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Doggy Handling Basics for Owners and Borrowers

Our pawsome Vet friend Hannah from David Cuffe & Associates is back with even more or her wagtastic tips - high paws! Hannah has got some doggy handling basics for us, and it doesn’t matter whether you’re an owner or a borrower, it’s relevant for everyone :) Enjoy.


Every dog is different, but there are some basic skills that can make communication and handling of any poochy pal much easier. Here are some tips:

  1. Let the dog make the first move. Like us, some dogs have an acute sense of ‘Stranger Danger’. Upon first meeting, it is a good idea to let them sniff your hand or come up to you before attempting to pet them.
  2. Avoid immediate eye contact. Many dogs find this confrontational or threatening, so try not to stare directly into your new friend’s eyes when first meeting.
  3. Steer clear of the face at first. Some dogs do not appreciate being pet around the face by someone they have just met (they may have had sore ears or mouths in the past with bad memories of being touched in this area). When you are at a point where the dog is ready for you to touch their face (they will quite often indicate this with a nudge), a good technique is to pat under the jaw instead of above the head, as a hand descending suddenly from the sky can give some dogs a fright. This is a great behaviour to pass onto kids - never try to pat a strange dog’s head.
  4. Learn your dog’s sweet spot. Most dogs have a ‘sweet spot’ at the base of their tail and, once they have made your acquaintance, will appreciate a good scratch here. This is a great way to become friends fast.
  5. Get to their level. Smaller breed dogs will appreciate you getting down to their level. When I’m meeting a tiny dog, I like to sit down, not look directly at them and let them come up to me. Try not to hunch over them, as this can be a little intimidating for the pooch.
  6. Don’t encourage bad behaviour. Some dogs are so excited to meet you that they will jump up to say hello. If this happens, I like to turn away and wait until they are a little bit calmer before returning their greeting. Rewarding this behaviour with an equally excited greeting can encourage it and many owners try hard to train their dogs out of this habit.
  7. Use the ‘about face’ technique to stop dogs from pulling on the lead. Although most dogs are great to walk on the lead, some do like to pull. This isn’t very much fun for the handler (and probably not for the dog), but you can adjust the behaviour by using one of my favourite techniques, the ‘about face’. You can even turn this into a fun game if you have treats:
  • In the middle of a large open space, set out with the dog on the lead.
  • The second your enthusiastic friend starts to overtake you or pull on the lead, call the dog’s name and rapidly change your direction - we call this the ‘about face’. The idea is to get them thinking about keeping a close eye on you and following your lead rather than the other way around. Once you have changed direction a few times and have their attention, ask them to sit and reward this sterling behaviour with a treat.
  • Repeat!
  • Please note, it is never a good idea to allow children to walk a big, strong dog on the lead who has a tendency to pull.
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