Some dogs are very tolerant and will allow hugging and kissing, some try to get away, some lick the face of the hugger until they let go and some resort to biting. Some rare dogs do enjoy hugs from a person that they love, who scratches their chest while hugging and who doles out hugs on the dog's terms. There are few if any dogs who enjoy hugs the way kids do it, which is to clasp the dog around the neck and hang on. This is very threatening to a dog. The fact that the dog is uncomfortable or even feeling a threat and the proximity of the child's face to the dog's teeth makes this potentially very dangerous. This is why we recommend that parents teach children to show affection to the dog in ways that do not involve hugs and kisses.
In a study that looked at the reasons for dog bites to children the following was found:
Familiar children were most commonly bitten in relation to food or resource guarding and “benign” interactions such as petting, hugging, bending over, or speaking to the dog.Read the whole study report. This is something that dog trainers and behaviorists know without having to see any data. From their experience they know that this is a major cause of facial bites and they know from the behavior of dogs that they rarely enjoy hugs and kisses. Author and dog behavior expert Patricia McConnell says in her wonderful book "For the Love of a Dog" that she has at least 50 photos of kids hugging dogs and in not one of them does the dog look happy.
A recently published children's book entitled "Smooch Your Pooch" recommends that kids hug and kiss their dog anytime anywhere. We regard this as dangerous advice and so does the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior and Veterinary Behaviorist Sophia Yin. Dr Yin says:
While this adorably illustrated book, with its sweet, catchy rhymes, is meant to foster affection for pets, the contents as well as the cover illustration teach kids to hug and kiss dogs; this can cause dogs to react aggressively. No one knows that better than Dr. Ilana Reisner, a veterinary behaviorist at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. Dr. Reisner and her colleagues published a study examining why children get bitten by dogs. Says Reisner, "The recommendations in this children's book -- and even the title of the book -- are potentially dangerous."
Read Dr. Yin's article about Smooch Your Pooch and why it is not good idea to encourage kids to hug and kiss dogs.
That's because many dogs do not like being petted or hugged. They just tolerate it -- at least temporarily.
If you are a person who thinks that your likes hugs and kisses, you can find out for sure by learning about dog body language and observing your dog to see how he reacts to hugs. Visit our website to learn about the signs of an anxious dog and see if your dog exhibits any of these while you are hugging him.
Even if you have one of those rare dogs that does enjoy hugs from your or from kids (very unlikely), there are times when the dog will be less tolerant than at other times. The dog may tolerate or even enjoy a hug on his terms, but sometimes he will not be in the mood. Here is how we explain this to kids:
When you are home at night watching TV or reading a bedtime story you might like to sit on your Mom or Dad's knee or have them whisper "I love you" in your ear or give you a kiss. However if you are out on the soccer field or at school with your friends or acting in the school play you might not want to sit on a parent's lap or have them run out in the middle of the game or the play to whisper in your ear or give you a hug and a kiss. It's the same for dogs. If they are busy doing something, or interested in another dog or a squirrel, or they are tired they may not want to have attention from you that they might enjoy at other times.The dog that is most tolerant is the dog that is most likely to be subjected repeatedly to unwanted attentions. Dog and child relationship expert Madeline Gabriel calls this "the curse of the good dog". Click here to read more about this important concept and how you can protect your good dog from this curse.