Friday, January 13, 2017

Sunny Obama Bites A Family Friend! Dogs Don't Like Hugs!

Sunny Obama. Photo Courtesy of Google.

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:

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?


  1. Dogs do not naturally like hugs, but it is important to desensitize them to it when they are young. They generally don't like hands coming at them from above their heads either. Puppies need to be positively exposed to hugging and other handling (paws, tails, ears are especially sensitive areas) that they find disagreeable from an early age, using treats and praise. I fear that if people are told that dogs don't like hugs that they won't do it themselves with their own dogs when they are little puppies.

    1. I absolutely agree that we need to teach our puppies to accept handling, however the point of this post is that just because your dog is comfortable with you, doesn't mean he or she will be comfortable with a stranger. Even with all the handling and socialization in the world. People do not need to hug dogs that don't belong to them or dogs they don't know.

  2. Great post. My pup Robin is very easy going and only bites when in pain, and generally loves petting, but some people insist on putting their face in his face or go way over board with petting the face and ears right away and I can't believe they don't realize how uncomfortable he is. When a dog backs away and shakes after you let him go.. He didn't like it. If Robin likes a person's petting style he stays right there!

  3. A friend was trying to pick up Ptera in a weird way and I told her "that is not how we pick up dogs" but she kept doing what she was doing and Ptera gave a warning airsnap. And I felt bad that I didn't do more to stop it and made my dog have to do that. But I wasn't aware that Ptera would be so uncomfortable about it- now I know. And my friend won't be trying that again. I'm glad for having a dog who gives clear warning signals.

  4. You have to know what dogs will tolerate and what they won't. I've never seen many dogs that like being hugged. A few, but not many.

    Have a fabulous day and thanks for the wonderful PSA. Scritches to the girls. I know they like scritches. ☺

  5. This is perfect; and helps really explain how dogs have different levels of comfort, which seems to be a point many people miss. I always hear the 'but my dog Bear lets me' reasoning and it drives me mad.

  6. Yep! I feel like anyone who knows ANYTHING about dogs should recognize, at least after the fact, that putting one's face near a dog's while attempting to kiss them puts you at risk of being bitten. I do it all the time. I told my mom if I ever get bitten in the face it will 100% be my fault.

  7. I can't freaking love this post more than I do, especially after today's incident. I think that it is much, much worse with small and medium dogs than large and giant dogs, though both are at risk and it definitely happens across the board. People seem to think that small dogs either can't or won't bite!

    I wish the label of bad dog wasn't slapped across any dog that gives a warning. Ugh. There's so much wrong with the owners here in the States. My Canadian and overseas friends don't seem to have to deal with this!

  8. I have done the experiment that you suggested (photographing me hugging Shyla), and Shyla usually does not look happy when I hug her. I think that more people should do that. They should ask themselves whether their dog wants to be hugged by strangers if their dog doesn't want to be hugged by them!

    I wasn't home today when it happened but apparently Shyla, the usually cowering fearfully dog, was pushed to the point that she growled and snarled at someone doing construction in our house. I wish that I'd been here. According to the Runner, it was "out of the blue" but I'm guessing that it wasn't.

    The real problem, as you point out, is that even the owners of dogs don't know how to watch for the subtle signs. Moreover, many owners want to believe that their dogs are "fine" so they unconsciously overlook the signs of stress.

    Anyway, great post!

  9. It really depends on the dog! My sisters and I come to people and hug them which forces the human to hug us back. We have always been huggers, it is not something we trained. We also hug strangers and kids that we meet, but not all dogs want hugs. You need to know what your own dog likes and will tolerate and if you are a dog who is around lots of people all the time and you are not liking it so much like the Obama dog, them perhaps you should be kept away from all the people.

  10. You wrote an excellent post - I shared that Obama dog incident on Twitter.
    I am sharing the heck out of your post. We are being sued because a neighbor's kid trespassed onto OUR property and ran right up to Buzz, who ended up jumping on him. The kid fell onto the sidewalk next to our front lawn and lost a tooth. He had no business being on our property, let alone scream "DOGGIE!" and come running up to us. He was unsupervised on top of it. I am so tired of people not teaching their kids how to properly interact with dogs, especially ones they don't know, and assuming that they are stuffed animals who enjoy having their personal space invaded. I can't wait to write about this experience on the blog once we're done dealing with it.


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