|Who is enjoying this hug?|
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.