I have talked about dogs enjoying performance activities that we ask them to participate in. But what about every day things that we subject them to; like hugging, kissing, interacting with other dogs, going in the car and all the other day to day life? When I'm on a shoot or training I am watching for dog signals; anything that might let me know that a dog is not comfortable. For me it is all about dog behavior and the difference in it. This has made me a watcher of huge magnitude; I'm always watching.
It is amazing how much people miss and don't know about their own dogs. I've had appointments where people wanted to have their dog's photo taken doing something different. I ask "have they done this before?" When the answer is no I let them know that we might not get the shot. Lets use the shot of the dog in a chair as an example. They wanted a shot of their dog in a chair by the pool. It was to look like the dog was chill'n in the sun. Looking at the chair and knowing that the dog had not been in the chair before; I knew that there was a good chance it wasn't happening. Some dogs would be perfectly fine sitting in a chair; even if it was wobbly. But many wouldn't, which would only give us a stress face and not a good photo.
Some signals that dogs give are very loud and clear while other ones are small and almost invisible unless you are watching and observing carefully. It truly amazes me what some people subject their dogs to. One such thing is dog parks or beaches. Surprisingly enough there are lots of dogs who do not enjoy the company of multiple other dogs. Some dogs love to have a play date with a friend or two but don't toss them into a fenced in area with a pile of strange dogs. I have seen the look many times; dogs standing as if frozen, with a look of dread on their face. If they could talk they would say "I hate coming here, I'm uncomfortable, scared and have to do things that I don't want to do." Sad.
Many dogs love to interact with piles of dogs but should a child enter the picture they come unglued. Funny how people who have children hating dogs will still take them to a soccer game for an afternoon of torture. The other day I saw a family with small children approaching a couple with a dog. A small child was heading for the dog with open arms while the owners of the dog just watched. I was watching of course and shuddered as I saw the dog lick and shoot his eyes back and forth looking for escape route. I actually intervened in an unobtrusive way; we simply walked through the bunch separating the child and dog so then the child was focused on Luke and Elsa. I allowed a small interaction while the other couple moved on. We then moved on and enjoyed the rest of our walk.
Dog owners will tell you that their dog is friendly while their dog is telling you otherwise. Read the signals; dogs don't lie. There are even things that you perhaps do that your dog doesn't enjoy and you haven't even considered it. Hugging, hugging is a biggy. There are many dogs who do not enjoy really close, hugging type of interactions, even from their owners. Tilley was one of those dogs and she never did like if we approached her; looming over for a big hug. But if she came to us for a hug she loved to snuggle in tightly; there was a fine line between okay and not okay. She never did anything negative about it; but it was clear by her ever so slight pull back that she didn't like to be pulled into a hug.
I cannot tell you how many times I have had to redirect or pull children off of my dogs. So many parents just don't get it. Even if a dog is completely fine with children, even their own children; there is always a line, a breaking point. Supervision is the only way to know how comfortable your dog is with children and the utmost of care should be taken so that your dog is never put into a situation where they feel uncomfortable in a child's presence. That means supervising. Many children love to run up and hug dogs, sometimes around the waist or butt area. To a dog, this is a stranger running up and mounting them; think about it.
When we add a dog to our family it is so that we can enjoy the companionship of a dog. But if our dog is really not enjoying a particular aspect of our life together; let's not force the issue. You can tell when a dog is having fun versus barely holding it together. Try to minimize those not so great moments by watching the signals and learning how to help your dog learn to like the activity through positive association or avoid it without too much stress.