As humans, we dearly like to think that dogs want and enjoy hugs from us.
We use hugs to show affection, empathy and love. However, dogs have their own form of body language, which includes a range of postures and dynamic interactions.
Unfortunately, dogs often misinterpret our hugs as an assertive posture – a way of asserting dominance, not a sign of affection.
How often do you see a dog approach another dog stand up on its back legs and embrace another dog? A much more acceptable greeting to a dog is to sniff each others’ rear ends…
Some dogs may very well tolerate and accept our hugs, but unless it is a trained behaviour they do not seek out hugs, especially from humans they do not know
Unfortunately, you will find that a large proportion of dog bites on children occur because the child has been trying to hug the dog. Dogs are very clear with their body language and in most cases will give signals and warning that it is uncomfortable. If the child does not pick up on these signals and persists with the hug, eventually the dog may escalate this to a bite – note – we are not saying attack.
Common signs leading up to this bite include but are not limited to:
• ears back
• hackles up
• whale eye
• licking of the lips
• freezing or going tense
• looking away
• trying to move away
• lip curl
• snarling or growling
These signals are the dog’s only way of communicating that they are uncomfortable and declining the hug. Although it is against our instincts as primates, the best course is to channel your affection into an activity that the dog does enjoy, such as a game of fetch or a walk.
Please always supervise children with dogs, and take the time to educate your children to keep them safe. Help us to share this message and prevent more innocent dogs from being euthanised due to preventable dog bites. We are available for dog safety presentations at schools and community groups. Contact us to discuss locations and availability.