We all love our dogs and we want to show them how much we love them. One of the most common bits of information I deliver to clients is that most dogs don’t like to be hugged or kissed. It’s a hard conversation to have and it often shatters them. They tell me, “But, but, I love her and want to show her how much!” (Video of a very sad young girl learning dogs don’t like to be hugged here. And at the end you see the dog lip lick, walk away, stretch and shake off – all signs of stress.) The core problem here is humans and dogs show affection in different ways. Hugging is a uniquely primate way of showing affection. And to most dogs, hugging is restraint.
Think about the times your dog gets restrained – vet and groomers primarily, and for many dogs, those aren’t very fun experiences (but, they can be with proper training!). Remember fight or flight in science class? If your dog is unsure about a situation, very often their first instinct is to flee – to flight – away from the scary thing, to create distance and feel safer. Hugging/restraint prevents your dog’s natural instinct of flight and often if the flight option isn’t available, then the dog tips the other way – to the fight side. If the dog can’t create distance by fleeing then he may feel the need to create distance by trying to get the hugger/kisser to go away by growling, snapping or biting (fight). The end goal is the same if the dog feels uncomfortable or threatened – to create distance between them and the threat – either I go away or you go away.
This is the second big obstacle for clients. People don’t want to think that their dog sees them as scary. But if we’re doing something that is weird and completely unnatural to our dog then that’s often how it will be perceived. It’s not about our intent – it’s about how the dog interprets it.
Dr. Coren, a psychology professor at University of British Columbia looked at 250 images online of dogs being hugged and over 81% of the images showed at least one sign of the dog being stressed. The findings were reported on Psychology Today.
A small percentage of dogs, 7.6%, seemed to be comfortable with hugging, and some may genuinely enjoy it, but it’s not the norm for most dogs. Most are likely tolerating it, at best. And that’s where having a solid understanding of dog communication and body language comes in.
But, in the picture to the left (me and my dog, BooBoo.), BooBoo is relaxed, her mouth is open, soft squinty eyes and she’s leaning in, not away.
Let’s talk a little about kids and dogs. Sometimes I get contacted by clients for bite situations with children, often because the child tried to hug/kiss the dog or startled the dog while they were sleeping. Children can be scary to many dogs, even without them hugging. Kids are on the dog’s eye-level and have a much harder time understanding the dog isn’t a toy. Kids can be grabby, not realize they’re hurting the dog, are unpredictable and move differently than adults. And kids are often encouraged by their parents to hug and kiss to show affection, so a child would naturally want to hug and kiss a dog. And this is where problems happen.
In my work as a licensed Family Paws Parent Educator and a private trainer for The Family Dog programs, I spend a lot of time counseling families on dog bite prevention and kid/dog safety. Dogs bites and kids are a huge public safety concern. 77% of all dog bites come from a familiar dog, not a stray dog wandering the streets. We need to do better to keep kids safe and dogs from being surrendered or euthanized because of biting kids. So, please stop encouraging kids to hug and kiss dogs. This is not an appropriate way for kids to interact with dogs. And even if your dog tolerates it, what happens when you child tries to hug or kiss another dog? Let’s model good behavior that is safe and appropriate for kids to imitate. We don’t want to teach kids that it’s OK to hug and kiss dogs.
So how can we show our dog we love them without hugging or kissing? Here’s some ideas that I’m sure your dog will love!
- Take them on a sniffari! Let them wander and sniff all they want. No heeling here!
- Play their favorite game – fetch, tug, ball tossing, flirt pole – whatever they enjoy!
- Give them a yummy treat for free, not because you asked them to do something to earn it but just because you love them and they like pleasure too!
- Teach a fun, new trick using a special treat.
- Play hide and seek, hiding in your house or yard and then calling your dog’s name. When they find you give them a jackpot of treats!
- Snuggle, watch TV together, lie on the floor together, whatever form of physical contact your dog enjoys.
If you need help with any behavior issues, you can schedule your session here!