Touched and Cuddled. Some Dogs Like it. Some Don’t

Published by Theo Stewart on

African Wild Dog (Wikipedia Commons)

Pearl came from a ‘farm’ in Wales. At six weeks old she was driven from there to the house the young couple bought her from. There were lots of dogs there. I have my suspicions about what kind of farm that was – a puppy farm very likely.

They say she’s a Border Collie, but doesn’t she look like an African Wild Dog! Look at those huge upright ears and the colouring.

The 9-month-old Pearl is a puzzle behaviourally also.

Pearl doesn’t like being touched.

doesn't like being touched

Happy face

Pearl doesn’t like being touched whilst seeming to invite it.

She approaches the young lady who assumes it’s because she wants her to pet her, and then growls and bares her teeth when she does so.

Unfortunately, the couple feel the way to touch the dog is vigorously, kind of ruffling her with both hands. The man gets away with it – Pearl tolerates being touched by him – but not by the young lady, not even being touched gently. This understandably upsets her.

Pearl used to just growl and occasionally show her teeth.

They then had some very unfortunate advice from a trainer over the phone.

“Grab her by her scruff and remove her!”.

The couple admit that things have gone downhill from then, even though they only did it the once.

Pearl started snapping too and although it’s mostly at the young lady, it’s other people also. Family members want to fuss her. Looking as she does, people everywhere want to touch her. When she reacts, telling them in clear ‘dogspeak’ that she doesn’t like it, she is scolded. NO!

How confusing this must be.

doesn't like being touched

Pearl

The real puzzle is that she seems to be asking to be touched – or that is the conclusion they jump to. I however don’t think so. She wants to interact but she doesn’t want hands.

If she were to go to another dog, put her face against him and look into his eyes, what might she be saying? It would be inviting interaction and maybe play, certainly not hands on her or even paws.

Below is a still from a short video the young lady sent me of Pearl baring her teeth as she touches her. I see a dog exercising great self-control.

It is evident to me that, like many dogs, Pearl particularly doesn’t like a hand coming from above. Her first signal is to momentarily freeze. She did this with me, even though I was just very briefly touching her chest (with her consent). I immediately stopped.

Their reaction to ‘aggression’ is to be firm and shout NO. They have had the wrong and old-fashioned advice. To stop is to ‘give in’ and she ‘needs to know who is boss’.

The dominance approach can only make things a lot worse.

The young man perceptibly made the point that touching Pearl is really for their own benefit and not Pearl’s.

Pearl’s reaction to the young lady touching her

I suggest they no longer ruffle her at all and no hands-on play. The lady’s daily routine is to touch her vigorously, particularly when she comes home from work. This is when the main trouble starts.

The evenings deteriorate into Pearl jumping on her – ‘demanding’ to be touched. Then Pearl shows her teeth, growls and maybe snaps when it happens.

Now they will resist nearly all touching and any done will be brief and not on the head. No vigorous ‘ruffling’. They will no longer go over to touch her when she’s lying down.

I showed the young lady how to clicker train Pearl to come to touch her hand. In this context Pearl will learn to like hands. Let the dog initiate the touching and find it rewarding.

Another aspect to it all is that, because she’s left alone while they are at work, the clever young dog may not get sufficient stimulation. Instead of ‘fielding’ her puzzling and demanding behaviour in the evenings, they will now initiate frequent short mentally stimulating activities. Activities that don’t get her stirred up unnecessarily and don’t involve too much physical contact.

They have already taught her lots of words. They have worked hard with her and I am sure there is a strong genetic element to her behaviour. She’s just not born to be a cuddly dog. They can accept her for who she is, a dog who likes at most being touched gently and briefly. Instead they can spend time doing with her the many things that she does enjoy.

You never know, in time and as her confidence and trust in them grows, she may enjoy short petting sessions.

Later: “We have cut right down on touching and made a big thing to everyone about not touching her. We will play games instead …. Pearl will lick our hands when she is happy which we like her to do and I try to encourage new people to play the clicker game with her or hide a toy to stop her anxiety our family and friends have noticed how much more relaxed she is in the house because of this. It’s very early days but already paying off. She wont let me (the lady) scratch her chest anymore and doesn’t want me touching her still but its just the way she is and I’m used to it now”.
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 with maybe a bit of poetic licence. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approaches I have worked out for Pearl. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important, particularly where fear or any form of aggression is concerned. Everything depends upon context. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies tailored to your own dog (see my Help page).
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