What is Puppy Love Etiquette?
It is a respectful and considerate manner to interact with dogs that results in MUTUAL enjoyment.
How do we achieve this?
LISTEN to what your dog is trying to say through his body language, LEARN how he enjoys being shown love and FEEL THE LOVE when both human and K9 can enjoy the interaction.
Many people prefer a comfortable margin of space while others need to feel physically close to others to “connect”. In most scenarios, we (as humans) have a multitude of choices. We can tell people we are not comfortable, ask for space, back up or just simply walk away. Dogs do not have such a long list of options.
Instinctively dogs use their body language to communicate their emotional response to an interaction. Unfortunately, humans often misinterpret a dog’s “tolerance” of human gestures as enjoyment. Take this picture above of a boy (we’ll call him Sam) “hugging” his dog (we’ll call him Fido). Certainly, Sam’s intent is to show Fido his love and desire to be close to him. Fido is responding to Sam’s gesture through his body language. What is Fido “saying”?
You can ask 50 people their interpretation and you will probably receive many different answers. It is human nature to seek evidence of what we want to see. Some people will look at this picture with a smile on their face from their interpretation of love reflected between a boy and his dog. Others may see a dog who is “tolerating” the hug and just expect Fido to accept this type of interaction, even if it makes him feel uncomfortable.
Below are some of my observations and interpretations from a dog’s perspective.
Our dog’s interaction preferences vary based on their individual personality, exposure, social history, etc. combined with the context of a specific situation. Within my own K9 family, I naturally adjust how I approach and give affection to each one of my dogs based on their specific needs in that given moment. I observe their body language to know what they need from me and respond in kind. My dogs trust that I will “listen” to them and consider their needs in my responses to them. This inspires feelings of mutual joy and trust in our journey together. Our interactions are a conversation where we both feel “heard” and respected, and therefore, truly experience the fulfillment of our love for each other.
Take time to pause, observe and respond to dogs with mindfulness and compassion. Please do not presume dogs are or should be “ok” with human gestures of love just because we know the intent of our actions. Give your dog (and any other dog you encounter) the gift of experiencing your love for him in a way that he feels safe and happy. I’d like to think that if Sam understood how Fido felt about being hugged, that with the guidance of his parents, he would alter his show of affection so Fido felt love instead of anxiety.
I end with this quote from Quincy Jones that embodies my goal in every interaction I have with animals.
“I hope I multiply your joy, subtract from your pain, divide your sorrow and add to your tomorrow.”
Stay tuned for more Happy Woofs from the K9 Professor.