To Touch, or not to touch…
When I met Jack, he was a growly dog, he did not allow anyone to touch him on his hind quarters, and he would growl and snap around. After about two months of his snappiness, we decided to take him to our specialist vet Dr. Eckersley to see if there is anything physical going on, and it turned out that he had a rare arthritis in his spine. This must have affected his reaction to being touched and handled, somewhere along the line he learned that being handled and touched on his hind quarters hurt, and so he will not give anyone the chance to do so. As soon as his prescribed arthritis medicine kicked in, I started to re-introduce him to human touch by using Ttouch. Ttouch is an amazing method to use with all animals, stick with it long enough, and it will soon become your philosophy. At first, all I was doing was observations; how close can my hand be to him, without him reacting? Where is he comfortable with being touched? How long is he comfortable with being touched? Does he prefer to be touched with the back of my hand, which is less intimidating, or does he prefer the palm of my hand, which is warmer and a great help for sore arthritic bones? You always have to stop touching the dog, before he asks you to, and that means you have to take a lot of pauses to see how the dog reacts and your focus has to be on what you are doing completely otherwise you will not be able to observe subtle communications.
In the beginning, it was important for Jack to see where my hands were, so I only worked on his chest, shoulders and his neck, every now and then I would sneak a touch in a bit lower on is body, but before he could react it was over because I was already back at the spot where he was comfortable with. There are a lot of massages for dogs who does not like to be touched, there are lots of ways to ‘touch’ an animal without actually making any physical contact.
If you’d like to do a little test with your own dog, just reach out to your dog as you usually do, but do a couple of observations while you do it. Did your dog, flatten his ears, duck his head or flinch at any point? If he did, how far was your hand from your dog when he did so? So this will give you some information that your dog has some associations with being touched in that specific way. Perhaps, if your hand did not come downwards towards the dog’s head, but upwards towards the dog’s chest and throat, your dog will respond better to being touched.
In Ttouch, we don’t always touch dogs; we sometimes do air-touches just above their coats. They can feel the heat of our hands, and they can feel the movement and that’s enough for them to make an association about the interaction we are having with them.
Jack eventually enjoyed his Ttouch so much that it became a big game during feeding time. He always insists on his Ttouches before he finishes his meals. He loves being massaged up and down his spine, and guess what? He absolutely LOVES being massaged on his hind quarters, a previous problem area. He does not become so defensive about being touched anymore and thank goodness for that, because it would have been quite difficult to dress him in his super suit (UV Jacket) every day if he was going to growl and snap at us all the time.