Handle Me!:
Week 1 - Setup

Hi Students! Welcome! I’m very excited to have you here because you are the next generation of owners who are embracing a communication, cooperation, and consent based relationship with their dog. And that starts with cooperative handling and husbandry.

This course gets you started but there is a lot to learn beyond this course. We will focus on desensitization of previous fears and build acceptance and pleasure out of handling and grooming. But it doesn’t end here. Future courses will offer more complicated behaviors which don’t only create passive positive acceptance, but also active engagement and consent.

Every day all around the country owners have to beg their vets and groomers to care for their dogs because they cannot clip their nails, put drops in their ears, etc... It is the common belief among many dog owners, breeders, and groomers that any expression of discomfort is bratty, willful, or stubborn behavior. These reactions couldn’t be further from reality. The reason owners struggle isn’t because of some bratty manipulative dog, but instead it is simply - fear.

Does this look familiar?

The “drama” presented in the above video is a reality for many dog owners. Unfortunately it isn’t usually addressed until some human gets hurt and the damage to the dog is already done. But today we are going to start a journey to a new life with our dogs. It’s a journey to a cooperative relationship where both parties can communicate and physical health can be administered fear free.

There are also going to be students here who have said the following at some point in time…

“It’s fine… He lets me…” I get it. I was like that too. But it is important to understand that “he lets me,” means the dog is simply being made to do something and there has been no exchange of communication, practice of desensitization and likely no real awareness to how the dog is feeling about the experience. I’m not judging when I hear that phrase. I am simply picturing a clock counting down in my head… counting down till the day your dog “doesn’t let you.” If you are one of these owners, don’t worry, that mistake ends today. We will replace “let” with “we work cooperatively.”

Tension Feeding

The first step in cooperative handling and physical care is to learn to read your dog. Dogs communicate with their bodies. We watch their ears, eyes, posture, breathing, tail set, and mouth to tell us how they are feeling. In cooperative handling, we are watching for stiffness, lip licking, turning away of the head, rapid breathing, and ducking of the head. If we see these behaviors present themselves, we need to support our dogs by allowing them a break or an easier time and to revisit it in training again later.

We can also see how our dogs are feeling based on how they take food from us. Dogs will be harder or more hesitant in taking food the more they become stressed. Since many of the exercises we will be doing allow us to gauge stress based on mouth pressure, one thing you are going to practice this week is gauging your dog’s feeding pressure. To do this take a small handful of tiny treats and slowly feed them to your dog out of one hand. See the video below:

You can see that based on where I touch my dog Saga that she eats faster or slower. Practice this while touching your dog all over their body. If there is a body part they do not like touched, or they have any history of biting people, use a muzzle and extreme caution. Do not touch your dog in any way that is going to get someone bitten!

Practice this tension feeding test in different locations and with different props around. For instance, practice in the bathroom. Then in the bathroom with a brush and towel on the floor. Practice on a grooming table. Then on a grooming table with a nail clipper present. Also practice in other locations, like in a parking lot or at the vet’s office, etc…

The purpose of feeding tension is to get a baseline on our dog and to know if anything changes. We will continue feeding tension throughout the course. Try feeding tension with different foods too in case some are more interesting or boring than others.

Nose Touch

In addition to learning how our dog’s communicate and feel, we also need to work on some hands off ways to interact. We will start with a nose touch. This is only the first step for nose touch If your dog already knows the skill, great! But still practice with this step in the same locations and with the same props as you are for the previous exercise.

To teach the first step of nose touch, place a treat between your middle and ring fingers and present it to your dog. Do not touch them. Just place your hand about 2 feet from your dog’s face. Then wait for them to take the treat. As they take it, say “YES!” and release the treat from your fingers. See the video below:


As mentioned, practice both exercises in MANY locations this week and in the presence of any props that they struggle with normally. If they have too much trouble with a prop or location, give it a rest and we’ll come back to it in future weeks.


Practice both skills this week in at least 5 locations and with at least 5 props. If you have any problems with the exercises let me know.