A Bit More on Hugs and Kisses

Sorry that this post has been so long in coming, busy times here on the farm. But we have been training and documenting Bixie’s progress so you will get the details!

Kevin has a few words to say about the subject of hugs and kisses, we hope this will help you to understand why we don’t believe in them.

In the last Bixie blog I stressed that dogs don’t like being hugged and kissed. This prompted a bit of feedback and questioning. Admittedly nothing is more  annoying than what might seem like unsolicited advice about what one’s own beloved dog likes or dislikes. Who but an owner should know their dog? This can seem intrusive. But I don’t make the rules. I’m just the dog’s faithful reporter.

For the record I’ve certainly experienced a dog insistently clawing at my pant leg trying to clamber up into my arms. And I’ve lain many a time on the ground and been mobbed by a dog or covey of puppies exuberantly trying to get in my face and roll on my head. It’s cute I won’t deny. And it’s nice to be wanted I will concede. But really and truly, it’s cute until it isn’t cute, and am I fooling myself that it is truly an expression of love?

Puppies and dogs have an innate drive to get into our face because they want to feel connected to us. This is not ideal as it will become an annoying habit and one day he might chip your tooth, or jump up your grandmother. And then you’ll get mad, and maybe hit him, etc. etc….

Head-to-head contact is stressful for animals because it induces a feeling of pressure. The animal mind perceives that where another being directs their attention is an application of force. If you would like to know what this pressure feels like, take two magnets and hold them together pole to like- pole. You’ll find it’s a lot of work to contain that pressure. No wonder that most dogs after receiving a hug withdraw and then shake it off.

 One of the biggest reasons for dogs wanting to get into our face is that they have been trained that our attention is their metric of connection.These dogs have to work at getting the owner’s attention, licking, nudging and whining for it. Just being around the owner is not enough.This is because the dog does not feel connected, like a child constantly clinging and whining.

If they think your means of connecting is this type of display, they will become obsessed with it, and therefore guarding you from others, people and dogs. Many people think that a dog following them around from room to room is an indication of love, it’s really not. if your child or spouse did this, we would automatically recognize this as insecurity: not connected.

If hugs and kisses are the essence of trust, where is that trust when you really need it? I’ve never owned a dog “friendlier” or more “passionate” about bestowing “kisses” than our Bixie girl. She literally throws herself into one’s arms and doesn’t quit until her snout is pressed tight to face. But where is that “love” when I really need it, when I want to pluck a burr from under her flanks, when I want to trim her nails or take a stick out of her mouth because I’m afraid it’s going to splinter, when I want her to be gentle around our cat? Where does all that love go?

Friendliness is a nervous response to social pressure, it’s not the same as pure social. It’s an adaptive coping mechanism that has great value, for example it can get one through the awkward social context of being thrown together with complete strangers on a short elevator ride, but it’s not a pure expression of emotional flow. On You Tube there are videos of wolves frenziedly trying to connect with their keeper and I’ve been privy to several wolf-human interactions that began “friendly” only to end with or come close to, a severe bite. When we see wolves licking the lips of an alpha wolf, it’s clear this is not a display of love, rather it’s a nervous, ungrounded desperate attempt to connect. Have a look at one of these videos and you’ll see the same expression in the wolves as in your pet.

Here’s a video of wolves reuniting with a woman. Watch as the “loving” turns contentious and you’ll also see the wolves nipping and almost biting her. The tension is displaced onto the other wolves luckily, but the point is licking is really displaced biting.

 

The canine equivalent to a hug and a kiss is soft “mawing,” a wide open gaping jaw with a grip that doesn’t bear down, equivalent to a deep tissue massage, pleasurable and comforting to the recipient. I advise my clients that they can maw their dog all day long, with their hands, massaging the dog’s neck. So I’m not saying don’t give a dog affection, I’m suggesting that dogs like to be touched the same way we do. Whatever we would pay a masseuse to do to us, rest assured dogs love it just as much.

     

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6 thoughts on “A Bit More on Hugs and Kisses

  1. Yes, L really likes back/tailbone rubs, ear rubs, and long massages down his back. If he’s really feeling mellow, he’ll lean in—hard— and back up for more rubs. Seldom, especially if we’re going for a ride, right when we start out and I’m looking out the windshield, I’ll get a small ear-lick (“Let’s GO!). But that’s about it.

  2. Interesting article, but I still beg to differ. For one, you mention that puppies trying to get into our faces is an innate way for them to connect with us. So that is not a taught response to what we “expect of them”. It is their innate, untaught response. This is the way they want to connect with us.

