The Power of Touch

by Denise Theobald

"No matter what kind of emotional bond people have with their pets, touch is an essential part of the relationship" (Beck and Katcher, 1996).

"Touch increases concentrations of the hormones oxytocin and prolactin in both the human and the dog. Increases in these hormones are associated with bonding and affiliation attachments and feelings of pleasure and joy. The fact that petting /massage elicits mutual positive physiological changes provides more evidence for the benefits of touch to both humans and their dogs" (National Canine Research Council).

"Touch and non-verbal communication are how we communicate with dogs" (Turid Rugaas).

We could go on and on about the research done in the past 20 years that focuses on the companion animal-human bond. Through my own work over 18 years with dogs and the people who care for them, it is very clear, even without exhaustive research studies, that touch is a powerful means of establishing and strengthening a positive relationship with our dogs.

With that said, it is vital to understand that with any form of communication we need to choose our words or our touch wisely.  Whether the recipient of the communication is human or animal, s/he needs to be open to accepting the communication.  Some dogs solicit touch by coming into our space and exhibiting body language that shows a desire and willingness for interaction, but some dogs don't.  Dogs by nature are very social beings and want to be a part of a group or a family.  Many of them, however, have trust issues or reservations about relationship-building, just like we humans do.  There may also be physical reasons why they do not want to be touched.  Pain, little or no experience with touch, lack of socialization, or a negative or aversive experience with touch are all reasons why a dog may not seek out touch.  If a dog's only experiences with touch are associated with pain or unpleasantness, s/he will be less willing to engage in it.

Communication through touch can be the most powerful bonding experience that you have with your companion animals.  Learning how to respectfully touch your dog and helping your dog progress from a place where s/he doesn't want to be touched to a place where s/he seeks out that mutual relationship is a goal that all of us strive for.

So, consider how you touch your dog, and pay attention to how s/he communicates back to you through touch.  By touching your dog in a way that feels good, s/he will often respond by asking for more.  When you touch your dog, you are communicating not only on a physical level, but on a physiological and emotional level, too.  Touching your dog makes you both feel better, and it strengthens your bond forever.

To learn more about how to strengthen the bond between you and your dog through touch, visit

Pet Parent Classes

Improve communication with your canine companion!

Canine Massage 101, Canine Communication, First Aid/CPR (Sunday, February 21, 2016)

Canine Massage 101 | 9:00am - 11:00am | $50
Bring your dog to this 2 hour hands-on massage class and we will give you the basic tools to provide an assessment massage on your dog and show you techniques that you can use to relax your dog and to soothe those overworked and sore muscles. We will also teach low stress handling and ways to reduce anxiety. Click here to register!

Canine Communication | 11:30am - 12:30pm | $20
Dogs use body language to communicate with each other and with humans. Those who love dogs but don't understand their language can send the wrong signals even with the best intentions. This class will help you to understand what your dog and other dogs are actually communicating. Learning dog speak will not only strengthen your relationship with your dog but help you interact with all dogs in general. Click here to register!

First Aid/CPR | 1:00 - 4:30pm | $75
Preventable accidents are the leading cause of death among pre-senior dogs and cats. That's why canine professionals and pet parents alike should always be prepared to handle any emergency that may arise. In this 4 hour PetTech® certification workshop, students learn and practice what to do in a variety of emergency situations.

Topics include primary pet assessment, rescue breathing, CPR, choking management, and bleeding protocols. Students also learn the "Snout-to-Tail" assessment for wellness and injury, and what supplies to put in an effective pet first aid kit.

Class is taught by a certified PetTech® instructor and consists of a combination of lecture and hands-on application of concepts. Students who complete the workshop successfully receive PetTech® certification for CPR and first aid, which is valid for 2 years. Click here to register!