There are a myriad of reasons your dog needs learn how to have his or her body handled. From veterinary visits to grooming, to being hugged, pet, and tugged on by a wide variety of people, a relaxed tolerance of handling does not come naturally to our dogs. The easiest way to ensure your dog is able to tolerate handling is to start when they're still very young indeed. Ideally as soon as you bring your puppy home.
Start with the basic tools needed for grooming. A comb, brush, toothbrush, nail clippers, scissors, and any other grooming tools can be laid out for the puppy to explore. When she does, give little rewards for such brave curiousity. Next, practice examining the dog. After each 'exam', give a treat. For example. Hold one of your puppy's paws. Then release and give a treat. Check inside the ears. One ear, check! And treat! Other ear, check! And treat!
Repeat this until your puppy is delighted to have you handle these sensitive body parts. If the puppy tries to get away, or is squirmy and unsettled, simply withhold the treat and say something like, "Oopsie!" You can always start again in a little while. Feel between the toes, the nails, the windpipe, the belly, the tail - and gradually, over a few days, try to get to a whole body exam.
Practicing grooming with your dog follows the same principles. You can expect to be treating your dog often while you condition her to tolerate and even enjoy grooming. With every brush stroke, treat! Then two brush strokes, and another treat! Do this until your dog can tolerate a whole body grooming, and even add a little pressure for a nice, deep brush through. Once your dog is comfortable with having feet and nails touched, you can practice touching her nails with the clippers. One touch, one treat! Then a few touches for a treat. Next, hold the paw in your hands and press on the toe to make the nail come out. Treat! Continue like this, adding the clippers into the equation slowly and gradually, until you can effectively hang onto your dog's paw and clip those nails without a fuss.
Many dogs find themselves quite traumatized by the grooming experience, having never been conditioned to tolerate or even enjoy the process. By taking your time, starting early, and staying consistent, fear of grooming does not have to be a reality for your dog. Instead, make it a joyful, relaxing experience with these important grooming practices.
If you'd like more information on how to get your puppy ready for anything that might come his or her way, check out this class with the Dunbar Academy here. Veterinary behaviorist Dr. Ian Dunbar is a legendary force-free dog behavior expert, and his work with puppies is second to none. I've learned a great deal from his work, and I'm sure you will too. Many of the courses in his online Academy are totally free - and they're a wonderful place to start.
Good luck, and happy training!
Camille Salter is the founder of All Dogs Toronto and a certified, knowledge-assessed dog trainer (CPDT-KA). She is the author of two books on dog behavior: Pandemic Puppy, and Decoding the Dog Park.