Most humans crave touch. We like to be stroked and cuddled, we touch each other to emphasize a point and we hold hands to display affection. It is a way of connecting and reassuring, of soothing and comforting.
We like it so much that we try to convince all the other creatures on the planet to like it too. Let’s stroke a snake and cuddle a kitten…we can show a horse our admiration by kissing it’s nose!!
So when a friend of mine recently expressed surprise that I would recommend withholding some of her physical affection, it opened up a whole new forum for my column!!
Every being on the planet has an energy field that surrounds them. Plants, animals, fish…and it is a very important part of their existence on the planet. This “personal space” allows us to know when we are the object of anothers’ focus and warns us when we are vulnerable or in danger. When we “allow” another into our personal space, it is an act of trust and acceptance. That is why it is so important to honor that personal space.
Many of the people attending their first obedience class with me are seated with their dog friends, absent-mindedly stroking, fondling or playing with them while they listen. No-one can guess how distracting this is to watch!
The attendees’ animals are ALL responding in some way. Some of them are over stimulated and begin to whine, bark or get their owners’ attention and some simply shut down and shut out the touching. Neither of which is a great response as you do want your dog to notice when you touch him and you don’t want your dog to over react when you touch him! Touch can be like a treat or a subtle irritation; after all, if your Dear One stroked your arm for five minutes, you would want them to stop please!!
Many people “reward” their dogs by patting, petting and stroking them, sometimes for a full minute or two! One pat on the shoulder or chest should be enough touching and No patting but a simple, “good lad” will more than suffice.
Believe it or not, the good energy waves coming from you are more than enough to show your dog that you are happy with him.
Now I know that because we love to touch and be touched, most of us are not going to stop petting our dogs but if you could cut the touching in HALF it would make the touching much more valuable…
OK so now I am going to talk about what kind of touch…A long, firm stroke along the shoulder or a friendly rub on the chest will be received with much more appreciation than banging your hand on top of your pup’s head or scritch/scratching on his face!! A bellyrub is great if your dog offers you her belly to rub..briefly BUT do NOT roll your dog over to do this…it is an act of dominance not affection and exposing her belly is an act of submission, not love.
Learning to mind your own personal space and that of your dog will teach him/her to be confident with their position on the planet and not to lean on you for support. There is a huge difference between a bond and a codependent relationship and you want your dog to respect your personal space as well. In fact if a dog in a pack were to “crowd” its’ pack superiors, it may well receive a sharp nip to remind it to keep to its appropriate position!!
I try to be very precise when I lay my hands eyes or any part of my body on my dogs. Whether I am moving my leg to “block” a trainee from barging past me through the door or placing my hand on my puppy’s back to give her pleasure…I am very aware of the space my dog occupies and my dogs are VERY aware of my personal space. That way we can all occupy a very small area without running into trouble and I am able maneuver several dogs, a pile of food bowls, a shopping bag and front door without being pulled over, run over or dropping anything!
I know I am going to hear that your dog comes to you for affection…and I know that we have taught him that we like that but I bet he would rather you go get the leash and take him for a walk…Your dog is excellent at reading your “psychic picture” and can tell quite precisely without your voice or hand, whether you are in a good mood, worried about the bills or on your way OUT!!!
Remember that without verbal acuity, those other dog senses are heightened and so if your dog is generously sharing his personal space, do him the honor of being respectful of that gift and touch mindfully!!