Forewarned is Forearmed — Hugging and Kissing Dogs
Little kids love hugging and kissing dogs. Unfortunately, hugging dogs is probably one of the most common causes of dog bites. You may not have thought about the ways people and dogs greet each other. People do not greet each other the same as dogs. (Thank goodness.) We are primates. We walk directly toward a person that we are greeting, look them straight in the eye and either shake hands or hug. This is precisely why we assume that dogs want to be greeted the same way. When dogs greet each other, they sort of sidle up sideways to each other and sniff. If everything is okay, they will either start playing or begin running around sniffing and searching. When greeting, dogs do not look each other directly in the eye or throw their “arms” around each other. As a matter-of-fact, dogs see all of those actions as threatening or aggressive. How would you feel about someone greeting you by walking up to you sideways, not making eye contact and then start sniffing you. Call the Police! Understanding the behavior of a different species that we live with is important.
One of the most concise explanations of the differences between how dogs and people greet each other is found in the excellent book, The Other End Of The Leash, by Patricia B. McConnell, Ph.D. If you are a dog lover, you will learn much more about your four-legged friends by reading this book. The Other End Of The Leash, examines many aspects of canine behavior. Dr. McConnell combines her own personal and professional experiences with the research in canine behavior. Dr. McConnell and virtually all other researchers of dog behavior recommend that we discourage hugging and kissing dogs.
In my experience the people who most want to hug and pet soft living things are young adolescent girls and children between about three and five years of age. I’ve worked with dozens of families with sweet young girls who got growled at, snapped at, or bitten in the face (usually not badly, thank heavens) when they threw their arms around their dog. Like young female primates everywhere, they craved cuddling and touching. Yet while they were thinking warm, loving thoughts, their dog interpreted their hug as a rude, domineering threat display.
–The Other End Of The Leash, Why We Do What We Do Around Dogs 17 (Random House Publishing Group 2002)
We certainly do not want to see a dog returned to a breeder or shelter because of an incident that could have been easily avoided. Become more observant of dogs’ body language. There are many body signals that dogs exhibit that communicate stress or anxiety. Be aware that one can not rely on one signal from the dog. A wagging tail does not necessarily indicate a friendly dog. You must take a look at the “whole dog. ” While many signs of anxiety in a dog are common behaviors, looking at the dog as a whole lets you know whether he is anxious,fearful or stressed. A dog with a tucked tail, by itself, doesn’t tell you very much. However, if the dog’s tail is tucked, its tongue is flicking, the ears are pulled back and he is looking away and yawning, you have a stressed and anxious dog on your hands. Stay away. With respect to child safety I would recommend that you take a look at the website, www.doggonesafe.com.
We can also use our understanding of canine behavior to avoid problems with a dog. Do you or your child know what to do if approached by a strange dog or a dog that is being overly playful? Don’t look at the dog and stand perfectly still. Dogs are attracted to movement. If you aren’t moving and you aren’t staring, the dog will generally lose interest. They will usually move on to something that is moving and is more interesting to them.