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Petting Dogs

 

My dogs are scratchy gluttons. If I keep going with the scratchies for as long as they ask, first they yawn, then they close their eyes, then they start to relax into mush, and then they don’t need any more scratchies because they are asleep.

"Excuse me. I'm getting my scratchies now."

“Excuse me. I’m getting my scratchies now.”

If Cricket’s feeling grumpy and I start to scratch her head and ears and under her chin, I can almost see the neurons making better connections in her brain and sending calming signals throughout her body.

"I'm not sleepy at all. More scratchies."

“I’m not sleepy at all. More scratchies.”

Given the amount of petting my dogs seem to need every say, I wonder how humans survive on so little. Just to get through a harried day of walks and meals and naps, Cricket tells me, she needs at least an hour of petting. She knows instinctively that petting is good for her, that it makes her feel better – whether it’s freeing up her chi, releasing neurotransmitters, or relaxing her muscles, she feels better because of it.

Butterfly loves her scratchies.

Butterfly loves her scratchies.

And, finally, Cricket has been scratched enough.

And, finally, Cricket has been scratched enough.

Dogs are safe to touch, because we aren’t afraid that they will misconstrue our attentions, and because if they don’t want to be touched they are not so polite that they will continue to allow contact, the way humans will. Humans are often too polite for their own good, trying not to hurt someone else’s feelings and sacrificing their own safety instead.

Touch between humans can go so quickly from comforting to threatening. If someone you like and trust squeezes your shoulder or gives you a hug, that can make you feel better. But if someone you don’t like, or don’t know, does the same thing, the violation of boundaries can be overwhelming. We have so many (necessary) rules in place to protect us from unwanted and threatening human contact, but not much has been clearly stated about what kinds of healthy touch we need.

Medicine is often practiced from a distance, through scans and blood tests and a few vague questions, but there’s a lot to be said for the idea that touch can be used to diagnose, and especially to treat, certain problems. Touch in general can be a way to transmit kindness, which is one of the most healing things we can give each other.

My mother has been having nerve pain and numbness in her feet for the past few years and numerous doctors and tests and medications have failed to relieve, or even to diagnose the cause of the problem. Feeling desperate, Mom finally took the recommendation of a friend and tried a cranial sacral therapist. He’s a doctor of osteopathy and covered by Medicare, so she figured it wouldn’t hurt to give it a shot.

He talks about moving plates in her skull and other hoo haa things that don’t make much sense to me when Mom reports back about her visits, but as a result of these treatments, her pain is going away. And with each visit, the pain stays away longer and longer. I don’t understand any of it, but it seems to be working.

I’ve had a few EEG’s over the past few years and, though I’m not a fan of the 24 or 48 hours of traipsing around with machinery attached to my head, I love how it feels as the little sensors are individually attached. I don’t know why this is such a magical feeling. I feel the same thing when my hair gets shampooed before a haircut. It’s not the same as a massage, where only skin is being touched. I wonder if this is what petting feels like to my hair-covered dogs, as if the touch reaches down to the root of the hair, deeper than the skin.

In summer camp, girls braided each others hair or drew letters on each other’s backs with a finger, as an excuse to touch and be touched. And it relieved some of the homesickness we all felt.

My dogs try to pet me, each in her own way. Cricket paws at me, or lifts my hand with her nose, when she wants me to scratch her, and then cuddles into my side or onto my lap. Butterfly noses my head if I’m exercising on the floor. She likes to sniff my hair or my armpit and then sit there and stare at me while I do my crunches. But her real offering is the way she licks my hands with such love and care. It’s not quite the same as petting, but it might actually be better.

Butterfly lickies on the way.

Butterfly’s licks are on the way.

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About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

100 responses »

  1. Some birds are like that, too. I’ve had birds that enjoyed their brain rubs and others who were okay with being in the same room, but keep your hands to yourself!

    My mother’s poodles are equally diverse. She has one who’s content with a little ball-throwing time in the evenings. The other is Velcro-dog. She is not really happy unless attached to my mother. Funny critters.

    Reply
    • The African grey at my vet’s office loves to have his head scratched. He bends his head next to the bars of his cage and waits for me to start scratching. If I don’t start right away, he does the bird equivalent of a meaningful cough and tips his head down again.