    You mention Bixie being passionate and friendly, but when you need her to trust you she turns aggressive. It’s because she has issues, and is not (at present) a well balanced and secure dog. She is a Jekyll and Hyde. With a well balanced, well mannered, calm, secure and trustworthy dog there are no such issues. He will lick your face wagging his tail, he will let you turn him upside down, inside out without as much as a struggle. You can look inside his mouth, take his bone, clip his nails, remove a tick, and put your face inside his bowl while he is eating ……. Yes, we have such a dog, a Boxer (and have had 5 such dogs during our life). That is why I know they exist. And yes, he checks to see where I am, but he is not obsessed, or guarding me from others, never jealous when I hug my son or husband. He is always playful and he follows me around, not because he is insecure, but because he is a dog. And that’s what dogs do (especially when they want their dinner). He is 9 years old now, and doesn’t have one “bad” bone in his body. I dare say, although he has a naturally great personality, we do hold some credit for the way he is by the way we have brought him up from puppy hood, (and all our previous dogs). In all this we have never withheld the “human” type of affection from them, and it has never had a negative influence on any of them.

    In the wolf video, I really must disagree that licking is really displaced biting. They are greeting her and look genuinely “happy” to see her. They turn aggressive towards each other because they are “jealous” . It’s so evident. And one of the wolves does open his mouth with a gaping jaw in the canine equivalent of a kiss. If they really would want to bite her, they would, I have no doubt about that.

    • Kevin’s response: I believe you make very astute points and that your dog does indeed trust you. And yes the eyes are how the animal mind gains access, but a fixation on the eyes in conjunction with a frenzied manner of contacting therefore means that they don’t feel connected. When someone feels connected to another person, they don’t scramble to maintain eye contact or jockey for position. They don’t feel “jealous” when another has the subject’s attention. Also, I’ve had many clients who have owned a number of dogs over their life, and then they run into a “Bixie” type, and even though they’ve raised it from puppyhood, what worked for their other dogs failed in this case. What’s going on in the dog’s body/mind during an emotional experience is a complex amalgam of instinct, stress and emotion and so in a social interaction there can be other notes being hit in addition to those of pure emotional attraction. Over time with a dog of strong temperament, the instinct can begin to corrode the connection and stress can start to come out through the instinctive manner of discharge rather than the pure emotional conductive dynamic. This is what’s going on in the wolf video. There are some notes of pure affection to be sure, but these are slowly and surely being displaced by instinctive discharges of stress. If the wolves felt connected to the handler to the utmost degree, then they wouldn’t feel unsure when another wolf has access to her eyes. I believe that were she to squeal in pain were one of the wolves were to tweak her nose too hard, and it comes close to that level of intensity, she would have been in deep trouble. As it was, the stress of the wolves travelled the path of least resistance and they vented on each other, rather than her. Tragically this might have been what happened to the Swedish keeper who was killed by the wolves she cared for.

      • Thank you for your reply. I have been very busy hence it took me a while. Yes, I see what you mean about the “frenzied” behavior, that is never good, whether its in a human or animal. And I agree, it is not a calm situation at all in the wolf video, it is very tense. I think perhaps if there had been just one wolf it would be different. But that’s the point right? They are tense because they are each jealous of the other one, vying for the attention of one person, so I see what you mean. If as people, we are confident of another persons affection, then we seldom feel jealous. But there are types of people who are always jealous because they lack inner confidence, or are psychologically marred in some way. These are the types who have the attitude of “if I can’t have you, neither can anyone else” and we all know what crimes these people are capable of…..
        I still want to know where hugging and kissing comes into this. Am I understanding it correctly, what you are saying is: that by hugging and kissing, we are showing the dog what we expect is our way of connecting with them, so they want to mirror this behavior, but in doggy land, this type of behavior actually means the opposite? What about puppy behavior. You say puppies naturally want to connect in this way. I think I am kind of confused because I have always owned calm dogs, and so I do not have any experience with the problems of hugging that you describe…although I must admit that most of our “hugging” is actually more in the form of playing and “mauling” and massage. We have a lot of physical contact with our dogs in this way. I am just afraid people might interpret your “no hugging no kissing” policy as no touching at all……

  3. “they have been trained that our attention is their metric of connection”… Perhaps this explains why some dogs seem to lose their mind when attention is momentarily removed. On the surface this response seems wildly irrational. But if the core purpose of the dog’s existence is to connect, and attention is their metric of connection, if dogs live in the immediate moment (unable to predict a different future), then it seems like this would be the equivalent of suddenly and forever losing touch with your entire family and friends each time attention is averted. I think we’d lose our mind too if we constantly experienced such social devastation.

    And if you’ve seen many a hyper-“friendly” dog turn furious licking into nipping when stimulated/stressed just a tad too much, I think it’s quite easy to see licking as inhibited biting, or even biting as uninhibited licking.

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