Touch has a significant impact on our lives. A hug can bring light to an otherwise dark day. Holding hands with a loved one can give you comfort. A massage can help to relieve stress from your everyday life. Touch has a powerful effect on our wellbeing and how we connect to other people — and it can have just as big an impact on senior dogs.
Now, you probably already know that your dog enjoys it when you pet her. But do you know why? Did you know that touch can strengthen the bond you have with your pet? Did you know that touch has the ability to heal?
At Dog Quality, we’ve discovered just how beneficial touch can be for senior dogs. When used correctly, touch can soothe anxiety and reduce stress in dogs, and it can improve the relationship between pet and owner. Here’s everything you need to know about the healing power of touch and dogs.
Oxytocin: The Feel-Good Hormone
The mind-body connection plays a significant role in our relationships with others. In particular, our hormones can affect how we feel about and interact with those around us. When it comes to love — such as the bond between romantic partners or the connection between a mother and child — oxytocin is the hormone at work. Nicknamed the “love hormone,” oxytocin makes us feel good and improves our relationships with other people.
Just like oxytocin helps to bond a parent with his or her child, this hormone can also strengthen your bond with your beloved dog. Oxytocin is released in your brain when you pet your pooch, increasing both your and your dog’s oxytocin levels and making you both feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Increased oxytocin levels have been proven to strengthen relationships, reduce stress and anxiety, and improve overall happiness. It’s a feel-good, win-win for you and your pup.
Touch Can Heal
If you’ve ever had a full body massage or reflexology session, you’ve experienced firsthand how much touch can help to relieve stress. Tension, pressure and pain — these sensations aren’t isolated to humans. Just like you, your dog can also experience these negative stressors on his body, especially senior dogs who may be suffering from conditions like arthritis. And just like you, touch can provide relief for your senior dog.
But as much as dogs enjoy when you give them a rub in certain areas, being touched in other places can actually increase anxiety or pain. The chest, shoulders and the base of the tail are all safe, soothing zones for petting, while the top of the head, ears, muzzle or belly can cause stress. If your dog has a chronic pain condition, these areas may be too sensitive to touch. Always watch out for and listen to your dog’s signals. She’ll tell you what feels good and what doesn’t.
Dogs Need Emotional Support, Too
Have you ever heard the myth that dogs can smell fear? Turns out, it’s partially true. While dogs can’t physically smell the emotion of fear, they can detect smells and pick up on body language that indicates you’re afraid. The same can be said for other emotions, like joy or sadness, too.
That’s because dogs are incredibly intuitive. You may have even noticed that your dog gives you a little extra love when you’re not feeling well — and we’re willing to bet it made you feel a whole lot better. Dogs also respond to this kind of emotional support. When they’re feeling agitated or stressed, gentle touch can help them relax and remind them that they’re loved.
At the same time, touch can also double as a positive reward. In the same way that a treat or verbal affirmation can reinforce positive behaviour, giving your pup a nice chest rub can tell him that he’s a good boy. In fact, some studies have shown that dogs respond better to touch than to verbal praise. So if you really want to show your dog you appreciate him, give him a loving pet.
As pet owners, we all want the best for our dogs. It’s up to us to help them feel their very best and touch can go a long way in supporting our dogs’ well being throughout their lives. As your dog approaches his or her senior years, positive touch can bring you closer together and ensure your dog’s final days are happy ones. So get as many snuggles with your pup as you can and you’ll both feel better for it.