Monday, November 16, 2009

Stop Hugging that Dog!

I recently subscribed to Bark magazine, a dog-centric monthly based in Berkeley, California. I first saw the magazine more than fifteen years ago, when it was essentially a mass photocopied freebie stacked on the streets. It charmed me with its devotion to dog stories, poetry, and art. Today it is a high-production glossy more in line with the likes of Oprah's O! (which I have read only at the dentist's office, thank you) or shelter magazines. Bark is now full of ads for pet-centric services and goods, and its articles range from recipes to dog-training tips to vet advice to international relief efforts to book reviews. It maintains a deep-seated earnestness, but it has clearly lost its sense of humor. Many of the articles have the tone of "I know better than thou" when it comes to dogs.

For example, an article by an animal behaviorist that lists five common misconceptions about dog training and behavior. Now, my dogs are perfect in every way, and so are yours, so my impulse was to skip this article. What could I possibly learn, right? Until I saw a photo of a young, dreadlocked, white girl hugging a dog that looked a good bit like my Roma and also very unhappy. The photo was poised above item number 3. "Dogs love to be hugged." No, indeed, insists the writer, Karen B. London, PhD, an animal behaviorist. Here is what she has to say:

Putting your arms around a dog's neck and shoulders may feel loving to humans, but to dogs this is rude and potentially threatening behavior. Every week, I see pictures in magazines of celebrities hugging their dogs. The human stars look radiant, but the dogs look miserable and display common signs of stress such as tongue flicks, a tightly closed mouth, pulled back ears or a furrowed brow. Hugging is a primate form of affection, but not one that is appreciated by the canine set. 
Oh, those stupid, petty celebrities who will do anything, including abusing their dogs with hugs, all for the sake of publicity. As for you regular primates (primates!!), stop hugging your dogs right now, or I will be forced to report you to the Humane Society.

Okay, perhaps I am a little bent out of shape about being called a primate. But let's think about this rationally. First of all, this primate uses her large brain and detached opposable thumbs in all sorts of ways that benefit my dogs. I can work cars, doorknobs, and can openers; I can throw balls and scoop poop. In addition, this primate also puts up with a lot of annoying canine behavior, such as rolling in piles of grossness, trampling my garden, throwing up on the carpet, barking at squirrels, and chasing the neighbor's cats. So, my canines can deal with a well-intentioned, albeit rude, hug around the neck and shoulders. In fact, they seem to deal with it pretty well (see photo above). Are they being opportunistic—like those pesky celebrities? Are they putting up with my ungainly primate affection in order to get something from me later? Probably, but not consciously. Being domesticated animals and pretty smart themselves, they understand that hugs are one of many ways I show my love.

Now, do I recommend that you go up and hug a dog you don't know? Of course not. Do I recommend that if a dog shows signs of stress or unhappiness when you hug her that you continue to do so. No again. Will I continue to hug my dogs? Yes, although now I will ask nicely beforehand, like an Ivy-leaguer out on a politically correct date.

Poor dogs. The Bark article has inspired a new game at our home. I now chase the dogs around the house and yard with my arms spread out while crowing, "I'm going to hug you!" in a deranged voice. The editors at Bark will be receiving a letter that says, "Thanks for making her even crazier. Sincerely, Roma and Muzzy".

1 comment:

  1. I used to subscribe to BaRK too. It is the only *aesthetically pleasing* pet publication out there. But remember that it is published in Berkeley and so has absorbed that everyone-gets-a-trophy / let's talk about our FEELINGS attitude even for the canine set. But with good art. And decent writing. I'll take it over pubs. featuring ads for crystal-studded nascar-logo'd dog snuggies.

    Off to hug a dog or two...


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