Handling the Overwhelmed Dog

Updated: Sep 5, 2020

The overwhelmed dog:

I believe your dog is feeling overwhelmed when being confined, therefore becomes reactive, kicking into ‘fight or flight’ (see below) when being picked up, hugged, or restrained for handling. We need to teach him that he can have space when he needs it and to love being handled in all situations, picked up and hugged. If he can trust that he can move away when he needs to, he will feel the need to do this less.

We will also combine teaching him to take space with teaching him to love it! ☺

Fight or flight instinct:

When a dog feels uncomfortable with anything that is unfamiliar to him, he reacts in one of two ways: he runs

from it or he fights with it. Dogs have a natural built-in mechanism that ensures protection from natural hazards in their environment. We must work slowly and confidently to alter this natural instinct as much as we can. It is because of this instinct that it is important to allow room for a dog to opt to flight rather than to fight. Many dogs show a weakness of temperament or inability to cope when faced with a particular situation. We never want to force an under-socialized dog into a situation. It is ideal to allow them to check out a situation and be rewarded for making a confident decision to investigate, meet and/or greet.

Teaching your dog to love all handling:

Practice at least once per day. Be sure that you are maintaining a non-threatening posture throughout this exercise. Sessions should be short but frequent. 5 minutes, 3-4 times a day or every time you are having quiet time together.

Have lots of smelly, yummy treats ready for this exercise.

Start with holding a really yummy smelling treat in front of your pup’s nose while slowly and gently beginning to pat the side of the pup’s cheek with the back of your opposite hand.

Once your pup has accepted your hand on the side of the cheek multiple times without pulling away, begin to continue the pat with the back of your hand down the pup’s back to the tail.

After multiple successes of the previous two steps, now it is time to move down the back legs and then down to the paw.

Next, handle the tail and then the front legs down to the front paws. Next is the ears and then the mouth. As you go through all these handling steps, the handling should consist of light rubbing or patting.

You can continue this into picking up and hugging;

Reach your arm over his back without touching him, “YES”/Click, give food treat, remove your arm.

Reach your arm over his back, under his belly, “YES”/Click, give food treat, remove your arm.

Reach your arm over his back, under his belly, touch his belly with your hand (light pressure), “YES”/Click, give food treat, remove your arm.

The same as previous step, but more pressure underbelly, and then more until you are lifting him up, or hugging.


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