Last month, a Psychology Today article advising owners not to hug their dogs has caused some discussion amongst clients and colleagues. Because hugging, patting and handling are part of our everyday interactions with your dog, we thought we’d weigh in with our perspective on the matter.
In our experience, it’s true that some dogs respond with fear and anxiety when being touched, hugged or groomed. Others exhibit signs of relaxation, excitement or are generally indifferent. Whilst the Psychology Today article suggests that we don’t hug our dogs, we instead suggest that you learn exactly what your dog likes and dislikes by paying attention to their body language and response. You can then help your dog feel more comfortable by associating what they consider unpleasant handling with a pleasant feeling, usually by using treats. It’s important this is done gradually, so your dog is not overwhelmed by the process.
Why? Because our dogs are going to be held, hugged and sometimes restrained for the sake of grooming or veterinary care. At Posh Paws Dog Grooming & Spa, we use the least restraint possible so as not to unnecessarily stress your dog. However, any aversion to being touched or handled is going to make grooming a little more difficult for us, and more stressful for your dog. These fears, anxieties and worries take time to develop, and they take time, patience and expertise to overcome.
So what can you do? The first step is to get your new puppy used to hugging, handling, grooming and restraint during their critical socialisation period at 8-14 weeks. Visit your vet, groomer, neighbours and friends for a social call! The second is to let your groomer know of any concerns or quirks you’ve noticed e.g. not liking feet being touched, and understand that we may choose to skip this area or do the most we can without causing distress for now. This ties into our third point of not making the situation any worse by unnecessarily forcing your dog to endure something they don’t like, telling them off, manhandling them or displaying any sort of aggression. Lastly, seek help from an evidence-based professional trainer or veterinary behaviourist to address the concern using reinforcement-based training, counter-conditioning, de-sensitisation and if required, behavioural medication.
Boogie Doggie Language (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) by Lili Chin