How to Train a Dog to Accept Handling

Prepare a Dog for Grooming and Vet Exams

Woman grooming dog
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Dogs experience a variety of handling in their lifetimes. Most dogs will be hugged, have a child tug their tails, be restrained by a veterinarian, or have someone clip their nails. It's important that you prepare your dog for being handled so he reacts calmly rather than with fear or aggression. The following can help you train a dog to accept handling:

Practice in Advance

Don't wait until the day you're taking the dog to the groomer to start preparing your dog for handling. Instead, try to start practicing long before your dog encounters a groomer, the vet, or a child who wants to give him a hug. The more time you can give your dog to get used to handling, the more likely that he'll be comfortable, and possibly even enjoy these experiences.

Puppy Socialization

If you have a young puppy, you are ahead of the game. Puppies are usually much easier to teach to accept handling than older dogs. It's important to spend time socializing puppies to get them used to a variety of people and environments, including handling. If you regularly practice handling exercises with your puppy, by the time he hits about 4 months old, he should be comfortable with all types of handling.

Don't Force It

The most important rule when working to get any dog or puppy comfortable being handled is never to force anything. This is not an exercise in controlling your dog, but rather training a dog to be relaxed and comfortable. So if you want to train a dog to be comfortable with having his nails trimmed, don't start off by holding him down and forcing him to accept the grooming.

Start Slowly

If you know your dog likes to have his ears scratched or his belly rubbed, start there. Talk to your dog softly, and slowly begin to explore other types of handling. Try to practice several times each day for just a few minutes each time.

Introduce the Dog to Grooming

Introduce your dog to dog grooming slowly. Start by just holding the grooming tool in one hand while you pet him with the other. Allow your dog to sniff the item if he's interested. Give him some treats so he begins to associate the grooming tools with good things happening to him.

Slowly begin to use the tools as you do with grooming. Touch the nail trimmer to one of your dog's nails while you talk to him softly and give him a treat. Practice several times, and then work up to trimming a nail. If your dog pulls away, let him. Give him time to relax and start over from the beginning. Soon you should be able to trim his nails while he remains calm.

The same works for the brush. Begin by doing a few short, gentle strokes with the brush in a spot he likes to be scratched or pet. Be sure to give him praise and treats. Work up to longer strokes, and allow him to move away if he becomes too uncomfortable. Soon you will be able to give your dog a thorough brushing.

Introduce a Dog to Vet Exams

Preparing your dog for veterinary exams is similar to grooming. There are several things he might at experience at the vet's office, such as having his ears checked, having his teeth examined, and being restrained.

In the same way as you do with the grooming tools, slowly accustom your dog to being held and having different parts of his body held and examined. Use a soothing tone of voice and treats to get him comfortable with handling. If at any point he tenses up or seems uncomfortable, go back a step and start from there. Soon you should be able to check your dog's teeth, look in his ears, and wrap your arms around him with no problems.

Get Some Help

Once your dog is comfortable with you handling him, ask friends and other family members to help with his training. Have them go through the same steps you did with your dog. Remember to go back to an earlier step at any time if your dog becomes uncomfortable.

Dealing with Aggression

Some dogs become aggressive when different parts of their bodies are handled. If your dog shows any signs of aggression during handling exercises, stop immediately. Your best bet for dealing with an aggressive dog is to call in the help of an experienced dog trainer or behaviorist.