Connection is the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship. ―Brené Brown
I share this with you because one of the many hats I wear encourages this same approach: I have the honor and privilege of being on the advisory team for Family Paws Parent Education, and a licensed presenter of their Dogs & Storks® and Dogs & Toddlers™ programs. Compassionate, judgement-free guidance is the heart and soul of Family Paws Parent Education. We have Jennifer Shryock to thank for that.
What We Do
Our Family Paws Parent Education programs are uniquely designed and specialized to help families with dogs and a baby or toddler, in order to increase safety and reduce stress.
We offer ongoing support and resources for families with dogs.
How We Do It
I invite you to watch our newest video to learn from families sharing their personal stories:
We are ready to support you and your family as your baby grows, and as your dog ages.
If you’re expecting your first baby, or you have a dog and toddler, I invite you check out our programs for parents.
If you’re going to be in the Washington D.C. area on April 26th, come and join us at the Birth and Babies fair! We would love to meet you!
We are here to help everyone adjust with each stage!
Dog and Baby Support Hotline
If you are a new parent and are considering re-homing your family dog, give us a call.
If you have a friend or relative who’s overwhelmed with their dog and baby/toddler, call us.
If you’re a shelter volunteer and would like information to support new and expecting families, give us a call.
Reach out. We are here to help.
NOTE: I know that not everyone who follows my blog is expecting a child or has a dog and toddler, but you may know friends, family members, and coworkers who do. If you feel this information would be a benefit to them, please share this. I strongly believe that we can prevent heartache and stress by letting families know there is support and help available. Education and sharing our stories and experiences with others is how we accomplish this.
Life is not a solo act. It’s a huge collaboration. We all need to assemble around us the people who care, and the people who support us in times of difficulty and stress.
It’s National Hug Your Dog Day! Let’s dig deep into the science of hugs!
I will be the first to admit: Sometimes I want to hug our dog and cats (and other animals) like the Abominable Snowman in the bit from “Daffy Duck’s Quackbusters” cartoon. But I don’t. I know they don’t enjoy receiving hugs as much as I love giving them. And frankly, I would not enjoy it if someone did that to me without my consent.
Been there; had that.
This might sound crazy, but sometimes a hug to our animal companion is more like holding them hostage. Obviously they aren’t really our “hostages”, but we may be unknowingly forcing them to interact with us in a way they would not choose on their own.
Don’t just take my word for it. Do some dog-behavior-digging for yourself:
Have someone take a picture of you holding your animal hostage (I mean, hugging and squeezing them). Then look carefully at the expression on their face.
If I found out that a person I loved to hug only tolerated my touches and squeezes, I would put an end to it. Mainly because I would feel weird now, but I also wouldn’t want to push myself onto someone that didn’t want my affection in that form.
Most people don’t want to hear this, but animals are no different in that way. A lot of animals really don’t want to be manhandled and coddled. Most of them will offer and solicit affection on their terms. And every species has their own unique way of displaying affection. And within each species, each individual as their own preference for affection.
As Conscious Companions, we need to be aware of this.
Let’s look at two dogs receiving hugs from a human. One dog is not enjoying the hug and one is cool it. Spend a few minutes carefully reviewing the two photos below. See if you can identify the emotional state of the dog in each pic.
In the top photo, the dog is leaning (or at least trying to lean) away from the human. His ears are held tightly back, his eyes are more tense with a slightly furrowed brow, and his mouth is closed. While there isn’t anything about the dog’s body language that says he will lash out, it is abundantly clear that the hug is not comfortable or appreciated.
In the bottom photo, the golden retriever is not leaning away from the hugger. His ears are relaxed, his eyes are soft, his mouth is open and lips are not tense, and the tongue is draped out in a relaxed pant. (Yes, even the way a dog holds his tongue is potentially a clue!)
“It takes a lot of experience, it turns out, to be good at reading signs of fear or stress or discomfort on the face of a dog.” —McConnell.
