Habituating Puppy To Human Touch

Habituating Puppy to Human Touch

Photo by Kevin Lowery | www.kevinlowery.com

It is vital to habituate a puppy to human touch as soon as the puppy is born. A new pup relies on touch to find its mother, to stimulate milk flow for feeding, and as a source of comfort. Mothers in turn lick and nuzzle their puppies from birth, improving the puppies’ circulation and encouraging them to eliminate waste in order to stay healthy.

Touch helps form emotional bonds between Mom and her pups, which must then transfer to humans. It is really important that a puppy experience human touch from birth to promote a human/canine attachment and encourage the puppy’s ability to develop social attachments with people as it grows.


How to Start Habituating your Puppy to Human Touch
Make being touched a pleasant experience for your pup. Be gentle and aware of how tight you are holding her and the way you are stroking her. Sometimes a touch that is too light might tickle while stroking too hard might hurt, so always look at how your puppy accepts this touch. Does she stay and ask for more if you stop stroking her, or does she walk away? Does she growl at you or lick your hand? The way she responds to your touch will indicate how she feels.

  • Cutting Puppy's Nails
    You might not have to cut your puppy’s toenails when she first joins you but you can still practice toenail clipping by handling her paws and allowing her to feel the toe clippers or whatever you will use to cut her nails, next to her paws. You can pair this experience with her favorite treats and praise her for compliance. A pup’s paws can be sensitive and handling can be uncomfortable if not ticklish, so be aware of this as you handle them.
  • Handling Ears & Mouth
    Get your puppy used to having her ears looked into and her mouth opened. This will make it a lot easier when she goes to the veterinarian. Pair each touch with something positive like praise or a treat and don’t subject her to too much handling to begin with. It’s also important to have other people handle her so she gets used to be touched by strangers. This will prevent touch aversion as she grows older.
  • Picking Up Puppy
    Sometimes puppies don’t like being picked up. This might be because they feel vulnerable, have felt pain while being handled or are startled by sudden contact. To avoid this issue teach your pup a cue that tells her she is about to be picked up such as “pick up” followed by the action. Give her plenty of praise. You might find that when you give the cue word she presents you with her backside as if getting ready to be picked up. This is a good sign and shows she trusts you by presenting you with the non biting end!
  • Grooming Puppy
    All dogs will need to be groomed some time in their lives and there is no better time to start grooming then when your puppy is very young. Allow her to investigate the tools you are going to use before you start grooming and be gentle while brushing so that her fur or skin is not pulled.

Automatic Defense Reflex
Puppies have an automatic defense reflex when a hand comes towards them or extends over the head. When a puppy is very young, this reflex is not under conscious control, so it is vital to desensitize the puppy to accept being touched by an approaching hand and to have people lean over them as they do so, as a leaning position can be threatening.

Target or touch training (teaching a pup to touch a human hand with her nose) and pairing an approaching hand over the head with something that the pup likes, helps build a positive association with the action and body position.

This is one of the most vital social lessons a puppy can learn because human invasion of space and the ‘hand over the head’ scenario is going to happen many times throughout her life.


My Puppy Growls When Being Handled
If your puppy growls, snaps or bites when she is being handled, she might have a touch sensitivity issue, feel pain or not like the fact that you are preventing her from indulging in a certain behavior she likes. Take her to the veterinarian to rule out any medical issues she might have and if she is cleared there might be a more significant behavioral issue to address. Limit the amount of times you handle her and pair handling with something she loves like a game, toy or some food. Give her plenty of praise. Gradually build up to the point where she is more tolerant to touch, but don’t go too fast and to avoid irritation, redirect her from the activity she likes doing first before picking her up.

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JOIN THE CONVERSATION
  • Petrina Pixton

    I have a 15 wk westie who hangs on my trousers.Today when he this I smacked his a few times and he became quite snappy and aggressive. I realise I would'nt do this again but what should I do instead.Petrina

  • Hi Petrina,

    Here's a great article to read about puppies who teethe and mouth and what you can proactively do about it: https://positively.com/dog-behavior/puppy-knowledge/teething-mouthing/

    -The Positively Team

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