Desensitizing a Dog to Human Touch


How can you train your dog to tolerate being touched?


As the pack leader, your dog should allow you to touch all parts of its body without running the risk of being nipped or bitten.


This is an extremely important conditioning process because if your dog is averse to being touched, you won’t be able to bring your pet to the veterinarian for regular physical checkups. Being aversive to human touch also means that someone can get bitten if they aren’t aware that your dog doesn’t like tactile stimulation.


A dog’s “touch tolerance” is determined wholly by how it has been trained and conditioned by the owner.


The desensitization process should ideally begin at puppyhood and by late adulthood, you shouldn’t have any more problems if you consistently train your dog to become desensitized to any form of human touch (of course, with exception of being physically harmed).


Can adult dogs still be desensitized?


Untrained, adult dogs can still be desensitized but the conditioning process will take longer because you will need to reopen the learning loop in the dog’s mind so you can teach it new concepts.


You must keep this in mind if you are planning to adopt older dogs from the local animal shelter.


Do not assume that just because a dog is in contact with many people, it’s already safe to touch and pat whenever you like. The opposite may be true and you may find yourself getting treated for a nip or bite.


If you have small kids at home, desensitization is doubly important because we can’t always expect kids to keep their hands off the dog. Kids are naturally inquisitive and they are often drawn to the dog fur because of its soft and smooth appearance.


How can tactile desensitization be developed quickly?


There are no hard and fast rules that can be applied to touch desensitization. However, there are some ideal practices and tips that I can share with you today to improve your chances of success. Here they are:


  1. Aim for Gradual Progress – Dogs are not naturally keen to have any part of their bodies touched. This instinctual avoidance to being touched is linked to their survival instincts.


Always keep this in mind and go slowly when you are training your dog. Be observant of your dog’s body language and stop what you’re doing if your dog is showing signs of fear and anxiety.


Negative signals such as anxiety may also transform into aggression quickly so be careful, too. A dog’s instincts can suddenly flare during stressful moments and when they do your dog may react aggressively out of pure instinct.


  1. Always Be Gentle – Since dogs don’t like being touched (especially around sensitive areas such as the tail and face), you should always be gentle when you touch these areas.


Gentleness and the attitude of acceptance should be inculcated early in your dog’s life. Being physically gentle is also a good way to teach your dog that being touched is perfectly normal and it should not be worried when someone does touch it.


What happens when you are habitually rough with your dog?


Some dog owners are admittedly rough with their dogs because they enjoy getting different reactions from their pets. While being rough may seem like simple fun to a person, to a dog it can be a very stressful experience.


If you are too rough especially when touching a dog’s face, the dog may associate human touch with pain and this may discourage the dog from being desensitized completely. Your dog will always have a memory of pain which can be very hard to suppress even with new experiences.


  1. Don’t Punish Physically – I have met some dog owners who use physical punishment in situations where their pets are misbehaving or going against an active command.


Some owners slap or even grab the collars of their pets in an effort to correct certain behaviors. If there is any degree of pain associated with the correction or redirection, there will be negative consequences.


Compliance borne out of fear of pain will definitely affect how your dog reacts to any form of touch. So before you reach this point where your pet simply dislikes the idea of being touched, change your training methods and make sure that you avoid physical punishment at all times.


A verbal warning with a slight tug on the leash is sufficient in the majority of situations where a dog is misbehaving. Teach your dog to respond to a fixed set of stimuli so you won’t have any difficulties redirecting its behavior patterns.

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