Touch & Petting are Critical for Thriving
There are fundamental training skills a dog needs to possess to develop an ideal relationship with their human companions. Some of the skills involve Food, Water and Shelter, vital necessities for the long-term physical health and survival of every living being. Here the focus changes to a need that is not a vital necessity for survival, but is vital for individuals to thrive. Touch and petting are fundamental skills for dog communication and are keys to training success.Touch is just that – being able to touch the dog. Petting is actual stroking of the dog’s body with human hands. Enhancing a dog’s life with touch and petting is the difference between slogging through the daily grind to living every Zen moment with intention and happiness.
Dogs are Pets & We Pet Dogs
Have you ever wondered why we call our dogs “pets”? The word “pet” is a noun, verb or adjective, with definitions varying from “any domesticated or tamed animal that is kept as a companion and cared for affectionately” to a verb “to fondle or caress” (Dictionary.com). All forms of the word pet are relevant to dogs. Dogs are considered pets and we like to pet our dogs. However, have you ever wondered if dogs really like to be petted? Should all dogs like to be petted? Is it important to touch and pet our dogs?
Touch & Petting for Communication
Touching and petting is a common way humans and dogs communicate kindness, affection and safety. It is normal for individuals within a species to seek attention with one another (intra-species interactions). However, humans have developed close relationships with individuals of other species (inter-species interactions), including dogs, cats, horses, birds, etc. Petting an individual of another species, as opposed to wanting to kill them or run away from them, is a natural, innate human behavior. In fact, it appears to be a primitive primate behavior, as observed with Koko the Gorilla and other primate internet stars who pet and cuddle dogs, cats and other curious animals. Seeking affection through petting animals, especially their lovable canine companions, is an innate human behavior. And, to thrive in our human society, it is vital that dogs are not only tolerant of human touch and petting, but are very accepting of it, even to the point of gently requesting touch and petting.
Benefits of Touch & Petting
The five special senses are sight, sound, taste, smell & touch. Although smell or olfaction is a dog’s primary “go-to” sense, its use in training is limited to tracking, utility training and other scent activities. Touch is critical for a dog’s general well-being and fundamental in dog-human communication and training. Dogs and other Canid mammals (e.g., wolves, foxes, jackals) regularly communicate with fellow group members through touch and play behavior. Because dogs and humans are different species and do not speak the same language, touch has a greater capacity than verbal words to convey information like directions, feelings and emotional support. The bonus feature is that touching and petting your dog is healthy for you! It releases the feel-good, cuddle hormone (oxytocin) in both dogs and humans. It the ultimate love fest because dogs love us unconditionally! Regular doses of natural oxytocin through petting your dog is so good for everyone. This is missing from many shelter dog’s lives, and why fostering a dog is such a wonderful thing to do for the foster pup and for yourself.
Next up, touch and petting from The Dog’s Perspective…..
Kathryn R. Gubista, PhD offers concierge dog training, dog walks, dog runs and pet-sitting services through Lucky Dog Training Asheville and has over 30 years of training experience in obedience, tracking, agility, sheepherding, dock diving and fieldwork. The Dog’s Perspective is a training philosophy based on how dogs think. Kathryn is an evolutionary biologist and teaches diverse biology courses in higher education settings.