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.