Jonah Moffitt THD CGCA is a certified therapy dog, pictured above, and so he is very accustomed to being petted by many people, as well as handled for examinations as he must be well-groomed and healthy to maintain his therapy dog status. Five-year-old Jonah is a member of the AKC Canine Partners program and holds the AKC Therapy Dog and AKC Canine Good Citizen-Advanced titles. He shares life with Jesika Moffitt of Rockford, IL.
AKC GoodDog! Helpline Trainer Breanne Long tell us that there is a difference in handling your dog and petting your dog and gives valuable advice on making sure your dog enjoys both.
There is a difference between handling your dog and petting him or her. When you handle your dog, you are grooming, checking for fleas/ticks, trimming nails, etc. When you pet your dog, you are praising or showing affection.
Your dog should be comfortable with both handling and petting, however, he or she will likely prefer petting because there is nothing potentially unpleasant happening.
Teaching your dog to enjoy handling begins, ideally, when he is very young. Starting with a blank slate as a puppy, you can introduce gentle and low-stress handling methods that are just as enjoyable as simple petting. Use treats and make positive associations with handling your puppy’s paws, paw pads, nails, tail, ears, eyes, teeth, belly and under tail area. If your puppy learns from very young that handling is a good thing and he often gets treats during handling, he will happily accept handling throughout his life. It’s also a good idea to have other people handle your puppy, so he is comfortable being examined by veterinarians and groomers.
If you adopt your dog later in her life, you can still work on handling, however, you may have to overcome some past bad experiences. The protocol for this is gradual desensitization. For example, if your dog is touchy about having her paws handled, start by treating her for allowing you to reach toward her paw. You may not even be able to touch it at first. Gradually build up to being able to touch the paw, pick it up, and hold it in your hand. This could take days or weeks. All handling should be very gentle and painless. Keep an eye out for your dog going still, her lips getting tight, looking at you from the side of her eye, or growling. These are all very clear signs that your dog is uncomfortable, and you should stop what you are doing and back up to a stage where your dog was comfortable.
Proceed slowly as you build back up to the point you were at previously. Make sure to use high value treats for this process, something like chicken, lunch meat, or hot dog pieces.
Petting should be pleasant for your dog but you can intersperse some handling in daily petting as well. While scratching your dog in his favorite spot, gently run your hand along his belly or tail. This pairs something positive, scratching his favorite spot, with something that you want to make positive – handling.