Camille was fast asleep. Lying next to me, her head rested on the pillow next to mine. Her precious little brown face was even with mine. Camille’s REM (Rapid Eye Movement) state was obvious as she glanced about behind her eyelids. Her long legs twitched, jabbing into my side, as the three year old Boxer chased her dream-squirrel. Then, suddenly she was still. Her breathing became deep and even as I felt the air current quietly blowing across my shoulder.
I tried to get used to the breeze; but soon needed to change my position. It was irritating. I felt obliged not to disturb my dog. She was sleeping so peacefully; I could move. I lay there thinking about this curious dynamic. When did she take charge of the bed? I thought about how I never liked Spooning. Any human partner breathing on my neck for more than a few minutes while I was falling asleep was never an option.
Carefully, so as not to disturb the little angel, I turned over onto my side. I moved away from her and soon realized I was breathing on my other shoulder. Processing my annoyance there, in the dark, I started thinking that my breath might have effects on the dogs I PetMassage™.
Breath effects dogs during PetMassage™.
We have to breathe. Breathing is essential. Of course, the obvious reason is that it keeps us alive.
The color, cut and quality of our breath sends important signals to the dog. From our breath, dogs can tell our mood, our health, our experience, our commitment, our level of presence, if we are leaders or followers, if we are fearful, if we are tired, hungry and/or massively be(f)huddled.
Sensing air currents
The sensation of air currents, or breath, is one of the earliest and the most important of all the canine senses.
Just as with people, there are areas of a dog’s body that are more sensitive to air movement than others. The touch receptor nerves are present in greater numbers in those areas. This includes the muzzle and the lips, as well as the foot pads for dogs.
Dogs have vibrissae, guard hairs. They are important and they are very sensitive.
According to Victoria Stilwell, author of Train Your Dog Positively, the whiskers dogs have above their eyes, on their muzzle and below their jaws are sensitive to changes in airflow around an object even before the dog touches it. These vibrissae, are so sensitive that when a dog approaches an object she can sense changes in airflow long before she actually touches the object.
Victoria advises not to trim them. Whiskers are there for a reason. It always felt so wrong when our groomer would give our late Boxer, Oskar, a show cut, buzzing off what I called his parking feelers.
(Wikipedia describes curb feelers or curb finders as springs or wires installed on a vehicle which act as “whiskers” to warn drivers that they are too close to the curb or other obstruction. The devices are fitted low on the fender, close to the wheels. As the vehicle approaches the curb, the protruding feelers scrape against the curb, making a noise and alerting the driver in time to avoid damaging the wheels. The feelers are manufactured to be flexible and do not easily break.
Dogs vibrissae are rigid hairs, embedded deep in the skin. They have receptor cells at their bases. Their function is to warn the dog of objects coming at their face or eyes and may account for dogs adverse reactions when we blow air onto their faces.
Dog’s brain study
Almost half of the area of a dog’s brain that is involved in touch is lit up by the internal vibrations from air currents to the face, and in particular where the vibrissae are, the upper jaw. Vibrissae help dogs “see” in the dark by sensing air currents that will let the dog know when he gets too close to an object. (http://lauriemetz.weebly.com/basic-dog-senses.html)
Canine discrimination of different types of air flow
In addition to whiskers, dogs have five categories of touch receptors within their skin, which allow them to discriminate different types of air flow. They can tell the direction, the force and what it is carrying. The air flow can be experienced as Pain, Body Movement and Position, Temperature variation, Pressure and Chemical Stimulation. The olfactory senses of the dog collect massive quantities of intel; especially when the source is downwind.
Air flow during a PetMassage™
This afternoon, as I was giving a PetMassage™ to Shorty, one of my clients, I thought about my breath. I wondered what effect it might be having on him. Could it be distracting him? Annoying him? Comforting him? Would the session be different if I turned my head to the side when I exhaled? Which is better: mouth breathing or nose breathing?
The most sensitive areas on a dog are the face, the paws, the ears, along the spine, the abdomen and at the base of the tail.
My face is often close to each of these sensitive areas during a PetMassage™. When I attend to each area, I breathe and my breathing is consciously connected. I breathe on the face, the ears, the neck, the spine, the thin skin of the medial limbs, and the paws.
You tell me. What do you think this element of body mechanics is doing for your dog’s session? How often is your face close to these areas as you are PetMassaging your dogs? Just think about it. Let me know in the comments section below or on our Facebook page.