Body Handling and Grooming

Goal: All guide dogs must be comfortable being pet, handled, and examined by their partner and unfamiliar people like a groomer or veterinary staff.

You can start handling sessions when you bring the pup home. Follow the guidelines below so the pup is comfortable being handled and groomed and view it as a positive experience. As the pup matures, you can extend the sessions and ask other family members, friends, or other raisers to handle or groom the pup.

Setting Up for Success:

  • Start handling sessions when the pup is already laying down and relaxed. Calmly place your hands on the pup's body starting at their shoulders. Slowly and firmly run your hands down the pup's body all the way down to their tail.
    • If the pup gets up or starts getting wiggly, keeping your hands in place and wait for them to relax again. Praise them in a calm voice when they settle down again.
  • Briefly run your hands down the pup's legs and lift their paws to look at their nails.
    • Some pups don't like having their paws handled. You can briefly touch the paw, offer food reward, and touch the paw again. Continue this exercise until the pup allows you to touch their paws willingly.
  • Lift the pup's ears to examine the inside.
  • Run your hands over the pup's face and lift their lips to examine their teeth.
  • Check their coat for matting or tangles.
  • If the pup is still calm, you can run the brush through their hair several times.
  • Do not extend the sessions more than a couple minutes at a time. You can extend the session to ten minutes of grooming and handling as the pup matures in small increments.
  • Never force or manipulate the pup into a position they're uncomfortable with.
  • As the pup matures and becomes comfortable with being handled, you can do body handling sessions on a grooming table, the veterinary exam table, before or after puppy class, while you are standing over the pup, or with other people handling and you observing.

Ear Cleaning

Generally, with routine maintenance, a puppy will have healthy ears. However, like people, some dogs are predisposed to infections. If the puppy shakes their head or scratches in the area of their collar, check its ears with the “sniff test.”  Just as a clean, healthy dog has a characteristic “doggy,” but not unpleasant, smell, so too do clean ears.

Any unpleasant smell, or sign of debris or reddening, may indicate an infection. Sometimes only one ear is infected, sometimes both. Be sure to notify your advisor or area coordinator of any problems you have with the puppy’s ears.

Otitis externa is an ear infection of the external ear canal. Generally, it is caused by an overabundance of yeast, bacteria, or a combination of the two. Routine ear cleaning can decrease the occurrence of otitis externa.

The pup’s ears should be examined on a daily basis and cleaned when dirty. A dog’s ear canal is deep and curved, and dirt, wax and excess moisture often accumulate (particularly because Retriever ears are large and heavy).  

You should clean the pup's ears after swimming, getting a bath, or

How to clean your pup’s ears

  • Hold pup’s ear open.
  • Fill the ear canal liberally with the cleaning solution. Gently massage at the base of the ear.
  • Let the puppy shake out excess solution.
  • Gently wipe the outer ear with a clean cotton ball or soft cloth.
  • If any colored debris is present on the clean cotton, repeat the above steps until the ear is clean and clear of debris.
  • End with petting and food reward. Ear cleaning can be unfamiliar or uncomfortable for the pup since it isn't an everyday occurrence.
    • To familiarize the pup with ear cleaning, do a brief ear exam during your daily body handling sessions.

Symptoms that may indicate ear infection:

  • Redness or irritation
  • Unpleasant odor or discharge
  • Pain and/or tenderness
  • Dark wax or debris

If any of the above symptoms are noted, call your puppy advisor or area coordinator to see if a vet appointment is necessary.


Nail Trimming

If you do not have experience clipping a dog’s nails please do not attempt to do it yourself. You can ask your advisor or area coordinator for instruction and guidance trimming the pup's nails.  Dogs’ nails have a blood vessel and if cut too close to the vessel they will bleed and it can cause pain. The end result: a puppy who shows concern or fear when their feet are touched.

When you groom and do body handling sessions with the puppy, handle their feet. When you are in puppy class, you can have your puppy advisor or area coordinator trim the pup’s nails. If you have a scheduled vet appointment, you may also ask your vet to trim their nails. If you are on Long Island, you may bring the pup into the kennel. By handling their feet, you will get the pup accustomed to this procedure.

Before attempting any nail trims, make sure the pup is acclimated to pressure on their nails. During handling sessions apply slight pressure on the nails by pinching the nail between your fingers with slight pressure.  Below is a chart used that should be used as reference when trimming the pup's nails.


Bathing the puppy is necessary only when wiping them down with a wet cloth is insufficient (e.g., when the puppy is heavily soiled). Excessive shampooing dries out a pup’s coat and skin and removes all topical flea and tick products. Please do not bathe the puppy weekly. A bath once every 6-8 weeks or less is usually sufficient with normal daily activities and frequent brushing. When bathing the puppy, be sure to minimize the risk of skin irritations by rinsing them thoroughly.

The pup should be bathed using a mild puppy shampoo, which you can get from any pet store. Aloe and oatmeal type shampoos usually are soothing and have a light, refreshing scent that will not irritate the pup's skin.  Do not use any shampoo that has flea control in it unless you speak with your puppy advisor or area coordinator first.

The puppy will be bathed each time it enters or leaves our kennel.