When you take your dog to the dog park, or even just to a friend’s house where she can play with another dog, how do the dogs greet one another? There are myriad ways dogs say hello depending on if they know each other and are reforming old bonds, or are meeting for the first time and feeling each other out as they establish the pecking order. There is face smelling, rump smelling, tail wagging, play bowing… but there is never hugging. Even among the best of friends. In fact, the closest approximation dogs have to a hug as we know it actually means something other than friendship. —Dr. Patricia McConnell, certified applied animal behaviorist,
If you discovered that your animal companion really didn’t enjoy your hug-a-palooza, would you continue to force it on them? I hope not. But what if you learned how your particular pup enjoys receiving and offering affection? That would be a game changer!
The hard truth is simple. It’s not in a dog’s nature to show affection by hugging. Many dogs don’t really enjoy being petted or hugged. They tolerate it.
Many very tolerant dogs, who allow the “kidnap cuddle”, can go from tolerant to intolerant very quickly under “the perfect storm” conditions. We must become dog aware and teach others how to do this as well, especially children.
Children are, by far, the most common victims of dog bites and are far more likely to be severely injured. Most dog bites affecting young children occur during everyday activities and while interacting with familiar dogs. Many bites happen when children are hugging their dog and holding him/her “hostage”.
Studies have shown that dogs who bite children involved familiar children, who were most commonly bitten in relation to food or resource guarding and “benign” interactions such as petting, hugging, bending over, or speaking to the dog.
Although some dogs are not reactive about being kissed and hugged, these types of interactions are potentially provocative, leading to bites. In a study we published in a journal called Injury Prevention, we looked at dogs that had bitten children and found that most children had been bitten by dogs that had no history of biting. Most important here, familiar children were bitten most often in the contexts of ‘nice’ interactions — such as kissing and hugging with their own dogs, or dogs that they knew. ~ Dr. Reisner, Veterinary Behavior & Consulting Services
Different Strokes for Different Species
One of the biggest hangups with hugs is how hard it is for many pet parents to admit to themselves that their dog doesn’t enjoy their hugs. I see this resistance and disappointment with new clients a lot. But here’s the human-doggie deal: Hugs are a natural and primary way for most of the human species to show affection.
Research on primates, especially chimpanzees and bonobos to whom we are most closely related, reveals that hugging is an integral part in giving and seeking out comfort and affection. But it’s not in a dog’s nature to show affection by hugging.
If you watch little kids, tiny little kids who are just barely able to stand on their legs, they wrap their arms around another to express affection, empathy and love by hugging. It’s just so hard-wired into who we are and what we do. And so I think when we tell people that dogs don’t like hugging, it’s like some primal, limbic part of our brain says, ‘You mean my dog doesn’t love me?!’ — Dr. Patricia McConnell, certified applied animal behaviorist
Languages of Love
Just because your pup might not enjoy receiving your hugs as much as you enjoy giving them, does not mean your canine companion doesn’t love you with all of his/her heart. Dogs love us (and their animal companion friends) in their brilliant and beautiful Canid way, while we, as their humans, love them in our primate way.
Dogs and humans are two incredibly different species. But, through the centuries, we have become intimately connected. But thousands of years of co-evolution doesn’t erase millions of years of separate-species evolution.
This is why it’s important to look at the social science of what a hug really means to dogs.
—>Please take a moment to check out this brief and insightful post, “You’re Making Me Uncomfortable!” to understand how uninvited hugs can adversely affect both dogs AND people!<—
Check out this video about Dog Body Language:
Next time, you go in for that monster love hug, ask yourself: Is this dog (or cat) really enjoying the hug? Or is he/she just enduring/tolerating it because they know it will be over soon?
Consider asking them to come over to you, instead of coming into their space.
Next time you see your child (or someone else’s child) going in for the monster hug to the family dog (or cat), please stop the child and show them safer ways to love an animal.
