Sunday, August 20, 2017

Belly Up

My newest rescued setter Sherlock has been dominance subjugated (I hate to say trained) by his previous owners…and he's a classic case of appeasement belly up and freeze with a nervous tip of the tail wag. He's totally ticklish and hates being touched or stroked below the waist, front or back. I can empathize, I'm totally ticklish too, all depends on the timing and the calm strength of the touch. I'm working on desensitizing Sherlock to enjoy gentle but firm butt rub massages. So far this is only possible when he's totally relaxed on the sofa or waiting for treats from a trusted friend, and more receptive to or else totally distracted from complaining about massage style new experience around his lower back (clearly he only expects pain there). I can only touch his rear hindquarters or belly and genital area when he's in the shower being lathered up.
A recent post at Reisner Veterinary Behavior Services talks about people who are not aware of this and think belly up is asking for a belly rub, ending up being shocked when they get bitten. 
Like kissing, the belly-up position is one of the most misunderstood interactions in the human-dog social lexicon.... It’s not uncommon for dogs to lie still while their belly is being rubbed, then quickly snap or bite at the hand as it’s withdrawn. (While the hand is doing its rubbing, they are likely in “freeze” mode, quickly “thawing” to a defensive bite when it’s done.)...Is rolling on the back ever an invitation to pet and rub, then? ...Unless you know your dog very well, it is safest to assume they’re uncomfortable. A good test is to sit nearby or walk away, clapping your hands and talking in a silly, happy voice. Most dogs will flip upright and join you happily, unstressed.
Dogs don't bite out of the blue. We just need to have the right phrasebook.
You can see by Nobunaga's wide smile that he's ready for dog-human interaction of any kind from belly rubs and pats to playful tug-of-war sessions...he's ever the first to relax, lie down and eventually roll over to invite play if there's no interaction coming. If there's still nothing happening after a greeting interlude, he'll play dead as we try to walk on, and I have to drop the leash, walk up the street and do a mini recall session to make him feel noticed and loved.
Photos by Yakob Miyajima

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