Imagine if a person, particularly someone you don’t know, suddenly grabs you around the waist and, despite your resistance, squeezes – maybe even starts humping you, what would you do? Struggle to escape? Shout at them? Call for help? Slap them?
Not only according to human etiquette would it be a totally unacceptable invasion of your personal space and extremely rude, but pretty threatening also. In the office it would be justification for a harassment charge and at home someone would probably only do it if abusive, drunk or as a joke.
This is how dogs instinctively feel when hugged – those that haven’t been desensitised to the point where they understand this weird behaviour is a human idiosyncracy somehow associated with a person they know well being happy with them. The majority of dogs never get to this point.
To humans, a hug means love and affection, it makes us feel good inside. Humans are always hugging each other. When we hug our dogs we are giving the dog affection and sharing our love. However, what we are giving isn’t what the dog is receiving. To a dog, a hug is very bad canine etiquette, pushy behaviour associated with establishing social status, an invasion of space; the position of the body on top is also meaningful to a dog.
In an interview with Jaymi Heimbuch, Patricia McConnell talks about reading the dog. “It’s good to be sure how your dog feels when you hug him or her, and how he feels when strangers go in for a hug, especially since hugs mean putting your face next to a sharp set of teeth. If a dog barely tolerates hugs, then the wrong hug at the wrong time could mean the dog snaps at the hugger. No one wants that. Thankfully, dogs make their thoughts abundantly clear through body language. As long as you know what to look for, you will know what your dog thinks of a love-squeeze.
One of the best things that I’ve found to help people decide whether their dog likes it or not, is to hug your dog and have someone take a picture,” says McConnell, “When we hug our dogs, we don’t see their face. [A client] will say, ‘My dog loves it!’ Then I’ll take a picture and show them, and they’ll say, ‘Oooh’…..The response a dog has when someone puts their arm over them is varied. “They’ll go stiff, they’ll close their mouth, maybe they’ll do a little lip licking. They’re anxious, they’re concerned, perhaps wondering, ‘Did I do something wrong? What should I do now? Should I just sit still and not do anything?'” I would add that the dog will often look the other way – as if he wants to escape.
Joan Orr on Doggone Safe simply says that dogs don’t like hugs. “This is one of Doggone Safe’s major messages and probably the one that gives us the most trouble. Many people simply don’t believe this and are determined to argue about it”.
So, if there is any doubt, as Patricia McConnell suggest, get someone to take a photo and then analyse the dog’s body language.
Here is the story of a puppy I went to recently that, despite all my advice about the young children not to hug the puppy, mother didn’t take me seriously and he has now bitten the little boy. Too many Lassie-type films perpetuate the image of children with their arms wrapped around their dogs.
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