Hey guys, I know GT peeps are pretty smart in general and I've been impressed with the quality of pet-related posts on here. You guys are a good bunch.
But, I feel I need to address a video that has gone viral today apparently, because it's shown up on my FB feed like 7 times today (and only twice shared by my dog trainer groups in a "WTF" way, the rest of the time as an "awww how cute" thing).
This video? THIS IS AN UNHAPPY DOG. THAT IS NOT PURRING IT IS GROWLING. HE IS TELLING YOU THAT HE DOES NOT WANT TO BE HUGGED LIKE THAT, STUPID.
This kind of behavior is what causes 99% of dog bites (NO I DID NOT MAKE THAT STATISTIC UP yes I did, but you get the point). The dog is giving clear signals that (s)he is unhappy with that kind of handling, and it is being ignored. This is a Good Dog. I have at least 2 dogs who would probably have at least nipped already. Yet if this kind of bullshit continues, this dog will probably bite and then the same idiots who are like "OMG so cute!" will be like "where did that come from? This dog is aggressive!" and he will probably be euthanized. But it is not his fault. Hugging, especially if that woman isn't trusted and well-known to him, is extremely threatening to dogs. Oh, sure, some like it. I have a puppy who likes to be squeezed so tight I worry I am hurting her. But that is very unusual (and usually comes with some related problems; for example my puppy is so clingy that she also resource guards me if not kept in check).
Dogs have a few ways of telling us that they are not happy with what we are doing. Everything in that dog's body language and vocalizations scream "STOP IT!" Dogs will usually start with body language. They will show avoidance/appeasement behaviors like avoiding eye contact, turning their heads down/away, hunching their shoulders, putting their tails between their legs. They will try to get away if they can, but in domestic situations they often feel like they can't. If they are really uncomfortable, they will probably start panting and showing their teeth a bit (panting out of nervousness is probably the same as nervous sweating in people). They will growl. If that is ignored long enough or the situation escalates enough, they will bite. To them, it is self-defense. The rottie in that video is panting (and seems to be showing more teeth than necessary to me, but I have not seen him while relaxed so who knows), has shut down body language/facial expression (such that you can see), and is growling. If this video was sent to me for evaluation, I would tell them that his next step is to bite. Not because he is mean; clearly he is not. But because he has no other way to assert boundaries.
I am a firm believer in not ignoring what our dogs try to tell us. Sure, in emergencies, sometimes you're forced to. I've been there. But in normal situations, punishing communication like growling just results in dogs escalating straight to more severe aggression when they're uncomfortable. If you take time, you can desensitize your dogs to almost anything.
But, I'm also a big believer in listening to them. They're our companions (and in my case, coworkers). We need to respect what they're comfortable with, within reason. Obviously we need to teach them to at least tolerate a bath or a nail clipping (for example), for health and hygiene reasons. I'm not saying they're human; we have to make decisions about their wellbeing that they disagree with, but we're (at least theoretically; sometimes people make me wonder) smarter than they are and are able to look at the long-term effects. But is it really so important to hug a dog when he might never be comfortable with it? What do you really lose by just saying, "Okay, you don't like that so I won't do it?"
I write this sitting in an office with 6 dogs. My clingy puppy is sleeping on my feet. My other 5 dogs are scattered about the room. They're even more codependent than most (herding breeds LOL), but I'd never hug 4 of the 5, and the 5th one I'd only hug when he's scared (since he's gone mostly deaf he gets scared by thunder and high winds, and is comforted when I hug him; when he's not scared he hates it). I've trained several of my dogs to tolerate things that would give most dogs a heart attack (helicopter rides are one; approaching a running helicopter with a dog on a leash is not fun, let me tell you, especially because the first time we did it was when we were being helicoptered into a remote area for an actual mission!), but I've also learned that we need to respect their preferences when there's no reason not to.
Anyway, like I said this isn't necessarily directed at GTers in particular as you guys have routinely impressed me with pet stuff. :) I've just been arguing it all fucking day in FB posts and I kind of wanted to get it off my chest.