Dog Bite Prevention Week: Dogs Don't Like Hugs

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A different kind of love

One of the most important things you can teach your children is that dogs don't like hugs and kisses. This is a tough lesson, because many (if not most) dog owners simply do not believe it themselves.

Children learn early on that giving hugs to parents, siblings, and stuffed animals is a way to show love and affection. The desire to show affection extends naturally to the family dog. To a child, the family dog is just an animated stuffed animal.

child hugging dog

Sadly, this desire to show affection to the family dog is a major cause of facial bites to children. Dogs may tolerate hugs from kids, but few actually enjoy this type of attention. If a dog does more than tolerate this inappropriate handling, it is only on the dog's own terms—when the dog comes to the child for attention, and only if the child does not hug tightly or hang on too long. There is no dog that loves hugs from kids anytime, anywhere, anyhow.

Listen to the experts, including the dogs!

How do we know this about dogs? In part, because every dog-behavior expert tells us. For example, in her wonderful book For the Love of a Dog, world-renowned author Patricia McConnell says that she has at least 50 photos of kids hugging dogs—and in not one of them is the dog happy about it. We also know because dogs tell us, and dogs don't tell lies!

If your dog is enjoying a hug, he will do one or more of the following:

  • Ask for more if you stop
  • Lean into you
  • Relax and close his eyes
  • Pant and wag his tail with a loose body

If your dog is not enjoying a hug, he will do one or more of the following:

Video Platform Video Management Video Solutions Video Player

Dog displaying a typical reaction to a hug from a child.
Video courtesy of Colleen Pelar
of Dream Dog Productions.

  • Turn his head away from you
  • Lick your face repeatedly
  • Lick his lips or flick his tongue out
  • Yawn
  • Lick or chew at himself
  • Sneeze
  • Wriggle to get away
  • Hold his body tense
  • Shake off vigorously when you let go
  • Show a half of moon of white in his eye
  • Wag his tail stiffly

The dog in the video is typical of a dog about which owners would say, "He just loves the kids; they can do anything to him." If you hear yourself saying these words, take a closer look and see what the dog is really saying. In the vast majority of cases, the dog is saying, at least some of the time, "I don't like this—please make it stop."

Prevention is the key

When a dog tells us something and we don't listen, eventually the dog may not be able to take it anymore. At that point, the dog's only recourse is to use his teeth to say, "Stop that."

Be an advocate for your kids and your dog. Intervene as necessary, and allow only interactions that the dog truly enjoys.

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