Gentling a Puppy
by Ben J. Character, DVM
Unless you teach puppies good manners early on, they can develop bad habits that often result in euthanasia. Gentling is a basic tool that teaches puppies to be gentle, and accept positive leadership. For this exercise, the puppy should be 6 to 14 weeks old.
Handling: Gently rub your hands over the puppy’s entire body and move its head and limbs in every direction. Ignore casual resistance, but stop if it panics. Your friendly touch shows the puppy you are a trustworthy leader. After the puppy is comfortable with handling, begin your examination. Look at it’s teeth, ears, toes, nails, belly, and around the tail. The goal is to have the puppy completely relaxed, as if it were a “rag doll”.
Restraint Gently hold the puppy against its will, such as in a hug. Ignore minor struggling, and reward submission with release and a food treat. Continue this daily until the puppy develops trust and relaxes like a rag doll. If the puppy shows fear or panic, proceed in small steps or put it down and walk away. Otherwise, comforting might be mistaken for praising panic. Later, start again more slowly. Only allow mild fear, then hold the puppy still until it relaxes. The goal is to build trust.
Restraint and handling techniques establish you as the animal’s pack leader, without punishment or aggression. Besides gentling the puppy, these behavior exercises bond you and the pet stronger than anything else.