As soon as a puppy is born, it relies on touch to find its mother, to stimulate milk flow for feeding, and as a source of comfort. Mothers in turn lick and nuzzle their puppies from birth, improving the puppies’ circulation and encouraging them to eliminate waste in order to stay healthy. Touch helps form emotional bonds between Mom and her pups, which can then be transferred to humans. It is really important that a puppy experience human touch from birth to promote a human/canine attachment and encourage the puppy’s ability to develop social attachments with others as it grows.
If you look at your dog’s face you will see fine hairs or whiskers above the eyes, on the muzzle, and below the jaw on the side of the muzzle. These whiskers, or vibrissae, are so sensitive that when a dog approaches an object she can sense changes in airflow long before she actually touches the object. Because these areas are so sensitive, take care when examining the inside of your dog’s mouth or brushing her teeth, and don’t buy into the whole practice of whisker trimming—those hairs are there for a reason.
Some dogs have an automatic defensive reflex when they see a hand coming toward them or extending over their head. This could be because the vibrissae on top of the eyes itch or hurt when they come into contact with a human hand, but it is also possible that the dog views a hand coming over the head as threatening. When a puppy is young, this reflex is not under conscious control, so it is vital to desensitize the puppy or dog to accept an approaching hand, because this scenario is going to happen many times throughout her life.
Touch sensitivities vary from dog to dog, but you should always use care when touching the head, muzzle, tail, abdomen, and paws. Nerve endings along the dog’s spine and toward the tail make the back a particularly sensitive area, but one where most dogs like to be touched. Foot sensitivity is probably why so many dogs hate having their paws touched or nails clipped.
Habituating a pup to being touched from birth is extremely important. Rubbing a nervous dog’s chest in a circular motion is very soothing for her, but if you want to go the extra mile, investing in a professional canine masseuse or using a TTouch practitioner is a great way to help your dog relax.
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