10 Feb

4 Things To Do Instead of Hugging Your Dog

I think it’s safe to say, 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.  And to 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 body language comes in.  (Pictured here is me and one of my personal dogs, BooBoo.)

What do you see in these pictures?  In the pictures at the top you can spot whale eye/side eye, lip lick, ears back, stiff bodies, furrowed brow, leaning away, closed mouths and tight muzzles.  But, in the picture to the side, BooBoo is relaxed, her mouth is open, eyes squinty/closed and she’s leaning in, not away.  (There’s a great, free, self-paced course on body language if you’d like a refresher or need some help.  Get it here.)

Let’s talk a little about kids and dogs.  Often I get called into clients for bite situations and sometimes it’s because the dog has bitten the child, sometimes 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 stuffy.  They 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 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!

  1. Take them on a sniffari!  Let them wander and sniff all they want.  No heeling here!
  2. Play their favorite game – fetch, tug, hide and seek – whatever they enjoy!
  3. Give them a yummy treat not because you asked them to do something to earn it but  just because you love them and they like pleasure too!
  4. Teach a fun, new trick using some special treat.  If you need some tricks ideas, this self-paced online course is a great start. (Use code RBT for a discount too!)

And don’t forget, if you’re in the NYC area, join me for my Dogs & Storks Bringing Home Baby event on Feb 24th at 7PM.  Let’s help you prepare your dog for your new human baby!  Details and tickets here.

Happy Training!


31 Jan

Five Things To Do For Your Dog Before Your Baby Arrives

As a licensed Family Paws Parent Educator and a certified behavior consultant whose speciality is fear and aggression, I work with a lot of families with dogs and kids.  Some contact me ahead of time, to help prepare their dog, or address concerns before the baby arrives while others don’t realize their dog is uncomfortable with the baby until after the baby comes home.  It’s always better to be proactive than reactive, so with that in mind, I thought I’d review some ways you can be proactive and start to set everyone up for success from the beginning.  Of course there’s many more (and more important!) things that need to be done than what I’ve listed here!

If you’re in the NYC area, consider attending my upcoming Dogs & Storks class at Grand Street Healing Project in Brooklyn, NY to make sure you’re fully prepared.  We will cover so much more than what I’ve listed here and it will provide an opportunity for me to answer specific questions that concern you. Registration information is here.  I’d love to meet you in person and this is a great class! (If you are expecting and can’t make it to our Brooklyn event, consider our remote phone session or video options. )

Five Things To Do For Your Dog Before Your Baby Arrives:

1. Check your dog’s medication stash and get check-ups done.  Get a full physical exam and make sure Fido isn’t going to be due for any routine vet care or prescription (including flea/tick and heartworm preventatives!) in the first month or two after you give birth.  You’ll have a lot going on without trying to schedule a vet appointment for vaccines or a blood test for heartworm preventative.  Of course emergencies come up, but routine stuff you can plan ahead a bit.

2.  Get your dog familiar with whoever will be helping out after the baby arrives.  This might be a neighbor, dog walker, baby nurse or extended family.  But whoever is going to be coming and going a lot after the baby arrives, take the time now to get your dog well socialized to them.

3.  Review and practice basic obedience.  Truth time.  It’s time to be really honest about how trained your dog really is.  What might have been acceptable behavior before you were expecting a baby, may not be OK now.  Jumping up, pawing or barking for attention, not responding to verbal cues on the first ask.  Maybe these weren’t a problem before but it’s pretty hard to give a dog a hand signal when you’re holding a newborn so you might need to channel some resources into extra training now.  If you need help, find a qualified trainer and consider day training, where the trainer trains the dog and then transfers the skills to you.  This may be an effective way to get the behaviors taught more quickly than you working on them yourself, especially if your due date is nearing.

4.  Practice at home separation.  Is your dog comfortable being separated by a gate, crate or closed door while you are home or does your dog have a little FOMO and has a meltdown if he’s not involved in everything?  There will be times once the baby arrives that your dog won’t be part of the action, and we need to help make sure he’s comfortable with that.

5. Get your dog on a flexible schedule.  Dogs generally really like routine and some dogs get upset if their routine changes.  But, once the baby arrives, schedules are out the window and Fido may not get his regular walk promptly at 8am (unless you are paying a dog walker to come and walk him), so leading up to the baby’s arrival, mix things up a bit.  Try to not be so glued to meal and walk times and help him adjust to things being in flux.  Once there’s a newborn on the scene, chances are pretty good dinner for Fido won’t always be at 6pm, and we don’t want him pestering.  The more we keep his schedule in flux leading up to the birth, the more likely he will be to roll with things once the baby arrives.

Of course there is a whole lot more to do than these five things, but you’ll be off on the right foot if you start here.  As a Family Paws Educator I am uniquely qualified to help you through all of these transitions from baby’s homecoming to toddlerhood.  And, as a certified behavior consultant, I can guide you if your dog starts to growl or show other signs that he’s uncomfortable once the baby comes home.

If you are expecting and can’t make it to our Brooklyn event, consider our remote phone session or video options.  We review management, enrichment, training, homecoming plans, reducing attention seeking behaviors and provide you with over a dozen handouts with important information on making this transition safe and happy for everyone in the family.

If you would like some additional guidance or have other questions, contact me.

Happy Training!