I read an article the other day that had to do with not hugging your dog. It drew my attention for a couple of reasons: 1) the article noted that a lot of mainstream periodicals and sources were trending this topic (e.g. Washington Post, NPR, etc.) and 2) because it was in keeping with personal / professional experience.
At Friends of Toto, all of our staff is trained in Dog Behavior 101 from the @TheDogGurus. In one of their modules, they talk about hugging and how dogs essentially tolerate our human behavior though its pretty clear from their non-verbal cues that they’re not particularly comfortable. That, essentially, is the gist of the material coming out from researchers and why these media outlets are picking it up. Like the Dog Gurus say, however, just because I know my dog isn’t particularly enamored with the idea, doesn’t mean I’ll stop. I mean . . . I’m not even sure I really can stop. It’s my belief that dogs do tolerate hugs and kisses in order to get the sort of interactions that they do want. Every morning, for example, my George and I have “morning loving.” He knows that when my alarm clock goes off, I always “snooze” once and that gives him 10 minutes of undivided attention. Once he hears the alarm, he walks over, lays on his back with his head on my pillow and expects me to execute the same ritual we’ve had for several years: rub his belly, brush out some of the course hair that’s gone astray on his face, give him a deep tissue massage on his sides and back — all the while giving him kisses and telling him he’s the most handsome dog in the world. I’m sure he’s not really a fan of the kisses, but he REALLY wants that belly rub and he’ll tolerate me to get it.
That said, I know that he’ll tolerate ME giving him that level of intimacy, but it’s a good idea to be mindful of doing it to other dogs you don’t know. If the dog doesn’t know me, it’s not a good idea to test the boundaries of that tolerance. Likewise, children run a sincere risk of getting hurt if they push the boundary too hard. It’s so common to see photos on various social media platforms of babies and small children around dogs. Everyone says “it’s so cute” and what not, but if you look closely, almost always you can tell the dog is really uncomfortable. If you see the visual cues they usually give: yawning, ears pressed close the head, tail low to or underneath their carriage, eye movement such that you can see the whites of the eyes, or licking their lips . . . STOP. Best to remove the child from that situation as the dog could attempt to “defend” itself and that won’t be good for the child in question.
So, today, on this feast of St. Valentines, share the love . . . just be on the look out for those cues that could get your dog to share some anger instead!