I recently saw an article claiming that dogs don’t like being hugged or petted on the head. My dog seems to like these things. Is it true that dogs don’t like these things?
Absolutes are appealing. “Do this” or “do not do that” is much easier to follow than “it depends.” In this case, “it depends” is a more accurate statement.
Dogs are not born needing human affection. That may be a tough pill to swallow. Consider that the world is filled with feral and roaming dogs. Without intervention and socialization, these dogs will cower away from humans. Some live out their lives without ever being petted.
Other dogs are born into situations where breeders or rescue groups actively socialize puppies. This process continues in their permanent home. Dogs such as this have been taught to like human contact and interaction. Many other dogs fall somewhere between these two extremes.
It’s more accurate to say that unless well socialized, dogs won’t enjoy hugs, petting or other forms of human contact.
When interacting with dogs, assume that human handling is unwelcome unless told otherwise. It’s the safer bet. Above all else, a dog is a dog. Their teeth can do serious damage if they object.
One absolute rule is to always ask permission before reaching to pet any dog. Children especially should learn this, starting with pets in the home. Children who live with overly tolerant dogs often assume that others are similar. This assumption puts them in a perilous position with other people’s dogs, dogs that may not be as forgiving.
It is not a bad idea to ask for permission even with dogs that have been previously met. Friendly dogs can become sensitive to touch if ill or injured. By far the easiest way to avoid an incident is to simply ask if it’s permissible to interact.
There is no hard and fast test that allows one to know with absolute certainty if a dog likes being handled or not. However, there are a few things to watch out for.
Make sure that dogs are happily leaning in toward an outstretched hand. Tolerance is not enough. Be cautious with dogs that duck their head, lean away or step back. Crouched shoulders, a tucked tail or ears folded back should be taken as a warning sign. Always take lip curling or growls seriously.