Everyone loves to snuggle a new puppy, especially a 7- or 8-week-old ball of fur. Pick one up and it's hard not to bury your face in its fuzz and encourage puppy-kisses and ear-nibbles. Cuddling a young pup is an excellent way to start getting him or her to get used to being handled; add thoughtful intent to your actions and your cuddle turns into what Leader Dogs for the Blind calls the "handler's exam."
The handler's exam is designed to teach your puppy to be relaxed during veterinarian or groomer visits, baths, coat brushing, nail clipping, and ear and teeth cleaning. Touching builds trust and confidence, both in the puppy and the handler! Just try clipping the nails on a dog that has never had its feet touched and you'll see what I mean.
If done frequently, the handler's exam teaches your puppy to accept being touched, and you learn to be aware of your puppy's state-of-health. Do you feel anything abnormal, like bumps under the skin, or mattes in the fur? Do the ears smell funny, indicating infection? Is the puppy loosing any teeth, and are the adult teeth growing in normally? If anything seems unusual, consult your veterinarian!
A SYSTEMATIC APPROACH TO TOUCHING YOUR PUPPY
Do your touching on the floor, or, a small puppy can be picked up and placed on a table or counter to simulate the veterinarian's examination table. A shower mat can be used to give traction on a slippery surface. Do NOT leave your puppy unattended!
Start at the head.
- EARS Lift each ear to look inside. Give a gentle rub to the earflap--most puppies love this! (Leader Dogs has puppy-raisers stick our noses up to the ear, so the puppies get used to being handled this way.)
- EYES Check for foreign objects and that the eyes are "clear and bright." Eye discharge is normal and can vary from puppy to puppy.
- TEETH Gently lift the puppy's lips to check teeth and gums. Rub your finger along the gums to help get your puppy ready for teeth brushing.
- MOUTH Carefully open the mouth to check the tongue and the roof of the mouth, but don't stretch it too wide!
- BODY Run your hands along both sides of your puppy's body; you should be able to feel the ribs--if not, your puppy is too "fat!"
- LEGS Feel each leg from the body down to the paws.
- PAWS Touching your puppy's feet is extremely important! Lift each paw and gently massage it, feeling each toe and nail. Keep the nails trimmed so they don't touch the floor when the puppy is standing--actually, your puppy's nails should not even "click" when they walk on a hardwood floor!
- TAIL Lift the tail and check your puppy's "bottom."
Get in the practice of touching your puppy--all over and all the time!