Handling a pup with respect and compassion
Puppies need to be be (safely and kindly) touched, handled, held and lifted frequently, by different people, to get them used to it. This is both a part of socialisation and a part of habituation (familiarising them with sensations/ stimuli and experiences) which they will have to deal with in their lives. Vet checks, grooming, being lifted (for example into a car for transportation) are part of life, and something puppy must become familiar with from an early age. Frequent (pleasant) handling, conditions the puppy to become comfortable with touch and prevents the puppy from developing handling sensitivity which may in future result in a dog reacting with fear or even aggression to being touched. Various people need to handle the puppy and games such as "Pass the pup" and Groundwork - obstacle courses of tunnels and mazes to negotiate help puppy learn body awareness and where his body begins and ends, whilst developing develop balance, agility, depth perception and confidence.
Handling (also known as "gentling") builds up the puppies trust in being touched (the exact opposite of what abuse or neglect does!). Handling helps the RP get used to (and learn to relax) during vet exams, minor treatments, grooming etc. More importantly puppy gets to learn that human hands are great things and can be trusted not to cause harm... (even if they are doing something less enjoyable like clipping nails!) In the RP's 'forever' home we want him/her to accept being brushed, dried off after a swim or having his/her muddy paws cleaned. Future owners need to be able to pick up the puppy, and check for ticks and fleas or inspect the dog's body for wounds or lumps. They need to check that the pup’s collar is not getting too tight - at CLAW we have a serious problem with having to remove embedded collars. They need to be able to clean his/her ears and brush his/her teeth. Long haired puppies need to get used to being regularly bathed, brushed, cut/shaved and dried, and the (sensations and noises) of the grooming tools early on! All dogs need to be used to vet checks - everything from having their heart listened to, ears, and teeth checked to having a thermometer stuck up his/her anus and injections - if these are not familiar things by the time the puppy is 4 months old, each grooming session or vet visit could be unpleasant and stressful for both the dog and the owner, for the rest of that dog's life The last thing we want as animal welfare workers is for people to stop getting their pets groomed or for them to forgo any necessary and annual vet visits because it's "too traumatic!" Once again we are teaching life skills and coping mechanisms! These are all things we can start getting the RP used to, during that critical period between 3 weeks and 4 months, when (s)he absorbs and accepts new stimuli and sensations like a sponge!
For some exercises and games to do with puppy. see Ian Dunbar's Training your puppy to accept handling. There is more on handling on my Socialisation page (see Dr. Sophia Yin's Checklist for Socialization, the section on Handling). Click here to Read more about dogs who are sensitive to handling.
Cora mentioned that some CLAW visitors (and even shelter staff) do not pick up puppies and dogs correctly... Puppies (and dogs) do not have the same anatomy as humans (e.g. the lack of a collar bone) and one should never lift them up as one would a toddler.
Click pic below for link to details on how to pick up a puppy (or dog).
How Pup Touches You!
As part of the CLAW PHT it is essential for us to make teaching Bite Inhibition a PRIORITY during the Socialization Stage! CLAW's adoption reputation depends on quality of the animals we are homing - Each RP and animal we re-home needs to be an ambassador not just for him/herself or CLAW, but for the adoption process in general. People who return dogs because of issues, particularly aggression, will never return to a shelter again, and will purchase their pup from a breeder to avoid getting a "reactive, unpredictable unsafe dog". There's a good chance that they will share their negative story about the CLAWbie that bit them or their child to all their friends and family, this decreasing our pool of potential adopters even more! Once a puppy or dog is returned to the shelter system and is red-flagged because of a bite or aggression issue, that animal's future is in jeopardy - the dog is considered un-adoptable and any chance of future adoption are minimal and we simply do not have the resources to rehabilitate severe behavioural problems. Also, at CLAW we can not risk 'life and limb' of staff, visitors and our other resident dogs in the communal enclosures, so an aggressive dog with a history of dog bites almost certainly faces being euthanised!
SO, one of the most critical things that needs to be taught in Puppy Socialization (during that golden formative period) during the first couple of months, is Bite Inhibition. Puppies bite... it's just what puppies are programmed to do. The puppy learns very quickly during the Socialisation period that bites can hurt and must learn this before developing the powerful jaws and fearsome teeth as a teen. "Should a dog ever bite as an adult, both the prognosis for rehabilitation and the fate of the dog are almost always decided by the severity of the injury, which is predetermined by the level of bite inhibition the dog acquired during puppyhood. The most important survival lesson for a puppy to learn is that bites cause pain! Your puppy can only learn this lesson if he is allowed to play-bite other puppies and people, and if he receives appropriate feedback." Ian Dunbar See more...