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Playing ‘dress-up’ is a great way to get your puppy used to unusual handling
Dressie Bessie

Dressie Bessie

New harnesses and back-packs, anti-chew collars, bandages, there are lots of reasons we want puppy to be comfortable being “dressed”. The more treats we use in the beginning the better. We want puppy to think “oh here’s that weird game where I get handled all over and get loads of treats!” 

T-Shirt: Feed generously while slipping the t-shirt over puppy’s head (scrunch t-shirt up small, put hand with treats down through neck of shirt, slip t-shirt over puppy’s head). Feed generously while gently slipping each of puppy’s legs into the shirt arm-holes. Then, tell puppy how fantastic and handsome he looks in his new digs, make a big fuss of him. Undress puppy (with lots of treats). Be careful how you bend puppy’s legs to put them in the arm holes. Never twist puppy’s legs, and never pull them out to the side. Keep puppy’s legs in line with his body, the way he naturally moves them.

Over the Head: Things that happen over and around puppy’s head can be scary. However, in the future your dog may need to have lots of things go over his head: from collars, harnesses and vet leads to ear wraps and Elizabethan anti-chew collars to head halters and Halloween costumes.

The more positive practice puppy gets having things put on and over his head while he is young, the better able he will be to cope with it throughout his life. Eventually, we want to be able to put things over his head without needing to use treats every single time, but for now, we’ll be extra generous while he is learning to keep the experience a happy and safe one.

Slide a headband over the puppy’s face and head. To help, you can consider

  • Coming from the side instead of in front of the puppy (helps for some)
  • Feeding with your hand through the loop and continuing to feed as you slide the headband up and over
  • Several reps where you just lift the headband over the nose and remove (if puppy is particularly concerned)

Once the headband is on and around the puppy’s neck, be sure to make a big fuss over him. What a handsome boy you are with your fancy neckerchief!

If you are worried about the exercise being too difficult, make a loop with the leash to slide over the head instead. This is a good option if there is the possibility that the puppy might panic and have trouble having the headband removed.

Leash Up: Many puppies wriggle, mouth, and/or become overly aroused when it is time to leash up. For some puppies, this happens because they are nervous about restraint and hands near their face. For some puppies, this is because they associate being leashed up with exciting things like going for a walk. For some puppies, this is because they associate being leashed up with losing their freedom, like when it is time to go home from the dog park.

No matter what the reason, puppy should learn to hold still and be comfortable while we leash him up. There are a couple of parts to this – we’ll take them one at a time.

  • Puppy should be comfortable with you reaching toward and holding his collar
    –Regular collar grabs
    –Ask for a sit, reach toward collar, reward –Ask for a sit, gently hold collar, reward
  • Puppy should be neutral about the appearance of his leash
    –Ask for a sit, show dog the leash, reward
    –Ask for a sit, show dog the leash, gently hold collar, reward
  • Puppy should hold still while you attach his leash to his collar
    –Ask for a sit, attach leash to collar, reward

While it can be normal for puppies to resist a little bit or be slightly stressed, most puppies should be able to be successfully dressed, and have their regular equipment put on, without stress or mouthing. However, some puppies may become upset at restraint and handling. For now, adjust each exercise by making it easier (only over the head, better treats, have a helper feed, whatever you can think of to ensure success).

If your puppy does need extra help with handling, it’s better to know sooner rather than later. Do continue to practice regularly, and do make sure that puppy is relaxed, happy to eat, and is choosing to remain in the situation. You should see fast improvement in puppy’s acceptance of this type of handling. If you do not, please let us know.