While people who work with dogs generally accept that dog bites are a risk of their profession, it is not fair to expect your veterinarian, groomer or anyone else to risk being bitten because your dog hasn’t been taught to accept being handled. Even more importantly, dogs that live with children or that come into contact with children must be tolerant of being handled. A dog that can be touched anywhere on itsbody is less likely to bite.
Regular veterinary care is important to help maintain the health of your pet. Routine grooming will help you spot potential health problems early and will help keep your dog healthy and looking its best. Even if you use a professional groomer, you still need to take the time to do basic grooming between visits to your groomer.
Since grooming is not limited to just bathing and brushing your dog, but includes attention to eyes, ears, nose, mouth and teeth, and feet and nails, in order to properly groom your dog, your dog must accept being handled all over.
As soon as you bring your new puppy home you should accustom your puppy to being handled. Start by teaching your puppy to lie quietly while you gently stroke him. To accomplish this, put your puppy on his side and use your hand to slowly stroke him from the neck to his rump for thirty seconds. Quietly talk to your puppy while you are stroking him. If your puppy struggles, stop talking and stroking and use the minimum amount of restraint needed to keep your puppy down. As soon as he stops struggling, start stroking him and praise him in a quiet, non-excited tone of voice. Only let your puppy up when he is quiet and not when he is struggling. Change the side your puppy is lying on so that heis used to being stroked on both sides. Add five seconds at a time until your puppy is calm and quiet for two minutes.
Once your puppy can lie quietly for two minutes while being gently stroked you are ready to move to the next step. You want your puppy to enjoy being handled so it is important that you do not try to do too much in each session.
Focus on one part of your puppy at each session and make each session short enough that your puppy doesn’t get bored or overwhelmed and start to struggle. You can use a dab of peanut butter on the roof of your puppy’s mouth to keep him quiet if necessary.
While your puppy is lying quietly on his side, gently lift an ear and look in it. Sniff the inside of the ear. The ear should be clean and not smell sweet or sour. Sandwich the earflap between your thumb and forefinger and massage the earflap by gently stroking from the base of the ear (near the head) to the tip of the earflap. Using light pressure from your fingertips, massage the skin at the base of the ear. Cleaning ears is easy if your pup learns to enjoy having his ears massaged. Turn your puppy onto the opposite side and do the same to the other ear.
Put one hand under your puppy’s lower jaw and gently cup the jaw. Place your other hand over the top of the muzzle and use your thumb to lift up a lip so you can look at your puppy’s teeth. After your puppy is comfortable with you lifting a lip, gently grasp the top of the muzzle while cupping the lower jaw and open his mouth so that you can inspect the back of the mouth and back teeth. Now is a good time to take a small amount of dog toothpaste and rub it over the front teeth (incisors) with your finger. This will help condition your puppy to accept having his teeth brushed later. (Note: it is important that you use toothpaste designed for dogs and not people. Toothpaste for people should not be swallowed and can make your puppy sick.)
Use your fingertips to gently massage your puppy’s head and muzzle. Gradually move towards the neck. As you start to slowly stroke down your puppy’s body, run your hands down a front leg. Pick up a paw in your hand and separate the toes with your finger. Lightly squeeze the paw. Getting your puppy used to having his feet handled will make clip-ping toenails much easier. Do this with each leg.
Give your pup a belly rub while using your hands to feel for any bumps or lumps. Use your fingertips to massage your pup—you can start with one part of his body and gradually add another part until you can do his entire body in one session. As you run your hands down your puppy’s tail, grasp the tail and give a very slight tug. Once your pup is comfort-able with you handling him all over you can substitute a brush or comb for your hands stroking your pup.
Teaching your puppy to enjoy being handled has many benefits. It makes grooming more pleasant for both you and your dog. It makes it easier for your veterinarian to provide quality care. It enhances your relationship with your dog. It makes obedience training easier. It also reduces the risk that your dog will bite someone—dogs that can be touched anywhere on the body are less likely to bite.