Many researchers and animal lovers would agree; dogs and humans have evolved together cooperatively. Recent studies suggest drivers of food availability and living conditions up to 32,000 years ago initiated canine divergence from wolves in Southeast Asia. Since that time, parallel social rewiring of both species has fostered a deep genetic and metabolic kinship.
Why Is Touch Important?
Through the release of the “love hormone” oxytocin, both humans and dogs experience pleasure through touch; the resulting effect is an improved sense of trust and calmness which not only strengthens the bond, but also contributes to the health and well-being of both owner and animal.
Animal behaviorists and trainers recommend a calm state for optimal receptiveness to training. Relaxation benefits both dogs and humans; teaching and practicing these techniques reduces the effects of stress, thus supporting immunity, circulatory and mental health, and providing a learned behavioral/coping mechanism against distraction, impulsiveness and agitation.
What Kind Of Touch Is Beneficial?
At the risk of oversimplification, we know not every touch is equal; a tickle feels much different from a deep massage. Addressing the broad spectrum of touch, there are many books of instruction written about the benefits of energy balancing through light touch methods, deep massage, physical therapy and acupressure – and guides about how to perform these techniques. Several are reverenced at the end of this post.
The need of the animal will dictate the technique; but most dogs will benefit from an introduction to light touch, with a channeled intent to calm or relax.
What Problems Can Touch Therapy Address?
Healthy interaction between owner/handler and animal is critical to building and maintaining a strong relationship as a conduit to your dog’s mental, physical and emotional state. Although touch therapy is not designed to replace medical care, it can be a powerful component to a solid pet behavioral training and health program that may help address the following issues:
- Soreness or Pain
- Circulatory problems
- Antisocial behaviors
How Do I Start With Touch Therapy?
You can experiment and choose the method right for you and your pet. Referenced at the end of this post are several techniques worth research and practice.
Start with a calming approach; your pet will react to your energy. Don’t be disappointed if your pet gets up and walks away; respect his space and try again later. Have treats nearby for positive reinforcement if this is a new experience.
It is probably easiest to first practice when your pet is receptive and not anxious.
The objective here is to share a connection and release nervous tension, not create question, mystery or more stress!
The touch methods generally incorporate gentle work with fingers or stroking with the whole hand. Smaller areas around the forehead, face and legs will require smaller strokes with fingertips or thumbs, larger areas can be covered with the same smaller strokes, then sweeping motions. Some methods use small, deliberate, connected circular strokes, some integrate walking fingers. As you experiment and read further on your selected method, you’ll find a comfortable choice.
Here’s an example of a simple method you can try today:
Comfortably position yourself facing your dog (lying down or standing); or approach from the angle least uncomfortable for your pet. Proceed from top to bottom, beginning with the head. Press gently against the skin and feather out each stroke. Move slowly down the spine to the base of the tail, then into the hips. Return to the shoulders and work down the front legs, then to each side, front to back, dropping an inch or so down from the spine until reaching the belly. Finally, begin under the chin or at the neck, and work down the chest to the underbelly (if your dog is lying down, this is easiest.) Complete the process with longer strokes from head to tail.
What Reactions Should I Expect?
Pay attention to your dog’s reaction; does he appear intrigued, or startled or disinterested? Does he follow or nudge your hand in approval? Look for signs that he is beginning to release tension – a heavy sigh, a body shake, a yawn, loosening brow, slowed breathing – and also signs of discomfort. Does he squirm, stiffen or nip, are his eyes widening or is he panting? Keep in mind that a dog with medical issues or pain may respond negatively or even aggressively to touch. Consider also the timing of your touch, and other distractions or activities that may be interfering with the experience.
Take it slow when handling areas, like feet, that are known to be uncomfortable or awkward for your pet. Incorporate positive association, like treats, with gentle foot handling, if your dog is receptive. But don’t force the issue; pressuring your dog will only increase tension and mistrust. Patience is a virtue when relating to your best friend.
Every dog is different; the earlier you explore a touch program, the more familiar you will become to your pet’s aversions, preferences and sensitivities – and the deeper your connection will become.
How Can I Learn More?
Follow the links below to read more about touch therapy methods and techniques:
Do you have suggestions or an account of healing or behavioral change through touch therapy? Share in the comments below!
Disclosure of Material Connection: Some links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally or believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”