Friday, October 14, 2011

Sad that Kids Can't Hug Their Dog

Who is enjoying this hug?
One of our most important messages at Doggone Safe is that dogs don't like hugs and kisses. This is very controversial among dog owners and has caused many challenges for our Be a Tree presenters. Many people simply do not believe this and are sure that their dog loves to be hugged.

We got a comment on one of our previous posts from a reader who said that it is sad that kids can't hug their dogs and that her own dogs do like hugs and actually solicit this type of attention. This is a very good comment and many people have said this same thing to us over the years. We agree that there are dogs who do enjoy certain types of attention and will solicit this at times. The main thing to note in these cases is that the dog is asking for this on its own terms. Even these types of dogs will not enjoy a hug if they are busy watching a squirrel or chewing on a favorite toy. They are also unlikely to enjoy hugs the way kids do it (that is wrap their arms around the dog's neck and hang on). Adults tend to scratch the dog on the chest or engage in other petting the dog enjoys, while they are hugging. Thus the dog becomes conditioned to enjoy certain specific types of hugging from specific people.

You can tell if you dog likes hugs by watching for body language signs. Does he yawn, lick his lips or show a half moon of white in his eye while you are hugging or when you approach to hug? Does he start trying to lick your face while you are hugging him? Does he shake the hug off (wet dog shake) when you release him? All of these are signs that the dog does not enjoy the hug.

It is confusing for children to learn that they can hug this dog but not that one, can hug this way, but not that way, can hug in this situation but not that one. It is simpler to teach them to avoid hugging any dog. It may seem sad to tell a child that they should not hug a dog to show how much they love him. It is much sadder when a beloved dog bites a child in the face leaving lasting emotional and physical scars and costing the dog his family or even his life. There are many, many parents in our dog bite victim support group who have said "I wish I had known that dogs don't like hugs", after their child hugged or kissed a nice family dog. The most common scenario is a child at a  family function who hugs the grandparent's, relative's or neighbor's dog. The dog is stressed because of all the commotion and people and noise and is less tolerant than usual. In most cases the dog has never bitten before.

It is also sad to think that a child is trying to show love, while the recipient of the "love" is just hoping it will stop. Luckily most dogs are tolerant and do not bite, but why should they have to tolerate something they don't enjoy? Please read about the Curse of the Good Dog for more about this. The vast majority of dog owners believe that their dogs like hugs, while the vast majority of dogs do not like hugs. There is a disconnect here that leads to many dogs being unhappy and to many facial bites to children.

Here is a video that shows a lovely, tolerant dog who is not enjoying the hug from a child. This is a great example of a nice dog who is tolerating something he doesn't like. If you search on YouTube for videos of kids or babies hugging dogs you will see numerous examples of dogs yawning, licking their chops, licking the children, showing a half moon of white in their eyes, turning their heads away or getting up and leaving. You will rarely if ever find one of a dog that is enjoying the hug. 




Dog behavior experts agree that it is best to teach children other ways to show love to dogs. Well known behavior expert Dr Patricia McConnell in her wonderful book For the Love of a Dog says that she has at least 50 photos of kids hugging dogs and in not one of them is the dog happy about it. There are lots of safe ways for kids to show love to a dog. Read about these in our article: How to Love Your Dog.

16 comments:

  1. Excellent video!!! I sure didn't need to see it in slow motion, but I also know what to watch for.

    Judi D., Prince George, BC

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  2. Superb Video ..i watch it 3 times
    Thanks for sharing

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  3. What an outstanding article and video. Thankyou.A great example of dog bites at parties.

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  4. I didn't realize that shaking after the petting or hugging was a sign that my dogs didn't like what I did. One of my dogs loves to be brushed, and shakes afterwards. I didn't take that to mean that she didn't like it, since she approaches me wagging her tail when I show her the brush. Doesn't seem like a hard and fast rule.

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    1. It may be that your dog does enjoy brushing, but my dog who enjoys it tends to continue relaxing once I stop brushing and may even fall asleep but doesn't shake it off afterwards. Is it possible that your dog simply enjoys attention, or that she knows you enjoy the brushing and so approaches to please you?

      It is a common misconception that a wagging tail indicates a happy dog. A wagging tail is simply an expression. It needs to be interpreted in the context of the situation and type of wag. Many people have been bitten by wagging dogs.