      Reply
      • 😀 That’s great! My grey had a rough start in life. I’m owner #4, and she’s gradually learning that I’m not dangerous. She’ll actually step onto my hand and stay there … if I don’t move, which is fantastic progress from where we started.

        Now, if I leave the room and Masika knows I’m in the house, she’ll start whistling “YOOHOO” until i come back in.

      • The grey at the vets rings his bell, and then whistles at me too. He’s such a flirt.

      • Funny birds, aren’t they? Parrots have such personality.

  2. Considering the stress and pressure we experience every day, I think most of us humans are vastly underpetted. But I agree that there are issues of trust and safety that come with human touching. Hopefully we can all find a person we trust to give us our scratchies.

    Reply
  3. Ginger and Buddy agree about the “scratchies”. They feel the same about massage. Tom and I can relate to this post well and are ogling over every one of the adorable photos.

    The power of touch is so strong and it is sad that so many pups (and humans for that matter) never get the type of love from touch that makes them feel loved. We scratch, rub, massage, kiss, pamper and annoy our pups every chance we get; our health benefits too.

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  4. Well that confirms that dogs know what is important in life. Humans have become so advanced and sophisticated that they have forgotten the benefits and need of such primal activities like touching and hugging.

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  5. Petting dogs and cats is believed to lower blood pressure. If this is true, you must have very low blood pressure!

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  6. Our dogs are as different as night and day. Spud the Mini Poodle makes it very clear when he wants to be pet by using his pry bar nose or by pawing at us. He always does that when our other dog, Peanut the Queensland Heeler, is getting any sort of attention. Peanut isn’t an attention hog. Spud will sit on my lap as I scratch his back and I can watch his eyes glaze over; I have to hold onto him or he would roll off backwards! I love our furbabies. 🙂 There is nothing like having a small furry body curled up next to me on the couch or in bed.

    Reply
  7. I loved this post, Rachel My cats, especially Teemu and Kitty are like this. When I bend down to kiss Teemu on the top of his head, he actually pushes his head upward as if to say, ‘don’t stop.’ If I stroke his cheeks or his chin, be becomes like Cricket and just melts away. Totally relaxes me, too! The human touch is an amazing thing.

    Reply
    • Thank you! I love how unashamed they are about asking for what they want. Cricket drapes herself across my lap and pushes whatever book or knitting I have out of the way. Because she knows she’s more important.

      Reply
  8. I expect you know the old question and answer –
    Question : What do you get if you scratch a dog?
    Answer; A job for life..

    Reply
  9. I have chronic pain in my feet, the result of some surgery gone wrong thirty years ago. There’s arthritis in there, and nerve damage, and it’s a mess. Nothing helped much until Princess came to live with us. She was insistent that I let her lick my foot, and I resisted until I realized that it actually helped A LOT.

    It looks weird so I don’t let her do it in front of people; the funny part is that she seems to understand that. But when it’s just family, she’ll trot up and scratch at my shoe: “Take it off! Let me work!” and she goes right for the places where the pain has set up shop that day. She’ll work on it for a while, then about the time I notice we’re approaching diminishing returns, she’s done. She just walks away as if she’s clocking out.

    I have no explanation for this, only gratitude.

    Reply
    • I think there are dogs who just know how to take care of others, just like there are people who have that magical gene. Butterfly has that too. I don’t know where it comes from, but it’s a wonderful thing.

      Reply
  10. Like most Scotties, I don’t want to be cuddled. However, I’ll stay my distance (about five feet) and follow my peep anywhere to make certain that everything’s right. It’s a relationship on MY terms but I’m very loyal and loving in my way.

    Reply
    • Cricket does the same thing (when she’s not demanding pets). If her humans sit at the computer, she goes to her bed by the computer. If her people go to sleep, she sleeps on the human bed, or under it. She finds it horrifying that her humans can leave the apartment without her. How will they survive?

      Reply
  11. Great post Rachel!
    Maggie is the best therapy ever. By smoothing her coat, head or rubbing her tummy, I can feel my tension ebb away. She will curl up next to me at night and snuggle in close. In the mornings, we have a ‘group hug’ where she wriggles her way in between us, and gets her scratchies in stereo. If we’re not rubbing the right spot, the paws come up and she will manipulate us accordingly. She goes completely floppy with a big fat smile on her face!
    I am not usually one for hugs from strangers or family for that matter, and nearly came to blows with a male work colleague who put his arm round me. I told him that while he may feel entitled to do it with other members of the female staff, I didn’t like it, and he wasn’t to do it again.
    However, there is something about having your hair shampooed in the salon. There, under the suds and hands of the washer, she can pummel away to her heart’s content and I’ll just lap it up!

