The Importance of Puppy Holds

Some of you may be asking yourself what in the world is a puppy hold?

Snapshot from Caleb's first puppy with me when he was 9 weeks old.
Snapshot from Caleb’s first puppy hold with me when he was 9 weeks old.

And no, I’m not talking about the fun cuddle sessions we have holding little puppies while we smash our faces into their soft fur to get a big dose of puppy cuteness. Puppy holds are a fundamental necessity in the relationship building of an owner and their dog. Of course we all love to hold puppies, but I bet you never imagined it was serving a real purpose deep down inside for your beloved new family member did you?

One of the hardest things for puppies to learn is the acceptance of being restrained, whether in a person’s arms, on a leash or in a crate. They will fight you and demand their liberty from this “imprisonment” with squeals, whimpers, yelps and sometimes even thrashing. And who can blame them?! They are bundles of energy squeezed into a roly-poly body that can’t sit still for more than 3 minutes unless they are sleeping. However torturous it may seem to a puppy, all of the above are extremely important, especially the puppy hold.

Here are a few highlights explaining their importance:

  1. They instill in your dog, from a very young age, that restraint is not as awful as they think it is. With this training they are much better for veterinary exams,
    Dog being restrained by an x-ray technician. Example of why puppy holds are important - to ease the experience dogs go through at veterinary hospitals.
    Dog being restrained by an x-ray technician. Example of why puppy holds are important – to ease the experience dogs go through at veterinary hospitals.

    grooming sessions, and even canine massage and acupuncture. If you have never been behind the scenes at your veterinarian’s office it is difficult to understand the importance of a dog sitting still, for almost everything that happens there. Whether they be receiving vaccines, having x-rays taken, their ear being scoped for possible ear infections, their toes being searched for possible foreign bodies or even their eyes being looked at to detect cataracts or glaucoma, your dog is being restrained by a veterinary technician. But, if dogs are taught from a young age to accept the restraint, these exams go much smoother and quicker for your dog allowing them to leave the visit with a positive experience.

  2. They teach your puppy that self-control and patience will get them a lot farther in life if they relax and settle down quickly. In essence, the more you fight the restraint, the longer I’m going to hold on to you. However, the moment you relax I will reward you by releasing you and giving you something you want (food, play, etc.).

    The minute he is released I turn it into a game so that he moves onto something fun and rewarding and learns to trust.
    The minute he is released I turn it into a game so that he moves onto something fun and rewarding and learns to trust.
  3. For strong willed dogs, it teaches a level of respect shown upon the owner. If your dog fights you the moment you try to restrain them, and you give in to the pressure of your dog, you have just taught him “throwing a fit” works. That is the very last thing you want to do. You need to teach your dog that things happen because you say they are going to happen, but not to fret because there is a reward in the end.

I think it important to note that I do NOT like to label puppy holds as a form of dominance. Or, the owner “dominating the puppy”. I feel the proper label is that we are establishing respect between one another. You respect my judgement that this is not going to harm you, to trust in me, and in return I will do everything I can to make the episode gentle and rewarding.

These 3 fosters are demonstrating how comfortable they were with me performing puppy holds.  Parker (left) - American Bulldog mix, Lily Rose (upper right) - Ridgeback/Pointer mix, and Joplin (lower right) - American Pit Bull Terrier mix.
These 3 fosters are demonstrating how comfortable they were with me performing puppy holds.
Parker (left) – American Bulldog mix, Lily Rose (upper right) – Ridgeback/Pointer mix, and Joplin (lower right) – American Pit Bull Terrier mix.

By now you may be wondering what makes me such an expert on these puppy holds. Well, over the past 13 years I have raised and fostered over 20 puppies. Each and every one of these puppies had to “suffer” through the puppy hold lesson as part of their daily training sessions. Some of them were a lot quicker to relax in my arms while others fought tooth-and-paw (no joke!) to be released immediately. All of them however learned to accept and even learned to like the puppy holds. And when every foster found their furever home, they settled in without a single problem and continued to be well-mannered because of all the training they received with me from the beginning.

Most recently I have had to work with my personal puppy, Caleb.

A lot of love, praise and petting is given to Caleb just before I put him on the ground and play with him. All this is done in my arms so that he is still being held by me.
A lot of love, praise and petting is given to Caleb just before I put him on the ground and play with him. All this is done in my arms so that he is still being held by me.

And let me tell you, it was not easy! From the very first time I did a puppy hold on him (at about 9 weeks of age), until about 3 months of age, he would scream and bark for no less than 20 minutes, sometimes complaining for up to 45 minutes straight, demanding his freedom. I waited him out every time by keeping a calm presence about me, talking to him soothingly and keeping him in the puppy hold until he was quiet. I would reward him during his quiet moments by feeding him a couple of kibble at a time and also taught him the “look” command to give him something to do instead of protesting. This in turn would give him a food reward and help keep him quieter during the holds. You can watch a very short, approximately 2 minute, video (Puppy Hold Video) on his first puppy hold to see how difficult some puppies can be.

In the beginning Caleb would be released within seconds of him relaxing and becoming quiet. But as he matured and understood what I was asking, I would require him to be quiet for at least 1 minute, then 2 minutes on up to 5 minutes before being released. He is now 9 months old and I can still pick him up and hold him on my lap (although he doesn’t quite fit any more) without him fighting me one single bit.

At 9 months old Caleb still doesn't like puppy holds that much but he now trusts me and no longer fights during the hold. I don't know how much longer we will be doing these as he barely fits in my lap. ;)
At 9 months old Caleb still doesn’t like puppy holds but he now trusts me and no longer fights during the hold. I don’t know how much longer we will be doing these as he barely fits in my lap. 😉

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