As we enter 2016, most of us have already made New Year’s resolutions for ourselves. Have you included some resolutions for your pets, too? The beginning of a new year provides inspiration for self-improvement, but it can also inspire us to do more for our furry friends…more baths, more walks, clean out the toy box, get to the vet, sign them up for a class, and, of course, provide them with more touch.
We don't often think about all of the amazing ways we can enhance our pets’ lives through touch. Touch is a powerful communicator, particularly with dogs. Learning to touch and handle your dog in a positive way can not only improve his/her health, but it goes a long way in strengthening the bond between you.
Following are just a few ways you can bring more positive touch into your relationship with your dog:
Learn to Talk Dog
Before touching and handling your dog, it is important to know dog-speak. Know what your dog is telling you. Enroll in a dog communication class, work with a positive trainer, and/or read books on canine communication so that you will understand when your dog wants to be touched and when s/he doesn’t. Being able to communicate non-verbally with your dog will help build a relationship that includes more mutual understanding.
Be There When You’re There
Be present when touching your dog. Understand that how you touch your dog communicates different information. Focused, intentful touch tells your dog that s/he is important and that you are ready to “listen.” It’s difficult to know what your dog is communicating when your focus is elsewhere, and when you touch without focusing, it’s easy to miss important cues and information that your dog may be providing.
Take a Class
A canine massage class, that is. Canine massage is very different from petting. Learning some basic canine massage techniques can help you understand how to touch your dog more specifically for stress reduction and to relieve muscle soreness. Additional skills taught in a canine massage class, like palpation and focus, will help you learn through touch even more about your best friend and how to keep him/her happy and healthy.
Find the Right Groomer
If your dog gets bathed or groomed, consider using a low stress groomer. Visits to the groomer can be highly stressful for dogs, and when a stressful situation is repeated again and again, dogs can become aversive to touch. Making sure that your dog has a pleasant experience when being groomed means finding a groomer who understands how to help dogs feel more comfortable during their visit.
Respect the Space Bubble
Most people hover over dogs without realizing that dogs are really uncomfortable with this gesture. Most dogs, no matter how much they love their human, are not OK with people bending over them and encroaching on their space. And hugging? Don’t do it. Sure, we love to hug our dogs, however, there are better ways to get physically close to them without smothering and causing them stress. Learning how to invite your dog into your space and respectfully touch them can actually increase their desire to be close. Likewise, don't reward a dog who inappropriately encroaches on your space. Respectful interaction should be had on both sides.
Bring in an Expert
Finally, consider a well-trained canine massage therapist for help. If your dog is touch reactive; aversive to handling; or showing signs of physical discomfort from muscle soreness, old age, or injury, a well-trained canine massage therapist can help. A therapist can use his/her expertise to teach your dog to accept touch, relieve your dog’s soreness and pain, and/or guide you to veterinary care, if deemed necessary. A therapist can also teach you tips for working with your dog at home.
Resolving to bring more opportunities for positive touch into our relationships with our furry friends is sure to enhance and strengthen the bond of love and respect we share with them. Here's to a new year filled with love and endless ways we can help our canine companions.