    Reply
  12. I just read a great article from Cesar, The Dog Whisperer this morning. It was about how humans and animals greet each other differently because our instincts are night and day. If you get a chance I think you’d find it fascinating. I was also thinking while I reading your great post this– have you ever thought of putting these doggy stories into a book for children? Who knows, you might have a best seller on your hands.

    Reply
    • Thank you! I do think about writing for children, but somehow my rhythm or word choice doesn’t adapt the way it should. I made a picture book for my nephews and niece about Cricket’s very long walk, and they loved it, but they’re related to me.

      Reply
  13. Touch is such a powerful thing, especially when directed. I have heard of this cranial plate therapy and glad that is working for your Mom. I think one of the reasons we adore a pets so much is thee contact from stroking, petting, grooming. We humans don’t get enough. Love the pictures.

    Reply
  14. Ya know, I never thought about how little contact we do get by on. I don’t know how I’d survive if I didn’t have animal companions.

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  15. Really interesting idea to explore — the difference of touch between humans and dogs. Thanks for writing.

    Reply
  16. My youngest dog was feral, so she is very touch averse, but as our bond grew Patience has turned to me for touch when she feels insecure. I can tell when she needs reassurance when she noses my hand or presses against me. It’s almost a normal dog response!

    Reply
  17. Thanks for your thoughtful post. As I lay here with laptop n bed, Sophie (Shorkie) is curled against me so our backs support one another, Loki (white cat) is purring loudly, curled at my chest. Contact is sharing that same morphic field, bringing health and harmony to the combined beingness we share beyond bodies. I think you are onto something here! Linda

    Reply
  18. Your dogs are so precious! My dog is a little bit of a diva. She demands attentions. She pulls your hands towards her with her paw. If you don’t move she shoves her head under your hand. And if all else fails she sprawls across you. Yet, she only cuddles with certain people ( not me). With my hubby she curl up next too, on his lap or chest when laying down. She just cuddles with him. When he’s sick or upset, she runs to him and gives him kisses. She only cuddles with me in the morning when I’m sleeping in and I thinks its more fear of “when is momma gunna wake up and feed me”…lol. But, she loves everyone, she just bonds with everyone differently. I’m just angry she didn’t bond with me with cuddles.

    Reply
  19. I fear my dogs must rely on Pretty Pets for their scratchies and evidently she must be the Grand Hoo Haa of Pets because they wait for her to give them…I usually am last in line. 🙂

    Reply
  20. Another goreous, thought provoking post!
    Hugs, Carrie & pups x

    Reply
  21. When I read “Given the amount of petting my dogs seem to need every say, I wonder how humans survive on so little” it was as though a lightbulb went off in my head! Yes, I thought, yes – I need more of that sort of healing, kind touch, too 🙂

    Reply
  22. Petting Bailey does wonders for my psyche. 🙂

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  23. Dogs are very emotional, and I’m sure our Chicki associates her licks as signals of her love. I think that dogs are just happy to accept our attention. We tend to look at the attention of humans in a different way, scrutinising it as to motive.

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  24. Your dogs are so cute! That last photo killed me! 🙂 Butterfly…a great name for such a sweet looking dog.

    Reply
  25. The power of touch is extraordinary; Jack is happiest when some part of his body is touching mine. 🙂

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  26. What a lovely article! My little dog absolutely loves being touched, and, to a lesser extent, groomed. She repays me by licking me awake in the morning, and by sitting with me constantly if I am ill.

    Reply
  27. Bell loves to lay between my legs. My legs have to both be touching her, sort of enveloping her. It is soothing for both of us. She enjoys to be scratched as well, but will sleep all night between my legs or at my side, being sure that she is constantly touching me. It is such a comfort. Great post!

    Reply
    • Cricket likes to push me off the bed. There’s a very fine line for her between leaning in close to be cozy and putting all of her weight into it until her human hits the floor.

