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Training Your Dog to Accept Handling

By Jess Rollins
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This exercise will teach your dog to remain still and wait for a reward when you need to handle him for grooming or medical reasons and also to accept accidental inappropriate handling. It is an extremely important behavior for your dog to learn to keep him calm and to prevent aggression.


  • For all of the exercises, follow these steps. Begin with very brief, non-invasive touches. If he stays still and calm and does not try to wiggle away, C/T (click or praise and treat). If he wiggles, continue holding the dog, but do not resist his movement. Think of your hands as "sticky" - they will stay stuck to the dog but move with him until he is still and then you will C/T and release your grip.
  • Do not proceed to the next step until your dog enjoys the current one.
  • Only work these exercises for a couple of minutes at a time.
  • Do not use your clicker to close too his head! -It's okay to use a word such as "yes" or "good" and then deliver your treat, if clicking is awkward. The I-click can be used by pressing it with your foot.
  • Once your dog has learned the following exercises with you, practice with others.
  • Easy cheese or peanut butter spread on the floor or refrigerator door is a simple way to keep your wiggly dog still for handling when you have not trained him yet to be still.
  • If your dog already dislikes being handled, you can teach him to accept it by following this method and going very slowly. Have a professional (or at least "“ someone else) do any needed manipulations such as grooming until he has learned to be comfortable. Muzzles do not hurt the dog and can be helpful in keeping people safe while we teach him that it's okay to be handled.
  • All dogs need to practice handling exercises for one or two minutes several times a week to remain comfortable with the process (forever!).

Teaching your dog to accept handling of different areas:

Collar: Find a quiet place to practice and get your clicker, treats and dog.

  1. Touch your dog's collar under his chin and immediately release him while you click and treat (C/T). Repeat 10 times or until your dog is happy about this exercise.
  2. Hold onto his collar under his chin for 2 seconds. Repeat until he is happy with this exercise and then up the time gradually to 10 seconds.
  3. Hold his collar under his chin and tug on it a bit. C/T if he accepts this without resisting. If he wiggles, gently stay "stuck" to him until he calms and then release and C/T. Repeat this until he's comfortable and then try it from the top-side of his collar. Increase the intensity and duration slowly as you practice.

Paws: Many dogs are very sensitive about their paws. It is important to proceed slowly with this exercise so that the dog is enjoying it and to continue handling his paws throughout his lifetime. Do not trim your dogs nails unless you are absolutely sure you know what you are doing as it is easy to make a mistake and cause pain. In all of these exercises, if he does not try to pull away, C/T, if he wiggles, "stick" to him and C/T and release when he stops resisting. Each step in this exercise should take several days to complete with dozens of repetitions. Complete each step before proceeding the the next one. Practice with all 4 paws.

  1. Pick up his paw and immediately C/T. Repeat 5 times and then progress to holding his paw for 1 second.
  2. Hold the paw for 10 seconds with no resistance from your dog.
  3. Hold the paw and move it around.
  4. Massage the paw.
  5. Pretend to trim the nails.


  1. Reach around the side of your dog's head and touch his ear. C/T. Repeat 10 times.
  2. Once your dog is comfortable with this, practice holding the ear for 1 second. If he wiggles, stay "stuck" to the ear, but move with him. If he stays still, C/T and release. Continue to practice this way until you can hold each ear for 10 seconds.
  3. Practice manipulating the ear and pretending to clean it. Remember to go slowly enough so that your dog enjoys this practice. It should take several days of practice before your dog will remain still for the "cleaning". If your dog is already sensitive about his ears, it may take longer.


  1. Gently touch your dog's mouth and C/T. Repeat 10 times.
  2. Touch the side of his mouth and pull up a lip to expose a tooth. C/T and release only when he is not resisting.
  3. Proceed slowly through the following steps: lifting the lip to expose more and more teeth, on both sides of the mouth and then opening the mouth.
  4. Touch a tooth with a toothbrush and then work up to brushing his teeth for 1-10 seconds.

Tail: This is considered a "private" area and many dogs are sensitive about having their tails handled.

  1. Begin by briefly touching your dogs tail. Repeat 10 times with clicks and treats. Once he's comfortable, proceed to being able to hold his tail for up to 10 seconds.
  2. Progress slowly through the following steps: pulling the tail up, brushing, pulling gently on it.

Touching by children: Prepare your dog with the strange sorts of touches that children may give him (always supervise and keep everyone safe when dogs and kids are together!) Practice by C/Ting him for accepting odd touches from you such as ear tugs, tail tugs, head pats and hugs. As with all exercises proceed slowly.

Lifting: In an emergency you may have to lift up even a large dog. Practice doing this by first putting your arms around him using clicks and treats for the briefest of touches and then proceed to being able to lift him off of the ground while he remains calm. For dogs that require professional grooming, practice picking him up and putting him on a table and practicing other handling exercises

Brushing: Get your dog's brush and lightly touch him with it and C/T. Repeat until he is comfortable with a normal level of brushing and remains still.

Jess Rollins

The Author:

Jess Rollins

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