Hugged Your Dog Lately?

An interesting post by Jaymi Heimbuch on The Mother Nature Network:

Raise your hand if you’ve ever hugged a dog you love in a moment of joy and affection. Now raise your hand if you’ve ever paid close attention to whether or not your dog enjoyed that hug. What you interpret as enjoyment might be your dog simply enduring the moment, or even barely contained dislike for what is happening.

Do dogs really like hugs? The short answer is not really. But the full answer is much more complex.

While some dogs make it abundantly clear that hugs are not tolerated, others might simply let the moment pass without comment. And others might absolutely adore hugs from you, their trusted companion, but not from other humans. Why is this? Aren’t dogs humans’ best friends, craving affection from us? Don’t they think hugs are as wonderful as a belly rub or rump scratch?

 joanne(Josie is clearly one dog who loves a good hug.)


We talked with Dr. Patricia McConnell, a certified applied animal behaviorist and respected expert on the topic of dogs. In her research and her decades of working with and rehabilitating dogs with behavioral problems, McConnell has become acutely attuned to canid biology, social interactions and body language. She provides us not only with insight into why dogs in general don’t like hugs, but also how we can tell whether or not our own dogs enjoy them.

Why don’t you love me?!
When delving into this topic, it’s important to get one thing clear: just because your dog might not like your hugs does not mean he doesn’t love you with all his heart. It’s hard for many of us to think that our dogs don’t enjoy our hugs because to us, hugs are a primary way we show affection.

“If you watch little kids, tiny little kids who are just barely able to stand on their legs,” says McConnell, “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.”

McConnell notes that 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.

“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?!'”

But yes, our dogs do love us. Yet they love us in their canine way while we love them in our primate way. We are two very different species who have, miraculously, managed to become intimately linked through our evolutionary history. Even so, thousands of years of co-evolution doesn’t quite erase millions of years of separate species evolution. And that’s why we have to get into the social science of what a hug is to a dog.

Why dogs feel uncomfortable with hugs
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.

“Dogs, like people, have a particular way of greeting, none of which involves having a foreleg over the shoulder,” says McConnell. “But dogs do put a leg over the shoulders of another — either one leg or both legs — and it’s called ‘standing over.’ It usually relates to some form of social status or perhaps competition for resources, so it is considered to be [done by] a dog who is trying to get some control.”

Dogs also do this during the context of play as well, and you might have witnessed this while watching dogs romp at the park. But as Dr. McConnell points out, “Even in play, you can see dogs who are a little bit bullying in that they’re constantly standing on dogs, standing over dogs, pushing down on their shoulders. It is seen to be not necessarily aggressive but very assertive, controlling behavior.”

In primates, we wrap our arms around another’s shoulders as a sign of affection. But in canids, a leg over the shoulder is a sign of dominance or assertiveness.

“So when we [hug] dogs, how are they to interpret that?” asks McConnell. “At best, I think some dogs just shrug it off and don’t pay a lot of attention to it for whatever reason. For instance, golden retrievers are famous for their fondness for any kind of touching. But for a lot of dogs, they see it as a potential threat.”

The response a dog has when someone puts their arm over them is varied. “They’ll go stiff, they’ll close their mouth, maybe they’ll do a little lip licking. They’re anxious, they’re concerned, perhaps wondering, ‘Did I do something wrong? What should I do now? Should I just sit still and not do anything?'”

“We share so much with dogs; we love to communicate, we love to play, there’s so much we share. But we’re not the same species. There are things that are very different about us and how we relate to each other, and this is one of them.”

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Picking a Professional Pet Sitter

10-Point Pet Care Checklist Promotes Peace-of-Mind

Paul Mann, founder the CEO of Fetch! Pet Care (, the nation’s largest and most trusted franchisor for professional pet sitting, dog walking, and pet fitness/exercise services, offers tips when selecting the person caring for your pet while you areaway.

With Memorial Day weekend on fast approach, throngs of vacation-bound pet owners will opt for a professional pet sitter or dog walker rather than a kennel, boarding or daycare facility when making plans for their four-legged family members. This option allows pets and their owners to enjoy the many benefits of at-home pet care. Some of the benefits may include avoiding serious psychological and physical health concerns associated with kenneling and boarding, including emotional distress, kennel cough, Parvo disease and canine influenza virus.

But all pet sitters are not created equal. Anyone can buy ad space in the paper, start a social media page, or advertise on the web. While the majority of people have a good pet heart, there are always petnappers and others who have alternate motives in mind. Some background information is always good, and a check with your vet is a great place to start.

