dog is sensitive to touch

Your dog is sensitive to touch in different parts of her body. What should you do?

First off, don’t ignore it. This is one of the biggest reasons why people end up rehoming their dogs. Not only that, it’s one of the prime reasons for dog bites on children.

In this episode, Mike provides some key tips and tricks for addressing and managing this all-important issue.

Episode Blog Post

Morgan: My dog is afraid of being touched in sensitive areas of her body – and in the context of preparing my dog for the arrival of my baby, is this something I need to be concerned about?

Mike: Yes! Short answer: definitely, you should be concerned about it. This is one of the key reasons why people end up rehoming their dogs, and this is why I keep bringing up that threshold of eight months.

At eight months, the baby starts crawling, and grabbing, and all that stuff. And that’s when these unintended, or unplanned, interactions between dog and baby take place, where the baby, may be crawling on top of the dog, or grabbing its tail.

And this is when so many people end up rehoming the dog, because that’s when the dog – if it’s sensitive in those areas – is going to defend itself.

And it might just be a quick nip – like the kind of nip that wouldn’t even put a scratch on another dog. It’s just a warning bite.

But on a baby’s soft skin, you end up with a little puncture wound.

And then, all of a sudden, you’re painted into a corner. Now you’ve got a situation where you have to acknowledge: my dog just bit my kid.

And all the prep time is over. So you’re in a bad situation, at that point – and that’s where so many dogs get rehomed.

I have several cases going on, right now, where the rehoming process is starting, because this has happened. So yes, this is a huge deal – and it’s probably one of the things you want to take the most seriously.

Give Your Dog Time

In each podcast, I keep referring back to the modules of my e-course. And, obviously I would like to sell e-course modules, but the main thing is: the first module is around this question, of how to prepare a dog for childlike handling. Because that’s the number one cause for rehoming.

And the second one is related, which is the issue which we talked about last time: what if my dog is afraid of kids?

So, I’m not just plugging the course – I’m telling you, I spent a year and a half producing this course to help people prevent precisely this thing.

And, again, the process that we use is: first you have to identify it as an issue – and then, the only process that you can effectively use is systematic desensitizing, which is basically to slowly get the dog used to that kind of handling, and connecting it to something they really like, again, and again, and again.

And this takes time – time, time, time, time, and patience.

You want to basically start to mimic all of the child-like things – including crawling on the floor, for example. It doesn’t occur to a lot of people, that dogs usually see people walking.

They don’t usually see people crawling – so just the fact that a child is crawling towards them can already put some dogs off. Then the child starts crawling on top, and grabbing – and that can be just too much.

Structured Roughhousing

So, we want to start mimicking these things. Usually guys are the ones that like doing this, because guys like roughhousing with their dogs – I know I do.

And sometimes the mom is like: “No, don’t roughhouse with the dog, don’t be so rough with him – you’ll just teach him to be rough.”

And I’m like: “No, do roughhouse with your dog – but do it with structure.” Teach your dog, in that structure.

So you pull the tail, you give him a treat. Pinch him on the side, then give him a treat. Put your finger between his toes, give him a treat. And by treats, again, I mean super high-end fun stuff: chicken, steak, cheese – good things.

But you want to do these things with your dog over and over again, so that: A, they start to get that we’re doing a game, here, and B, that lots of great things are happening to them.

And you also want to find where the edge is – you don’t want to push the dog too far. You always want to work inwards, on the right side of their reactivity.

In other words, if you find that pinching him on the side a little bit causes him to whip around and grab your wrist with his mouth, to say: “Hey, stop doing that” – then back off.

Back off a little bit, and go back to a level where the dog can handle it – and connect it with a lot of treats – until there’s no reactivity.

This takes time, time, time – and if there’s any area where this admonition to start thinking about the transition for your dog to having a baby in the house as soon as possible after you find out you’re pregnant, this is it.

With everything else, there’s some elasticity in terms of how we can play with time constraints. But not in this.

