Dog Senses (V) Skin - An insight into a dog's tactile sense!

Wag Wiki, last updated 15th, Dec 2014, Srishti Das



Imagine not being able to talk, how stunted would your life become? Unlike us, dogs cannot talk their communications with us is based majorly on tactile communication. Body language, vocalization and touch are all forms of dog communication, and even newborn puppies communicate through tactile stimulation. It’s important for us to understand this to understand what our dogs are trying to communicate to us or what we communicate to them unknowingly.

Tactile communication

Under the layers and layers of fur and hair, the dogs skin has complex receptors that can sense pain, body movement and position, temperature, touch and pressure and chemical stimulation. Dogs have touch receptors at the base of every hair and most sensitive of them all would be vibrissae, commonly known as the whiskers. Tactile communication is to all intents and purposes communication through touch. Long before their eyes and ears open, puppies learn to communicate with their mother and other dogs and puppies through touch. Nosing, pawing and nipping are all common forms of tactile communication, and puppies touch other dogs throughout their lives. Dogs also touch their owners as a way to express themselves. When your dog is scared, he may press up against you for protection. If he gets excited, he may paw at you to convince you to play with him. It is true that touch does indeed have a calming effect on the dog, it will reduce the dogs heart rate and lower stress, you will probably have seen this effect when stroking your own dog.

Dogs usually use two kinds of touch, the first being Protective touch and the second being Defensive touch.

Protective Touch

Protective communication first occurs as a mother dog crouches over her puppies to protect them from perceived dangers. Older dogs may display protective behaviour by lying on their favourite toys or grooming each other. Dogs may also pass protective touching behaviours onto the human members of their family, cuddling or licking them as displays of affection.

Licking-This is also a classic canine greeting and mark of affection, but dogs also lick to show submissiveness. A dog will lick another dog's face to say,I'm friendly and pose no threat.”

Pawing-It's hard to ignore being pawed, and your dog has figured this out. Pawing can be an invitation to play or a plea for attention. A wagging tail and bowing posture most likely mean play is the goal; whining and general restlessness mean he’s pawing for attention.



Mouthing-If you’ve ever held a puppy and thought he was trying to bite you, you may have been the recipient of some affectionate mouthing. Puppies explore with their mouths as much as they do with eyes and ears. Mouthing between young puppies is a form of play.

Touching Noses-Dogs have very powerful senses of smell; their noses are important parts of their communication arsenals. Touching noses is a greeting, a method of socialization and , as research in The University of Zurich Institute of Zoology revealed, a means for dogs to find out whether the dog they’re encountering has eaten recently. The study found that dogs would touch noses in order to gauge the likelihood of their being food in the area.

Leaning-Often dogs do this for reassurance and security if they feel threatened or anxious -- or if they sense that you feel that way.

Defensive Touch

Defensive touch is different compared to protective touch. As the word suggests, this kind of touch is more defensive and a dog will show this tactile communication only when it feels threatened, For example, if a dog doesn’t want another dog near his bone, he may push the other dog away with his foot. If the dog doesn’t leave, he will start showing aggression, standing over the offending dog and pushing him down to the ground. Nose bumping is another common defence movement. A dog who wants his space will poke the offender firmly with his nose. If the dog still doesn’t have enough space, he may nip the other animal to reinforce his point.

Pawning and Leaning -Usually this could mean either of the two types of touches. Though for a pet dog it will usually be protective and playful. However, sometimes dogs may use their body weight to assert his dominance, for example by moving another dog out of the way to get access to food first. Dogs do this with either their entire body weight or sometimes just with their paws.


Mouthing and Biting-  Sometime while playfully mouthing his siblings, a puppy may get too hard with his mouth and hurts one of his siblings or his mother, the other dog will typically squeal. This known as a bite inhibition. It’s how dogs learn their limits and the tolerance levels of other dogs. Biting is also a form of tactile communication. It is a way for dogs to show fear, to discipline other dogs that play too rough or to react to aggression.

How to touch your dog

Dogs are not very comfortable with fast, jerky movements. It is important to pet the dog in long, slow strokes. Some dogs like to crawl on your lap, however, they should not be forced to stay if they struggle to get away. A nervous dog can be calmed with firm, full-hand pressure along his body, however just the opposite will also startle him.

The way you touch your dog greatly impacts your relationship with your furry friends, make sure you keep that one safe.

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