dog hands

Puppy Training: Hands are Good Things

One of the most important lessons puppy owners can teach their new family member is that hands are wonderful things.

When hands are great, life with a puppy is much easier. If, however, the puppy feels that hands are not great—hands grab him, correct him, groom him, brush his teeth or otherwise only do things that are not liked—then life with the puppy is more difficult. Plus, in that frame of mind the puppy will begin avoiding your hands, ducking away from them, or he may even begin nipping toward hands.

Give Your Puppy Food by Hand

In years past, many trainers told dog owners to never hand feed a dog; that hand feeding would spoil the dog. Today, however, knowing more about dog behavior and how dogs learn, trainers have changed their advice. When you feed a puppy by hand, offering a piece of food and encouraging him to take it gently from your hand, you can teach him food manners while showing him that your hands are the source of food. At each meal, hold your puppy's bowl in one hand and with the other offer your puppy a piece of his food. You can teach him a verbal cue, "Okay, have a piece," and extend your hand. If the puppy takes it gently, praise him. If he tries to grab, bite or paw the food out of your hand, close your hand around the food. He gets it only when he's gentle. Don't pull your hand away as that will cause him to chase your hand to get the food. Giving him a third to half of his food at each meal is great. Then give him the rest of his meal and let him eat in peace. Don't give him his meal and then mess with it or take it away. Just leave him alone.

Touch His Collar

Far too often, puppy owners touch their puppy's collar at only two times: times of stress and times of excitement. The first is to attach the leash. The puppy, anticipating a walk, and not knowing any manners yet, won't hold still and hooking up the leash becomes difficult. The second time the collar is touched is if the puppy is needs to be restrained. If only unwanted things happen when his collar is touched, the puppy learns to guard his collar and not let the owner touch it. Making a game out of touching the collar can prevent this avoidance and guarding behavior. Have some high value treats (ones your puppy really likes) in your pocket. Sitting on the floor or as close to the puppy's level as you can, show your puppy a treat and let him smell it. As he steps close to get the treat, reach to his collar and touch it. As your fingers touch the collar give him the treat and praise him. Do this several times and then stop for this session. Over several days, touch his collar more and more, eventually taking a good hold of it and jiggling it. Always give him the treat and praise him when your hand is on the collar. The treat, a happy tone of voice when praising him, and short training sessions will all help keep this exercise fun.
dog hands ©istockphoto/pankration

Teach the Trick 'Touch'

The trick 'touch' is one that teaches the puppy to move to your hand and touch it with his nose on his own. When the puppy feels he can control how he moves toward your hands, any concern can be significantly reduced. With some good treats, again sit as close to your puppy's level as possible. Place one hand open in front of your puppy. Spread two fingers and with your other hand, place a treat between those two fingers so your puppy can see it. When he touches your hand to get the treat, let him have it, and praise him, "Good touch! Yeah!" Avoid moving your hand toward the puppy's face; let him move toward your hand. Over several training sessions, close the gap between your fingers. Then move your hand to one side so he has to take a few steps to touch your hand. Then move your hand to the other side. Make a game out of this with great treats, lots of praise and cheer for your puppy as he masters the trick.

Keeping the Hands Fun

Your hands will often have to do things your puppy may not like, but there are ways to do this while making sure your hands remain positive in your puppy's eyes. Until these skills become a habit, though, just think through what you want to do before you do it. Grooming chores, which will include brushing, combing, removing foxtails, and trimming nails, can all be things the puppy may not like. However, with some treats, praise, petting and short grooming sessions, you can change his mind. For example, give your puppy a chewy treat that will take him some time to chew as you brush him. Have someone offer him a spoonful of peanut butter as you trim his nails. After each short grooming session, praise him, pet him, and rub his ears to again show him hands are great. If the puppy is doing something you would prefer he not do, and you're tempted to grab his collar to interrupt him, instead interrupt him by hooking the leash to his collar. Let the leash, not your hands, interrupt his unwanted behavior. Then use your hands on the leash, your voice, and training skills to show him what to do instead of that unwanted behavior. When you aren't used to raising a puppy in this fashion, it may take some thought until they become habits for you. Just keep in mind that your goal is to prove to your puppy that your hands are wonderful things.
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