Kissing and Hugging A Dog: Not a Good Idea

As humans, we often like to show our affection by hugging or kissing those we care about. While I am completely supportive of people showing affection towards their dogs, I try very hard to educate all of our clients and training students that dogs are not humans, and that they often find our need to hug and to kiss stressful and confrontational. While a very small number of dogs may learn to actually enjoy this type of contact, most merely tolerate it even though they find it objectionable; others choose to bite.


The hugging and kissing of dogs became a major issue right before Christmas of 2010 with the publication of a children’s book entitled Smooch Your Pooch. The author had good intentions, trying to increase the bond between children and dogs, but the title, text and illustrations all suggest behaviors towards dogs that the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) believes may cause a child or person to be bitten. The AVSAB was so alarmed they issued a press release discouraging the purchase of the book. The press release cites a study1 that indicates children are often bitten by the family dog during “nice” interactions with the dog, such as hugging and kissing.

The safest course of action is not to kiss or hug any dog, not even your own. You can instead show your affection by playing fetch, taking them for a walk, giving them a small treat, engaging in a reward-based training session, scratching them behind the ears or above the tail, or gently petting them on their sides and chest. If you are petting your dog and they lean into you or rub against you, that is a sign that they like this interaction. If your dog leans away, seems aloof, struggles to get away or offers other signs of stress and anxiety (yawning, lip licking, tensing up, turning away, dropping their tail between their legs, etc.) they are trying to very politely ask you to stop.  A growl or a lip curl is a more firm request to stop and should always be acknowledged and NEVER punished (Growling – What Should I Do When My Dog Growls).

If you have children and a dog I recommend that you become fluent in canine body language and child-dog interactions. The following two books are excellent resources; On Talking Term with Dogs - Calming Signals by Turid Rugaas and Living with Kids and Dogs . . . Without Losing Your Mind by Colleen Pelar.

1 Behavioral assessment of child?directed canine aggression, Ilana R Reisner, Frances S Shofer, and Michael L Nance, Injury Prevention, October 2007 (to read, click here )

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