Woof Wednesday: Cute Babies, Apple Pie & Hug Your Dog

.
I had another post set to go today. But then I took an ethical stand (say it ain’t so!) and wrote what appears to be an incredibly unpopular post on my puppies.About.com site. 

Oh dear heaven, by the comments I received you’d think that I said cute babies are evil, apple pie is poison and advocated BEATING YOUR DOG! Part of that has to do with folks reading only the title and ignoring the content of the message. Oh well. That drives home the importance of titles, I suppose.

You see, I took issue with a big-name pet food company that should know better. The Purina Beneful promotion titled “hug your dog day” encouraged folks to take pictures of themselves hugging their dogs and post them.

Sounds delightful, doesn’t it? The promo really struck a chord with pet lovers. After all, who doesn’t love a hug? Hugs mean love, hugs mean happy happy happy, hugs are tail-wagging expressions of the joy we share with dogs. Right? RIGHT?!

Uh, no.

WHY HUGS CAN BE DANGEROUS

There’s a reason that veterinary behaviorists, dog trainers and savvy owners blanched when they learned about this promotion. Why is that? Because while hugs are a natural HUMAN expression of comfort and love, they can send the opposite signal to your dog.

Children get bitten in the face as a result of inappropriate dog interaction (often hugs). Learn ways to help prevent dog bites here. There are other safer, more appropriate ways to show affection to dogs that the dog actually prefers!

“Oh no, you stupid, clueless person–you’re wrong wrong wrong, because MY DOG loves hugs, and every dog I’ve ever had loves hugs and everyone that I know has dogs that hug them back and loves hugs and…” 

Good. In this case I would LOVE to be wrong! If you have a dog that loves hugs and hugs you back, bravo. But that also begs the question, how do you know your dog “loves hugs?”

DEFINING “HUGS” & WHY DOGS HUG

A hug is an embrace, right? Arms go around the body and squeeze–that’s a hug. When do dogs clasp forelegs around another creature and squeeze? I can think of three scenarios:

  • Mating/Dominance displays
  • Prey capture
  • Fights/play fighting

So when your dog “hugs” you what is he saying? And what do your hugs tell him? As a vet tech years ago I was taught the “hug-restraint” technique to immobilize dogs for treatment, and I suspect the dogs were not fooled into thinking that was an expression of affection.

How do dogs actually show love? Here are 12 common ways.

Thank heavens our dogs for the most part are very flexible and forgive humans our sometimes clueless nature, LOL! I know that I’m grateful Magical-Dawg makes allowances when I don’t understand what he’s trying to tell me. At least with people, you can explain your intentions. That can be a challenge with dogs.

FORCING HUGS–IS IT FAIR?

I don’t have two-legged children. But I’ve witnessed gatherings where babies and toddlers get passed around to strangers who hug, pinch cheeks, bounce up and down, and ooh-and-aw over the cuticity. I think we’ve all seen kids wail in protest or fall silent with fear while a clueless relative or acquaintance –or a pediatrician?–insists on continued “loving but unwanted attention.” When you were a kid, do you remember that certain relative who caused no end of angst because as a kid you had no choice but to put up with the hugs, smooches, and cheek pinches? At least with older children, parents can explain what’s going on and help guide the adult (hopefully) into less scary interactions.

As much as we want to believe they read our minds and understand our words, dogs misunderstand a lot–and we misunderstand an equal portion of what they say. Hugs are supposed to express affection and love. So if a hug causes stress, fear, discomfort to the dog you adore, is it fair to inflict those feelings because it “feels good” to the owner?

BUT–MY DOG LOVES HUGS!

Yes, many dogs can learn to tolerate–or even love hugs from a trusted human. For those who have taken the time to do this, BRAVO! Many dogs also can learn to tolerate or love tooth brushing–so is it responsible for a company with dental products to promote sticking your hands in the dog’s mouth, or is it better to explain how to do so safely?

Magical-dog loves close contact. He often pushes his head and shoulders into my lap or squeezes his face under my arm. Is he asking for a hug? I suspect it’s this type of behavior that confuses many of us–but see, he controls that interaction. My arms haven’t come down around him to capture/hold/prevent movement. So some of the confusion, I suspect, has to do with semantics and how people define a hug.

How do you know your dog “loves” hugs? What does your dog do when s/he receives a hug? Do you know what each of these signals mean? Are you sure? Click on a link or two to see if you’re right!

My post seems to have hissed off a large number of folks who remain convinced their dogs love hugs. That’s great. But my entire purpose with these blogs, my books, pet advocacy and more is to EMPOWER PET OWNERS TO MAKE INFORMED CHOICES.

To stand silent and do nothing hurts my soul. I was an expert witness in a dog bite trial where a child was severely injured by a dog she adored–and the dog adored her as well. Read about that in this blog post.

If hissing off some readers saves one child from the trauma of a bite, or one family from the heartbreak of losing a beloved dog by mis-reading intent–I’m fine with that.

