Handling your Dog Right

Your dog likes to be petted, but touch his feet to clip his toenails and he immediately slips and wiggles away. He may also be fussy about having his rear examined or his teeth examined or his teeth inspected. It will be difficult to keep a dog who hates being handled well-groomed or have him examined by a vet.

When puppies are not handled much from birth, tactile sensations are new and strange to them. They’re unsure what will happen, so they flip their heads from side to side to see what’s going on with your hand. Sometimes female dogs are uncomfortable about their rears being touched, especially if they’re in season or soon will be. Young male dogs going through puberty can also be touchy about that area of their anatomy. Other dogs might have had a lot of early stroking but are very strong willed and want to control their own bodies. “It can be a dominance problem,” says Peter L. Borchelt, Ph. D., an animal behaviorist in private practice in Brooklyn, New York.

Feel It, Don’t Fight It:
Trying to get a grip on a dog who is struggling to free himself is not easy. Besides scratching you, might also try to bite your hands. If this happens, tell him sternly, “No bite!” Continue holding him and praise him when he stops.

Accustom your puppy to your touch by giving him gentle massages from the moment you bring him home. Talk softly to him as you soothingly stoke all over his body. Apply very little pressure at first. When your dog begins to enjoy it, he’ll respond by leaning his body into your fingertips.

With an older dog, put his collar and leash on. While holding the leash, talk softly to him as you pet him where he feels comfortable. Confidently move your hand to other areas of his body, while telling him what a good dog he is. If he doesn’t like his paws to be handled, offer him a treat while softly touching one of them.

When he allows you to do this, say, “Good dog.” If he still resists, tell him in a low, strong voice to “Quit it” and give him a little leash correction. Touch the remaining paws one at a time. Repeat this process until you can life each foot slightly and are able to rub his toes very gently without him protesting. Practice this several times a day.

Try making a game out of giving him rough pats and tickles after running your hands over his back and tail. Be sure to laugh so he knows it’s supposed to be fun. The goal is to make him feel secure enough to accept your authority.