Updated: Apr 5, 2022
Unlike people who like to shake hands, even hug strangers, dogs are careful about who they touch and why. Familiarity is an excellent reason that dogs touch each other, which is linked to their individual preference of social distance.
Like people some dogs are quite tactile and others less. Generally, dogs are touched by people much more than they would like to be. We should always ask permission before we touch them and respectfully adhere to the signals they offer in response. In some cases, a new and anxious dog that joins a human home will learn to ask for touch - eventually enjoying it – yet whether we touch a dog or not should always be dog led and not just because we want to. Similarly, how we touch dogs may need to be re-assessed. Anything coming over their head or a hand pushed in their face for a sniff is literally “in your face” and if we consider that dogs greet differently, we realise that going towards one with our hand outstretched into their face is neither wise or respectful. The golden rule really is, wait at a distance and avoid eye contact and if the dog wants to come to you – then reciprocate his greeting in kind.
Dogs may or may not enjoy touch with others. Some are precious about their personal space whilst others all pile into one bed leaving the rest of them empty. It’s lovely to see our dogs cuddled up together but we can’t force it. We must allow them to be themselves. Play between dogs most often involves touching in some way. They may wrestle, muzzle fence or bash each other with front paws. Play is a number of behaviours left over from the dog’s predator ancestors and occurs simply for fun, bonding and sometimes to communicate a bigger message. But that's always by choice and with excellent communication and mutual consent.
We have a lot to learn from dogs, so let's look more and touch less, unless by request.