Touch is an important aspect in our relationship with dogs. My dog, Keikei, enjoys a good massage and one of her sweet spots is at the base of her tail. Most dogs enjoy having this area petted, but what relaxes her completely is when I lay my hand on one of her ears and slowly and gently move my hand down her ear and along the side of her face. This is not something she allows anyone else to do. We can usually get away with touching areas on our own dogs that someone unfamiliar to the dog couldn’t.
The bond we share with our dogs is an emotional tie. It’s an investment of trust earned through positive interactions, understanding and commitment. It’s not an accident when your dog puts his paw on your leg, jumps up to greet you, or wants to cuddle next to you. Touch is an important part of the bond. My dog likes to back up to my legs, especially when I’m sitting outside with him. He faces away from me and slowly backs up until he’s touching me, then he sits down and leans on my legs. It’s his way of saying he feels safe and comfortable with me. Like us, dogs are social creatures and enjoy a gentle touch from the person they share a bond with.
A team of German researchers wanted to understand the emotional response dogs have when petted by an unfamiliar person. They enlisted the help of 28 dogs and strapped a heart monitor on each one to record their heart rate. The average age of the dogs was about five years. They were a mixture of different breeds, all were privately owned pets, and some had gone through obedience training while others had not. Each dog was tested individually in an office-like setting. The dog was in the room with his owner and an unfamiliar person. While the stranger interacted with the dog and touched him in nine different ways, his owner paid no attention to what was going on.