I just found out that Sunny Obama bit a family friend in the face. The news outlet stated that the friend tried to hug and kiss the dog. An article I read about the incident even went as far to say that Sunny is a bad dog and that she was even hard to potty train. Potty training has absolutely nothing to do with the bite and if she is having trouble being potty trained that is a human problem as most dog problems tend to be.
I feel bad that the girl was bitten but I don't believe Sunny is a bad dog. Dogs do not like hugs and it is so important for us to teach our children this! Any animal with teeth can and will bite. It happens over and over again. A kid or an adult attempt to hug a dog = dog bites person. Why do dogs do this and more importantly why do we keep ignoring all the research that tells us that dogs do not like hugs? Why do people stick their faces in a dog's face that they do not know very well or at all?
I believe that many people don't recognize the signs that a dog is uncomfortable. I also think that so many people feel compelled to pet every dog they see and some of them don't really care how the dog feels about it. A lot of people out there are all about meeting their own needs and for some reason there is just this obsession with dogs. People are not seeing the signs that dogs are not comfortable with this and the dog will learn that humans don't listen so they have to escalate to get their point across. Depending on the level of discomfort that escalation can happen in seconds.
In a perfect world all dogs would be socialized, taught to be comfortable with handling and come from good genes but unfortunately we don't live in perfect world. Dogs are animals who have minds of their own and they don't always act how we think they will. I feel like it's best to err on the side of caution when dealing with a dog you do not know well.
Any dog can become uncomfortable with being handled at any given time. Even those happy-go-lucky social butterflies who have all the good genes and socialization in their favor. All dogs have good and bad days, just like we do, even dogs who are socialized and handled from a young age. Sometimes they just don't feel like being messed with or they don't feel good. Or maybe something stressful just happened to them and they are trigger stacked. It's very important to learn dog body language and always be cautious with dogs you do not know.
If you google "dogs" and 'hugs" you will find a hundred or more pictures of kids and adults hugging dogs and although I don't have time to look through every single picture, most of these dogs look uncomfortable. You can see it in their eyes, they are either very wide or the white in their eyes will show. A few of them are giving a hard stare. A lot of them are looking away from the person doing the hugging and are tense. Some are panting heavily with their lips pulled all the way back. I even saw a photo that looked like the dog was struggling to get away. None of the photos I saw were happy, comfortable dogs. Yet, we keep hugging them! Are we hugging the dogs for them or us? I would say for the most part that we are hugging the dogs for us because it makes us feel good. Can dogs be trained to like hugs? Sure, they can but we are not going to get into that here and just because your dog will let you do it doesn't mean they want every Joe they meet on the street to hug them, too.
Dogs don't like hugs but why doesn't anyone believe this? All the research points to dogs considering hugs as rude. You don't see dogs going around hugging each other. Hugs and grabbing is a primate behavior. We humans are primates and we like to grab stuff and hold onto it. Dogs are not primates and do not enjoy this. I think because dogs will tolerate a hug from trusted family members, people think that all dogs like hugs but that doesn't mean they actually do. They are just putting up with it because it makes us happy. The next time you go to hug your own dog, pay attention to their body language. Maybe even set up a camera so you can see what they are doing when you hug them. I bet your dog might surprise you.
It is so important for us to teach our kids and educate ourselves on how to properly interact with dogs. There are so many educational videos and infographics out there. There are so many amazing dog trainers available to learn from. We are bringing these animals into our homes and most people don't even understand what they are trying to tell us. It's important that in addition to teaching dogs our language that we also learn theirs.
Photo Credit: http://www.4pawsuniversity.com/
Always listen to the owner of the dog and respect them if they say you may not pet. Even better, "listen" to what the dog is saying. The owner may say yes but the dog might say no! Watch their body language, remember that a wagging tail does not necessarily mean that the dog is happy and friendly. Phoenix often wags her tail when she's anxious! If the dog looks relaxed and wants to come up to you then that's a good sign. If they don't want to come up or look nervous, leave them be.
When in doubt keep your hands off the dogs and definitely keep your face out of theirs! Don't bend over and get in their space, don't try and reach for the top of their head. Let the dog come to you if they want to and if they allow it, pet them around their chest area or along their back. Never push yourself onto a dog who is acting fearful. It's important to remember that a dog out and about with it's owner is NOT public property and you're not in a petting zoo. If you really love dogs, admire and respect them from a distance. Always exercise caution when interacting with a dog who does not belong to you and always teach your children to respect dogs and to not put their faces into a dog's face. Dogs are not stuffed toys, they are thinking, feeling beings with a lot of sharp teeth. They give us so much and they deserve to be respected and protected from unwanted handling from strangers.
Sunny Obama is not a bad dog and I really hope that the family takes time to understand her. Hopefully everyone learned their lesson and they will take steps to help her become more comfortable around strangers.
How do you help your dog stay safe and comfortable around strangers?