Dogs are generally pretty tolerant and forgiving animals. The fact that their communication is for the most part very subtle, imperceptible to the average dog owner, leads many to believe that dogs like certain human gestures of affection that really aren’t all too appreciated
Some dogs will show their displeasure via more or less evident displays, such as trying to get away, cut-off signals, and then escalating to more evident signals, such as growling, lunging, snapping and biting. Many will never go past a slight growl, but people (especially children) who get bitten in the face attempting to get too close to a dog are by no means unheard of.
The following are things you to do your dog that most dogs don’t appreciate, and can actually be interpreted as quite threatening:
Dogs don’t hug, but there are certain behaviours that are similar to a hug, such as placing a paw over another dog’s withers (the shoulder blades.) These overly forward gestures aren’t respectful, and therefore often not well-received by the other dog. A hug is also very constricting, and a dog that feels like he can’t get away is likely to resort to snapping or biting to free himself.
Dogs don’t kiss, so a smooch on your dog’s face doesn’t really mean anything to her. The problem here, similarly to the hug, is that it’s an invasion of a dog’s personal space, which brings your face very close to the dog’s face. This can be very scary for an unsure dog, especially if they aren’t familiar with the person, as well as making the person’s face the most accessible target should the dog try to bite.
Patting on the head
While most dogs appreciate a good scratch behind the hears, under the chin or on the snout, a few well-intentioned pats on the head are pretty irritating for most of them. I see this all the time during my dog training lessons: the dog complies, and gets a few pats (sometimes smacks) on the head. The faces these dogs make are of unmistakable displeasure, and who can blame them? How would you like a pat on the head? This can sometimes even be of detriment to your dog’s training, especially if you have a sensitive dog that really dislikes this form of praise. If this is the consequence to compliance, he may not offer the behaviour you wanted anymore!
Smacking an animal is for some reason a very common display of praise: in the horse world, I have seen people smack a horse’s neck quite hard after a good riding session. It’s baffling that so many people just accept that this must be enjoyable for the animal!
While patting is just a bit of a nuisance, dogs that are hugged and kissed often as puppies will learn that it’s not meant as a threat, and some seem to even understand the meaning of the gesture. One of my dogs, who lived with children before I adopted her, will actually seek out kisses by placing the top of her head close to my face. If I respond with a kiss, she’ll push into it gently; she was likely kissed often as a puppy. She doesn’t accept such contact from people she isn’t familiar with, nor does she appreciate hugs from anyone.
Good luck, and happy training!