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Blog: The Importance of Touch

By Dr. Laura on August, 27 2021
Blog: The Importance of Touch

As most of you know, my miniature poodle Bebe – the amazing Bebe – passed after 15 years. That was still in the midst of the pandemic. And I just found myself feeling more anxious and antsy. Why? Well, let’s see. You couldn't shake hands. You couldn't hug. Places where you could get your hands and toes done had shuttered.


That's all touch. I live alone, widowed. That was really traumatic. I'm just describing this in the context of my opening remarks about touch. The second we all started getting vaccinated and I had my two vaccines and my friends were wise enough to get vaccinated – I got to tell you, hugging was like having water when you're coming out of the desert.

But back to Bebe. I realized that no matter what the inconvenience or the sadness about losing Bebe was about, I needed another dog. So, I called around and I settled on a breeder near San Diego, Rebecca Meadows, who mostly does Moyen poodles. They’re mid-size, between miniature and standard. I didn't want a big standard.

Now I have Lily. One of the things I told Rebecca was that Bebe was the most extraordinary animal. I talked to her in sentences. I taught her how to bark and stop in 20 seconds. That dog was so brilliant and so responsive. The downside was that Bebe didn't want to snuggle nor hug. She’d say, “Pet me” or “Leave me alone.” Despite this, Bebe loved and followed me. She’d be dead asleep and if I left the room, she would follow. The dog loved me to pieces, but was not a huggy-snuggy dog. So, I said, “It's a poodle, I already know it's smart. I need a huggy-kissy dog. I need a huggy, kissy dog.” At the end of the day, I want a dog snuggled up on me, on her back, stretched out and going, rub my belly.

I sleep with Lily. When I wake up in the morning, what do I have? She's all the way up by my neck and her little head is on my chest. The dog can't have enough contact. It's adorable. And Lily's also completely independent in that we go out to play and she goes crazy. Yesterday, she was doing that wild thing where dogs run nonstop in huge circles. I was watching this, going, “Jeepers! -Kid has a lot of energy.” And I found that that antsy, anxious stuff faded away. She makes me smile. She makes me laugh. She makes me comfortable.

One of the reasons that the acquisition of dogs in particular went sky high during the pandemic is people understood they needed contact. In preemie wards, they get surrogates to come in –somebody like you or me – to sit there with the preemies. Either you hold them in your arms or you hold their hand if they're still in the incubator. Contact, contact, contact because without that, the development and the end product aren't pretty. Human beings need the contact. It's an absolute requirement. All of you who isolate yourself with no friends, no family, no acquaintances, no nothing, so there's no hugging and legitimate, nice, appropriate touching, holding hands.

How often do you see a couple walking around holding hands? It is so rare, which is terrible! Any time you guys are out, you should be holding hands. It's such a bonding thing. It sets off just the right hormones. The effects of touch extend to your basic neural circuitry, your immune response, everything.

Long time ago in the sixties, there was an experimenter, Harlow. I got to tell you, he did some things that freaked people out, but here were the results. He took baby monkeys and put a soft cuddly-clothed mother in there (as opposed to their own) along with a wire mother. Harlow put the bottle with food on the wire mother. Still, the infant monkeys spent more time with the cushy mommy, not the wire mommy, and forfeited food for it. Just when you thought food was number two next to breathing. No, it's the comfort. It's the touch.

Touch lowers your blood pressure, lowers cortisol which is the stress hormone. It triggers oxytocin which promotes bonding to others. If you don't walk around holding your spouse's hand, what is wrong with you? Are you that pissy about something that happened during the day that you are going to withhold something that is so spiritually, emotionally, biologically essential to human beings? That's why there's so many divorces.

How many times have I told women, “If you want to say something to your man, go over, sit on his lap, put your arms around his chest from behind, nibble on his ear. Touch. Then you can talk to him about anything.” Touch. I've said that over a zillion times over the 46 years I've been doing this. Touch is also hugging and snuggling with your kids a lot. It's not enough to give them money and drive them somewhere. They need touch. Touch has no language barrier. We all understand what touch means.

So right now, I think my doggy is a bit traumatized. A little bit earlier, I saw her chewing on something small and she dropped it on the ground. I went and picked it up to find one of her baby molars fallen out. I've had puppies before, but I've never seen a baby tooth. She's a very high energy dog like her mother, but right now, she just sacked out. Before she just sacks out, she comes over to me when she wants me to pick her up. She asks for hugs, she asks to snuggle, she asks to connect. And it's a dog, I can see it on her face or she comes up on her hind legs, puts her paws on me gently, looks square into my eyeballs. I pick her up. She immediately makes a little circle out of her body. And right now, I wish I were a lot bigger person because she's getting so big that my lap is not big enough. On the couch, it's easy. She can sort of lapse over both sides.

