Working with Dogs Who Dislike Being Touched #17

#canine #debono moves anxious canine behavior Apr 22, 2024

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Learn strategies for working with touch-averse dogs through heartwarming stories of transformation.

From an Akita's orthopedic challenges to a senior dog's mobility struggles, discover non-confrontational approaches, trust-building techniques, and the importance of reading canine body language.


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Mentioned in the podcast: Click here to read more about how I helped Bruno the Akita.

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All information is for general educational purposes ONLY and doesn't constitute medical or veterinary advice. Please consult a qualified healthcare provider if you or your dog are unwell or injured. 


Is there a dog in your life that doesn't like to be touched? I mean, doesn't like to be touched in an intentional way, like maybe the dog is okay with being petted on the, you know, scratched and petted in that way. But when you try to do something more intentional, like maybe you've downloaded my free resource, which is you could find at mary Debono dot com slash love dog.

It's all one word, all lowercase. Maybe you've tried that and the dog, your dog Moves away. Or maybe you're just, you're volunteering at a shelter and there's dogs that, you know, they're not so sure about humans touching them or some other situation. Well, I'm going to tell you the story of a couple of different dogs and how I approach that situation.

So the first story is about a dog named Bruno. It was a very, very large Akita. I mean, Akitas are large dogs anyway, but he was a large aita. And it was really interesting. The, the owners had called me, had asked me to work with their dog because he had had a lot of orthopedic problems as a very young dog.

And he was always in some degree of pain. So he had both his hips were surgically repaired 'cause he had very bad hip dysplasia. And he ruptured both his cranial cruciate ligaments that's often called the CCL, you know, for short. But some people call it the ACL, so it's like the knee ligament. And he had injured, he had ruptured both of them.

So he had four major orthopedic surgeries at a very young age, like, you know, not all at once, of course, but he had four over a period of, I think a year and a half. And it took him a long time, of course, to recover from each surgery. It's a big deal. And he seemed to always be in some level of pain.

And the vet had, you know, had prescribed nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories, but really warned them about giving it to the dog, to Bruno. You know, he didn't want them to be giving it to Bruno very often because it can have harmful effects on the liver, the kidneys, the GI tract, all those things. So they tried to minimize his reliance on painkillers.

So they had called me to come work with him. This is back in the day when I was doing out call. So I'd actually go to your house and work with your dog. And I remember I drove up to their house and at the time I had a little red celica. It was a really cute car. And I remember before I could get out,

this woman called from the porch and said, you know, don't get out of the car. Let me, you know, wait until I bring Bruno into the house. And I see this gigantic Akita is tied up with like a, a vinyl covered cable on their front porch. Now, I don't know about you, but I don't tie up dogs and Very few,

if any of my clients tie up their dogs. So that was kind of odd. And I noticed that she used a piece of food to lure him into the house. So she didn't just like walk him into the house. She used a piece of food to lure him. So then once I see he's in the house, I get outta my car and I walk up to the door and she's,

she's not right there. So I knock on the door and I start opening it, you know, calling out and I see the dog, Bruno is sitting on the couch, but the woman is over in the hallway kind of looking into the living room. So the, the door opened up right into the living room. And it was kind of funny because I was like,

oh, this is a little weird. But anyway, I went over and sat on the couch next to Bruno and I faced away from him because I could tell right away this was not a friendly dog. Like he, he was not very friendly. And she said she called her husband, who was down the hall in another room. And she said,

she's sitting on the couch with Bruno. And this was said with quite a bit of surprise and alarm, actually. And I realized they don't sit on the couch with Bruno. And she told me, yeah, that's right. She said, when we, when he sits on the couch, we sit elsewhere because he threatened them. He would growl, he would snarl at them.

And I'm not encouraging you, by the way, to work with aggressive dogs. This is not a podcast about working with aggressive dogs. And it's probable that I would've changed how I did this today if I was meeting Bruno for the first time today. However, what I did did work with him. And basically what I did was I took all the pressure off him by,

by facing away from him and just talking to this woman who was still in the hallway. She wasn't coming close for some reason. And, you know, got more of his backstory and just started then very incrementally with my, the side of my leg kind of touching his paw. Little bit like just very nonchalantly, very, very nonchalantly because I didn't,

and I didn't know if I was actually going to put my hands on this dog. 'cause I realized he, he was, he had, and by the way, in the past, bitten some people. He had, all of a sudden I saw his dog tag had a large dog tag that said, dangerous dog. And it was by the county and it was given to him because he had a certain number of strikes against him because he had bitten people.

