Why in the world would hugging dogs be dangerous? Hugging puppies just expresses your love for him, right? Let's step back for a minute and revisit puppy body language and canine signals compared to humans, and you may change your mind.
Dangerous Pet Promotions
I often receive press releases from all sorts of pet product and/or service companies asking me to write about a new (fill in the blank) and help promote their cause. Many times, it's a worthy event or interesting and beneficial product that would help pet parents and their puppies. But sometimes, the events are not well thought out and actually could cause harm to the puppies involved--or to owners.
Purina's Beneful Baked Delights sponsored a "Hug Your Dog Day" on April 10, 2012, to help introduce their new line of treats for dogs. The idea I'm sure sounded like a fun idea to celebrate puppy love, and while I've not tried the treats (nor has my dog!), I'm sure they're a fine product. The promotion, though, has LIABILITY written all over it!
I truly cannot believe the company's animal behavior experts signed off on this promotion and encouraged dog owners all over the country to do so--not only hug their dogs but take a picture of the event and post on the company's Facebook page.
Why Hugging Isn't Recommended
Dogs are NOT primates. Hugging is NOT a behavior dogs welcome. In dog language, a "hug" is used during mating. It is also used during capture of prey. Finally, it's used during fights.
Many thousands of children each year get bitten in the face while trying to show their love by hugging their dogs. Here are 9 tips to prevent dog bites and protect your children. You'll notice that one of the tips addresses hugs!
I shared my concerns not only with my behavior colleagues and now with you, but privately first with the Purina Beneful contact person. I specifically asked for feedback from the veterinary behaviorist or other consultant justifying the safety of this promotion. The PR professional responded by saying that the promotion didn't require hugs and you could participate instead with a variety of pictures with captions, hashtags, posts and the like.
Good! So promote that! However, such promos will continue through the years with other companies and groups using a "hug" in an inappropriate way. There now are Hug Your Cat Day and Hug Your Hound and more. I do wish there was a National Use Your Brain Day--the puppies would appreciate that!
The PR rep's response does not address the fact this promotion encourages dog-dangerous behavior and may result in injury to owners and as a result may cause a dog to lose his home or even his life.
This is incredibly irresponsible. To say I'm disappointed is too mild. My colleagues were equally appalled. Please spread the word about the dangers inherent in this practice of hugging dogs, and especially any similar promotion. I'm revisiting this because June is National Shelter CAT Adoption and earlier in the month a number of places promoted Hug Your Cat Day. Felines also may not appreciate this human behavior, for the same reasons.
Appropriate Ways to Show Puppies Love
Please, do love your puppies but take a lesson from these 12 ways puppies show love. You'll notice there are no hugs included. Of course, dogs and puppies can learn to tolerate and even appreciate human hugs. This article in no way means to diminish the relationship and interaction you and your special dogs already enjoy.
Just be sure to introduce the "hug" notion very gradually, and listen to your pup's reaction so you can back off if his vocalization or body language shouts out fear, calming signals like lip-licking, or potential aggression.
I would still welcome a response from a veterinary behaviorist or other behavior professional from the company explaining and (hopefully) justifying this promotion. In the past, I've always found Purina to be responsible not only in terms of nutrition but all aspects of pet care including behavior. The old saying, "There's no such thing as bad publicity" sometimes just ain't true.
EDIT: I just received this response from Kristin Flynn of coneinc.com for Beneful--I appreciate the prompt reply. It appears the company suggests anything negative happening as a result of the promotion would be the owner's fault.
"Hug Your Dog Day is a celebration of the very special and loving relationships dog owners across the country share with their four-legged best buddies every day. There are a number of ways people can participate in the virtual hug fest by sharing "hugs" online. Regarding the physical act of hugging your dog, we respect dog owners to know whether or not their dog likes to hug and be hugged and, if so, how based on their close relationship and daily interactions with him or her." You've been warned.