At some point, your puppy or dog will need to be restrained at the vet. Even in everyday life there are times that your pet will need his movement and body controlled or manipulated against his will. Perhaps he has a thorn stuck in his foot and you need to hold him still while someone else pulls it out.
Any time your puppy or dog needs to be restrained, it will go better for everyone, including him, if he has learned to be held without panicking and struggling. It is is much easier to teach a young puppy to accept restraint than it is to teach a full grown dog.
The puppy is held in a sit, facing outward, between your legs as you squat on the ground. Both hands are held, gently, across puppy’s chest. In one hand hold several tasty treats.
Notice how the trainer is restraining the puppy. She is not pinching or squeezing him, she is using flat and gentle hands to prevent puppy from getting up or moving forward. If puppy is sitting calmly and not trying to move forward, she uses her hands to pet him and feed him. If puppy wriggles, she puts her hands back on his chest to keep him in place.
In the first part of the video, she is just getting puppy comfortable being held in this position. In the second part of the video, she tosses a treat on the floor so that you can see how she handles it when puppy tries to get up. Watch carefully. She gently blocks him right away. She does not let him struggle a lot, or get up and then get back down. She teaches him from the start that struggling is an ineffective strategy.
Wriggling puppies need both hands to hold them still. Once puppy starts to relax or have moments of stillness, the treat hand can pop up and deliver treats to the puppy. If puppy starts to wriggle again, the hand stops feeding and helps to restrain puppy.
We want puppy to have a gentle, positive restraint experience. Practice holding puppy with gentle flat hands without letting puppy wriggle/escape. Practice recognizing and rewarding a relaxed puppy and/or moments of stillness. Caution! Letting puppy go when he is wriggling will teach puppy to wriggle more. Free puppy only when he is relaxed.
This is an exercise you can do frequently with your puppies. Now is the time. If you are doing these exercises correctly, puppy should become relaxed more quickly with practice, and remain relaxed for longer between treats. It will be helpful throughout your dog’s life that you can gently hold him around the chest and help him relax.
It is good for puppy to learn to remain calm even when he is being held. It’s important to hold puppy gently and to help him feel secure by holding him completely. We’ll restrain puppies across our bodies, immobilizing them as completely as possible.
We want puppy to have a gentle, positive restraint experience. Restrain puppy against and across your body. Feed with good timing to create a positive association with being held/restrained.
At first, we are not waiting for any sort of behavior from the puppy. Instead, the instant puppy is restrained, the feeding should begin. Don’t give him a chance to struggle or panic, just feed right away. Feeding should continue the entire time puppy is being held for the first few repetitions. Feeding should stop when puppy is released.
Hold puppy sideways across your body, keeping as much contact as possible. Gently hold puppy’s head against your shoulder, pointing away from your face. Place your other arm around puppy’s midsection/abdomen. A second person should be ready to feed generously the entire time you are restraining puppy.
If you think any restraint will be difficult for your puppy, go slow. First, just gently place your hands/arms in those positions on puppy (feedfeedfeed). On the next rep, pull puppy toward you (feedfeedfeed). On the next rep, immobilize puppy’s head and body (feedfeedfeed).
Once puppy has had some positive experience being held and fed, you can start to reward him for relaxing/holding still. In the video, the trainer holding the puppy says “good” when she feels the puppy relax, and the other trainer feeds right away.
Again, make sure that you gently prevent puppy from wriggling away or struggling to get loose. We don’t want him to become an escape artist! That’s the wrong lesson.
It is good for puppy to learn to remain calm even when he is being held down. You can choose your position, either laying down with a hip kicked out, or laying down completely on his side (as in the video). Only choose laying on his side, for now, if it is easy for you to lure him onto his side. This is one of the most difficult positions for many puppies to be held in. Once they learn to feel safe and comfortable being held on their side like this, you can use this position do nail trim desensitization exercises and more.
Step One: Holding while feeding
We’ll make this as easy as we possibly can at first, by feeding puppy continuously. Lure puppy into a down or onto his side. Feed little treats the whole time. Gently press a flat hand onto his shoulder. Keep feeding. Gently press a flat hand onto his hips. Keep feeding. For puppies on their side, gently restrain their head. Keep feeding. For puppies laying with kicked out hip, gently push them onto their side while also luring onto their side (be generous with treats – this is hard). If puppy struggles, do not let him up while he is struggling. Keep gentle pressure and feed him tasty treats until he is calm once more. You can see this demonstrated when puppy tries to get up in the video.
Step Two: Holding THEN feeding
This is a slightly different exercise. This time you will be strategically feeding discreet treats. First, reward as much as you need to reward to help pup understand that you want him to stay in this position. Then, once puppy is happy in position, stop feeding. Place your flat hand gently on his shoulder, then immediately begin feeding again. Feed continuously treat-treat-treat until you lift your hand. When puppy is doing well with this, you can gradually extend the amount of time you restrain puppy before feeding.
Activity Note: This is not simply an activity to teach puppies to lay on their sides. It is important that there is an element of restraint or at least of moving the puppy’s body in a way he does not choose himself (gently tipping him into a hip roll or on to his side). We are trying to accustom puppy to unwanted touch in a gentle, measured, and careful way. The unwanted touch need not be extreme, nor should the restraint be more than minimally stressful. This exercise is about practicing associating that particular kind of handling with really good treats.