For humans, a hug is nurturing and builds trust and a sense of safety. But your dog may not feel the same way. Leaning against or reaching around dogs can feel threatening to them, says Prof. Lee Niel, Col. K. L. Campbell Chair in Companion Animal Welfare at U of G’s Ontario Veterinary College. “What may be enjoyable for you may cause your pet stress,” she says.
Hugs aren’t necessarily off limits. The key is respecting your dog’s boundaries and personal space. Niel says each dog is different in terms of what they like and don’t like, so it’s important to watch your dog’s behaviour for clues.
“If they are showing signs of fear — things like lowered ears, lowered body posture and trying to pull away — those are obvious signs they are not enjoying a particular type of inter- action,” says Niel. “But if they are leaning in and soliciting more attention, you know you are on the right track as to the kind of things they enjoy.”
The type and amount of affection a dog enjoys isn’t about the dog’s breed. Niel says it’s about previous experien- ces and the individual personality of
the dog. This shouldn’t come as a surprise — it’s true of people, too. “The way we all interact with the world is based on our previous experiences of what is safe and what isn’t,” she says.
And just like us, if your dog is focused on an activity such as eating dinner or feels anxious for some reason, it might not be the best time to solicit affection from them.
“When your dog is stressed and focused on dealing with that stress, they might not want to be cuddled and touched because that might be distracting to them,” says Niel.
This is also true if they are sleeping. Like you, your dog may not want to be woken up for a hug.
Niel says the best approach for a happy dog is to make yourself avail- able and let them come to you.
Dogs can also adjust to our behav- iour. “You probably already know some ways your pet likes to interact with you,” says Niel. For example, most dogs like to be scratched on the shoulders.
Get to know what your dog likes and you will enjoy a trusting relation- ship with all the benefits of the human-animal bond. – KAREN MANTEL