Dogs make our lives better: They are ready at a moment’s notice to be mood enhancers, help people recover better after a heart attack, and just sitting and petting a dog can make both parties involved feel better. Touching a dog, in fact, can save a life.
When a tiny raised lump appeared on my first Cocker Spaniel’s shoulder blade about two weeks after getting her then yearly vaccinations, I felt a twinge of “something isn’t right” course through my veins. My gut instinct was right: Getting it checked right away most likely saved her life: It was cancer.
The next time you sit down to pet your dog, consider these 10 touches that just might save your dog’s life (note: If your dog is not accustomed to touching, now’s a good time to start: From veterinarians to groomers, getting a bath to getting his nails clipped, touch should be an acceptable, positive behavior throughout a dog’s life). Remember the 10 for 10 rule: 10 minutes, 10 touches. We do this at least weekly.
Full body scan: Glide your fingertips across your dog’s body. Gently move fingertips across the dog’s back, stomach, head, ears, and even his face. Most dogs will tolerate this touch, especially if you do it while he is resting next to you and relaxed. Feel anything? Any new lumps or bumps? Take a snapshot of any growths so that you are able to show the veterinarian.
Ears: Hold the ear between your fingers and caress gently, praising your dog for being such a good pooch. Ticks have a tendency to cling onto ears, the face, or head since dogs spend a lot of their time outdoors with their nose to the ground.
Lymph Nodes: The lymph nodes filter foreign invaders/particles from a dog’s blood stream. The lymphatic system includes organs like the thymus gland and spleen, so the regulation and production of cells of the immune system are involved. Touching the lymph nodes of the body and knowing where they are located is an important part of understanding your dog’s anatomy. Gently palpate the neck, legs, and groin region. Feel into your dog’s armpits.
Mouth: One of the many reasons we are strong proponents and advocates of regular dog teeth brushing is to screen for lumps, bumps, growth, or sores. Dog parents who know what normal feels and looks like will be the first to know when something abnormal is touched or seen. If your dog isn’t into teeth brushing or having your finger gently probe around his gums, here are some ways to help a dog adjust to teeth brushing (and gentle probing).
Tail: It wags, it alerts us, it has many positions, and we can often tell what a dog is thinking by the way of his tail. When is the last time you touched your dog’s tail and felt around for anything unusual? You can train a dog to trust touching any part of his body using positive reinforcement. Praise a dog, have a friend or family member reward with a treat in association with touch.
Top of the Head: One of the first places most people touch a dog is on their head. Even the most friendly dog might not like this: Especially if an unsuspecting stranger does it. As his pet parent, gingerly massage the head and feel around for anything out of the ordinary.
Paws and Pads: A broken nail can be very painful. An overgrowth of fur between the pad surfaces means dogs can slip on flooring. Any cuts or wounds on a paw pad need immediate attention. Visually inspect the paw while using touch to feel for anything unusual.
Belly: Ah, the delightful belly rub: Incorporate an incognito exam into a belly rub for a win-win. Gently press fingers along the dog’s stomach to feel for any signs of swelling or abnormalities.
Tush Touch: Most dogs love a good butt scratch: Gentle and massaging, across the tush and hips, feel for any bumps or lumps and take a peek, too: The sensitive anal glands are located in this area, so any unusual odors should be checked out by a veterinarian.
Chest: Increased panting is a common occurrence for dogs in the winter months, particularly when the heat is on indoors and dog’s are adjusting. However, if dogs are excessively panting, it’s time to get checked. Feel your dog’s chest and notice of there is any discomfort or pain while petting the chest area. Just behind the elbow on the left side of the dog’s chest is here you should be able to feel a heartbeat.
As a bonus 11th tip, check the eyes: Is there any unusual discharge or buildup in or around the eyes? Do the eyes look red or cloudy? Is there any increase or decrease in tear production? Does the dog squint or paw at the eyes?
How often are you touching your dog?