Touch between a puppy and its human has positive impacts on both species! Let’s talk about why touch is so important to raising a healthy dog and building a strong relationship. Then, I’ll share some of my tips for how to touch your new puppy so they gain more tolerance and pleasure from you and others. The goal is to have a dog that can be touched anywhere without any signs of resistance. The side benefit is raising a dog that is friendly and loves people, and can go to the vet, groomer or pet sitter with ease. These tips are great for strengthening your bond with an older dog, too!

First touch experiences

From very early in its life, a newborn pup’s developing sense of touch helps it to find its mother and stimulates milk flow for feeding. The mother’s touch provides a source of comfort and strengthens the bond between mother and pup. The mother’s licking and nuzzling even helps to improve the pup’s circulation and waste elimination.

New puppies also need touch from breeders to establish trust with people. Breeders help introduce human touch and encourage a puppy’s ability to form human attachments.

Elli of A + E Farms describes the ’10 Step Puppy Massage’ that she and her kids use daily to help their puppies become accustomed to touch. These 10 steps include include touching the puppy up and down the back, interacting with its paw pads and tapping on its nails, touching its belly, checking and pulling on its ears, covering its eyes, opening its mouth and checking on teeth, and handling its tail. She and other breeders use processes like these in hopes that when the puppy goes home it’s ready to be handled by its family, groomer, vet and anyone else it might come in contact with.

Touch helps to reduce fear and anxiety, and acclimating your puppy to touch early on will help it develop a confidence that lasts a lifetime! This training and socialization will make it easier for your dog to adjust to new situations when traveling, be welcome in more settings, and allow you the ability to get help from vets, groomer, sitter and friends. Comfort with touch is a key element to raising a calm and confident pup! These simple exercises will help the pup to be happier and healthier overall, which will in turn contribute to your happiness and satisfaction in your relationship with your dog. Who doesn’t want a dog that snuggles?

Proper puppy handling

So how can you begin introducing your puppy to touch?

Be patient when introducing your pup to touch and don’t overwhelm your dog with too much attention all at once. We want this to be pleasant and gentle, associated with things puppy enjoys. Start by saying your puppy’s name during mealtime and adding gentle, soothing pets down her back. Over the coming days and weeks, your pets can begin to explore other parts of the dogs body, like paws, ears, belly and tail. Gradually begin to pair handling with other high value reinforcement in the form of treats and play. Praise liberally!

Petting your dog while they eat their food will help them associate touch with the pleasure of eating a delicious meal. By adding your dog’s name to this activity, your dog will begin to recognize her name too, and this can have an added side benefit of helping with recall! Begin to lightly touch under the chin, on the chest, the sides of the face, shoulders, top of head, back, ears, legs, feet, tail and rear. Eventually you want to be able to touch your puppy anywhere you want without any resistance or hesitation on their part. If they pull back or squirm, that is a signal to work lovingly and patiently on that area to make them even more comfortable being touched there.

Your goal is to get your puppy comfortable with being touched while also building a trusting relationship. Be gentle and playful, but don’t touch too lightly; you don’t want to tickle your dog. Alternatively, don’t grab too hard or fast as that can seem aggressive or might not feel good. Read your puppy’s signals and pay attention to markers: Does she like and accept your touch? Does she stay and ask for more, or walk away? Does she growl, or lick your hand?

Preparing for new situations

If your puppy is exhibiting stress, reluctance or fear, don’t coddle her. This might unintentionally signal that her worry is warranted. Oddly, our coos or “reassurance” can be misinterpreted by dogs as praise or reward. Instead of comforting your dog, wait patiently for a moment and try again. Move slowly but with confidence, and have a treat ready for your pup. You don’t want to overwhelm your puppy, but it’s ok to push her a little bit by repeating the action, or holding her steady for just a moment. This will teach her that she’s ok, and she can handle new things.

By finding a balance of exposing your pup to new stressors and allowing her to work through them, you’ll help her to build tolerance and develop courage. This applies to many situations beyond just introducing her to human touch!

In preparation for grooming sessions, give your pup ample time to investigate grooming tools. By touching her head, collar and neck, you’ll eliminate her defense reflex and get her ready to be handled by another human.

Similarly, to prepare for visits to the vet, be sure to handle your puppy’s ears, belly and mouth. Touch inside and outside her ears, holding them and looking inside. Open her mouth and use fingers to get her used to having her teeth brushed. Ask a family member to watch you do this, then have them try! Other humans touching your puppy will help to prevent touch aversion, so she will be happy and confident in meeting new people. Repeating gentle touch throughout her lifetime will maintain the trust and bond you are building.

For more information on puppy handling, be sure to check out the Instagram Live that Elli and I did recently.

How is introducing puppy touch going for you? Let me know in the comments below, or join the discussion on Facebook or Instagram. What topic would you like me to cover next?

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