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Canine Gentling


Gentling exercises teach the dog that hands are good things and to accept positive human leadership. It is very important for the dog to understand and trust humans and human hands. Establishing a daily routine of doing gentling helps build the dog's trust and compliance. 

How to begin

Choose a time when the dog is sleepy and relaxed. Begin by gently rubbing the dog's back and sides by sliding the skin back and forth over the body. Couple the massage with praise. Use treats if needed to create a positive experience for the dog. Over time, increase the areas you massage. The goal is for the dog to allow and enjoy you touching every square inch of his or her body every day. Body massage not only teaches the dog that hands are good things, it also teaches the dog to allow people to take charge and control any part of his or her body during routine grooming, exams, treatments, lifting or moving the dog.

This positive association with people and being touched also helps to prevent aggression towards people.

Practical reasons to massage your dog

Teaching your dog to accept handling and body manipulation allows us the flexibility to clean muddy paws. If also allows us to inspect the dog's body for any lumps, sores, scabs or fleas. Daily routine massage helps the dog comply and accept the application of medication to any part of the body throughout life.

Starting the massage early in life, and continuing on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis, communicates to the dog that he or she has nothing to fear, should not try to prevent humans from gently touching him or her anywhere, and makes it easier for the dog to accept massage as quality time with people. 

Range of motion

When the dog readily accepts the massage, the next exercise is called,  "range of motion." Range of motion means moving or rotating each extremity of the dog as far as possible within its normal range of motion. For example, take each leg, push it close to the body, then pull it far away, pull it forward as far as it will comfortably go and then back as far as it will comfortably go. Move the head up and down, and back and forth and in a circle. Over time, move the other extremities including the head, the tail, the ears, and even the nose. With range of motion, the goal is to move every part of the body gently but somewhat against the dog's resistance, to desensitize the dog to this somewhat unnatural type of human handling.

Positive leadership

In some cases, the dog might become tense, move away, act frightened or  aggressive, or even mouth your hand. These are signs that the dog is stressed by the handling. The best response to these signs of stress is to do less at one time, and couple each exercise with treats and praise. Do exercises daily adding more time as the dog shows acceptance. A little stress is not only okay but can be considered a positive as we want the dog to learn how to tolerate small doses of stress without acting fearful or aggressive.

Another benefit to this type of handling is that it reinforces to the dog that you are a powerful, yet kind and trustworthy leader.

Positive restraint

A gentle short hug is an extension of the gentle, loving massage and body manipulations. Hug your dog a little longer each time. If the dog becomes upset and struggles, you lose points. Once the dog can be hugged easily, try cradling the dog like a baby.  When the dog accepts this exercise, the next step is to hold the dog on your lap on his or her side for a few seconds. For some dogs, these exercises may need to be done daily and extended very gradually. It is best to start all gentling exercises with puppies at 2 month of age.

Positive restraint is one of the more difficult gentling exercises. Therefore, it is important to go slowly. Use food treats during the process to reassure the dog that nothing is wrong. Praise the dog for acceptance of any restraint. As soon as the dog begins to relax, let the dog up. When you give back his or her freedom with praise and a cookie, you show the dog that you are NOT trying to hurt the dog.


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