Hugging dogs

Elsa loves hugs.  Do the hug test, start with just one arm and see if your dog pulls away.  It is typically extremely subtle so you have to pay close attention. 

Psychology Today - Data says Don't hug the dog.  By Stanley Coren Ph.D. F. R .S. C. 

Since this article came out on April 16th, my Facebook news feed has been inundated with people freaking out over it.  Other behaviorists have stepped up to ask "should we hug our dogs."  I've written several comments when people offered up images of dogs being hugged; that received a barrage of nasty replies.

So, I thought it was time for me to say something about this.  First let me say AGAIN, each and every dog is an individual.  That is a very important part of hugging dogs.   A hug is not a natural behavior for a dog to enjoy.  The only behavior equivalent for dogs is the dominance related behavior of mounting.  They may lie down beside each other but they don't grasp and wrap around like we humans do in a hug.  Okay, next.

Being that all dogs are very different; some will tolerate a hug, some hate them, some love them but then again, it depends on who is doing the hugging.  

Elsa loves hugs; she is the most touchy, feely girl I've ever met.  She very much enjoys hugs from her family.  If a non family member tries to hug her; I can clearly see her pull away and I typically step in to help her out.  Elsa is a human loving fiend.  She ADORES people and she seemingly cannot get close enough to her family; but family is family and everyone else is not.  She adores people, even strangers; but she doesn't want strangers or non family members wrapping their body around hers.  She likes to get close and snuggle up; she even gives kisses.    

When I talk about a hug I mean an arm around, wrapping the body type hug.  Our Tilley was not a hugger.  She loved to have her whole body across our lap or chest but hug her and you could feel the pull away.  Unless a dog is leaning into a hug; like my Luke use to do then you should take heed.  No, it doesn't mean that your dog is going to bite you; but it does mean that they are not so much a fan of hugging as you are.

Some dogs simply don't like hugs; even from their loved ones in the pack circle.  We as guardians need to respect that.  But many people cannot wrap their human brains around the fact that their dog does not want to be hugged.  "What, you don't love me?"  Wrongo.  Your dog could be closer to you than any other dog or human but still not enjoy a hug.  It is truly up to them.

I do believe in working with all dogs to get them "use" to some sort of hug for the "incase" moments.  Dogs can learn to love hugs from the inner circle members most definitely.  But just to assume your dog loves hugs just because you do is wrong.   

You should never, ever hug a dog that is not your own dog.  That is a rule that should be cast in stone.  There are so many videos on the internet these days showing children hugging dogs; that also clearly show an anxious or stressed dog.  Dogs should not have to tolerate being hugged or climbed on by children.  

Getting all upset at the idea of not hugging dogs is a silly human hang up.  In case you forgot, we are not the same species and that means that we do things differently.  Dogs in general do an amazing job at adjusting to living in our human world.  We put so many demands on them as far as our human emotions go.  

Dogs are dogs and they can love us, follow us, protect us and be by our side without being hugged.  We humans needs to understand what a hug means to a dog.  I am not saying by any means that you should never hug your dog.  I constantly hug Elsa and she adores it.  In fact last night she shimmied her almost 50lb body into the smallest little spot beside me in a chair that I had to laugh.  We were actually entwined with each other; just the way she likes it.  But that is Elsa, Miss Touchy Feely herself.  

We need to stop thinking about our dogs as furry people and realize that they are an amazing species that allows us to live with them in harmony.  Even with all of our hang ups.  :) 

A line in the sand - the mount.

Communicating without mounting

Many dogs have a line that they have which should not be crossed.  That line is being mounted.  Luke has a clear line, when he was young it was even clearer.  He would allow rough play, even rude behavior but don't set foot on him.  If a dog attempted to mount him, he would take swift and immediate action.  One of his best friends way back when he was a youngster was a very rambunctious Boxer.  They played hard, leaping over one another and hitting as boys like to do.  He loved to play rough as long as there was no mounting involved.  Now his line is a bit blurry as a senior; he doesn't allow nonsense in any shape or form.  He likes to be left alone unless he is interested in an interaction, he's earned that right.

But many dogs have the same line when it comes to being mounted.  At two years of age Elsa has the line.  Penny, my daughters young Bull Terrier is at our house for a visit; she has been brawling with Elsa since the moment she walked into the house.  Yesterday, for a moment in the late afternoon Penny gave the mount option a try.   Elsa had just lay down on the blanket set out for them in the kitchen.  It was very hot out so they were both inside enjoying the A/C.  As Penny approached Elsa, it was clear that Elsa immediately saw something she didn't like.  Of course I was watching them like a hawk when I saw Elsa's reaction to Penny's approach.  There was something different about it.  Penny's ears were very upright; high on her head and close together.  She put one foot on Elsa causing Elsa to growl and change her demeanor.

My attention was now undivided as I watched the interaction.  Penny now had Elsa's undivided attention as well.  She approached again and put one foot on Elsa's leg.  At this point Elsa was still laying down on the blanket.  But as Penny's foot dropped onto Elsa's leg; Elsa let out a short but meaningful growl.  That was the line and Penny had crossed it.  "That's enough" I said as Elsa got to her feet.  As slow and methodical as it had started; it was extinguished in an instant.  The moment was over; Elsa was on her feet and the two began to play again.  Funny how dogs can have such harsh words and be over it instantly.

Once they started to play again, Elsa dropped to the floor and had Penny on top of her head.  They are constantly on top of each other but play standing over and dominance standing over are two entirely different things.  As an expert body language reader; Elsa reads with crazy precision.   Elsa came to us with this skill and it has served her well.  Now that she is entering into an age of maturity; communications have more meaning.

As an avid dog watcher and behavior specialist I see lots of crazy behavior.  Mounting is one behavior that is often misplaced and typically undesirable.  I see it a lot in puppy mill dogs or dogs who have not had the appropriate time with their siblings and Mother.  Some pet store dogs are perpetual mounters which can get them into all sorts of trouble.  Often seen as a "no big deal," behavior from novice or uneducated dog owners.  A mount can quickly turn an interaction into a serious problem.

But a mount is not always read as a threat.  It can be an obsessive issue; a behavior used for anything and everything with regard to excitement.  If a mounting obsessive dog uses it on another dog; the other dog may see it as just sort of annoying.  I have seen these obsessive mounters at the dog parks.  Many of the recipients to the mounting just simply try to shake it off, literally.  But there will always be the one dog who's line will be crossed making that obsessive behavior a dangerous one.

Mounting seen in our household dogs is an undesirable behavior.  It is a very natural behavior that is seen in wolves.  It is a behavior used to enforce or establish dominance.  The act of mounting in itself is not all that dangerous but the meaning behind it is.  The problem lies with dogs mounting strange dogs or dogs who do not live within their pack.  Even dogs within a pack can run into trouble by mounting one another.  The problem lies with the acceptance of a mount by the mountee (dog being mounted.)  Hence the invisible line which is drawn in the sand as far as mounting is concerned.

Do not allow your dog to mount others.  If you have several dogs in your home; watch for this behavior.  Mounting may be accepted for a point; or may never cause an issue.  My girl Jessie use to regularly mount the legs of my Poodles.  They knew what she was doing and why she was doing it but never felt threatened by it due to her size.  She was the clear boss in their minds and every so often just needed to remind them.  There unresponsive reaction was probably due to the fact that I always removed her.  But as long as you are the boss of your home, mounting is an unnecessary behavior.  As far as mounting dogs in public, at parks, beach etc.  Do not allow it.  Nip it in the bud as they say; it can only lead to problems.