Many people desire to hire an at-home, “almost overnight” pet sitter. This arrangement allows their animals to maintain normal activities, be nurtured in familiar surroundings, maintain a daily physical fitness routine, It avoids both physical and emotional ailments. Here’s a Top 10 “must have’s” checklist for selecting a professional pet sitting service:

1. Locate a pet sitter in your area using a reputable source;

2. Diligently check all of the pet sitter’s references–at least three should be voluntarily provided—and ensure you can find positive online reviews;

3. Confirm that your sitter has undergone a criminal background check and has received proper training;

4. Ensure the sitter offers a free in-home consultation and pre-interview the sitter with your pet(s) present to observe interactions and establish a “comfort level” for both you and the pet(s);

5. Clearly state how you would like the sitter to use his/her visit time in terms of walking, playing, exercising, feeding, cleaning, etc.;

6. Verify that the sitter can accommodate your pet’s daily feeding, walking and exercise schedule as well as your desired vacation schedule, even during the busiest holidays;

7. Ensure the company offers 7-day-per-week telephone and email availability;

8. Provide medical and behavioral history about your pet(s) as well as veterinary and other emergency contact information, and gather all necessary supplies, including food, vitamins, and treats in one central location;

9. Ensure the company has “backup” measures in place should your primary pet sitter have an emergency that prevents them from performing your assignment;

10. Ensure the pet sitter is fully bonded and insured and offers a satisfaction guarantee.

The importance of finding reliable, at-home service providers has spawned the need for firm guidelines on selecting the right professional. If a pet owner takes just a few relatively simple criteria into account before entrusting Fido or Felix to another, they can enjoy peace of mind that their pet, and their home, will be well cared for. A touch of due diligence is key to ensure owners find a highly trained, reliable and well-screened animal caretaker to best meet each pets’ unique needs, and the owners’ expectations.

Selecting just the right sitter to care of both a pet and a home is not a decision to be taken lightly. And, with the availability of professional caretakers, pet owners no longer need to burden or impose on family members or friends, or worry that their beloved pet will be relegated to kennel boarding. There are many highly trained, reliable and well-screened sitters ensuring pets receive the love, attention and skilled treatment expected of a field professional, and that a client’s home remains safe and secure while they are away. That kind of peace of mind is priceless.

Spring Has Sprung


Now that nicer weather has finally arrived, you and your dog may be eager to enjoy the great outdoors again. If your dogs have spent most of this long cold winter indoors, they may have forgotten their good manners of outdoor behavior.

Even if you’ve been through basic training before, Fido will probably need to brush-up on his obedience skills before venturing out to play. Put him through his paces with sit, down, stay and come so he will know he should obey you at home and outdoors.

Old Age is Not a Disease

We all know that pets as well as people slow down as they get older. Our pets will seem stiff, walk slower, sleep more and play less. But, how can we know if the changes that we are seeing are associated with the aging process, or if there is some other underlying factor?

The look

I just read this post from a Dr. Landorf at the Oakwood Hills Animal Hospital and thought it worth sharing:

Two recent patients have opened my eyes to the importance of taking even the most minor behavior changes seriously.

Dixie is an overall active 13 year old Pomeranian mix that has had no significant health problems. She has had yearly dentals and blood work since she was 8 years old. After our most recent annual physical exam, she appeared to be the picture of health. The next day the results of her senior lab testing showed mildly elevated liver values and a low normal red blood cell count. According to her owners her appetite and energy remained fine. The previous November her red blood cell count (hct) was 50% and this year 37% with the normal being 37-55%. In any other dog, without a previous hct, this probably would not have brought up any red flags.

We decided to perform an abdominal ultrasound to take a look at the liver and hopefully find the reason for the mild anemia. The ultrasound revealed a mass on the spleen that was bleeding and a generalized abnormal looking liver. We talked at length about our options and decided to remove the spleen and biopsy the liver. Dixie sailed through the procedure with no complications. The biopsy results showed a benign (non-cancerous) tumor on the spleen and age related changes to the liver associated with her body overproducing cortisone. Dixie’s hct has returned to 48% and her energy has increased significantly.

Another recent case involves a 13 year old black and white male neutered cat named Reilly. Reilly has also been the picture of health with the exception of surgery to remove a string as a 4 year old and some urinary tract problems as a young cat. On his recent annual exam his Mom had no concerns, but said he was a little more “clingy” and that he was sleeping a bit more and not playing with his toys as much. The owner who is in her 70’s made the comment that she felt the same way.

On the exam, I immediately noticed a change in that he did not want me examining his mouth. I completed the rest of his physical exam with no concerns except for his increased weight and finished by examining his mouth more closely. It was evident why he was head shy after finding what is called a feline oral resorptive lesion (FORL) on a lower premolar. A resorptive lesion is, basically, a cavity that occurs below the gum line exposing the nerve which is very, very painful. After completing his senior labwork which was all normal, the next day a dental hygiene treatment was performed and the mouth x-rayed to reveal another cavity on a lower molar as well. These teeth were removed as there is no way to save the teeth once the pulp chamber where the nerve and blood supply reside. At 10 days post procedure, his behavior returned to his normal younger self, playing more, sleeping less and more aloof!

I felt the need to share Reilly and Dixie’s stories as a reminder that pets are not able to verbally tell us when there is a change in their health. Pet owners, pet sitters, and dog walkers have a special bond with pets in their care and almost always know when something has changed. Many times this gets explained away as the pet getting older. In Reilly’s case, it was very evident on physical exam, but in Dixie’s it took changes on a routine blood screening from one year to the next to see that something was wrong. The thing I love most about being a veterinarian is that animals don’t complain! However, this does increase our responsibility to actively watch for any changes in our pets whether behavioral, decreased energy, limping, or changes in screening tests.