Handling Exercises for Canine Socialization

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Handling your dog through puppyhood and adolescence is one of the best ways to feel assured that they will become a friendly and confident adult.

One form of socialization is handling your dog.  Handling your dog all over regularly helps them feel relaxed when others touch them and build confidence when in the company of children, veterinarians, or groomers.

In addition to the snout-to-tail examination, the following exercises will make sure your dog is comfortable with different parts of his body being handled.  This will ensure that he will be less likely to bite if he must be handled in an emergency. Be on the watch for a stiff body, whites of the eyes showing, a closed mouth, and escape attempts. If you see these signs, stop handling your dog.

Gentle Head Pat

Pats on the top of the head can be considered a dominant gesture by dogs.  Unfortunately, this is one of the most likely motions a toddler will take.  Getting your dog accustom to this seemingly unpleasant gesture will help desensitize your dog, and they may even learn to like it!

For this exercise, gently pat your dog on the top of the head.  After a couple of pats, rub your dog in their favorite place to praise. Repeat, patting the head a little harder.  End with rubs and loving.

Tail Pull

Dogs can be susceptible to their tails being touched, and sometimes in life tails get pulled.  This exercise helps to desensitize your dog so that they will not take exception to the accidental pull of the tail.  In addition, this helps prepare your dog for grooming and brushing.

To start this exercise, gently examine the tail with light pressure from the base all the way to the tip.  Tug gently during the examination, gradually working up to a reasonable amount of pressure.  Be sure to praise your dog for doing a great job.

Gentle Hug

As humans, we like to hug, but our canine friends do not.  Hugs can be very confusing to our dogs.  However, as this is one of the most likely actions your dog may experience from a younger child, we need to help them understand that hugs can be pleasurable.  Getting your dog used to this gesture will make them less likely to take exception to it and possibly respond in fear.

With your dog facing away from you while in a sit, gently pull them closer to you and into your lap.  Give a very light hug, praising while you do it.  Release and repeat.

“Force” Treat

Most dogs don’t like you in their mouths. Hence, developing a technique that allows your dog to become accustomed to a forcible opening without other unpleasant or intimidating factors is important. In addition, the treat gives your dog a positive initial experience of having its mouth forced open instead of a negative that would accompany removing a stolen object or the negative of receiving a pill.

To teach this exercise, open the mouth by pinching the flews on both sides against the teeth until the teeth part. Next, lift the upper jaw upwards as if to remove an object or administer medication. Finally, drop the treat on the tongue in the front portion of the mouth.  DO NOT TIP THE HEAD BACKWARDS.

Conditioning dogs to handling makes them less likely to bite when put in the situation of being touched unexpectedly.  Most dogs, unless previously trained, are uncomfortable with being touched in certain circumstances. In addition, some dogs have body sensitivity issues making them less likely to want to be social.  Handling exercises are also great for teaching your dog impulse control.

By performing these exercises regularly, your dog will be comfortable with handling them. It also can make your dog more social and even increases his ability to learn.

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