And the the husband and wife were clearly intimidated by this dog. And so anyway, I, I ended up doing an incredible session with him. And I say incredible, but he was incredible once he allowed me in. But the key thing I did was to remove all pressure from him. I Didn't look at him, I didn't face him. Any contact I made was kind of like casual,

if you will, nonchalant. So that he did not feel that I was trying to force him to do something or force him to submit to something. And I think the key thing with him, as I got to know more about his history from my conversation with the owners was he had always equated human contact with pain. If you think about, you know,

as such a young dog, I think he had the hip surgeries before he was nine months, and then the knees, and you know, so everything was, I think before 18 months. So that's a really formative time in a dog's life. And, you know, his experiences of going to the vet and, you know, being handled by people were very negative in his mind because it was a lot of pain involved.

So, you know, I, I didn't blame him. And I noticed, by the way, his nails were really long. And when I asked the woman about that, she said, yeah, we can't, we can't trim his nails and we, we don't take him anywhere to get them trimmed because he's, he's not safe. So again, I,

I said to her, I don't know if I'll touch your dog today. Like I might just tell you some things and, you know, whatever. 'cause I, I didn't wanna get bitten myself, but as I sat there talking with them and casually brushing up against the dog and he wasn't moving away and he was not threatening me, I mean, if it was something serious,

I would not have done that. In other words, I didn't feel I was in imminent danger. But the bottom line is I used a very, like, casual approach. I took the pressure off of him. And then when I did start doing more intentional work again, I made sure I started with, you know, I, I wasn't facing him.

My side was to him, I started doing things right away that gave him a sense of relief. So I could tell that because of his hind leg injuries, after all, he had two hip surgeries, two cranial cruciate surgeries, you know, knee surgeries. He had a lot of pain in his hind end and then in his back because of compensation.

So I started working with him in his rib cage area, especially like around the shoulders and, you know, moving the rib cage in a way that would give him a feeling of relief around the shoulders and neck because I knew those were really overworked because he, of all the compensations from his hind end injuries. So once I did that, he just thought I was great and I actually was able to work with his feet,

even though the woman had said, you cannot touch his paws. You know, he, he would get aggressive about it, but I did things in a way that I wasn't confronting him. I was not trying to force him into anything. And I used things other than my hand. Like I would use the back of my hand to touch his paws or I picked up a coaster,

you know, and use that. So I use things that he wasn't associating with being handled. So if you think about like when a dog is getting their nails trimmed, you know, someone is grabbing the foot usually to, you know, steady and stabilize the foot and then they're cutting the nails or using a dremel. But it's the same idea. I,

I didn't do any of that. So I, I made sure that what I did was non-confrontational and he had a choice by the way he could leave, you know, he could get up and leave. So I always wanted to make sure that he didn't feel that pressure. So that's what worked with him. We ended up doing an incredible session. I,

I ended up being there a really long time 'cause I, I actually taught the husband and wife things they could do with him and it worked out really great. I just have to cough. I'm so sorry. Sorry about that. Keeping it real here. So then the next dog I wanna talk to you about is a dog named Duffy. Now, completely different personality from Bruno.

Completely different. He was 15 I think when I met him. And he was such a lovely dog. He was half American Fox hound and half Jack Russell Terrier. He was from ver the Virginia area. And apparently that mix is bred a lot. You know, they do a lot of fox hunting with horses over there with the, and they use Fox Hounds and then with the Jack Russell,

I don't know, people had got into their heads that that's a good mix. Anyway, he was a lovely dog. So his person had rescued him. He was found in like a drainage ditch or something as a puppy. And so this incredible woman, Cheryl had him since he was a puppy and the loveliest woman you could imagine. But he never was one of those warm,

fuzzy kind of dogs that wanted to be petted a lot. Like he just wasn't that, that guy, right? He just wasn't that type. So by the time he was 15, he really didn't wanna get petted. Like he had aches and pains and of course by the way, both dogs were under veterinary care. That's, that's really important. But she wanted to help him more because he started to really lose the ability to,

to walk to use his hind hand. And that often happens as dogs get older. So she brought him to me, I was actually at a horse stable doing a, a horse clinic. And, but she had contacted me. She knew I was gonna be in the area and she arranged for me to work with Duffy. And seeing him just go from the car to the room where I was going to work with him was really difficult.

