Ep. 19: Is Petting or Touching My Dog Bad?

Jul 8, 2024

Have you ever wondered, "Is it okay for me to pet or touch my dog? Can it be BAD for me to pet or touch my dog?!" Well, this is a question we received from a client!

In this podcast episode, we discuss why this question may come up and how our dogs may actually seek out and enjoy touching and petting, as long as we take the time to do so properly.

Would you like to learn more about the power of petting? The art behind it? How you can leverage this when training, working or living with your dog? We have just the thing: Power of Petting Mini-Webinar!


Dianna L. Santos


Dianna L. Santos (00:00):
Welcome to the Play to Train Podcast. In this podcast, we talk about all things dog training and that it shouldn't be stuffy and boring. Instead, we should be able to have fun with our dogs. In this episode, we are going to be talking about petting, very exciting stuff. So before we start diving into the episode itself, let we do a very quick introduction of myself. My name is Dianna Santos. I'm the Owner and Lead Instructor of Pet Dog U. This is an online dog training platform where you provide online courses, seminars, webinars, mini webinars, and eBooks that are all centered around dog training. Whether you're trying to help your dog develop some skills so they can be the best canine companion they can be. Maybe you're interested in dog sports. You get lots of stuff for that too. For myself personally, I've been training dogs professionally since 2011. I'm passionate about things like positive reinforcement training as well as Scent Work, and I love it when people are having a good time with their dogs because that's what we should be doing. So I should know a little bit more about me. Let's dive into the episode itself.

So in this episode, I want to talk about petting because it can be a thing. We actually have a presentation that we're putting together on Pet Dog U is going to be going into a lot more depth as far as how we can actually leverage petting when we are training our dogs, when we're working with our dogs, when we're just living with our dogs. So I strongly encourage you guys to check out that mini webinar. It's going to be really super helpful. I have some videos and things you'll be able to refer to as well. But one of the reasons I wanted to do this podcast episode is that I was contacted by a client who was very concerned because they're like, I have a feeling like I'm not supposed to touch my dog anymore. I said, oh, no. Why do you think that? I said, well, isn't it mean or bad for me to touch my dog?

I said, why? Said, well, what about isn't it kind of negative for me to touch my dog? I said, oh, okay. So let's talk about this to help this, put this into a little bit more context. In the realm of dog training, we have gone through some really significant changes over the last 50 to 80 years, particularly even in the last 20 years. There's been some really big shifts as far as how we go about dog training, and a lot of this has been the benefit of us having a better understanding of how animals learn and looking at our dogs through a different lens that they are these really smart, emotional sentient beings, and that we are able to do training and live with our dogs without necessarily the need for so much force. We don't need to force our dogs to do things. Instead, we can train them and teach them what it is we want them to do, and that's great. We should always be striving for that because if we can break things down into small enough pieces, our dogs are really happily willing to do what they need to do to be successful in day to day, which makes sense. They don't want to live in conflict with us or they can avoid it.

So what does this have to do with this client's concern with touch? There have been conversations in the dog training community about things like purely positive. There should be no aversion or aversive use whatsoever, and sometimes things get lost in translation. So then that turns into and very extreme take is you don't touch your dog. You should avoid doing that as much as possible. Now, for all practical purposes, that's not realistic, and again, I think it's just taking that stance to the nth degree unnecessarily. What I want to talk about in this webinar is to help if anyone else is like, I don't know if I'm being bad, is that our dogs are actually fairly tactile creatures. Meaning that when you have dogs that are just interacting with each other, they do a fair amount of touching with each other. They nuzzle each other, they rub up against each other, they sometimes body slam each other.

They do a lot of stuff with touch. Even if you think about your dog with yourself, they oftentimes will come up. Maybe they'll lean into you, they'll nuzzle you with their nose. If for myself, you spend a lot of time at a computer or at a desk and you are working from home, those little noses will come up and flip your arm up and say, stop being on the Tipity tap box and pay attention to me. The point being is that our dogs are actually really open to touch. We just have to figure out how to do it in a way that makes sense to them. So what we're going to be talking about inside this mini webinar, which again, I strongly encourage everyone to check out, is a different ways we may be able to do petting because it's a skill that we should learn, and there's a skill that a lot of us, meaning myself, other professional dog trainers or instructors, we just kind of take it for granted.

