#45 - Building Connection Through Touch

[00:00:00] Emily:  If we observe how our pets are responding to our touch, and then we change the way we’re touching them, and then observe those changes actually result in a happier pet, then in the future they’re gonna be more likely to ask us for more. And want to engage in that way, and be willing to trust us when occasionally we have to touch them in a way that might be a little awkward or ucky for them.

[00:00:26] Allie: Welcome to Enrichment for the Real World, the podcast devoted to improving the quality of life of pets and their people through enrichment. We are your hosts, Allie Bender…

[00:00:43] Emily:  …and I’m Emily Strong…

[00:00:45] Allie: …and we are here to challenge and expand your view of what enrichment is, what enrichment can be and what enrichment can do for you and the animals in your lives. Let’s get started.

Thank you for joining us for today’s episode of Enrichment for the Real World, and I want to thank you for rating, reviewing, and subscribing wherever you listen to podcasts.

Last week we heard from Katie Sulzmann and one of the topics we discussed was animal massage. This week we’re going to dive further into building connection through touch and talk about implementation with the animals in your life. In this implementation episode, Emily and I talk about touch consent tests, Oso’s itchy face, and Copper’s owie knee. Let’s get started.

We obviously talk about species, typical behaviors for our pets all the time, and one behavior that’s very primate, aka human, is grabbing and touching. We’re a very touchy species, and while oftentimes when you and I are working with clients, Emily, especially those who are seeing us for handling issues, we’re asking our clients to touch their animals less. I think though it’s important to recognize that we as humans want to be able to touch our pets and build connections with them through touch.

[00:02:02] Emily:  Yeah, I think that’s a common concern when we’re talking about providing animals with agency, and helping humans learn how to give their animals more consent in how they interact with each other. There’s a common fear that that means we can’t be primates anymore, and we don’t get to touch our pets anymore, and that’s not what it means at all.

I am so touchy- feely, warm- fuzzy, smooshy- smoo- schmoo- moo with my pets and with many other animals as well that aren’t mine. The difference is that if we’re thinking about enrichment in terms of meeting both the human and the non-humans needs, we need to be able to approach body handling in a way that achieves that.

[00:02:41] Allie: Especially in situations where massage would help the pet and in turn a human.

[00:02:46] Emily:  Right, because being able to improve your pet’s wellness through touch can be such a powerful way to build a deeper connection with them.

[00:02:53] Allie: So, let’s get into how to do that. Emily, take it away.

[00:02:57] Emily:  All right, so first of all, we teach all of our clients and all of our students how to perform touch consent tests. In other words, instead of just getting all gung-ho about, grabbing and touching your, your animals whenever you want to, without thought or without really paying attention to them, we can learn how to ask them with our body language, ” Would you like to be touched right now?” And giving them the option to say, “Oh, yeah, that sounds great!” Or “Nah, no thanks. Not right now.” Or “Yes, but not where you’re wanting to touch me, like, here’s a shoulder instead of the top of my head.” Or something like that is a really powerful tool and I can’t tell you how many times, and I’m sure this is the same for you, I can’t tell you how many times I had clients whose dogs were biting them, or their cats were biting them, or their parrots were biting them, and all we had to do was teach these touch consent tests, and suddenly they were like, We don’t need any more follow-up sessions because the problem is gone.

Now that we know how to ask our pets, and they know that they can say yes or no without having to bite, it’s just not an issue anymore. So, it results in the long run, getting more touch in, getting to be more warm and fuzzy with your pets by asking them and letting them say yes or no to being petted.

[00:04:11] Allie: The second step is something that Katie actually talked about in the private Pro Campus and Mentorship Program, part of the interview that that we give exclusively to our members, and that is this concept of laying on of hands, and we loved what she was saying in that section. So, we stole it for this implementation episode.

So, what Katie described was gently placing your hand on a part of your pet’s body that they are comfortable with you gently placing your hand on, and really being mindful about the touch that you are doing. You’re not doing this while you’re watching tv, you’re not doing this while you’re talking to somebody else in the household, or while you’re on your phone.

You are paying attention to the feel of their body underneath the your hand. You’re paying attention to the transfer of heat between their body and your hand, and you’re doing just this very mindful touch with your animal. And while you’re doing this you can gently move your hands over their body, paying attention to any heat that you’re feeling, or cold, or muscle tension, or anything that their body may be telling you that you can feel instead of necessarily looking at.

 I do this sometimes for Oso when I’m noticing a change in his gait and wondering if there’s a part of his body that’s a little owie, that perhaps we need some pain medication that day, or we need to whip out the Assisi Loop and do some inflammation work.

And so, this, this technique has really helped me get to know what is normal for him and what’s not normal for him, so that I can react much more quickly than if I was waiting for a full blown big limp. That would probably take a long time and he would have to be in a lot of pain in, in order to do.

I can notice these really subtle changes and react more quickly so that I can provide him with more relief right up front.

