Desensitization is related to socialization, but also a little bit different. We are using the term specifically to apply to body handling, but the process is similar to the processes used in socialization– basically taking something that can be uncomfortable for your pup and making it a positive experience for them so they don’t fear it in the future.
Odds are, at some point, your dog is going to need to be handled by a vet and/or a groomer for its own health and well-being. But if your dog wasn’t desensitized to having their sensitive areas handled as a pup, this can become far more difficult and dangerous. (This was another skill I missed out on teaching my pup; once it took me and 4 vet techs to hold him down just for a rabies vaccine!)
Your groomer and vet will be most thankful for your early desensitization work on body handling, but it also helps your dog become more confident and accepting of touch in sensitive areas generally, which is really helpful especially if you ever want your dog to be safe around children. (You should also teach your kids how to safely and gently handle dogs, but that’s a whole other blog!)
Luckily, this is a pretty simple exercise to master. Grab some high value treats. Use the treat in one hand to distract the dog; pinch it between your fingers so they can lick it and maybe nibble but can’t take the whole thing. With your other hand, pet your dog gently in sensitive spots! Think inside the ears (the visible part), around the face/eyes/nose, inside the mouth, on the paws, between the paw pads, each individual nail, arm pits, tail, around their privates/bottom, etc.
Go slowly and give more treats as needed. You’ll figure out pretty quickly which are your dog’s “hot spots” or most sensitive spots; pay more attention to those areas.
This is an exercise you’ll want to repeat often to show your pup it can be a positive experience allowing handling all over their body! And prevent issues in the future, like dogs who panic at the vet and have to be muzzled and/or sedated for basic care, and getting fired by your groomer because your dog loses his mind when she tries to clip his nails!