Because, in this process, it’s simply going to take the dog as long as it takes him, or her, to get used to this – and you don’t have that much control over that. All you can do is repeat, repeat, repeat, and soften, soften, soften the dog to resistance.

I can’t overemphasize how important this is – and people overlook it.

Morgan: Can you give a general estimate about time? What are some examples you’ve seen? Give us a spectrum, here.

Mike: It could take months. It could take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months.

And I don’t know what else to say – this is when I rattle off those statistics that I like to rattle off, about the number of dog bites in the United States every year, and so on and so forth. And how many are on children, and how the CDC has labelled dog bites on children an epidemic – etcetera.

Because those often happen in relation to precisely this. So, you hear me getting a little hot about it, because this is so important.

It’s also where bad injuries can happen, if we don’t get proactive about it.

Refuge And Comfort For Older Dogs

I guess a related point I want to make – and I was saying this to a couple that I mentioned in the last podcast, who I just started working with – is: make sure that your dog has a safe place.

I think I said this on a previous podcast. And it’s especially important if you’ve got a middle-aged dog, or a geriatric dog.

If you’ve got an older, geriatric dog that’s got a lot of sensitivities – maybe they have arthritis, they have physical pain – they’re obviously going to be more self-protective, right?

So, make sure that your dog has a safe place that it can take itself to when it has had enough of the baby, or that you can put it in. It should be a safe place that it doesn’t view as a place of isolation or punishment, but as a place of refuge and comfort.

And, A, you should read when the dog is anxious and needs to go there, and, B, if it’s possible and the geographic layout of your place lends itself to it, teach the dog to take herself there when she feels anxious.

So those are the big things. This is an area where you want to get started ASAP.

And if you want to keep your dog, put it at the top of the shortlist of things to do.

‘You Didn’t See It Coming’

Morgan: As you’re talking about this, I can’t help but think of a YouTube clip I saw. What struck me about it was how fast it all unfolded.

The toddler was just crawling over to the dog, and it was clearly comfortable with the dog. And then it was on the dog – touching the dog, and on the dog.

And it seemed affectionate – but then, in a split second, it was as if the dog just lashed out, bit the kid in the face, and then was gone.

But it all happened in a split second – you didn’t even really see what the trigger was. And then, suddenly, you’re just like: “Oh my God!”

You didn’t see it coming, that was the thing – you didn’t see it coming. And, obviously, the kid hit a sensitive area on the dog, and the dog just instantly snapped.

Mike: This was posted on YouTube?

Morgan: Yeah.

Mike: Wow – that’s kind of gruesome. Yes, it’s like a snake strike – it’s so fast.

This is what I tell people. And I’m just repeating the point you’re already just making.

If you think that you can prevent it once it starts, think again. Because it’s like a cobra strike – it’s so fast, it’s over in a second or two. And it changes everything.

Because, after that point, mom and dad will no longer be able to trust the dog at all.

And, in terms of rehoming the dog, after an incident like that, you have to go to people and say: “Hey, my dog just bit my kid in the face – do you want him?” It’s not exactly a big selling-point.

Morgan: Totally.

Be Honest With Yourself

Mike: I also tell people: this is where things get a little hard, sometimes. Because some dogs can’t be completely reliably retrained in this department. Some dogs cannot – they are just too sensitive.

And last year, I had a few of these, where the dogs were geriatric already. They were 7, 8, 9 years old, they had arthritis and various physical issues.

And then, you have to be honest with yourself, and say: “OK, maybe this isn’t going to work.” And then consider beginning to explore rehoming the dog.

But the thing is, if you’re honest with yourself, and you’ve done some work and you don’t think it’s going to work, you still have months.

And if you do this proactively, you don’t have to go to people and say: “Hey, my dog just bit my kid – do you want him?” You can say: “I have an older dog who’s uncomfortable with children, and I don’t want to take a risk.”

And then look for an appropriate home. Because, sometimes, unfortunately, rehoming is the right move.

