Helping a Dog Become Comfortable Being Handled - Part II
If you’ve gone to a dog training class recently, you may have learned to give your dog the “touch” command. This can work well for our foster dogs from puppy mills.
“Touch” is a command that asks a dog to touch a given item. You begin with your hand. If you put your hand out at the level of your dog’s head, palm towards your dog, your dog will likely touch your hand. When he does this, you pair it with the word, “touch”. If you need to sweeten the deal, put something on your hand that your dog can smell. You can do this as simply as holding one of their treats in your hand momentarily and then putting it away before you offer your hand to your dog. The smell of the treat will remain for your dog who will go to smell it. Cue with “touch” when they do so.
Your foster dog can see your own dog doing this and often imitates without you adding anything else to the instruction. I consistently begin this activity with me sitting in my favorite chair. My foster dog has seen me sit in this chair many times so the only new thing in this exercise is the touch command.
Put your hand out while sitting in your chair or sitting on the floor and say, “touch.” Your dogs will come to touch your hand. Praise with a “yes!” and keep your hand there. If your foster dog looks curious or interested, remain still and resist the temptation to lean closer. Let your foster dog make the decision to touch your hand. It might take many trials before he’s comfortable doing so, but at some point it will happen. When it does, pair it with the word, “touch” and reinforce with “yes.”
The touch command is an opportunity for your foster dog to approach you without any other demands. They don’t have to stand for petting, they don’t need to take a treat from your hand (which is often very difficult for them) and they don’t need to linger. A quick touch of the nose or lick of the tongue is sufficient. It’s an excellent first step for a dog that isn’t comfortable approaching a person.
In time, when your foster dog is comfortable with “touch,” you can expand the behavior to a different setting OR you being in a slightly different position. If you’ve been sitting on the floor, try sitting in a chair and vice versa. Or try squatting down in the same room you’ve been working on touch. Then try it in a different room or outside (though you’ll want to keep your position as close to the same as it was when you first taught the command.) You want to break down the experience into tiny steps, changing only one thing at a time so your foster dog can be successful.