When working/living with animals we are more and more aware of importance of giving them freedom to choose and we take their choices into consideration (when it is safe of course).
We should also give more attention to how we interact with them in general and mostly how and when we make physical contact.
I will talk about dogs but same goes for working/living with other pets and animals.
I truly love “three second rule” ( I don’t know who “invented” it) when petting dogs, our own and foreign ones. Idea is that we start petting, start counting in our head and on three we stop. Than we observe behavior. If dog asks for more we continue but keep observing and often stopping the petting in case their desire to be petted changed.
If dog at any time moves away or shows signs of discomfort/stress while we are petting them we should respect that and stop. Of course we should be well educated in reading dog body language but in general when they nudge us in some ways to keep petting we have green light and if they move we should stop.
However to add to that rule we should also pay attention to HOW we pet them. Touch is something that can easily invade someone’s private space and quickly become something aversive. It will depend on pressure, speed, duration and also how are both person who receives the touch and person touching are feeling (it can depend on intention also).
During my Tellington TTouch education to become practitioner I have expanded my awareness of the fact that HOW we touch someone can make huge difference. Of course it is logical, but we often do not think about it. We just act according to how WE feel.
This is where mindful touch should kick in. We should make sure that we consciously think about how are we going to make that physical contact.
Most important thing is being aware of how WE feel. Our nervousness, arousal, stress level can be transferred to other beings, even just by being near by them and for sure even more if we make physical contact.
So how we feel, how we breath and even what we think makes a different.
Than there is posture that can influence our behavior and also our physiological well being. If we are in pain our whole body can be tense.
So going back to petting our dog, we should start paying more attention of how we touch them since it can influence their emotions and behavior. Additionally, we should think about where and when we touch them.
While we are touching them we should observe things like: did skin move or flicker, did dogs head move up if he was resting, did he touch our hand with his nose, did he try to move the paw, did his muscles relax or stiffen up, did he start breathing more rapidly or more slowly etc…
It is all very valuable information. It can tell us if we should continue or we should stop petting them. Also it can give us some indication if there is something physiological going on in the body.
Another important issue is wanting to pet them while they are resting, because they are so cute and look angelic! And we just want to squeeze them! 🙂
However, if body is resting disturbing it is simply not fair. Some dogs might even become irritated.
Our touch while they are resting can of course be a nice thing for a dog, again depending on HOW we touch them. But in general while they are resting we should try to leave them alone.
Petting them in order to help them relax is great, but once they do we can let them be.
Same goes while they are eating/chewing etc.
I have also noticed that during training sometimes petting dogs as form of praise can “kicks them out” from learning state of mind. As if it breaks their concentration (of course I am talking in general).
We should also expand that to being mindful of how we put their walking gear on or doggy coats/vests if they need them and how we lift them up (even smaller dogs). We should make sure that they are comfortable while we are handling them because that requires lots of physical contact.
Not to mention groomers and veterinarians, that is a big topic 🙂
We can also experiment, we can touch our dog (dog that we know well) in certain ways to see what he/she likes best. We can also practice on people that we know well. I sometimes ask my clients if I can touch them (trying not to sound creepy 🙂 ) and than I demonstrate how different types of patting their arm or back can make them feel. They immediately have a response! And say WOW I will stop doing that to my dog or I will change ways how I touch her/him.
Sometimes it is best if we feel something ourselves, than we can understand better how others might feel.
So next time you want to pet a dog, try to be mindful and act accordingly to what dog is “saying” 🙂
And we have to remember that every dog is different and that they can benefit from different type of touch. In addition it can change as they grow.
* Please excuse my English, it is not my primary language.
Jelena Kallay – Vagabond Positive Animal Communication
Dip. Animal Behavior Technology, Dip. ABT – CASI
Karen Pryor Academy Dog Trainer Professional Program, KPA – CTP