Handling Exercises

tucker @ spa 4

This exercise helps to ensure that you or someone else can easily handle and touch parts of your dog’s body without him reacting negatively or squirming and being impatient or uncomfortable with it.

We need to be able to handle the dog for a variety of reasons:

  • to clip their nails
  • to groom them or give them a bath
  • to apply topical medication on the skin, in the eyes or ears
  • to give them oral medication
  • to take things out of their mouths or give them a pill
  • to inspect their skin or hair
  • the vet and perhaps a groomer will need to be able to make their way around the dog’s body.

It is important that we can do anything that we may need to do in relation to handling the dog safely and easily. If we do not get the dog comfortable with this kind of handling early on, it is very likely that he will be anxious once he gets older. This can make it very difficult or even dangerous for anyone attempting to handle the dog.

All of the handling exercises can be done at home.

Everyone in the family should be involved. Be sure that all children are supervised 100%. It is also a good idea to have a friend or others who your pup may not be that familiar with to do some of these exercises. This gives us the opportunity to build positive handling experiences for the puppy with a variety of people.

tucker @ spa 10

tucker @ spa 9

What to do about signs of discomfort

If the pup is uncomfortable with any of these positions or with any particular body part, pay close attention to these trouble spots and make it a priority to get the pup comfortable. Go in baby steps. The paws (front and back), toenails, mouth and ears are usually the spots that a pup is most likely to be uncomfortable with. Teach your pup to shake a paw to help take the edge off paw handling.

Check List 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 treats in a pouch.
As you handle the pup, you will treat him. This will ensure that you are making it a pleasurable experience for the puppy.
The puppy should be in several different positions while you handle him.
Hold 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 placed on a surface that simulates a vet examining table.
Handle him gently and for very short periods.
If the pup is struggling and snarling, enlist the help of someone to give him treats while you handle him.
Keep it short, only seconds if the pup is reacting negatively.
Teach the pup to roll over on his back for a belly rub to help take the edge off having his underside handled. Combine gentle massage with handling sensitive parts.
Have your treats ready and put the puppy on the floor beside you, or put him in your lap on his back, or have him lie down or sit on the floor beside you. (Try it with all of the positions mentioned at some point.)
Run your hand down a leg, treat the puppy.
When you get to the paw, pick it up, treat the puppy.
Handle a toe, treat the puppy.
Handle each toe individually, 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 toe nails, slightly pinching at each toenail to simulate a nail clip, treat in between each toenail.
The pup’s nails can be clipped in this same fashion, clip a nail and treat.
Have your vet teach you how to clip your pup’s nails so that you can become comfortable at it and do not have to rely on someone else to do this. It is an easy task and with a little practice and good handling work done early with your pup you should never encounter any problems.
Use this same simple pattern while handling all of the puppy’s body. Handle, treat, handle, treat.


You want to be able to clip your dog’s nails easily, to be able to get your hand inside his mouth or in his ears without a struggle. Additionally, you should be able to safely and, without a struggle handle any body part of the dog as he remains calm and comfortable with it.

You want your vet and groomer to be able to do the same.

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