      Reply
      • Now that you mention that, Bell could be trying to do the same thing when she nuzzles in next to me. She will sleep on my side of the bed when I’m not in bed, but when I get in I move her. If she does push me to the edge, I typically just get up and move to the other side of the bed — but she’s not spoiled or anything.

  28. Well, I’m the same way about having my back scratched 🙂

    Thanks so much for liking my two most recent drawings that I have posted — “Peanut and Sammy” and “Nikki in Profile.” I have one more completed piece to post. (I got a little behind with there with my postings.) So maybe tonight if I get done with work at a reasonable time. I do appreciate you looking at my work.

    Reply
  29. Rachel, this is such a nice, well-written and thoughtful posting. Makes me want to give our furry kids some scratchies! And BTW, your dogs are absolutely adorable!

    Reply
    • I’m pretty sure Cricket has back channel conversations with the dog world, because she’s the one who suggested this post. She’s clearly trying to get all of her friends’ backs scratched.

      Reply
  30. The beautiful thing about dogs is that whenever, wherever you pet them, they feel it in their heart.
    Wherever and whenever they lick you, it’s coming from their soul.

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  31. Interesting notion about the summer camp braiding etc. I never thought of that before . . . .

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  32. I love your dogs! Great blog. Interesting read 🙂

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  33. Thoughtful piece. You cover lots of ground, keeping it connected. Back to the dogs now.

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  34. Dogs just know how to live. I’m in awe of my fur babies’ ability to live in and appreciate each moment!

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  35. This post makes me want to tickle my dog’s tummy! And under her chin too…

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  36. Just tweeted this excellent post 🙂

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  37. MOH always gets up first and lets the dogs out. Wilf will wait for me at the bottom of the stairs his excited tail sweeping the floor. When he sees me he will come to greet me by pressing his nose just once and very gently to my hand or foot or knee. He will continue to do this throughout the day. Just coming to me and pressing his nose against me. Daisy is a licker. She loves feet. Not necessarily my feet but the feet of anyone she can get at. She also loves to lick elbows for some reason and I can quite often be sat at my desk and her sudden appearance will be announced by one extremely wet elbow! I do love ’em!

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  38. Dogs and touch therapy – absolutely the best! Your babies are adorable.

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  39. As a person who doesn’t often see a “touch” coming, I’ll hold out my hand expecting to shake but not really wanting to. But since it’s expected for social reasons I tolerate it. For some of us, touch hurts–especially if you tense up because you’re not expecting it. Medical professionals are learning that touching your patient can be calming. For me, and for many others, it just serves to alienate. From what I gather, I’m one of the few people who despise massage.

    I agree with your mom that moving the plates in the skull helps. It relieves a buildup of pressure. I doesn’t feel great when it’s being done, but it sure feels a WHOLE lot better afterward. 🙂

    I agree that dogs are “safe” to touch and love having my doggies sleeping next to me. Also, petting them is quite soothing for both of us, but the fur, texture, and “vibes” from a dog are entirely different than from a human.

    Reply
  40. You make some very good points here Rachel. It’s true that we humans also need touch and in this busy life we rarely make time for simple things like a hug, which is crazy because we know a hug would ease the stress we are feeling.
    Dogs just get it. They know what’s important. I tend to wake up around 3am and find Lily there’d at my side with her little paw raised asking for a belly rub. It comforts us both and relaxes me back to sleep. In return she cuddles deep into me and keeps me warm.
    As I sit typing now, Poppy is at my back, licking the bit that peeps out between my jeans waistband and teeshirt. It’s her form of petting me I think saying. “Hey, I love you mom!”.
    I love your blog!

    Reply
    • I love your dogs! My girls tend to find me the most interesting when i am exercising on the living room floor. Cricket comes over to get her scratchies, and Butterfly sniffs my sweat. I’m so glad I am able to entertain them!

      Reply
      • Haha! I have abandoned trying to work out since Poppy arrived, I think I’ll wait til she’s a bit older and less excitable. Lily used to enjoy watching me doing my dance exercise DVDs though.

      • When Cricket was a puppy and kept behind a gate in the kitchen, she would cry the whole time I did my yoga routine. I have since given up on exercising alone. She believes she is helping.

      • I have two safety gates installed downstairs shutting off the kitchen and lounge. Constant climbing over them to get around, but they are a great idea.

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