Torture your Puppy?!
When it comes to raising a Zen Dog, there are 7 Essential Puppy Lessons every new owner must master.
However, the lesson that is most important to veterinarians, groomers, parents and owners who want their dog to grow into a canine good citizen — is making sure puppies are socialized to touch!
Getting a puppy accustomed to being handled, groomed, and examined is a skill taught by diligent dog owners via daily body handling, picking up young puppies regularly, and doing pretend “vet visits” and “tick checks” where puppies are held and touched from head-to-paw in slightly uncomfortable ways to ensure they are comfortable being handled as adults.
Successfully socializing a puppy to touch means less stress on dogs and to veterinarians, groomers, family members, and friends, because well-socialized dogs are easier to handle and interact with, especially during routine care such as giving medicine, in the ears, nose, removing splinters, checking for cuts and scrapes, or cleaning salt from paws during the Winter.
Most importantly, people are less likely to be bitten or injured by dogs who are socialized to touch and well-socialized dogs feel less anxiety when being handled, held, or examined.
The best thing you can do for your new puppy is to introduce him/her to as many people, places, and novel experiences as possible while creating POSITVE ASSOCIATIONS with all the new things. This kind of socialization extends to body handling.
At Zen Dog Training we like to make training fun and easy, so we call it Puppy Torture! Of course, it’s not really torture, but that’s the name of the game we teach new clients so they remember to practice socializing their puppy to touch every day.
The “torture” comes into play while handling your new puppy. People tend to not practice touching their dog’s ears, or between their toes, or holding them in slightly uncomfortable ways. However, daily body handling is exactly what owners need to do in order to get their dog used to the vet, the groomer or being touched by people.
Dogs tend to not want to allow people to touch and handle them, so we recommend new puppy owners include some Puppy Torture into their everyday routine. They should pick their puppy up several times a day, and touch them all over, spending extra time looking in their ears, and even pull their lips back to look into their mouth. Each paw should be handled individually and effort made to touch in between the toes.
People can also practice while playing games, for example: while playing tug, they can rub the puppy’s belly or lift the ears. The more socialization to touch a puppy gets, the easier it will be to handle them in different situations.
First, people should never call a dog to them for something the dog might consider uncomfortable or unpleasant, so make sure that everyone just goes and gets the puppy to start the game.
Be prepared by having some very small yummy treats within reach. After picking the puppy up, try sitting down with them held gently, but firmly enough so they cannot struggle free. Start to pet, stroke, and check their body as they are continuously given treats. The idea is that dogs look forward to the Puppy Torture games and learn to allow people to handle them stress-free.
Practicing a pretend vet visit and running hands all over the puppy’s body, legs, belly, and even around the tail is also important as many dogs tend to not like this kind of slightly uncomfortable touch. Don’t forget to touch different areas of the body, feet, and nails, between the pads of the feet, and even holding the whole foot for 1-2 seconds at a time. To ensure the experience is positive make sure to combine the experience with lots of treats.
Continually treating to help puppies learn that Puppy Torture is fun, might help them to look forward to sessions, perhaps learning, “I let people touch me and I get yummy treats!”
If body handling goes well, rub each ear and then look inside, maybe even blowing (lightly) into each ear – again associating the experience with lots of treats. In future sessions, look at the puppy’s teeth (helpful for future teeth brushing), and actually open their mouth – as there will come a time when the puppy will have eaten something that will have to be removed.
Note: With puppies younger than 4 months, we recommend people go through a pretend “vet visit” or “tick check” several times a day. Making sure to examine every part of the body looking for ticks, cuts or scrapes as people would after a long romp in the woods.
Puppies have a short attention span; so, keep each session to less than 2-3 minutes and for the first month, repeat 4-5 times-a-day. Ideally incorporate every member of the family to participate. After a month or so, people should still pick up and hold their puppy as much as possible, but practice Puppy Torture less often (1-2 times-a-day). Taking training to the next level by getting friends or visitors to help, with one person giving the treats while the other holds and touches.
If a dog seems uncomfortable with touch or has sensitive areas, there may be some remedial work necessary. Remember, it is important that young puppies don’t learn to bite, growl, or snarl to get people to stop handling them. If there seems to be an issue, call a Zen Dog Trainer right away for professional help!
Did Torture Work?
Ideally, after a few weeks of practicing picking puppies up daily, doing pretend vet visits, and tick checks, they will become comfortable with you, your family, friends, or professionals handling them.
This will help the vet and the vet techs during annual exams, and guarantee these well socialized puppies are the most-wanted and adored by groomers, walkers, family, friends and visitors who know that your dog is a Zen Dog!