Touch is so important. A lot of people started adopting children from nations which kept them in orphanages where there was very little, if any, physicality. These kids were adopted, brought to this country, and had attachment disorders. They couldn't connect. It starts early. So, you women who put your babies in daycare, I think you should be arrested and put in jail. It infuriates me that you're so insensitive and ignorant about the need of a child to have that constant physical connection. Nobody's going to hug and caress and coo your baby in a daycare center. That's where they're not loved all day and they're not touched all day except to change a diaper. Then everybody wonders why the kids who go to daycare tend to be more aggressive. They have to fight for necessities and they're angry. Young children don't even understand their feelings.

Researchers asked third grade teachers and they could tell you who was in daycare and who stayed at home with mom. I don't want to hear nonsense about every family can make its own decisions. Well, of course you can. That doesn't mean you're right because you made your own decision. It just means you made your own decision. It doesn't mean you are right or your kids are going to benefit.
“Oh, but he got a PhD.” So what? It's the emotional connectiveness that I'm most concerned with. We’ve got enough people with degrees. We need people who are warm and kind and loving. Touch – the best communication.

Last week I told you the story of a student when I was in graduate school who kept coming in and whining about her stupid boyfriend. God, that got annoying. I gave her advice. I was not into psychology at the time and I don't even know what I said. Obviously, it wasn't useful or absorbed because a couple times a week she came in again and went on and on about her stupid boyfriend. One day, she came in and I did not know what else to say and I just walked over and hugged her, hugged her hard and long. I just hugged her, just held on to her while her crying and her nose drippings were all over my one nice blouse. Then, she dumped the boyfriend. I never even said anything! And she came back the next week and said, “What you said to me last time was wonderful.” And I'm standing there like a doofus wondering, what the hell did I say? I didn't open my mouth. I just hugged her. That was the conversation that says you are cared about, you are connected. That somehow gave her the energy, the strength, the calmness, the conviction. Who knows exactly how it worked?

People don't hug each other enough. Of course, you have to make sure the person you're hugging is okay with it. Gingersnap and Guy are like my own grandchildren. Nonetheless, I go, “Can I have a hug? Can I hug you?” I mean, they love me. I love them. I always ask permission. They may be having a bad moment. That's even more useful for a hug or they're busy or something. Who knows? I always ask, “Can I have a hug. Can I give you a hug?” Happy to say, I’ve never been turned down and neither have they. It's the one of the most wonderful feelings in the world when one somebody says to you, “Can I have a hug? I need a hug. Can I have a hug.”

With my racing crew, we get on the boat and hug everybody. When we get off the boat, we hug everybody. That's why a year and a half of being off the boat was desolate, just desolate. I had no real or conscious idea of how incredibly those hugs fed me every Wednesday. I had no idea. Couldn't believe the first day we did it. We asked, “Everybody good? Everybody healthy? Everybody vaccinated?” Then we hugged and touch.

Touch – most important language. There are all kinds of books about love languages. This language and those languages. Touch somebody's hand while you're talking to them about why they're sad. Touch their arm, hold their hand. It will have more of an impact than anything you say. You want to keep your marriage good? Hug and touch. That's why sex is so important in a marriage. Hug and touch. Ultimate release and relief and connectivity, the sex act. Hug and touch. Don't call me about tips about how to make your husband or your wife not be a jerk. You picked them. I can't help with that. That's what you picked. I can't expect my dog to be a Great Dane – I picked a poodle. Understand what you selected, then hug and touch, hug and touch. You'd be amazed how your relationship will change overnight.

One man called me one time, he was going to dump his wife and there were maybe two or three kids. And I told him, “Tonight when you're at the dinner table, get up to go to the refrigerator for something and just touch her as you walk by.” He asked what's that going to do, and I said, “Can you just shut up and do it?” We got a call back the next day. The caller said he just got up and when he walked by her, he just took his left hand and rubbed it across her neck. And he said, he felt a spark and it felt electrical. And suddenly he didn't want to divorce her, saying it reconnected him with everything that had been beautiful between them. Touch.

My number 1-800-375-2872. You contemplate that. By the way, every time I walk by people outdoors who are holding hands, it is so rare. It doesn't even happen once a month. But when I see it, I always approach them and go, “This is a beautiful sight, the two of you holding hands while you walk. This is beautiful.” I say the same thing all the time. And they’re usually older couples.





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