Reducing Stress During Handling

August 2019

Audience: Foster Caregivers, Public, Shelter/Rescue Staff & Volunteers, Veterinary Team

Some dogs might like to be petted, but get stressed when you try to brush them, clean their ears, and/or hold their paws. Your dog might try to move away or even show his teeth, growl and/or bite. Be patient with your new dog and teach them how to feel safe around you.

Helpful Tips

  • Learn about your dog's body language.
  • For the first several times you need to do something to your new dog, give them treats at the same time you brush, clean ears, trim nails, or any other grooming necessity. Teach your dog to be more tolerant of handling by pairing any handling activity with lots of tasty treats.
  • Some dogs don't enjoy hugs. Human body language that we consider friendly might seem threatening to dogs.
  • Don't lean over your dog or force them to interact. Let your dog approach you.
  • Keep handling training sessions short (1-2 minutes). Always end at a time when your dog is happy.
  • If your dog growls, snaps or bites, call your shelter/rescue group, foster coordinator, a positive reinforcement trainer or veterinarian for advice.
  • Don't yell, hit or roll your dog onto their back. This will only add to their stress.

Low-Stress Vet Visits

  • Bring lots of treats with you and your dog's favorite toy.
  • Waiting rooms can be busy and stressful for your dog. Keep them close to you, engaged with you and reward them often.
  • While your dog is being examined, give your dog treats and praise for being patient and quiet.
  • Some dogs need to wear a muzzle during the vet visit. Let your veterinarian know if your dog is sensitive to handling.

Low-Stress Grooming and Administering Medication

  • Turn brushing into a fun, rewarding game: one brush stroke = treat, two brush strokes = treat. If your dog resents the brush, re-introduce the brush slowly. For a few sessions, give the dog a treat while holding the brush close to their body without touching them. Proceed to brush strokes as your dog relaxes.
  • Nail clipping can be scary, and when done incorrectly cause pain. Start by touching your dog's paws, picking their paws up and giving them a treat. If your dog tolerates that, let the nail clippers touch your dog's nails and give them a treat. If that goes well, trim one nail and give your dog a treat. If your dog is relaxed, trim the next nail. If the whole process is a struggle, reintroduce the nail clippers more slowly.
  • To help a dog stay still for grooming, ear cleaning or medication, create something more interesting for them to focus on. An easy trick is to hold a teaspoon of peanut butter at the dog's nose level, or smear some on a wall or fridge door, or have another person hold a spoonful they can lick.
  • If your dog won't swallow pills, wrap the pill in cheese or make a pocket out of a slice of hot dog. Some medication is bitter and can cause your dog to refuse taking it alone.

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