Humans use touch to communicate greetings, connection, and affection with handshakes, hugs or kisses. Dogs use gestures to communicate affection too – they nuzzle, nudge, rub up against and even groom each other. Using human gestures on our canine companions, however, can be unsettling to them. Here are some tips or better choices on how we can show affection to our much-loved pets.
- Respect your dog’s space – Dogs don’t hug like we do; instead they snuggle or nuzzle. To a dog, hugging is typically interpreted as an assertive gesture. Respect their space, and go slowly over-time to help them get used to your closeness.
- Gentle strokes are best – To a dog, stroking is similar to nuzzling. When you dog puts their paw on another dog’s neck, back or head, they are not “petting” the dog – they are expressing their assertiveness over them. For a human to pet a dog, however, is a perfectly acceptable form of affection, particularly when delivered as a loving stroke and accompanied by soft praise. The least threatening type of pet we can give a dog is stroking them under their chin.
- Remember that some dogs are hypersensitive to touch due to chronic illness or environmental annoyances. If your dog has an unknown past, even the softest touch may startle them, so keep movements slow, calm and deliberate.
- Resist picking up your small dog – pups are picked up (by their mothers) only when they are very young. We forget that no matter how small, a dog is, its still a dog and is usually uncomfortable being picked up. This is simply not natural to a dog and puts them in a position where they may feel trapped.
Building a solid foundation of respect and trust with your dog leads the way to your being able to do virtually anything with him! Once you have established a trusting bond so that your dog understands you will protect him form harm, he will come to at least tolerate essential physical activities, and at best, enjoy them.