Here’s our most controversial tip of all time: Pet dogs with one hand. They don’t like hugs and kisses.

I know that there will a barrage of comments from people telling me that their dog loves hugs and seeks them out. That is probably quite true. Some dogs do enjoy hugs, from certain people, in certain ways and at certain times. There is no dog that enjoys hugs and kisses from everyone all the time, or from anyone all the time.

We are concerned with child safety here. Most kids (adults too for that matter) can’t tell whether a dog is enjoying a hug or merely tolerating it. A recent study of images posted on social media by people showing them hugging their dogs, found that four out of five of the dogs were showing unhappy body language. Read more here.

The best way for kids to pet a dog is with one hand and to scratch the side of his neck. Kids should only pet dogs they know and only with the owner’s permission and only if the dog comes to them for attention.

Dog and baby/toddler relationship expert Jennifer Shryock suggests this rhyme to remind children how to pet appropriately:

One hand touch, two hands too much

Here’s a way to explain this to kids: Imagine that you’re playing [insert favorite activity] and suddenly your parent (or caregiver) runs out into the middle of the activity and gives you a big hug. Or you’re at your desk at school and your caregiver comes in and hugs and kisses you in front of your friends. What if some stranger came up to give you a hug? These would be times that you do not want hugs and kisses. If you’re all tucked in bed and you get a hug and kiss goodnight, you may quite like it then. Dogs are the same. Sometimes they want affection and attention and sometimes they don’t.

How to Test to See if Your Dog Likes Hugs

You can test to see if your dog likes hugs from you. This is for adults only and only for your own dog. Don’t do this if you already know that your dog doesn’t likes hugs.

Give him a hug as you usually would, but stop after only a brief moment. Note whether he leans into it and comes back for more when you stop. If so then he likes hugs from you in that moment and in the way that you hugged him.

Note whether he yawns, licks his nose, tries to lick you excessively, turns his head away, becomes stiff or shakes off (wet dog shake) when you stop. If he does any of these, he’s telling you he’s uncomfortable with the hug and he doesn’t enjoy it. There may be times when he does enjoy a hug, but this wasn’t one of them.

You may think that your dog giving you or your kids kisses is a sign that he likes hugs from you. Think again! If the kissing is vigorous or goes on for more than a a couple of licks, then this may be a “kiss to dismiss”. Read more about this as explained by dog behavior consultant Jennifer Shryock of Family Paws.

Read a previous article in this series for more on dog body language.

More Resources

Family Paws Parent Education: Expert  support and resources for families with dogs.

Clicker Puppy Training Streaming video – Essential training info for kids – 40% off sale plus FREE DVD while supplies last – use the code PUPPYSALE40


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