Ever watched a dam, rear her litter? It’s a treat. She is all the time busy licking them, watching them, fussing over them. If anyone of them is sluggish she with a frown on her forehead nudges him, turns him, sniffs and licks him. The pup seems to get comfort via her tongue!
Dogs do not have fingers like us to feel things or caress. Instead they use their tongue in lieu thereof. The growing puppies on the other hand learn to lick back their dam and the littermates too. The process continues, till the day the puppy is picked up by a new owner.
If the owner happens to be a first timer, he and his family member touch him gingerly or feel jittery about caressing the pup or to permit him to lick their faces. As you must have guessed by now licking comes naturally to dogs since birth. It is the first expression of love and experience of their life with multiple functions. Dam’s licking cleans them, massages them to enhance circulation and improve the muscle tone to make them breath and evacuate better.
In the new house puppy craves for that touch. It is not humanly possible to lick the pup. But one can at least make him feel better with his fingers and assure him that the sky is not going to fall on him! On the contrary most ‘loving owners’ do the mere formality of scratching his forehead and wash their hands thereafter. Washing hands after caressing him is fine, but as a routine one must touch him all over his body gently and make him feel as if he is with his dam.
One might be thinking what is the advantage of this exercise? A puppy never remains a pup. He grows in to an adult in a few months and develops string likes and dislikes. For example most owners face the problem of bathing and drying their dog, grooming him and worst is the experience of medicating the dog. This is because the dog since puppyhood had never been touched like that.
Medicating a dog means opening his mouth and inserting a tablet held between the fore and middle fingers, deep in his mouth and shutting it instantly till the tablet is swallowed. Similarly for administering liquid medicines, he is made to sit on haunches, his mouth is shut and at the point where his jaws meet his cheek is pulled out to form a cup. Liquid is slowly poured into this cup till the contents are swallowed. His mouth is shut through the procedure.
In other words this type of procedure requires a dog to be touched in a different manner. And he is never prepared to that. He retaliates with growls and even bites the owner. Usually his menacing growl is good enough to scare the owner for further medication. Most owners then rush to the Vet for a solution. The Vet has only one solution-to forcibly hold the dog and inject him with the medicine. Well dog does get cured but his psyche is ruined forever.
Injections are equally necessary and some of them are a must. Thus the dog must be accustomed to the jab of the needle and remain calm. All this can be easily achieved if your dog is used to your caressing touch and remembers it as one of the most pleasant experiences. If you offer him a treat immediately after the injection (provided the Vet permits) he will remember the jab of the needle as a precursor to the reward of the choicest treat.
In India there is a misconception that if a dog is eating food he should not be disturbed, as he might turn vicious if his plate or body is touched. Being an animal he is always chary of enemies ruining his lunch and he is quite hyper about it. But if you teach him the significance of touch from puppyhood, this problem is over. Best way to do this is to keep help him lick clean his feeding bowl. Just keep moving his food towards the centre of the bowl with your fingers. You may have to hold the bowl with the other hand! It is also good to caress him all over with fingers as he has food. In no time he begins to associate your fingers with something that provide food to him and is never scared of touch.
Some people do the mistake of feeding the dog with hand. They say that their dog never eats from his bowl therefore they have to cajole him to eat by offering food on their fingers. This is in fact a wrong practice. A dog not eating food in all probability indicates a digestive upset or any other health problem. I know of a bitch who was being fed with fingers from the age of nine months or so. That is age when the bitches enter puberty. Unfortunately that bitch had to spend a few days with me and I was able to find out the root cause of her lack of appetite. The bitch was suffering from an ailment called Pyometra. She could have been cured had the ailment been detected timely. The ignorant owner touched her all over and thus remained unaware of a discharge from her uterus.
Thus touch matters. And even if you have a grown up dog, gradually let him associate the touch of your fingers with rewards and food, so that he begins to enjoy it and you can examine the dog minutely. This will help you in grooming the dog as well.
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