Help for Hand Shy Dogs

Many owners don’t even realize when their dogs are ‘hand shy’.  As you reach toward your dog’s face or collar, if they finch, look up, back up, etc., then they are ‘hand shy’.

The methods below will help your dog “Accept Reaching Hands and Touching”.

This exercise will help hand shy dogs become more comfortable with being touched. It is important to begin practicing with familiar and accepted adults first. Again, keep in mind that your objective is not for the dog to merely tolerate, but rather to remain relaxed and enjoy the process, and that an inexperienced helper can get bitten if you proceed too quickly without making sure that the dog is truly accepting rather than merely tolerating the touching.

Goal 1: Relaxed Dog will accept face touch from owner and/or helper.
1. Reach toward dog, stop 6 in. from side of dog’s face, treat from other hand.
2. Repeat reach toward dog, stopping 3 inches from face, treat from other hand.
3. Repeat reach, stopping 2 inches from face, then repeat stopping 1 inch from face.
4. Lightly touch the side of dog’s face.
5. Repeat toward chin.


Goal 2: Relaxed dog will accept collar and body touch from owner and/or helper.
1. As you feed the treat with one hand, touch the dog’s head with the other.
2. As you feed the treat with one hand, touch the dog under the ear and on the ear.
3. As you feed the treat with one hand, touch the side of the dog’s neck.
4. As you feed the dog with one hand, touch the collar.
5. As you feed with one hand, touch the dog’s chest, front legs, back, lower back, belly, down the back legs, the tail, and finally the paws.
6. Progress to touching from different positions and at different speeds.

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Teaching Your Dog to Wait at Doors

This is a valuable behavior to teach to help your dog be safe at open doors.

Definition: The dog should wait in an area of your choice, but does not have to freeze in that position (as in the Stay). For example, if you tell your dog to wait at the front door while you exit, the dog can move about in the room, but cannot go through the door.

Phase One:

  • Begin with the dog sitting or standing in front of a closed door. Stand between the door and the dog, holding onto the leash and the door handle. Before the door is opened, give the cue “Wait” and the hand signal for “Stay” (fingers pointed down, palm toward the dog’s face).
  • Now open the door a crack. The dog will probably begin charge through the door in delight! As he does, bar the door with your body and/or GENTLY close the door in the dog’s face. Repeat the sequence until the dog does not try to barge through the door. You don’t have to say anything negative; your presence in his way is saying all that is necessary. No treat is required in this exercise — just going through the door is enough for most dogs!
  • Once your dog is waiting at the door, you step through. If he tries to follow, your body is back blocking the entrance, or the door again closes (gently) in his face. Put him back, and tell him “Wait” again. There is no need to put him back in the exact spot.
  • Go through the door. When the dog is on one side and you are on the other, count to five slowly to yourself. Then release the dog – he can go through the door!

    Phase Two:

    Some doors, such as car doors, front doors, and perhaps the back door, should be designated “permanent” wait doors. This means that the dog is taught not to go through them at any time unless someone is there to give him permission. To teach, make sure the dog understands Wait. Then, without giving the command, open the door and start to step through. When the dog goes with you, tell him “uh-uh,” and block the door. Repeat until the dog understands he has to wait to go through this particular door even though no command has been given. When it’s obvious he understands the concept, step through the door, wait a few seconds, then release him.


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