      Regarding the whole-body shake, it often occurs when a dog is ready for a break from something and is commonly seen when dogs are playing together. You'll see the dogs stop, shake and pause for a few moments before going on to something else.

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  5. Thank you! Whenever children are around my dog I constantly have to tell them not to do certain things to her. Their parents always make me feel like a horrible dog owner because I don't just let their kids do whatever to my dog. No one understands that when she growls at them for getting in her space it's just because she's being a dog, not because she's "aggressive" or "untrustworthy"

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  6. About shaking off - most dogs will do that as a natural reaction to grooming or having their fur disturbed. If your dog comes wagging to be groomed and stays willingly, then these are the main signs to pay attention to. The shake off is a normal thing for her to do. Dogs will also shake off as stress reliever if they are put in an uncomfortable position. If the dog does not like a hug, or if it goes on too long the dog will shake off afterwards. If there are other signs, such as reluctance to come for a hug, showing a half moon of white in the eye, licking lips, turning away or yawning during, before or immediately after the hug, then you can assume that the dog does not like the hug.

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  7. RE: growling at the kids. This is a serious situation and could lead t a bite if the dog is pushed far enough. It would be best to give the dog a safe place away from kids and also to condition the dog to like kids by offering treats whenever kids are around. It would be best to hire a dog behavior consultant to help with a program to condition the dog to like kids. Read our article about growling at the kids: http://doggonesafe.blogspot.ca/2010/09/growling-at-kids.html

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  8. I dont know why this is all so fascinating. There are many people who are wonderful and loving people that dont like the embrace of a hug but may prefer a slight embrace or even a firm handshake and look in the eye. THere are others who like to be squeezed and hugged. Why should it be any different for a species that, for thousands and thousands of years, we have worked to "indoctrinate" into the human way of life?

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    1. You are absolutely right! Some dogs do and don't like hugs under certain circumstances. The trouble is that most dog owners assume that their dog likes hugs and likes them from anyone all the time. Most people fail to recognize the signs that the dog does not like the hug (which is in fact most of the time for most dogs). Children see parents hugging the dog, some kids are in fact encouraged to hug the dog and one day the child hugs the wrong dog at the wrong time and gets bitten. This is a common cause of facial bites to children and could be easily prevented if people learned to respect the dog's signals and taught children not to hug, unless the dog comes to them asking for it. Even then, other forms of affection are more appropriate and safer.

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  9. Excellent post. Yes, a dog will tolerate a hug (sometimes) but it doesn't mean they like it.

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  10. This was a fascinating video and article. When I first brought my dog home a year ago I tried to "train" her to like hugs (by clicking and treating after every hug). So she would tolerate them but as I grew to know her better I realized that she was very uncomfortable with them and would show many of the signs of stress displayed in the video. Now the rule is that if you want to show her affection you do it by petting, scratching, or a game. I'm glad that I am better educated about what to watch for! Thank you!

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  11. If dogs hate hugs so much.. why did someone invent a Thunder Shirt? That is basically a vest that 'hugs' the dog to comfort it.

    -Confused-

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    1. The thunder shirt does not have the same context as a hug. With a hug the dog could infer a threat and feel confined. A shirt is not the same as having a whole person up against your with his arms around you.

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  12. Great info. As a former animal officer I witnessed the same dog bite injuries due to misconceptions between species with the dog paying the price for human error. I would add that dogs stiffen when they are being hugged as the first indicator that is not a positive act for them. Dogs do not hug each other to show affection, support or comfort each other. Our hugging developed from holding children who drape their arms around us where dogs carry young by the scruff. The reason why some dogs tolerate being hugged is their position. As they have superior/subordinate relationships subordinates will submit to being dominated. If a dog feels it is above someone in status as many do with children -especially non-family children-they will admonish for the child for challenging it for its position. The child's face is the closest to the dog's mouth. The resistance of people to cease hugging, teach their children not to hug is astounding. A limit to human behavior is the desire to put emotional needs in front of a dog's life and children's safety. My book People Training for Good Dogs What Breeders Don't Tell You and Trainers Don't Teach details common things we do that can lead to dog bites, a lot of real life experiences and a safety inventory to ensure that people can prevent bites within their own lifestyles.

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