TOUCH: the most important and first sense of a pup. Yes, that’s right, touch, NOT smell is the first sense and the most important in our dogs’ lives. All canines, wild or domestic, are born blind and deaf. The primary senses are touch, smell, and taste. The secondary senses are vision (comes on day 15 after birth) and hearing (ears open fully around day 21). Touch is the first Pillar of dog language (as defined in the Garrett Stevens Method) and it is the first of the five senses.
Now let me ask you, how important is touch for you throughout your day as a human? Let’s go further and think about how important touch is for a blind person? And if we go one step further we’ll be getting close…How important was touch for Helen Keller? She was bereft of vision and hearing just like all our puppies began their lives.
If you want success with your dog’s behavior then forget everything you know or think you know about dog training and behavior. Instead let me guide your imagination on a bizarre, fascinating, new journey. Pause with me and really imagine having eyes and ear canals that are tightly closed to the world around you. It’s hard to comprehend because if you close your eyes for a moment what happens? Instantly our sense of hearing leaps to the forefront of our mind and we cannot simply shut our ears. Maybe we need to run and grab the noise-cancelling head phones to fully experience the affect.
Imagining being born blind and deaf, being roughly licked and cleaned as you begin to breath your first breaths. You stretch your stubby little legs, fight to lift your head, and basically just wiggle until you bump into, climb onto, or clamber under your mother and your many brothers and sisters. What initially guides you? What keeps you safe and warm from the start? How do you first find the life-giving milk from mother dog? Touch. Touch is first. Then, nipping at the heels is the next sense, Smell. Smell and scent communication and scent memories develop but…touch communication and memories of touch come first.
The olfactory and the gustatory system are indeed critically important in the language of dogs but why do so many dog trainers and dog owners (people who love their dogs) overlook touch. Overlooking how dogs or pups touch us (or how they avoid our touch) is the Biggest Mistake in any and all manners concerning dog behavior!
In today’s world we’ve been conditioned to think that anytime a dog touches us if that touch isn’t an aggressive bite or a snap that the touch that is presented is somehow “affectionate.” I say that’s preposterous! That belief is literally hurting millions of dog’s and millions of people across the globe. That belief gets human children and babies bit in the face. The belief that most times when a dog touches a person that this behavior is just “displaying affection” is harmful and incredibly, and overwhelmingly narrow-minded. As if dog’s don’t have a real language and clear communication. As if touch isn’t one of their main ways of communicating. As if there aren’t a plethora of polite touches and a host of rude ones within the scope of dog language. As if dogs don’t manipulate their owners on the daily. They do, Dear Reader, they most certainly do manipulate unwitting or unwilling dog owners or guests to the home and they almost always do it by way of rude touching.
Dogs will, every single one of them, test the physical boundaries of your personal space, or that of your child’s, or that of your guests, or they will watch just who claims their food dish, or the space on their bed, or on the couch! (Et cetera, et cetera) And to their credit most dogs do not take all the unadulterated touching and unrivaled attention that they receive day in and day out and attempt to take over everything in the home or on the street. Thank God only some dogs do this. But the crazy thing is is that many do indeed attempt a full and eventually hostile take over! What typically passes for dog training and behavior modification sets up most dog owners for miserable failure in the long term! And the hostile and violent take overs are usually brought on by the nervous, anxious, fearful dogs because everyone lets these type of dogs over-touch and out-touch them! Too many dog owners are clueless about touch which is why there are 5 MILLION reported dog bites each year in the USA alone. Many more go unreported.
You must question touch because as you do it will open up more questions. Did you ever wonder why we get our pups around 8 weeks of age? Is that really the best time to get a puppy? Is going to a group class where obedience is the focus the best way to help raise a puppy? Is obedience training actually teaching your dog to be unsocial? Why is the “sit” command typically the first thing everyone teaches their pup? Is it even necessary or beneficial? Does your style of training line up with how dogs naturally interact with each other? Should it? What touches does the mother dog allow on her body? What touches does the mother dog give to her young? How do older dogs interact with pups? Is your rescue dog too needy in the area of touch? (Hint, hint: the rescue dog is almost always imbalanced in the area of touch) Do you have any boundaries about your body? Do dogs have more or less boundaries about their bodies? Are you building a healthy relationship based on respect, trust, and clear communication or have you downgraded the relationship to that of employer and employee?
-If you enjoyed this post keep an eye out for my upcoming book because it will go further into authentic dog language and how we can help our dogs and pups succeed socially in this modern world. We will go into touch a good deal more and define just what is rude and what is not, what is going to lead to trouble and what can rapidly reverse trouble. It should be groundbreaking in the pet industry as we discuss the ideal dog of the future…Stay Tuned!