Like he was really having a hard time. He could, you know, we had to support him and all that. So we go into this room, kind of a small room. It was actually a tack room for those of you that know about horses. It was the tack room. And you know, and Cheryl told me like, he doesn't like to,

to be touched. So I thought, well this is gonna be interesting. So, you know, at first I, I tried to do different things. He just would walk away. He was very polite, super nice dog, but he would just be like, no, thank you. So then what I did is like again, I thought I have to zero in on what's gonna really,

really help him. Like right away I wanted a quick win that he would feel right away that I was giving him a sense of relief. So again, I zeroed in on the shoulder area because that is key for a lot of dogs. Not every dog and some dogs that'll be totally inappropriate. But for him it was key. So once he felt that,

and, and actually again, if you go to that free resource that I'll link to in the show notes, but it's mary Debono dot com love dog. You can learn how to do rhythm circles. And when you do rhythm circles, you can do them all over the dog. But when you do them around the shoulders, they can be really, really beneficial.

So I was doing that type of work all around his shoulder blades and he was loving it. And that gave me the, the buy-in, if you will. Like that allowed me then to be able to do other things. So then I started working with his spine, his ribs, his hips, his feet, I mean like everything. And that dog walked out a new dog.

I'm not saying this to give myself a pat on the back because the dog did all the work. Like in other words, it's the dog's nervous system that takes the information I give and does something with it. And he was so smart in a way, like he was, his nervous system was so responsive that he improved dramatically right away. But the key thing I wanted to talk about today is how to work with a dog like that who dislikes the touch.

And the key thing is you have to find somewhere, well this is one way to do it is to, number one, be nonchalant. Don't be confrontational, don't try to force them to stay. You know, use things like that. And then when you do get the chance to actually put your hands on them and you've done all the other steps that I talked about when I was working with Bruno,

do it in a way, you know, try to find an area of their body where it's going to give you the biggest bang for the buck, so to speak. And I'll tell you one more quick, quick story that's very, very similar to this. A client of mine had had just recently rescued an Anatolian shepherd. And he did not, he was an adult male and he didn't want any touch,

he just was not comfortable with it. He was a little fearful of people who knows. He had been on the streets I think for a while, and then in the shelter for a while, he wasn't too sure about anything. And I did the same type of thing. He was nice enough we, we can convince him to lie down. But she warned me,

he, he doesn't let me touch him. You know, like, so I did a very, very Similar thing. So those are three really different situations. But basically I used the same approach. I, I was very nonchalant. I took all the pressure off him. So I was very conscious of my body language. I wasn't facing the dogs right away.

I made sure I wasn't, you know, doing stare. I was not staring at them. I was looking away, I was facing my body away. And then any touch seemed accidental. It was just, you know, just kind of brushing up against them or just a very accidental thing. And then when I got kind of like the green light from the dog,

'cause I was very observant of their body language, what they were telling me. And when I got the green light to do more, I zeroed in on a spot that would give them a sense of relief right away. Okay? And alright, I told you two stories and now it's gonna be four. So another, another quick story, and this one I write about in my book,

grow Young with Your Dog. In that book I talk about a dog who was, again, she was a, she was a rescue, she was very shy, very nice dog, very shy. And I ended up, the first session I did with her, I literally like had my back facing her, her her, her person who's an incredible dog person,

great trainer, everything very, very sensitive and responsive to her dogs. She had her lying down on the mat for me. But anytime I even was sideways to that dog, she'd move away. So, but we, I found that if I had my back to her, the dog was perfectly fine. So I literally sat on the floor, the dog was on a mat behind me with her back facing my back,

okay? So if you could picture, her legs were facing away and her, her spine was, you know, facing my, my back. And I used my hands to work all along her spine. And that gave her a quick win. Okay? That gave her, again, I did, I did something similar to rhythm circles, so you could do rhythm circles,

but I did these different lifting motions of her spine that I knew she would feel good right away from. And that's what I did. And then gradually I could turn my body, you know, angle it a little more towards her a little more until I was like, you know, at 90 degrees to her. And then eventually I was able to face her.

So that may not happen in one ti go for you, it may take a while. So especially if you're working with a newly adopted dog or a dog at a shelter, something like that. But what I would say is be very, very observant of their body language and then adjust what you're doing accordingly, of course. And make sure you are minimizing the pressure on them.

