Patricia McConnell has ruined You Tube for me forever. [Shaking fist in the air] “I curse you, Dr. McConnell.”
Thanks to the esteemed animal behaviorist, I hate to see someone hug their dog. But maybe there’s a way to redeem doggy hugs?
Canines, Primates, and Hugs
Have you ever read a book that thoroughly changed your behavior?
I have. It was The Other End of the Leash: Why We Do What We Do Around Dogs (affiliate) by Patricia McConnell. In The Other End of the Leash, McConnell explains the dog’s point of view of common human actions. And one of those common actions? Hugs.
You see, humans and other primates express affection by putting their arms around each other. Or by embracing chest to chest.
But you won’t see dogs “hugging” each other that way.
To a dog, when another dog puts his paw over a shoulder he’s displaying social status. Or perhaps playing. But not showing affection.
And when do you ever see dogs chest to chest? Only when fighting as far as I can tell.
McConnell backs up her point with several photos of happy people hugging unhappy dogs. Pups rolls their eyes back, stiffen their bodies, or lick their lips in the pictures. They’re definitely not smiling.
Now do you understand why You Tube is ruined? There are gazillions of videos of happy people hugging unhappy dogs.
Dogs Who Hug
I know some of you are yelling at me right now through your computer screen or phone. “Pam, you’re an idiot who doesn’t know what you’re talking about. My dog loves hugs.”
And I get you.
Because I live with an affectionate and cuddly dog myself.
But you probably have a few things going on:
- You and your dog have a strong, trusting bond. Even if hugging isn’t natural to your dog, she understands you’re expressing affection.
- Your dog, for whatever reason, is more cuddly than average.
- And you, because you’re so in tune with your dog, modify the timing and style of your hugs to keep your dog from being uncomfortable.
My dog Honey will ask for affectionate touch by putting her head on my shoulder and leaning into me. If any dog likes hugs, it’s Honey.
Except that I’ve seen something else.
Strangers come up to her all the time. And some of them, after knowing her all of two seconds, want to give her a hug.
Honey is a sweet girl. She offers few signs of discomfort. But she’s not totally relaxed. And when I see that, I immediately tell the hugging stranger how much Honey loves having her butt scratched. Most people are happy to oblige for a view of the golden wiggle that accompanies a good scratching.
How Dogs Hug
Some dogs have independent natures. They offer and accept affection on their own terms.
But most dogs who have bonded strongly with a person have their own ways of showing affection and initiating closeness. And I think of these actions as the equivalent of doggy hugs:
- resting a chin on your body
- crawling onto a lap
- sleeping next to you
- and in Honey’s case, standing half way between someone’s legs
How To Hug Your Dog
Although I get an image of Dr. McConnell wagging her finger at me when I do it, I still hug Honey with a big squeeze around the neck sometimes.
But I pay attention to her body language. If she pulls away, I let go.
I save my hugs for places where Honey feels safe and relaxed. That huge festival with strange dogs passing every ten seconds is not the place for a hug.
And I let Honey tell me how she likes to hug. For her, dozing with her head on my lap or leaning against me is preferable to a tight squeeze.
I don’t think it’s horrible for someone who knows and loves their dog to give him or her a big, primate-style hug every so often. After all, if we can tolerate our dogs’ need to roll in stinky things or eat garbage, they can probably put up with a hug now and then.
Just stay away from You Tube. Because when you look at dog hugs with fresh eyes, you’ll have a hard time ever cuddling your dog again.
[Check out the video, Does Your Dog REALLY Want a Hug, to see some dog responses to being hugged.]
Your Turn: What kind of hugs does your dog like, if any?
If you click a book link marked as an “affiliate” you will go to Amazon where you can order. Your item will not cost you more. But I will earn a few cents commission. Thank you for supporting Something Wagging This Way Comes.