Handling is an important part of socialisation. We need to be able to handle different body parts of our pets' bodies in order to keep them healthy - and to help them during times of illness.
Start handling your new puppy as soon as he moves in, but make sure you make the experience enjoyable! Whilst petting your pup, gently play with his ears, lift his lips to inspect his teeth, gently put your hands in his mouth. Introduce grooming tools and wipes slowly! Let the puppy investigate them! Use slow deliberate movements so the pup can always see what you are doing!
Some puppies may be growly when you try to clean certain areas such as ears and paws. These areas are sensitive - many puppies feel wary of you letting them touch these areas. Make sure you are very gentle when you touch them and give rewards (treats) and lots of praise for them allowing you to touch them. If your pup is obviously uncomfortable, then gradually build up the time that you touch the area for. Just letting you touch and immediately remove your hand should be rewarded to start with. Five minutes a day spent petting and introducing your pet to gentle handling and grooming will help your puppy accept and even enjoy grooming!
Grabbing your dog and forcefully holding him still while you groom him, or using a muzzle only for grooming, or leaving his coat to become matted and overgrown before trying to groom him are guaranteed ways of making the experience frightening for him and a stressful chore for you! You also run the risk of being bitten and damaging your relationship with your dog!
If your dog is an older dog who already hates being handled and growls and snaps at you, then you need to go right back to the beginning - as if your dog was a puppy. If the dog's prior experiences with handling mean he might bite you, then it is a good idea to introduce him to the muzzle! Do this slowly and patiently and only associate it with good things to start with! There are several good videos on Youtube demonstrating how to do this. Click here for a good example. Just remember that every dog is an individual, and every trainer has different skill levels - so you may not be able to progress as quickly as the dog in the video!
Once your dog is used to the muzzle, make sure you keep him used to it by intermittently using it as part of a training session where he gets lots of rewards for wearing it. Take him to different places wearing it too - so that he does not generalise wearing a muzzle to only one place - where bad things might happen!
Remember - it is natural for a dog not to want to be manhandled. We would not like it - why should they? We only appreciate being touched when we consent, and we react instinctively if we are touched without that consent. Dogs are the same! Growling is their way of telling us they are not happy with the situation - it is normal - it does not mean they are a bad dog!
If you dog growls, avoid scolding him for trying to communicate with you. Instead slow the process down, give him a break, start again with slow, calm movements and lots of treats.
Remember, if your dog growls at you, you scold him and stop trying to handle him, he learns that growling stops the handling and that you behave strangely sometimes by shouting for no reason! Instead ease off, approach gently and slowly, and reward him for any progress towards letting you handle him - little steps. Make sessions short but regular and ALWAYS finish on a happy note, by rewarding him for his progress - or if it's a slow day, and little or no progress has been made, get him to do something you know he can easily do and reward him heartily for that!