We pick it up along the way as we're learning, and we just assume our clients are going to know how to do this and not everyone does. So that's what we're trying to put together with this webinar is to really break it down. There are different ways that you can do petting. There are different ways that you can do touch and they can all have different results. We could use petting in a way to really jazz our dog up and to get them really excited. We can also use petting to help our dogs calm down to maybe be really nice and relaxed. Or maybe they were like, Ooh, I think I want to be a little worried. Or, Ooh, there's someone at the door. We could actually use petting to help them calm down a little bit to give them a different emotional response. The point being is that touch can be really, it could be really effective, but we have to do it in a way that makes sense to the dog.

Now, am I advocating that we're using touch to be mean to our dogs? No. I don't think that we should be doing that at all. I don't think it's necessary. I don't think it's effective. It's pretty confusing, and yes, that could fall into the mean category that's not necessary. But instead, we can use touch in ways that makes lots of sense to our dogs, and that means that we have to see it through their lens, through their perspective. How is my dog perceiving this? So in this webinar, we're also going to be talking about things that dogs really like, oh, why does a two-legged thing do that To me, I don't like it. So things that may be a little bit more confusing or a little off-putting, but I'm going to touch upon some of these things. Now, from a dog trainer perspective, there are certain things that people do when they're interacting with dogs, particularly in the petting department.

It just makes you go, Ugh, don't do that. Your dog doesn't like it. The big one is what we call the claw. So this is where someone is trying to, it could be a dog that they're familiar with or not, but they bring their hand over the top of the dog's head and they kind of do scritchy scritchy right on the top of the dog's head, and more often than not, the dogs are actually going to back away, turn their head, kind of squint their eyes and be like, stop it, stop it, stop it. It's a very confrontational move for some sensitive dogs. It's scary and it's just not really overly pleasant. So if you ever find yourself doing the claw, catch yourself and be like, Ooh, maybe I can do this a different way. Maybe just have your hand out to the side and see if the dog would like some pets on the side of their body instead, we also encourage people when they're petting.

Nine times out of 10, your best bet is to follow the way the fur is growing. Don't bring your hand up against the green so that their hair is going up. That's not great. It doesn't feel good on you when you do it. So if you were to rub your hand back and forth, or maybe on your legs, particularly our little dog dads out there, if you go against the grain of where your hair is growing, it doesn't feel all that great. It's the same thing for our dogs. So if we were petting our dogs, we want to go in the same direction. The fur is growing. Speed matters. So the faster that we pet, the more excited our dogs get, the slower we pet, the calmer they are. So again, these are just some overview things for you guys to think about. We'll get into a lot more depth with videos.

It'll be so much fun in the actual webinar itself. But to address this client's concern like, Ooh, is touch bad in and of itself. No touch can be wonderful. And when our dogs feel as though we have a better understanding about what they're saying and we acknowledge the kind of touch that they like, they'll actually ask for touches. They'll ask for us to do certain things. As an example, every single dog is going to be an individual. For my Doberman Valor, he loved every single kind of touch. When he was really super excited, he would ask me to, I would be standing up and he asked me to kind of spread my legs apart a little bit, and he would go in between them. So his butt was facing out in front of me, and he wanted me to pat his butt. He thought it was so much fun.

It was very slight, very light little taps, but just enough to kind of make the weight shift on each of those hind legs. He thought that was a blast. He thought that was the best. My tiny terrier, he doesn't want that. He wants to be able to lay with me. We have a lounge chair, so I can sit on the lounge chair with my legs out and he comes over and flops over so that his body is on my chest, his little feet are up in the air, and I can do some rubs on his belly and on his sides, and he thinks that's just the best. Every single dog is going to be different, and also their preferences may change. They may have different things that happen as far as health. So let's say that you had a dog who's like, oh, I really like it when you scratch around my shoulders.

