A co-worker emailed me yesterday to tell me she wanted to get a puppy for her five year-old daughter and wanted my help. I asked her to come see me instead. We had a long conversation (which I warned her would sound more like a lecture) about why she wanted to get a dog, what kind of dog she thought she wanted, why she wanted a puppy, etc. She said that she had grown up with a dog who was her best friend and she wanted that for her daughter. She wanted a puppy and wanted a small breed dog so her daughter would have a companion and would have someone to hug on and play with.
No. No. No. And No.
The conversation took a different turn from there. We talked about how much work it is to have a puppy, about how many small breed dogs do not do well with children and about how hugging a dog is just not a good idea. I told her point blank that if her daughter needed something to hug, to get her a stuffed toy. We talked about how bringing any dog into a home is a 15 to 20 year commitment not to be taken lightly. In the end, we had a good conversation. I believe my co-worker’s heart is in the right place and she does want to get a dog for all the right reasons. She has plans today to meet a medium-sized rescue dog whose life is at risk but who is described as both "sweet" and "cuddly."
Have I hugged our dog? Sure. More than my husband prefers. But we’ve known each other for 16 years and I know enough about our dog’s body language to know when a soft hug will be well received as opposed to resulting in some vocalization because he isn’t feeling well.
You can kiss your spouse. You can hug your child. But if you really want to show your dog how much you love him or her, learn about dog behavior and about what your dog needs from you. And if you want to spend some quality time together and bond - take your dog for a walk.
Canine Body Language
Successfully Adopting a Rescue Dog
The Data Says "Don't Hug the Dog"
Canine Body Language From Labrador Training HQ (very comprehensive and well worth the read)