Stop National Hug Your Dog Day


Talk about misinterpretation of dog behavior. April 10 is National Hug Your Dog Day, which happens this year to fall smack dab in the middle of National Dog Bite Prevention Week. National Hug Your Dog Day should be changed to National Love Your Dog Day. Here’s why:

Sometimes dogs will bite as being hugged.

Hugging dogs is not innocuous. All primates from humans to titi monkeys are born huggers. Dogs are not. Dogs often find hugs downright annoying, distastefully rude and sometimes the only way to stop that crazy human is to bite.

Perhaps because dogs did evolve with humans and are superb at understanding intent (if not action), many dogs tolerate our hugging or even learn to enjoy it as a means of positive and loving attention.

However, other dogs never come to appreciate the hug, most especially from strangers.

Also, pain is generally underdiagnosed in dogs. If a dog isn’t feeling well or is hurting – the response to a hug might even be more immediate, a growl, a snap or even a bite.

Even us humans – hard-wired to hug – don’t typically randomly hug strangers without an apparent reason to both parties or with permission.

As adults, at least many learn not to randomly hug strange dogs. Children haven’t yet learned this and children are more likely to be bitten by a dogs.

Hugging a dog is not always a precursor to a dog bite. However, hugging dogs that are unfamiliar – especially allowing children to do so – is never a good idea. And that’s even true if the dog’s owner offers permission. Is the dog also offering permission?

Dogs communicate all the time, but we’re not always understanding what they’re saying. For example, a dog responding to an approaching person ready to hug, might simply be looking the other way – that’s it – but clearly not initiating any interaction. That dog is saying the same thing as a growling dog only expressing their emotion differently. In this post the dogs’ owners proudly tout how their toddler hugs their dog – the image here shows that the dog is at the very least mildly anxious.

Having said all that, there are dogs who actually have learned to express their joy by hugging us! And for many of these dogs National Hug Your Dog Day turns out to be National Hug Your Person Day. That’s fine. However, with dog bite numbers on the rise, let’s please begin to consider the dogs’ perspective.

Free Webinars

April 11: I will moderate a panel of experts for the American Veterinary Medical Association Dog Bite Prevention Week Join here, noon CT, 1 p.m. ET, 11 am MT, 10 a.m PT.  Join free Facebook Live event. Participants include veterinary behaviorist Dr. Melissa Bain; Incoming AVMA President Dr. Sandra Faeh; Heather Paul, media relations specialist at State Farm; dog trainer and TV host Victoria Stilwell, and Janet Ruiz, director of strategic communications at the Insurance Information Institute

April 11 Steve presents a Fear Free event, a Free Webinar: Building Trust, Preventing Bites: ​​​​​​​Proactive Dog Bite Prevention and Handling Strategies -on dog bite prevention S.T.O.P.P. and Ask the Dog 3 p.m. ET; 2 p.m. CT; 1 p.m. MT and noon PT.