I think that's really fun, and maybe you do some really nice circles, some really deep massage, but maybe they start developing some arthritis when they're older. They're like, oh, when you do that, that's kind of ouchie. Maybe they get some skin twitches, maybe they don't like it as much. That's okay. Maybe do it softer or maybe find a new spot that they like. But the point being is that I think that touch can be very informative to our dogs. It can provide them with a lot of feedback. We can also get a lot of information from our dogs where when we find those special spots and those special approaches that they really enjoy, if suddenly they're like, oh, I don't really like that. We can be like, oh, well, why not? Maybe they got hurt. Maybe they strained a muscle. Maybe they were chasing the bunny and they're just like, Ooh, I hurt myself a little bit.

I'll be okay in a couple days. But that's a good thing for us to know. It can also be a way for us to provide some information and feedback to our dogs. Maybe as, for example, you're waiting in the vet's office just for a normal annual checkup, and if we have these kind of different touches that maybe can help them feel encouraged and we can help them feel more secure, we can offer that feedback to them. You're totally fine. Little one, we're going to be in the room soon. That kind of thing. It could be extraordinarily powerful. It can deepen the relationship you have with your dog. It can provide you an insight into what your dog feels, how they're feeling emotionally, how they're feeling physically may be able to pick out like, oh, there's a new lump. Particularly as they get older. Or you may be able to pick out like, oh, there's a bug.

That's a good thing to know too. Or, you know what? They're really looking good right now. They're in great weight. Their muscles are really nice, and tone everything is fantastic. A lot of that you're going to need to do a touching. So touching our dogs, having our hands on our dogs is actually a really important thing, and I wouldn't want to encourage anyone to not do that. It's also important, just again so we can see how they're feeling. A lot of the ways that we care for our dogs involves touch. I wouldn't even know where to start if I had a dog. It was like, you can't have your hands anywhere near me, but I need to do so many things. I need to check your ears and your eyes and your teeth and your feet, and we need to do grooming. I need to get your collar on and off.

I need to get your harness on and off. Wait a minute, come back. We need to do a lot of stuff. So I wouldn't want to encourage anyone to not touch their dogs. I think it's important that we actually have our dogs love being touched. They love being handled. They love being pet. But I do think that there's a way of going about this that dogs will enjoy, that they'll understand more, that will offer you a lot more benefit and can provide you with a lot of information as well as deepening your relationship. So to answer the question is touching my dog bad? No. Petting your dog. Doing these kinds of handling techniques. There's all different types of way that we can do really wonderful, appropriate, beneficial, touching and petting with our dogs. And because I got this question, I was like, I have to put together a bunch of videos about this.

So that's what we're doing with this mini webinar. I hope you're able to join us. When you join our presentations live, you're able to ask questions in real time, so you can kind of pick my brain, but you're also able to have continual access to the fully edited webinar replay afterwards. What does that mean, Santos lady? That means you'd be able to go through it multiple times from now until the end of time. It doesn't ever go away. So we actually have several of our clients who go that route who decide to watch things multiple times. There's a particular video example, for instance, that you wanted to revisit. You would be able to do that. So I hope this kind of helped, because again, I have heard this before, but this is the first time I was actually asked it directly by a client. I was like, oh, no, please, petting is good, but let's talk about how we can go about petting.

But as always, we'd love to hear from you guys. Is there a particular question that you have about dog training or living with our dogs, training our dogs, working with our dogs? Maybe you're interested in a certain dog sport. Maybe you're already competing in a dog sport. Maybe there's just something about dogs. I wish you'd talk about this. Let me know. I'm also looking forward to hosting some additional speakers, so you guys get to listen to other people than just me. We'll be posting this episode up on our website as well as our social media. So you're always more than welcome to let us know if you have any questions or comments there. But thank you so much. Please give your puppies a cookie for me. Happy training. We look forward to seeing you soon.