Handling Exercises

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These relaxing and bonding exercises help increase the chances that you, your veterinary team, or your groomer can do routine handling without your dog becoming overly stressed and uncomfortable. There are now many dog professionals who are Fear Free Certified. Check out the Fear Free vets, trainers, and groomers in your area

We will want to handle the dog for a variety of reasons:

  • to trim nails
  • to groom or bath
  • to apply topical medication to skin, eyes, or ears
  • to give oral medication
  • to examine inside the mouth or brush teeth
  • to inspect skin or coat
  • the vet and perhaps a groomer will need to be able to make their way around the dog’s body

It is helpful to be able to perform routine handling with relative ease and safety. If we do not get the dog comfortable with this kind of handling early on, it is not uncommon that he will be anxious once he gets older. As well as being stressful for your dog this can make it very difficult or even dangerous for anyone attempting to handle them. 

It’s a good idea to have a friend who your pup may not be that familiar with do some of these exercises. This gives us the opportunity to build positive handling experiences for the puppy with a variety of people.

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What to do about signs of discomfort (growling, biting at your hands, or trying to get away)

If the pup shows signs of discomfort you should stop. Try again later or the next day. Go in baby steps. Try reaching for the body part versus touching it. Or touch more gently or for a shorter period of time. The nature of this work is slow and steady. But so worth the effort!

Checklist of Body Parts to Handle
  • The paws: each individual paw and toe and toenail and in between the toenails
  • The head: around the eyes, around the ears and gently inside the ears, the outside of the dog’s muzzle and inside the mouth, all of the teeth, the roof of the mouth, the tongue, the cheeks, the gums, the back of the pup’s head and down his neck
  • The body of the puppy: his underbelly and sides and back, down each individual leg, his back end, his chest, gently down his tail.
Paw: Handle, treat.

Paw: Handle, treat.

General Handling Exercise

Sit down on the floor with your puppy.
Be sure to have food handy.
As you handle the pup, pair each repetition with a small, tasty, soft piece of food (chicken or cheese). The aim of pairing the handling with food is to help build a positive association with your hands reaching toward or touching him. 
Can you gently place the pup with his back on your lap so you can handle his underbelly, his legs, paws, and head area in this position?
Handle the pup while he is standing upright on the floor beside you.
Handle the pup with him elevated on a no-slip surface that simulates a vet examining table.
Handle him gently and for very short periods.
Teach the pup to roll over on his side or back for a belly rub to help take the edge off having his underside handled. Combine gentle massage with handling sensitive parts.
Run your hand down a leg, and treat the puppy.
When you get to the paw, pick it up, and treat the puppy.
Handle a toe, and treat the puppy.
Handle each toe individually, and treat the puppy after each toe.
Handle in between each toe, treating between each one.

Ear: Handle, treat.

Ear: Handle, treat.

Mouth: Handle, treat.

Mouth: Handle, treat.

Handle the individual toenails, slightly pinching at each toenail to simulate a nail clip, and treat in between each toenail.
The pup’s nails can be trimmed in this same fashion, trim a nail and treat. Aim to trim a nail or a few nails each week. Practice will get you fluent and ensure your pup is comfortable! 
Have your vet teach or puppy coach teach you how to trim your pup’s nails so that you can become comfortable with it and do not have to rely on someone else to do this. 
Use this same simple pattern while handling all of the puppy’s body. Handle, treat, handle, treat.


For your dog to trust, tolerate, or be comfortable : ) with you or a professional, when routine handling needs arise. 

Use this PDF worksheet to do puppy handling exercises.
Use this handy worksheet to practice handling exercises with your puppy.