Let’s encourage our pets and other companion animals to offer affection and attention (that we so deeply appreciate), on their own terms.
Below are some great examples of happy hugs, where both dog and human are enjoying the interaction as a consensual canine team 😉
This is a judgement free zone! All comments and feedback are welcome! I deeply understand that most parents and guardians are doing the best with what they have, and what they know how to do. This post is meant to help and educate families living with pets. We would Love to hear from you!
What has been your experience with hugs?
“Recognizing our own mistakes helps us to empathise non-judgmentally with others and helps enable us to understand their issues.” ― Jay Woodman
Education is the key to many things, including safety and wellbeing in our homes. This week is National Dog Bite Prevention Week. It’s the perfect time to reflect on how we can better understand our canine companions, educate and guide children of all ages, and share what we have learned over the years with everyone we know. It’s also important to set aside judgement and focus on compassionate education.
There is an estimated population of 70 million dogs living in U.S. households right now.
Nearly 5 million (reported) dog bites occur in the United States each year.
Most of these bites involve children.
Children love to kiss and hug dogs, even though these expressions of affection do not translate well in the dog world.
Fast movements can stimulate a dog’s prey drive and/or chase instinct.
Higher pitched voices can sometimes startle a dog and make it fearful.
A dog can be frustrated through rough play or by teasing and a child can inadvertently inflict pain with the pull of a tail or a poke in the eye.
It is also hard for a child to read and understand a dog’s body language, therefore missing vital signals that can put them in harm’s way.
Children are most likely to be bitten in the face as they are closer to a dog’s eye level making it easier for a dog to feel threatened by eye to eye contact.
The majority of reported dog bites occur between the family dog and a family member.
It is unlikely that you will be injured by a dog you do not know.
Dog breed does not predict behavior.
Any resource that lists dogs who are “most likely to bite” by breed are a distraction from preventions that actually work. Visual breed identification is notoriously unreliable, breed does not predict behavior, and there is no standard reporting system for reporting or recording dog bites (nor is there a need for a system). Articles focused on breed are an easy way to get “clicks”. It’s fear mongering, not fact-based reporting. ~Animal Farm Foundation
Check out this graphic from the National Canine Research Council. This graphic puts (reported) national dog bites into perspective. We need to focus on facts, not fear when educating. In rare occasions (0.01%) dog bites result in an incredible amount of physical damage. However, this still means that we need to understand what happened, so we can prevent it! You can read more about this here.
Here’s the GOOD News:We can change those statistics! The majority of dog bites, if not all, are preventable. That’s where YOU come in.
It’s our duty as dog guardians, parents, educators, and family members to teach children how to understand and respect our canine companions. Kids are great imitators; let’s show them what we want them to imitate!
If we want to become serious about preventing dog bites, and rehoming family dogs, we need to encourage and teach appropriate supervision habits at home. This excellent video from Family Paws Parent Education explains the 5 Types of Supervision that we recommend:
Below are a few common questions we often hear from parents with kids:
How do we know when a dog is the right fit for our family?
Does the breed of dog matter?
Are some dog breeds better for some kids?
What should we do to ensure we set everyone up for success?
National Dog Bite Prevention Week is here! This entire week is dedicated to educating people of all ages about how to becomes more Dog Aware, and increase the safety of kids and dogs. We are focusing on the facts, not on creating fear.
NOTE: There is a lot of information in this post. I recommend bookmarking this page, so you can read through it all when you have time, and so you can reference it when you need it later!
The Humane Society of the United States reports that 50% of children will be bitten by a dog before their 12th birthday. Children under the age of five are most likely to be bitten and most of these bites come from a dog that the child knows; the family dog or that of a relative or friend. Children are most likely to be bitten in the face as they are closer to a dog’s eye level making it easier for a dog to feel threatened by eye to eye contact. Children love to kiss and hug dogs, even though these expressions of affection do not translate well in the dog world. Fast movements can stimulate a dog’s prey drive and/or chase instinct. Higher pitched voices can sometimes startle a dog and make it fearful. A dog can be frustrated through rough play or by teasing and a child can inadvertently inflict pain with the pull of a tail or a poke in the eye. It is also hard for a child to read and understand a dog’s body language, therefore missing vital signals that can put them in harm’s way.
