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Welcome to the Wonder Year. Your puppy is learning and growing so much and you can put him on the right track by getting him used to being handled. You want him to successfully equate human hands with welcoming opportunities to be scratched, loved, cared for and given treats.
If you get him accustomed to proper handling, you reduce the risk of your puppy ducking outreached hands or becoming a fear biter. You also make him more relaxed when being touched by your vet, your dog walker and your groomer.
Not sure how to accomplish this? Kate Abbott, a professional dog trainer who conducts kindergarten puppy classes in Vista, Calif., shares these three effective exercises designed to have puppies welcome human hands:
1. Rely on the collar touch technique. Rules are simple. Call your puppy by name. When your dog turns to look at you, give him a small treat. After doing this for a couple of days, gently touch the puppy's collar before giving the treat. This sequence helps teach your puppy to associate being touched with receiving a treat. This helps your puppy stay calm when being touched.
2. Hand over the food. Forget the misconception that hand-feeding a puppy will spoil him. Abbott reminds us that "the giver of food is very important in the mind of the puppy." So take advantage of this mindset by giving your puppy a portion of his food by hand. You are teaching him that hands represent food. Abbott recommends hand-feeding a puppy about one third of his daily portion. Yes, it takes longer to hand-feed, but you may be able to help your puppy avoid becoming a food-resource guarder.
3. Become your puppy's personal masseuse. Treating your puppy to a daily gentle massage serves many positive purposes. Gently stroking your puppy from head to tail is relaxing for him. It gives you a perfect opportunity to check his coat for fleas, ticks, cuts, scratches and bumps. Therapeutic touch also conditions a puppy to be more receptive to being combed or brushed.
4. Never physically punish your puppy. Hitting, slapping, poking or grabbing your puppy can make him regard hands as threats.
Concentrate on teaching your puppy that hands are kind. When he brings you a toy, pet him gently for a few seconds. Thank him for bringing you the toy, and then toss it for him to retrieve. And, when your tired pup snuggles up against you, gently stroke his ears, pat his head and massage under his chin. All of these are effective and simple ways to communicate that your hands are welcoming.
If you do all of these things and your puppy still seems nervous being touched, seek the help of a professional dog trainer who uses positive training techniques.
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