Now then, I’ll don my flame-resistant sparkles and prepare for comments. Do your dogs like hugs? How do you know? For trainers and behavior folks out there, how do you help people understand safe dog handling? Do tell!

I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered? Do you have a new kitten and need answers? Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, listen to the weekly radio show, check out weekly FREE PUPPY CARE newsletter, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter with excerpts from the forthcoming THRILLER, LOST & FOUND, and pet book give-aways!

Comments

Woof Wednesday: Cute Babies, Apple Pie & Hug Your Dog — 21 Comments

  1. and it isn’t just dogs as you well know Amy – I’ve had many very loving cats over the years but not one of them ‘loved’ hugs; some learned to tolerate them but most permit being held for maybe 10 seconds before they begin to wiggle and it’s only their tolerance for my insisting on picking them up that prevents them from scratching me to pieces! thanks for your wise advice

    • Hi Karen, you’re absolutely correct! My Seren-kitty has always been a “don’t touch me!” sort of cat. If she gets on my lap under her own power, that’s fine. Some cats do enjoy snuggling (just like dogs) so there is variety in personalities. But yep, hugging doesn’t mean the same thing to cats, either. Great point!

  2. I’m guessing it was the title that set a lot of those commenters on edge. Yet fabulous info that certainly needs to be out there. I’ve never encouraged hugs between the kids and the fur babies but have found something develops anyway. With Roxy, she’ll lean into a hug if the person is at her level and only after she licked the person’s hand. But like your dog, she’ll nudge under an arm when she’s looking for loves :)

    • Hi Raelyn, thanks for the comment! I suspect you’re right about the title. It certainly seemed to offend some folks but also reached others who otherwise might not have read the post. I’ll take that. ;)

  3. Hey if a little controversy brings more readers to you site, then all the better! Amy, your posts are always informative and your explanation makes so much sense. Good for you for standing your ground!

  4. Wow… some of those comments were NUTS. Yikes, folks, can we not have a reasoned argument instead of just calling somebody a quack?

    That said, I have had the luck that most dogs in the family have liked “hugs”… but then, when I hug a dog it’s normally just loosely throwing my arm over their shoulders and letting it lay there, no squeeze. I suspect that also makes a difference.

    However I know better than to try and hug a dog if I’m not sure I’ve got their full trust. One of my “foster babies” (attempted to adopt, poor guy had BAD separation anxiety, I only had room for one dog, and I worked full time, so he ended up a temporary stay since it wasn’t fair to him)… I went to pick him up from the shelter, and he sat with me while I filled out paperwork. He’d latched onto me right away, decided I was trustworthy within MINUTES. Lady came into the shelter to visit, saw him and immediately got into his face trying to be all smoochy and huggy. I cringed and tried to help edge the poor kid away – he was scared enough of people as it was. One of the shelter workers told her she should never do that to a dog she doesn’t know – she tried to wave them off and tell them it was fine and he wasn’t going to hurt her, as if somehow she could know that! Thankfully the shy fella wasn’t the type to be aggressive when afraid, and he just sort of buried himself in my knees. Still miss that dog…

  5. Great insight, Amy. I can’t tell you how many parents have let their tykes run over to hug my huge, deaf and protective bull dog. Equal numbers run the opposite direction. ;)

  6. It was an excellent post on not hugging your dog, Amy, as is this one. Dogs are dogs, cats are cats but humans????? My dog and my cat are affectionate in their ways not mine, and we all are happy.

    Again, great post.
    Karen

  7. Love your posts, Amy, and totally agree with you. Having had all sorts of pets all my life including cats and dogs, I know it’s important to know the pet’s personality and what he can tolerate in the way of human affection. I have had pets who crave closeness and have no problem with hugs and kisses and babying. I’ve also had dogs and cats who did object to too much affection. Fortunately my warning was a turn of the head, backing away or a ‘look’ I recognised. Pets have their quirks and it’s the pet owner’s responsibility to figure them out to keep everyone safe and happy.

    • “…it’s the pet owner’s responsibility to figure them out to keep everyone safe and happy.”

      This! Yes, indeed.

      I suspect that a new article on “how to teach dogs to accept hugs” may be in my future. :)

  8. Pingback: Feline Friday: Ask Amy~Why Cats Drool During Petting « Amy Shojai's Blog

  9. You hit it dead on. I’ve seen dogs go into a panic when hugged, and the human looks hurt because they don’t understand that the dog considers it aggression. I haven’t seen anyone bit yet, but it’s only been luck.

    Most dogs really aren’t all that much into physical contact. Yes, they do like being petted, having their stomachs scratched, etc. But they aren’t like humans.

    Rose and Kleo, my two puppies are different. Kleo is a full Beagle, Rose is half Beagle, and we think half boxer. Beagles are very touchy feely dogs. I have Beagles leaning up against me on the couch. They always want to touch. At night, they always sleep cuddled up against me or my wife.

    But they don’t like hugs. They do like cuddles. You can put your arm around them, pet them, try to catch their itchy spot. You can’t hug them.

    Wayne

  10. Pingback: Sunday Summary & #ROW80 « Raelyn Barclay