There are two different approaches to petting and handling. One I refer to as in situ where the owner reduces themselves to the pup’s level and pets them where they lie. The other, Harry Potter’s Wingardium Leviosa approach, is to lift the pup up and cradle it in your arms while petting it. Both approaches work well, but if the pup is lifted up it should be lifted up properly. This means scooping it up from beneath and holding it securely, but not tightly, in such a way that it knows there is no chance of it falling. Whether using the in situ or Leviosa approach, petting should be performed in a way that the pup will appreciate, not like our grannies did to us when we were young, roughing up our hair and pinching our cheeks. Rather the pup should be petted along the side of its face and chest, petting in the same direction the hair grows and speaking in soothing tones. Whenever handling or petting a pup, pay close attention to its body language and affect. It is not hard to tell whether a pup is appreciating your attentions or whether it is trying to resist. Appreciation is good, resistance is not, and it indicates that its time to stop. If you start handling or petting a pup when it requests you will not be engaging in over-petting or over-handling. Read the dog is the message here. Human adults are not too bad at understanding puppy cues, but children are often unaware what the puppy is trying to tell them. It is important for adults to properly supervise the interaction of children and puppies if supposedly enjoyable handling and petting sessions are to be viewed as positive experiences by the pup.
As a final note, when it comes to communicating with or handling puppies, patience, consistency, and kindness are key to providing positive experiences for the pup. To be engaged in the family fun is a positive experience for the pup that contributes to bonding. Fairness in all respects and protection of the pup from unwelcome intrusions or assaults are also imperative. At the same time though, the kindness and protection has to be tempered with certain expectations and limit setting. For example, it is not reasonable to start to train a pup to sit to receive food or receive treats. The pup should have proper mealtimes and rest times and scheduled exercise sessions. Like children, puppies benefit from clear communication, proper attention, rewards for jobs well done, and timely correction of inappropriate behaviors. Note, however, that “correction” does not mean physical punishment, e.g. rolling the pup on its back and staring into its eyes, chapping it under the chin, or flicking it on the nose. Instead, correction should be accomplished by what is referred to as negative punishment – the withholding of a privilege that was otherwise being offered. For example, if a puppy starts to nip too hard it should be told no or ouch, spoken in staccato fashion, and following that utterance all attention should be withheld for a period. Using this approach the puppy will soon learn that certain behavior causes withdrawal of its owner’s attention and it will therefore temper the behavior. With proper direction like this there is no reason that the pup will not grow up to be a confident but respectful dog that enjoys his human family and has fun with them yet respects them. This is the basis for the development of a bond between an owner and their dog.