As man’s (and woman’s) best friend, dogs offer us unconditional love, all for a little kibble and a place in your family. But affection between humans and pets can be complicated. It’s not possible for humans and their pets to bond the same way people do. A happy slurp is one of a dog’s only ways to show you their love. But humans have many ways to express affection: hugs, handholding, kisses, saying “I love you,” and more. But hugging and kissing your dog isn’t always appreciated. Some dogs don’t enjoy the affectionate attention. They may even growl or run away when you try to show them love. Why don’t dogs like kisses?
The Root of the Behavior
Personal space is different among humans. It varies from person to person, but for the most part, everyone has an invisible boundary that they’d rather people not cross. For close friends and family members, that boundary is usually closer than for strangers. We have an unspoken rule about how close we can politely get to strangers. Dogs are the same way. Dogs don’t want strangers in their face. And sometimes, they even have a hard time tolerating family members who get too close. Some dogs don’t mind snuggles or kisses, but even that can become too much to a dog who values a little space.
For dogs, physical presence has a number of other implications. Placing a paw on top of another dog may look like a sweet, puppy hug, but it’s actually a gesture of dominance. When people do it to dogs, they don’t understand. To them, it’s dominating, and potentially threatening. Eye contact also has a lot to do with dominance. Staring directly into a dog’s eyes is another gesture of dominance. When dogs meet, one dog will often avert their eyes, which demonstrates deference or passivity. Two dogs staring into each other’s eyes may be heading for a fight. That’s why it’s important not to stare into an unfamiliar dog’s eyes, as it may be seen as a challenge. Even with your own pet, staring might make them uncomfortable.
Pay attention to your dog’s body language when you lean
in to give them a hug or a kiss. If it changes—they close their mouth, lick
their lips, turn their head, tense up, stop wagging their tail, or their ears
go back, they’re not enjoying the situation. Just like uncomfortable people,
dogs will demonstrate that they don’t like what’s happening. It’s your job to
pay attention and be respectful of their wishes. Never force an uncomfortable
dog to endure close physical contact. Since they’re unable to tell you when
enough is enough, they may react aggressively to make you stop.
Encouraging the Behavior
Dogs might lick each other to show
their love, but licking them isn’t something humans should do (ick!). So how
can you show your pet respectful affection? There are lots of ways you can show
your dog you care. Take your dog places they enjoy. Spend lots of time playing,
walking, going to the pet store, the park, the lake or river, or a ride in the
car. In addition to the excellent exercise they’ll get, your dog will love spending
time with you. When it’s cold or wet, make sure your dog still gets plenty of
attention and playtime, too. Indoor games and toys are a great way to bond with
your dog. In the evening, give your dog plenty of pets and scratches. They
probably have a few spots they love being touched—behind the ears or under the
collar are frequent favorites. Just be aware of their body language and stop if
they’re uncomfortable or tense. Smaller dogs (and sometimes those not-so-small)
may enjoy sitting or lying in your lap. Give them some attention and pets while
they’re there, or just let them snooze in peace. Being close to you is as great
a way as any to bond with your pup.
Other Solutions and Considerations
Some dogs just may not be affectionate
kinds of dogs. To some dogs, especially rescued dogs who might have been abused
or neglected, personal space is crucial. You can consult a vet or an
experienced trainer for advice on how to deal with unaffectionate dogs. The
important thing is to respect their space and not to threaten or scare them. Older dogs, especially those with
illnesses or pain, may be less tolerant than they were at a younger age. Always
watch your dog around small children, who may not know not to hug or kiss. Even
without hugs and kisses, you can still show your love to your dog by playing,
going fun places, and rewarding good behaviors with goodies and new toys.
Just like people, not every dog enjoys having their personal space invaded. People can say “please stop,” or “go away,” but a dog’s only way of communicating may be difficult to understand. Paying attention to your dog’s subtle body language is a great way to make sure the are feeling safe and loved.