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  • Vicki Lazarchik

Desensitizing Your Dog To Touch

Updated: Jun 24, 2023

A veterinarian touches a cocker spaniel's ears

Here is post from guest author, Vicki Lazarchik, on helping your dog become accustomed to vet visits. It is estimated that the average dog will have as many as 26 veterinarian visits in his lifetime. High on the list of concerns for many of us is how our dog will behave during the examination. It is a tense situation for our furry friends, especially if they are ill. The vet needs to be able to conduct a thorough examination in order to maximize the health of our pets and dogs don't always respond well to having their bodies manipulated. Sometimes, it is only certain areas of the body that they are guarded about. It could be their ears, mouth, tail or even their paws. It's very difficult to examine a dog that is squirming to get away or one that growls when you try to look in his ears. It will be less stressful for everyone involved, if your dog is comfortable with being touched on all parts of his body. There is something you can do at home though, to help make this happen. Psychologists and Dog Trainers call it Desensitization and Counterconditioning. I just call it getting your dog comfortable with being touched. I discovered that my Pitbull didn’t like to have his ears handled at one of his first visits. He growled at the vet. She told me that I should practice handling his ears at home to get him used to it. Determined to get my dog over it, I tried this. He growled at me too. Let me be clear, his growl was not a vicious, baring-of-the-teeth sort of growl. It was just a low grumble, his way of telling me that he was not comfortable with what I was doing. If your dog bares his teeth and or lunges at you, please don’t try this exercise without the advice of a Dog Trainer. To start desensitizing your dog to touch, you need to pick a time of day when your dog's energy level is low. A good time is after a walk. Select a spot in your house that is quiet and where there will be no interruptions. Putting on soft music can also help block out extraneous noise if your dog is not stimulated by music. Have your dog sit or lie down. Give him treat that he can chew on for a while. As he is relaxed and enjoying his treat, start rubbing him on the body parts that he is comfortable with you touching. I use an unscented baby wipe and/or a grooming glove to rub my dog down. The baby wipe is also useful for removing any unwanted residue from his coat following his walk. Gently rub your way near the area that he is sensitive about. Don’t touch the sensitive area yet. Patience is the name of the game here. Do this exercise daily, each time moving closer to the sensitive area. When you are able to touch the area, praise him and end the exercise. Eventually, you will be able to handle any part of his body without him objecting. I did this with my dog and now I can grab both ears, wiggle them and even clean them without a peep from my little guy. Although my dog’s ears were the most sensitive to him, I still use this method to examine his whole body. I want him to be very comfortable with being touched everywhere on his body. This not only helps with the vet’s exam but also with making myself familiar with any abnormalities that crop up. The key to this exercise is patience. Take it slow. Watch your dog for signs that he is becoming uncomfortable. Don’t try to force it. When he makes progress, praise and/or treat him. He wants to please you. He just needs to know that it is okay to be touched.

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