owners consider how they can start to introduce the concept of being touched in a calm, systematic way, where the dog has choice to move away at any time. This does not in any way replace any formal behaviour modification plan to tackle touch sensitivity but rather provide some guidance.

By teaching cooperative handling we can

  • Reduce stress
  • Gain cooperation
  • Build trust with the handler
  • Help nurture the dog-owner bond

When you are introducing the concept of body handling to your dog, you will need to consider what you and others may need to do with your dog. See below for examples.

  • Brush coat
  • Trim nails
  • Check teeth/clean teeth
  • Check ears/administer drops/wipe ears out
  • Check body for lumps and bumps/get rid of any foreign objects/parasites
  • Check bottom/rear end including genitals
  • Wash the dog/dry dog’s face, coat, ears, face
  • Clean paws/dry paws
  • Inject
  • Give tablets

You will also need to consider the different environments your dog will need to learn are places that are OK, such as the car, groomers, vets, your bathroom and so on.

Any handling should be done carefully and work in progressions so we can gain trust and cooperation with our pets. Check out my infographics below to help you with this process. Click onto the images to download.

Do seek professional help if your pet is showing fearful responses when being handled by yourselves or others, as this could escalate to a dog bite if left untreated. Check out the Find A Practitioner via the Animal Behaviour and Training Council’s website.

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