Dogs sense of touch is highly refined and mirrors the human's sense of touch in many ways. Of the five senses that dogs and humans possess, touch is the most similar.
Touch is one sense that is present at birth and is used by the tiny puppy to find warmth and nourishment. Newborns instinctively nuzzle towards their mother, pawing to stimulate milk flow. The mama dog licks and stimulates them to eliminate waste.
This two-way process forms the emotional bonds that keep puppies safe, warm and fed, but more important; this bond can then be transferred to humans.
If puppies are handled from day one, stroked, held, cuddled, and touched all over their body, they begin to develop social bonds with humans. Daily touching puppies help them accept human touch as being a pleasant sensation and sets them up to tolerate touching and later being groomed.
According to Victoria Stilwell, from the television show, It’s Me or the Dog and author of Train Your Dog Positively, dogs have whiskers above their eyes, on their muzzle and below their jaws that are sensitive to changes in airflow around an object even before the dog touches it. She advises not to trim whiskers because they are there for a reason. This is only a concern later on when the owner wants to trim their dog’s entire face free of whiskers.
whiskers or Vibrissae are rigid, embedded deep in the skin and have receptor
cells at their base. They function to
warn the dog of objects coming at their face or eyes and may account for a
dog’s adverse reaction when you blow air onto their face to dry them after a
bath. These specialized hairs or vibrissae are present on a wide variety of animals including cats, rates, bears and seals
In addition to whiskers, dogs have five categories of touch receptors within their skin, which allow them to discriminate different types of touch: Pain, Body Movement and Position, Temperature, Pressure and Chemical Stimulation. The most sensitive places on a dog are along the spine and at the base of the tail.
Your Puppy’s foot pads are also extremely sensitive as well as the skin between the pads. Even the slightest pull or nick causes most dogs to jump or cry. If a dog’s nails are trimmed to close, and the “Quick” is cut, the nail will bleed profusely also causing a great deal of pain.
Dogs tend to remember this making the next grooming session more difficult. It is still important to maintain the nails and remove the hair between the pads on long haired dogs because severely matted feet are also painful. Winter ice or snow, or irritation from chemicals and salts on sidewalks can irritate and cause discomfort too.
Beyond pain, touch, especially human touch has a calming effect on a dog. It can reduce the dog’s heart rate and lower stress. Human to Canine touch is relaxing to both the dog and the person. One could say that Touch is physiologically rewarding.