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Touch your dog with love

Original Publication Date: September 7, 2015
By C. Sue Furman, Ph.D.

Run your fingertips over a surface, and your sense of touch tells you if it is smooth, bumpy, velvety, or prickly, and if it is hot or cold. You can also distinguish a gentle touch from a smack and can definitely feel pain.

One might wonder how the brain discriminates one touch from another and if a dog's sense of touch works the same way.

Actually, of the five senses that dogs and humans have, touch is the most similar.

Dogs have the same sensory receptors that we have in the skin to receive information from the outside world. There are three types of quite specialized sensory nerve endings.

Mechanoceptors detect changes in pressure so the dog can distinguish a gentle pat from the playful jostle of a kennel mate.

Thermoceptors register temperature changes and allow a dog to recognize the difference between a warm summer day and a blustery winter wind.

Nociceptors have the job of identifying harmful, potentially damaging, or painful stimuli. For example, nociceptors would sound the alarm if a dog stepped on a sharp thorn.

The newborn pup uses it to find warmth and nourishment. He nuzzles toward his mother and paws to stimulate milk flow. He can also feel his mother as she gently licks to stimulate him to eliminate waste and to clean him.

A dog has sensory receptors all over his body, but parts of his body are more sensitive than others. A dog's face has touch sensitive hairs called vibrissae above the eyes, on the muzzle, and below the jaw on the side of the muzzle. These are tactile organs that are so sensitive they can detect changes in air flow as a dog approaches an object.

His whiskers serve a purpose. Do not trim them.

Nerve endings along a dog's spine make that area sensitive but one where most dogs like to be stroked.

Touch your dog with love Dr. Sue and Mick
(click image to enlarge)

Dogs that spend time outside on rough surfaces develop thicker skin on their paws, but their pads are still very sensitive.

A dog will probably respond if you run a fingertip over his paw when he is resting. His paw pads cannot discriminate as distinctly as our fingertips, but he certainly knows when he is being tickled.

Sensitive paws are the reason many dogs do not like to have their feet touched or their nails trimmed.

Dogs have a sense of touch that is very similar to ours, and most love to be cuddled and stroked. When your dog flops next to you and snuggles, it is because he likes touching you and feeling the comfort that you are right there.

Sue Furman, Ph.D, has published two books and a DVD on canine massage and teaches classes in pet massage, acupressure, first aid and CPR. See her schedule and submit questions at