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!


06 Jan

Searching For A Lost Dog (And Some Prevention)

Every day on my social media feeds I see images of lost dogs, many of which are newly adopted or in foster.  Just this weekend a fearful dog I had been working with remotely bolted away from his foster (he was found safe, thankfully!) but these stories always conjure up memories of when my own dog BooBoo escaped right from her transport van in front of us as we arrived to pick her up at the rescue.  The transport driver took her crate out of the van, opened it and reached in, grabbed her by the collar and off it snapped. She bolted and was gone in a matter of seconds, with no ID and she hadn’t been microchipped yet.

That experience was one of the life changing moments that eventually led me to becoming a trainer and for my specializing in fear and aggression.  This semi-feral, black dog had escaped into a heavily wooded area off the side of a four-lane highway, after being on a 17 hour transport.  The terrified dog I hadn’t even met yet, but had already fallen in love with, was suddenly gone and I doubted we’d ever find her alive.

We’d spend the next 9 days searching endlessly, sleeping little and learning a lot.  That experience has given me a wealth of knowledge that I’ve passed onto people in similar situations and that I will share with you here, as well as some preventative tips to try to save as many people and dogs the heartache we went through.

Here’s what to do, and not to do!

  1. Take note of important details before you forget them.  Note exactly where/when the dog was lost, what the dog was wearing (collar color, harness, dragging leash, sweater, with or without ID tags, etc.)
  2. Notify local police and animal control.  While they won’t usually help look for your dog, often well-meaning strangers report dog sightings and those agencies should know you’re looking and have your contact information in the event the dog gets turned in.  This is especially important if the dog isn’t microchipped or doesn’t have any ID tags on it.
  3. Spread the word – in person.  Talk to neighbors.  Talk to delivery people like UPS, FedEx and mail carriers who travel through neighborhoods and cover lots of ground.  If the dog is lost in an urban setting, talk to store owners or people sitting on their stoops.
  4. Spread the word – online.  Social media is your friend, mostly.  It can also be an enemy if you’re dealing with a very fearful dog or a dog who has stranger issues.  But for the mostpart, the more eyes looking for the dog, the more sightings you’ll get.  We started a Facebook page when Boo was missing to get information out to the army of volunteers we had and to request help for what we needed. There are also many lost dogs sites on Facebook by area and several lost dog apps.  If the dog is microchipped, notify the microchip company.  Many have a service where they send email blasts to other owners and animal professionals like vet clinics.  (Also important to make sure the microchip info is up to date in the event you’ve moved.  If the dog gets scanned, they need a way to get in touch with you!)  A word of caution about social media though.  While people are well meaning, especially with fearful dogs, over-zelaous strangers, can backfire.  You may want to protect location sightings and use volunteers for things like hanging posters.
  5. Make clear posters and hang them everywhere you can, starting with a 2 mile radius. Don’t cram too much information.  LOST DOG, one good picture, phone number and important  instructions like DO NOT CHASE.  If your search goes on for several days or you get sightings outside that radius, expand your search area.  We hung over 1000 posters (and then took them all down after she was found!)
  6. Banners.  If you have the resources, hand large vinyl banners in high visibility areas.  A volunteer donated this banner when BooBoo was missing.
  7. DO NOT CHASE.  Lost dogs, even well adjusted ones, are terrified being lost.  Chasing them will only push them farther away.  If anything you want to run AWAY from the dog, to try to get them to chase you.
  8. DO NOT CALL OUT THEIR NAME.  This is especially important for fearful dogs, newly adopted dogs or foster dogs, who many not even really know their name yet.  Calling them will spook them more.  With Boo, we got a lot of sightings over those 9 days but every time she saw someone and they made eye contact, she would bolt.
  9. Put out familiar smelling items and enticing food, especially if they were lost near home or a familiar area.
  10. Cover ground on foot as much as possible, not in a vehicle.  Dogs use their noses and will follow familiar or interesting smells.  When Boo was missing we walked her siblings, who had also come on the transport van, to lay familiar scent tracks for her to follow in the area where she had escaped from.
  11. Use other dogs, if the lost dog is dog-friendly, has housemates, siblings or play buddies, try to recruit those dogs and walk with them.  If the dog is fearful of new people but dog friendly, the dog is more likely to approach another dog than a complete stranger human.  This is how we eventually caught Boo.  We used her brother as a lure, and she came out of the woods to him.
  12. Track every location sighting on a Google Map using dropped pins with the time/date so you have data to see if you can detect a travel pattern.  We did this and over several days of sightings, we were able to figure out BooBoo’s path each day, and identify that she was returning to the rescue’s location where she had escaped from originally, every single night.  This enabled us to set live catch traps and eventually it is what led to us being able to catch her.
  13. Stay low and make yourself non threatening.  If you get close enough to the dog, don’t just rush at them.  Get low, crawling on the ground if needed.  This is a picture of me approaching BooBoo the night we caught her.  Standing tall, walking or reaching towards the lost dog will usually scare them off.  If you have high value food, try tossing it.  Take off hats, glasses, backpacks or anything that could make you look scary.
  14. Consider hiring a professional tracker.  Some lost dogs I’ve helped with have eventually hired a professional tracker.  They are expensive and often booked way out but sometimes they help, especially if you know what general area the dog is in.  Similarly, a drone can help give you a birds eye view to try to pinpoint the dog’s location.