[00:06:15] Emily:  And then the next step is to observe the effects that the touch that you’re doing has on the pet. Do they have those like droopy eyes where they’re like, “Oh yeah, man, that’s the spot.” Or are they like, “Hmm, this is fine, I’ll tolerate it because like you’re my person, but like, It’s, I could take it or leave it.” or are they like, “Hey, that was not it. I could, I could hard pass on that. Thank you very much.”

So, if we observe how our pets are responding to our touch, and then we change the way we’re touching them, and then observe those changes actually result in a happier pet, then in the future they’re gonna be more likely to ask us for more. And want to engage in that way, and be willing to trust us when occasionally we have to touch them in a way that might be a little awkward or ucky for them.

[00:07:06] Allie: So, my example for this week, obviously Katie is Oso’s massage therapist, and I could just use that as my example, but because we’re talking about building connection with your own pet through touch, I wanted to use an example of me and Oso instead of what Katie does with Oso.

One of the things that Oso and I do together, and it’s kind of weird to say that I love this, but I love when this happens because I do feel like we’re building a connection when this happens. Oso has seasonal allergies, he’s on Apoquel, which is like the best medication that has ever existed, for him at least.

When it’s seasonal allergy time, he gets an itchy face. His eyeballs are itchy. His snout is itchy. Just everything on the face is itchy. I can see this because he will be scratching his face more frequently. When I notice him scratching his face, I will ask him if he wants help. I ask him if he wants help, I let him respond, and what I do is rub my palm, no fingers are involved in this, rub my palm along his face, and I keep my hands still, it looks like I’m waving. I’m just moving my hand back and forth, and he moves his face against my palm, depending on where it’s itchy. So, a lot of times we’ll start and I’m rubbing his eye, and then he’s like, “Okay, the eye is done. Now it’s my, the corner of my mouth is really itchy.” And so, he moves his face so that now I’m rubbing the corner of his mouth, and he’s like, “Okay, now it’s my snout.” And he’ll just keep moving his face around my hand.

I love when we do this because first of all, I feel like I’m helping him, and that makes me feel good as a human, but it’s this really lovely form of communication that we have, he recognizes, that he has total control over this situation. He gets to move his face. I’m not going to move my hand other than the back-and-forth waving, that my palm makes when it’s rubbing against his face. I’m going to just do this, he gets to move any which way, he gets to say when we’re done. All of that good sort of stuff. And I’ve seen other people try to do this and it, it’s, it’s not the same.

He’s like, “Mm, no, you don’t do this right. Mom does this right.” And, and so it’s just a really lovely way that we have deepened our connection by me helping him with his itchy face.

[00:09:46] Emily:  That was the best exposition I have ever listened to ever. Thank you so much for explaining all of the meta of this conversation. I appreciate you.

My story for today is about Copper, he’s an old man, he’s 15 and he has some early arthritis in his left hind leg in his knee. And I would notice that when he’s laying in certain positions, I could see some minor trembling in that knee. And, when I see trembling like that, that those little subtle muscle tremors, that usually tells me that there’s some pain, some arthritic pain. What I started doing was I would start petting him like on his back, which is maybe less startling when he’s taking a nap, and then slowly move my hand down his thigh, and then down to his knee. I’ll wrap my hand around his knee and just hold it there. Not squeezing. But just stabilizing the knee.

And as my hand starts to get warm from holding it still for a while, and his muscles start to relax, I can feel that tension in his leg just relax, and he melts his whole leg into my hand and, and really lets the leg rest down, so it’s like heavier. It’s, he gets heavy leg. And so, to me that is a really sweet bonding moment for us that I get to help alleviate some of his pain, and to help him relax.

I don’t know anything about massage, but just holding slight steady pressure on that knee, I see that it helps him and it alleviates some of his pain and helps him to relax. And so, that’s what we do. That happens almost every day when we’re having snug time on the nest. So, that is a really good example of how we can touch with consent, letting them know what’s happening, he’s saying yes the whole time I’m petting his back and his thigh. And then, I observe the effect that when I hold his knee like that, he really relaxes into it.

[00:11:45] Allie: Today, we talked about building connection through touch. You can do that through touch consent tests, laying on of hands, and observing the effects to determine what your pet likes. Next week we’ll be talking with Dr. Micaela Young about when medical problems become behavioral problems.

So, we are continuing this intersection of medical and behavioral that we started with Katie and the musculoskeletal system, and diving into a different aspect of that with Micaela. Behavior doesn’t happen in a vacuum. And if we’re going to focus on enrichment, we need to take a look at the physical side, and there’s a whole lot of elements of that as you’ll learn from Micaela next week.

Thank you for listening. You can find us at petharmonytraining.com and @petharmonytraining on Facebook and Instagram, and also @petharmonypro on Instagram for those of you who are behavioral professionals. As always links to everything we discussed in this episode are in the show notes and a reminder to please rate, review and subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts a special thank you to Ellen Yoakum for editing this episode, our intro music is from Penguin Music on Pixabay.

Thank you for listening and happy training.

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