Human Hands. Space Invaders. Too Much Touch

A fluffy, cute little dog like young Cockerpoo Florence is a magnet for human hands. Human hands that feel compelled to touch her.

Just look at her and you can see why!

Like many dogs, she is very friendly with people she knows well but very nervous of other people, particularly if they try to touch her, and they nearly always do.

A big hand over the little dog’s head

A big hand coming over a little dog’s head could be intimidating at the best of times. Some dogs, like some people, are simply less tactile than others anyway.

People want to touch herIt’s possible Florence has become sensitised due to too much touching from the people who love her. She loves a cuddle with the young lady, but there is generally too much of it from four people.

I watched as she jumped up and lay down beside one of the men, a man she clearly adores. He put his hand out to fuss her and she leaned away, licking her lips. She yawned. Quiet clearly she was saying, in dog language, don’t touch me. He carried on and she slowly turned onto her back.

The man said ‘See, she wants me to tickle her tummy’. I see something completely different. She is saying exactly the opposite. Is the dog really wanting a belly rub?

The men of the family also play vigorously with her – with their hands. Florence will simply become overwhelmed. What might start off as play soon becomes too much – scary even. Certainly too exciting.

People want to touch her. She’s irresistable

Now the little dog is becoming increasingly wary of anybody that she doesn’t know well coming to close. “Oh no! A human hand coming at me again”.

Like most people, instead of insisting the person backs off and risking sounding unfriendly, her humans tell her off when she tries to do so herself by showing her teeth, growling and barking.

From the dog’s point of view this must be puzzling. The very people she trusts aren’t helping her out. Consequently, this makes people who come too close even more intimidating. Not only may she have to suffer being touched, but her humans may also get cross with her.

Loving a dog, from many dogs’ point of view, isn’t about being fussed and touched. It’s about feeling safe, being looked after and being given choices. Florence should be able to choose whether she wants to be touched or not. This is the case whether it’s by people she knows or by strangers.

We tried the consent test. I asked the man, who had stopped touching her, to slowly move his hand towards Florence again and touch her very briefly. Then to stop to see what she did.

She quiet clearly leaned and looked away. Had she wanted him to continue she would have leaned in towards him and actively participated. She wanted to be close to him. She didn’t want him to touch her.

The pub – an opportunity

They walk her to the pub at lunchtime where she sits, under the table as good as gold – unless someone comes towards her. People who have had a couple of pints aren’t always quite so sensitive! Why shouldn’t she say ‘Go Away’ after all?

The pub, however, could be a good opportunity to help her with people if done right. Whenever she is watching anyone moving about or coming in the door, from her safe and protected corner, they can drop her food. Gradually a person will herald food. They won’t be allowed to be a space invader nor herald scolding.

They can put a yellow ‘I Need Space‘ vest on her, to remind people.

Over time, any hands coming towards her should do so slowly, not from above, and have food in them.

Her family will actively teach Florence to herself touch an open hand upon cue; she should be able to trust that hand not to suddenly go into touching mode.

Success, where her confidence with other people is concerned, will depend upon the family themselves holding back on too much touching and petting. If they play a little hard to get and stop trying, it’s very likely that Florence will enjoy it more. Instead of physical fussing and rough-housing, they will be giving her brain more to do.

Success also depends upon them protecting her from unwanted attention from other people.

When we care for our dog so much, there are sacrifices to be made in the name of love.

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Florence and because neither dog nor situation will ever be exactly the same. If you listen to ‘other people’ or find instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog, you can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly, particularly where fear or aggression is concerned. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page)