I’m not one of those people to guilt-trip people and say: “Well, once you get a dog you commit to it for life – how dare you? How could you even think about rehoming your beloved pet?”

With stuff like this, we’ve got to get real.

Because if you can’t rehome the dog after the bite, and you don’t want to live with the dog anymore and have your child be threatened, what’s the other option? Put the dog down?

So this is where it just gets real, and real fast.

So, again, there’s a reason that the very first module that I produced of the video course was around this. And it has the most content, and the most variety, because there’s many different ways to approach this.

And I was lucky enough to get five or six kids, and their parents, to work with me while I was shooting it, to really demonstrate the many different things one can do to help prepare.

And this is one of those things where I can describe the systematic desensitizing – but to see it is worth a thousand words, because it’s got a lot of subtlety in it.

Morgan: Yes – and you can see the changes in the dog. Sometimes very quickly, obviously, and then other times, as you said, it’s over weeks or months. But you do get the benefits, in this course, of seeing some dramatic transformations.

Mike: There’s one in module one which is about how to prepare a dog for child-like handling. I put in a little additional video, because I had captured the footage, just to demonstrate systematic desensitizing in sensitive body parts.

We had a 90-something-pound pit-bull – huge dog, very friendly – but you could not get near his feet. And so I videoed the process of systematically desensitizing this – and by the end of the hour, we actually clipped all his nails.

Again, I didn’t expect that – I just said: “Hey, we’ve got this dog here; we’ve got the cameras here.” The guy just happened to tell me, at the end of the video shoot, that the dog’s sensitive around its toes. So I said: “Let’s give it a try.”

Really, it’s a fun demonstration of how much progress you can make with systematic desensitizing – even pretty quickly, with a 90-pound pit who won’t let you get near his feet. It was quite a transformation – I mean, you’ve seen the videos, so you know what I’m talking about.

Morgan: Yes – it’s awesome.

Mike: But that comes on the tail end of a whole bunch of other stuff – you know, how to use Baby Bjorns to help teach your dog to accept child-like handling, how to use slings.

I just highly recommend it – if your dog is even the least bit reactive to being touched in sensitive parts of their body. Again, it’s not just the sales hustle – I worked hard to put that module together to help people in situations like that.

Morgan: So, everyone, we’re going to wrap up now.

But if you want to go ahead and learn more about systematic desensitization, a few recommendations: one, you can go back and listen to the last podcast episode, because it’s all about this topic.

Two, you can get Mike’s book over on gooddoghappybaby.com – he goes into this step by step, with how-to information. You got everything you need in there.

And then you also have Good Dog Happy Baby e-course. So in the course, as Mike was just saying, you get to see it in action.

So you’re left with no questions about what systematic desensitization is. You see the process, in action, and you see the effects of it – sometimes immediately.

And I just want to reiterate this key point that you made, Mike: that, obviously, when you start to engage with a process like this, you want things to change fast. But you’re dealing with a dog – sometimes an older dog, or a middle-aged dog – and you need to give yourself time.

If the dog has sensitive areas of her body that she doesn’t want you touching, it’s going to take some time.

And really, the word is: it’s a process. It’s a gradual process, and you have to make space for that.

And, like Mike has exhorts us in every single episode, you have about 17 months – from the moment you find out you’re pregnant to the moment the baby starts crawling – to really make those changes.

So, if you’re in that window, you really want to start making those changes as soon as possible. But also, as you’ll see in some of the free videos on Mike’s blog, it can be done.

In one of the incidents that we talked about, there’s this video of a Cocker Spaniel that they transformed within a few weeks. And this is when the baby’s already crawling, she’s already over a year old – probably like a year and a half old, right Mike? Maybe two?

Mike: Yes, something like that – she was definitely crawling, I think even walking. So it probably would have been about a year and two months, a year and three months, something like that.

Morgan: So all is not lost – and you can see in that video how it works.

>> Listen to the last episode: What Should I Do If My Dog Is Afraid Of Children

>> Listen to the next episode: What should you do if your dog has separation anxiety?

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