Handling – Layer 1

Objective:  To help your dog be comfortable with a variety of handling situations

Note:  Start where your dog is the least sensitive, it may be the chest or chin.


Optional Reading and videos:

Conditioning your dog to handling makes them less likely to bite when put in the situation of being touched unexpectedly.  Most dogs, unless previously trained, are uncomfortable with being touched in certain circumstances.  Some dogs have body sensitivity issues making them less likely to want to be social.
You can train your dog to be comfortable and calm when being handled by pairing handling with high value reinforcement such as treats.  This pairing changes your dog’s emotional response to being touched from feeling stressed by the interaction to feeling relaxed and comfortable with it.  It’s important to use high value treats so that you create a strong emotional response rather than a weak one.
If you notice during the exercise that your dog is fixated on your hand that is holding treats and not paying attention to being touched, you can hold the hand of treats behind your back.  This step will help your puppy or dog associate the handling with the predictor of the food rather than fixating on what you are doing with the hand that is holding the treats.
IMPORTANT:  Never trap your dog or puppy while doing these exercises.  If your dog ever backs away from the handling, simply do not reward the dog and wait to see if your dog will come back on his own.  What your dog is telling you when he backs away, is that what you were doing is too much for him and that you need to go back a step and make it a little easier for your dog.
Order of touch then food is crucial:  Touch your dog first, mark with a ‘Yes’ and then deliver the treat.  We want the touching to be the predictor of the good thing.  If you present the treat and then touch your dog, the treat becomes the predictor of touching and it could cause your dog to move away from you at the sight of the food.
Step by Step Instructions Comments
Reminder:  Use really high value treats when playing this game!!
Start out with touching your dog on the chin and chest.


Touch your dog on the chest, say ‘yes’, remove your hand, reach for the treat, feed your dog.

Mark with a ‘yes’ and treat

(note: saying ‘yes’ is easier than trying to manage a clicker and treats while you are touching your dog)

Stay at this level until your dog is comfortable with the handling (ears relaxed, doesn’t move away, body is loose and not tense)
Run your hand along your dog’s back Say ‘Yes’ and treat
Stay at this level until your dog is comfortable with the handling (ears relaxed, doesn’t move away, body is loose and not tense)
Continue working on the following areas, only advancing when your dog is comfortable with the handling
Run your hand down your dog’s front legs Say ‘Yes’ and treat
Pick up one of your dog’s front legs Say ‘Yes’ and treat
Pick up the other front leg Say ‘Yes’ and treat
Repeat the above for the back legs Say ‘Yes’ and treat
Continue touching your dog in the following areas:
The sides of the face, neck, shoulders, sides, and the top of their head
If at any point your dog is not looking relaxed and comfortable, stop what you are doing and think about how you can make it easier for your dog
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