Can I Teach My Puppy to Tolerate Petting?

Once she is excited about her reward and is staying relaxed when you say your cue and touch her, you can move your hand a bit closer to her paw. Move in small increments that are barely noticeable to your dog and only continue as long as she stays relaxed. If she starts to show signs of stress, such as yawning or tensing her muscles, or if she tries to get away, move your hand back to an area where she is comfortable being touched. Keep in mind that it will take some time for your puppy to get used to being touched on her paws and ears, and be patient.

Over several sessions, your puppy should begin to relax enough to let you get closer to touching her paws. Once you’ve reached the paw area, say your cue, touch her paw briefly and immediately reward her. If your puppy stays relaxed, work up to handling her paws for longer periods of time and touching them in different ways, such as feeling between the paw pads or touching the nails.

Repeat the same process for ear handling: Say the cue “cuddle” and then touch your puppy on her neck. If she stays relaxed, slowly move closer to the ear. Once she is comfortable with having you touch her ear, add different types of touch, from briefly touching the ear, to holding it for longer periods, to actually being able to move the ear around and look inside. As you progress to more detailed touching, delay her reward — in other words, make your puppy wait until you have looked inside her ear before you treat her.

Frequent treats can gradually be replaced by other rewards, such as a play session after being handled. You can also offer one highly palatable treat after a longer period of handling, such as a dental chew after examining her ears, rather than a series of smaller treats. If your dog continues to be uncomfortable with being touched, even with training, or if she shows aggression at any time during the training, immediately contact your veterinarian for further advice or a possible referral to a qualified animal behaviorist.

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