Alas, I keep reading articles that tell me I shouldn’t hug my dog. I shouldn’t pet her on her head. I shouldn’t do this. I shouldn’t do that. Hasn’t anyone ever heard of body language? Don’t people look at anything other than their phones any more? A dog will tell you what’s OK and what isn’t. All you have to do is look.
Here’s a true story. When I went on book tour with Dexter, my first service dog, oh, you all know Dexter…
Well, I would take him off leash the moment we entered a bookstore, all 84 pounds of him. He’d go right for the audience. He’d sit in front of the first person and wait. If they smiled or reached out to pet his big head (his head, OMG), he’d put his front paws on the edge of their chair, one on one side of them, one of the other. He was big. He could do that. And he’d wait again. If they smiled or touched his warm, broad back, he’d lean forward. Step by step, waiting each time to see if his advances were welcomed, he’d get closer until he had his front legs resting on the person’s shoulders, his big cheek resting against their cheek. Me next, me next, people would cry. And he gave each and everyone a hug, making them all feel I was an excellent writer!
Can’t we do what my old rescue dog did? The occasional dog might not like a hand reaching over his head. Some dogs don’t like arms around them. But many, many do. Of course, like me, dogs don’t like the feeling of being trapped. They should always have an out, an option to end the hug. So, go step by step, until you know for sure what the dog wants. And if it’s a yes, sure, hug the dog, but with loose arms, gentle arms. Sure, massage the top of his head. But only after his body language and his eyes tell you he thinks it’s a good idea, too.
Sheesh, guys, if a dog can figure out how to do this, surely we should be able to figure it out, too.