Here’s the Good News: We can change the statistics! And, the majority of dog bites, if not all, are preventable. That’s where YOU come in. It’s our duty as dog guardians, parents, educators, and family members to learn how to read dogs better, and teach children how to learn dog “language” and to teach children to respect a dog’s space. The graphic below from Doggone Safe shows us a few signals that dog display when they are stressed.
Researchers found that “Children from 4-7 years misinterpret dogs’ facial expressions.” They found that a full tooth display from a dog is not an effective way to teach a child to back away and leave them alone. Their research suggests that young children might be interpreting an offensive tooth display on a dog’s face as an expression of friendliness rather than a threat. Given that so many bites are to children, this is an important piece of information. ~ Dr. Patricia McConnell
1. Dogs don’t like hugs and kisses — Teach your kids not to hug or kiss a dog on the face. Hugging the family dog or other face-to-face contacts are common causes of bites to the face. Instead, teach kids to scratch the dog on the chest or the side of the neck.
2. Be a Tree if a strange dog approaches — Teach kids to stand still, like a tree. Trees are boring and the dog will eventually go away. This works for strange dogs, and any time the family dog gets too frisky or becomes aggressive.
3. Never tease a dog.
4. Never disturb a dog that’s sleeping, eating, or protecting something.
5. Teach your kids to Speak Dog, and only interact only with happy dogs! Watch this short slideshow that shows you how to read dog body language, and other safety tips.
Familiar children were most commonly bitten in relation to food or resource guarding and “benign” interactions such as petting, hugging, bending over, or speaking to the dog.
Supervision means different things to different people. To some parents, supervision means just being home, to others it means watching out the window while the kids play with the dog outside while to others it means having hands on and being part of the interaction between the child and the dog. Many dog bites have happened to children while the parents were ‘supervising’. – Jennifer Shryock, Family Paws Parent Education
2. Know signals that dogs display. If you see these behaviors, intervene quickly (but calmly) and redirect the child or dog onto something positive. These behavior signals include:
licking – tongue flicking out or licking his own nose
3. Learn the Dog Behavior Continuum: We hear it all the time, “Kids and dogs should never be left unsupervised”. That’s great advice, but what else should we be doing?? Supervision only works when we know what to look for and when it’s time to intervene. We have to know when a dog is going from “Enjoyment to Tolerance, to Enough Already“and back again.
4. Don’t assume your dog is “good with kids”. All dogs have their breaking point. We all do. Even if your dog is great with kids and has never bitten before, why take a chance? Toddlers, babies, and dogs don’t need to physically interact!
5. Train your dog positively Never pin, shake, choke, hold the dog down, or roll the dog over to teach it a lesson. Dogs treated this way are likely to turn their aggression on other family members.
6. Involve older children with positively training your family dog (while supervising).
Actively Supervise! Supervise your dog around children at all times. If visiting children are bothering your dog (or other pets in the house), put the pets away safely, or send the children home. Be your child and your dog’s advocate. Parents and guardians must be responsible for their dog at all times, without exception, and especially around children. A child should NEVER be left unsupervised with any dog at any time and dog and child should only be together when a responsible adult can actively supervise. This keeps both children and dogs safe.
There’s no better time than now to educate each other about how each of us has the power to keep everyone happy and safe. This week is the perfect time to reflect on how we can ensure our canine companions, children, and others steer clear of unwanted and preventable circumstances. Education is the key to safety and well being for everyone in the home. Please share this to help educate others so we can all work together to keep dogs, kids, and families happy and harmonious 365 days a year!
Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world. ― Nelson Mandela