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Pantops Pet Salon & Spa
Charlottesville's Professional Dog Grooming

It's what we do -- it's all we do.

(434) 293-2424
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504 Pantops Center
Charlottesville, VA 22911

Understanding the Dog – Introduction and Focus on Touch

Thursday, November 16th, 2006 by Mike Cronk

To understand dog psychology, we need to find out what the world is like from the dog’s perspective.  Too often, we use our human reference points when interacting with our dog.  Humanizing is one of the primary “human errors” that Cesar Millan describes as an impediment to gaining and maintaining a healthy alpha relationship with your dog.  This can result in what we see as bad behavior in our dogs who are confused when we are relating to them on our level instead of their level.  In our Fives Senses section we will explain how dogs interact with the world around them and how it is different from the way humans percieve the world. 

In researching the senses through various books and on-line articles, I have discovered such a wealth of information on each sense that it could comprise a book in and of itself.  My aim with these articles is to deliver a summary and the bottom line, not necessarily the detailed physiology and testing which led to this conclusion.  For more detailed information, please see our reference materials listed in our library.

Touch
This sense is very meaningful for how I relate to dogs—I like petting my dog and she likes being petted.  Dogs will snuggle up, put a head in your lap or nudge your hand to comfort you and to remind you that they appreciate the affection you give them.  If I get my face close to Lizzie’s and I get a lick on the nose, that’s okay with me!  Since my dogs weren’t allowed on the couch or bed (remember, the last three were Great Danes) I would often get on the floor next to them for a petting session that was comforting for both of us—especially if my wife was upset with me!  In all of these instances, we are using the sense of touch to communicate.

In the grooming process, touch is a constant—brushing, clipping, bathing, and drying.  While routine brushing is not necessarily painful for a dog, it’s not as enjoyable as being petted is either.  When dogs are exceptionally thick or matted, thorough brushing can be very uncomfortable.  Respecting what a dog feels during this process may mean choosing a short haircut to get under the matts instead of a painful effort to brush them out.

 Brushing out a dog is part of our job, it’s what grooming is about but yanking out matts is something we refuse to do because it is painful for the dogs.  Instead, we’ll clip under the matts resulting in a short haircut all over.  You’d be surprised at how many customers ask that these matts be brushed out to maintain their dog’s appearance, regardless of the discomfort it may cause.  If you don’t want your dog’s hair to be cut short, brush him frequently at home or increase your visits to us.  Dogs do experience pain.  It is irresponsible and unkind of us to ignore their comfort in favor of keeping hair length.  We won’t do it.

Unfortunately, it’s hard to determine how much is too much because dogs react differently to pain than we do.  If you look back at the origin of the canine, expressions of pain were repressed to avoid showing any sign of weakness to the rest of the pack.  This defense mechanism developed because the pack enforced the “survival of the fittest” concept:  no weakness was tolerated.  Often, I’ve seen dogs with sores, ear infections, or severe arthritis that would have us moaning, crying and refusing to get out of bed—yet our pets show limited outward signs of that pain.  We’ve seen dogs come in covered with hundreds of fleas that have bitten them raw—yet the dog is stoic and handles the pain much better than you or I ever would.  Imagine being a breeding ground for itchy, biting pests and never saying a word to complain!

While our sense of touch is reciprocal and endears us to one another, when it comes to pain tolerance the dogs have us beat.  In working with our pets, we’ve really got to be aware of their comfort because they probably won’t tell us they’re in pain until it gets to an unbearable level.

-Mike

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