I don't just mean physical pressure with your hands, I'm talking about the pressure that when you look at a dog or you face a dog, you're, there's a certain amount of pressure. Okay? So I hope that's helpful. Again, the, the, those are four very different dogs, different situations. You know, one displayed a lot of aggression in his life,

but I think he was basically misunderstood to be honest. And alright, for the heck, why don't I just tell you another story? There was another dog, and again, he was more on the aggressive side. He was actually quite aggressive. He was half St. Bernard and half golden retriever, and he was actually quite aggressive to other people. And he was being helped by this wonderful,

wonderful dog trainer. Just a wonderful man that was very kind, very caring. And he got me involved because the dog had bitten a number of people and he wanted to save the dog's life. And he wanted to see, I mean, the vet had ruled out that, that there was anything wrong. And that's it, that's really important. By the way,

I'm glad I, I started telling the story. So I can emphasize that it's really, really important if you have a dog that dislikes being touched for any reason that you get them thoroughly checked out because there could be an underlying medical reason why your dog doesn't wanna be touched. And that needs to be addressed by a veterinarian. So with this dog that had been ruled out,

but again, you know, you can like kind of rule out major medical things, but doesn't mean a dog isn't in some kind of pain or, or they anticipate pain. Like, so maybe there's nothing currently going on, but they anticipate that it's going to hurt, like physically hurt. And in this dog's case, the St. St Bernard golden mix again,

you know, it's interesting, again, I started working around a shoulder blade because I knew that would be a quick win for him, just observing his body posture and the way he moved. I knew that. Now you may not know that. Like you may think, I don't know that Mary, like I don't have experience with that. Feel free to email me Mary at mary Debono dot com and tell me your dog's particular situation and maybe I can help you figure out what would be a good thing to do right away to help your dog.

But in this case, again, I was able to work with him very, very effectively. He was actually quite nice to me. And, you know, without a problem. And I hope anyway, I, I know we had a good experience. So I hope he kind of put that in his bank of, well maybe humans can be okay experiences.

'cause I don't know what happened with him, so we didn't follow up. But any event, I hope this gives you a little food for thought. Be very mindful again, if you're working with shy, fearful dogs, even dogs that show aggression, I'm not here to talk to you about aggression right now, so please don't do anything where you or the dog could be injured in any way.

But If you want to learn how even like your, your own friendly dog, maybe they don't like, like this intentional touch, right? When you start getting like serious, like, I wanna practice what Mary gave us in that free resource, sometimes we get too intense and that's a form of pressure on them, okay? So even if our pressure on our hands is light,

you might be mentally too intense, right? You, you're not thinking of it in a playful way, you're like trying to get it right, right? And that's gonna work against you. Your dog is gonna feel that and probably want to leave, okay? Because they feel too, too much intensity. Oh, so this podcast is going longer than I thought.

So because I do have something else to tell you. There are times when I do use food rewards to ask a dog to stay as well. I have used that occasionally in the past. I'm kind of careful about using it. I love positive reinforcement training. That's the only kind of training I do. And with that, sometimes with the hands-on work,

the dog gets too focused on the food. Especially I'm, I'm not talking about my own personal dog, I'm talking about client dogs. Sometimes they get too focused on the food and then it's harder for them to focus on what you're doing. But other times I've, I've done that use that very effectively and kind of we, you know, gradually wean them off the reliance on treats and gave them the opportunity to really feel like how good the hands-on work can feel.

And I actually talk about this again in my book, grow Young With Your Dog. I talk about this with a dog named Sonny who had incidentally A-C-C-L-A cranial cruciate ligament tear. And he had surgery to repair it, but he still kept limping and he was a very friendly lab. He was a yellow lab, super, super friendly and just too excited.

So he didn't wanna focus when I was trying to work with him. So I did use in the beginning some treats for positive reinforcement when he would lie down, but then I had to make sure I got a quick win in as much as possible so that he would feel that the, the reward or the reinforcement came from the work itself. Okay? So that's very,

very helpful too. So I hope you got some value out of this. Again, let me know if you have a question about your own dog. If you're running into this situation where your dog doesn't wanna stay still when you, you know, trying to do this wonderful thing for them. So let me know and I'll be happy. Maybe I could do a podcast episode for you.

So thank you so much for listening, for subscribing and reviewing the podcast. I really, really appreciate it. It helps us help more dogs and their people. So thank you again for being here. I look forward to talking to you again soon. Bye for now.