How can this be prevented?

  1. Properly fitting collar/harness. Many dogs back out of poorly fitting collars or slip out of harnesses.  Before every walk, be sure your gear is properly fit.  If you know you’re walking a flight risk, use a double leash system – one to the collar and one to a harness.  Properly fitted martingale collars are intended to be slip proof but just be sure you’re not using it for “leash corrections.”  For weeks after Boo was found, she went out on a double leash, even in our fenced in yard.
  2. Training.  If you have a fearful dog, find a qualified force free trainer to help you.If you need help finding a qualified trainer, check The Academy for Dog Trainers directory or the Pet Professional Guild directory.  If you still can’t find help or are unsure if the trainer you’re considering is using the right methods, contact me.  I also offer remote sessions for many issues, including fear and aggression.  Also, consider talking to your vet about meds if your dog struggles with being afraid to walk outside.  Otherwise, train basic behaviors that can be life-saving:  wait at doorways, a rock solid recall/coming when called and a stay.
  3. Don’t force fearful dogs to take walks.  I know everyone thinks dogs need to walk and if a dog doesn’t want to, then they just need to “get used to it.”  Not only is this wrong but it is dangerous.  Fearful dogs don’t need to get used to things – they need to feel safe.  In fact, forcing a fearful dog into a scary situation will only make things worse.  So, if this means your fearful dog doesn’t go on a walk and just goes outside to potty or uses potty pads inside, while you’re working on helping the dog feel safe, then that is 100% OK.
  4. Get a GPS tracker.  Both of my dogs wear Whistle GPS trackers (referral link – get $20 off!) and have since we recovered BooBoo.  Microchips are definitely good to have but they require the dog be captured to scan them.  GPS trackers allow you to see realtime where the dog is on an app.  I always recommend a GPS for flight risk dogs but even dogs who do a lot of off leash hiking benefit from having peace of mind that you will always be able to find them if something happens.
  5. Microchip and have ID tags.  Many dogs are recovered by strangers.  Make it easy for them to reunite you by making sure their ID tags are up to date and legible.  If animal control or a vet gets your dog, they usually will scan for a microchip but ID tags make it easier.  Update microchip registrations when you move.  Replace tags when they become too worn to read.
  6. Car harnesses/crates/seatbelts.  Many of the lost dog posts I see are a result of car accidents.  I highly recommend using a SleepyPod harness, the only one that has been crash test rated like child car seats.  They use your seatbelt and ensure your dog is safe and doesn’t become a projectile in an accident.  There are also car crates (not your regular crate you’d use as that wouldn’t be secure enough if there were a crash).  No dog should be free roaming in a car and in at least one state, it’s actually illegal.

My hope is that you never have to look for a lost dog and that these prevention tips will help prevent heartache.  But if you do, hopefully this guide will help.

Happy Training!