Don’t you just love being able to have that closeness with your dog? The snuggling in, the mutual touch, and just really enjoying each other’s affection?
But sadly it’s not always like this. Not all dogs enjoy or are comfortable with our advances or attempts to hug, stroke, pet, or cuddle them.
This can be distressing, upsetting and frustrating for both parties, especially as many people love having a dog in their lives so they can benefit from that mutual affection.
The Right to Interact?
‘Consent’ is a bit of a buzzword these days, and rightly so
Too often in the past, the belief that we should be able to interrupt/wake up/make our dogs do something/move them out of spaces/ensure they don’t have any ‘no go’ touch/hug/pat/cuddle’ areas has been prevalent for many people.
But why is this? Do we ever think about how the dog is feeling right in that particular moment and whether she is actually happy for us to do what we’re doing? Only when things go wrong and the dog retaliates may we rethink our actions.
Thankfully, times are changing and we are becoming more mindful of our dogs’ emotions. More of us are realizing that perhaps our dog is not actually so happy when we hug him tightly, and that maybe it makes him feel a little anxious and restricted.
We may also realize that if we approach our dog in a narrow, confined space, she may feel more anxious and it may, in fact, be better to call her out from there first.
And perhaps we should wait until our more anxious dog approaches us rather constantly attempt to befriend him.
In all our interactions with our dogs, we need to be acutely aware of are postural signals that may communicate to us that what we may be about to do, or are currently doing, really isn’t appreciated:
Here are some examples of canine stress signals:
- Lip licking
- Stiff posture
- Nose licking
- Head turning
- Moving away
- Curved body
- Slow movements
- Averting gaze
- Looking downwards
- Low tail wag
- Whale eyes
- Laying down
- Crouching posture
All of us with dogs need to educate ourselves on how dogs communicate, and then understand and respect what then are comfortable with.
If we continually ignore and ride roughshod over our dogs’ emotions, we risk exacerbating feelings of stress and anxiety – and this is when behavioral issues can arise.
Positivity Starts in Puppyhood
My advice is to make touch positive early on, right from the start. Yes, everyone wants a piece of the new pup but give her space too. Pulling, prodding and poking do not make for positive touch experiences.
If you pick the puppy up, make sure you do so carefully and gently, supporting the rear end correctly and never simply holding under the front legs and allowing the hind end to dangle. If the puppy is uncomfortable, stressed or anxious, carefully place her back down on the floor immediately
Children must always allow the puppy calm space and respect her as a living creature, not a toy.
If you’re calm, it rubs off. So from the get-go, gently stroke your puppy in well-tolerated areas such as the back or the neck and then progress gently over the legs, throat, tummy and rear end.
Choose times of day when puppy is calmer and use calm, slow strokes rather than pats or a ragging motion.
If you have a breed that will need regular grooming, this is your opportunity to begin introducing grooming tools. Start with a soft mitt and practice working around ears, backs of legs, and in-between paws.
These are areas that will need regular trimming because they become matted. Gradually work your way up to a soft brush.
If you plan on brushing your dog’s teeth, start with a little bit of toothpaste on a finger and work up to a finger brush.
Consistency in Training
Don’t assume that your puppy will automatically become easy to handle or enjoy handling. Build in regular ‘positive touch’ sessions, as well as your regular training sessions, every day.
Make these sessions great fun. As you are playing, run your hands all over your dog, down the legs, over the back, tummy etc. You can also give your pup something safe to chew on at the same time.
This way it’s barely noticeable what you are doing, but you are regularly habituating your dog to touch and making it a regular, everyday event.
Care with Walking Gear
I have seen a lot of issues with pups when they start to wear harnesses and collars, where everything was going great until the owners, battling with fitting the shiny new gear, snag the pup’s hair into buckles or under straps, especially with pups with longer hair. So be very careful, as if this happens it’s uncomfortable and potentially painful, and pups can quickly associate this with the harness or collar – or even you.
Training Not Going Great?
If you notice any issues, e.g. your dog is not happy about being touched or stroked or you advancing towards her, I recommend you seek advice from a qualified canine behavior consultant straight away. The sooner you do so, the better. Desensitization approaches can be extremely successful.