Does your pooch need another smooch? Here’s how to tell – and how to demonstrate your love and devotion.
The art of affection
Of course, you love your puppy. With those soulful eyes, that restless tail, and the sweetest mind you can imagine, how could you not? The question is: does your dog know? It’s extremely important. “Showing affection to your dog is an important part of bonding,” says veterinarian Dr. Katy Nelson.
Regardless of their age, all dogs need affection and emotional interaction – but they are unique in terms of their exact needs. “Some dogs crave pets, cuddling, scratching, and a lot of communication and cooing,” says Dr. Nelson. “Others are more laid back and independent and will take what you give, but they don’t necessarily like all the attention you might want to give them.”
But canine hugs aren’t necessarily about a dog’s need for love – anyway, as we understand the concept. “While this may be what humans perceive, the underlying instinct to cuddle and cuddle is more of an assurance that the pack leader (or owner) still accepts them as part of the pack,” states Dr. Nelson, adding that the key is to understand exactly what makes your dog happy. “Knowing your pet’s personality helps determine how much affection your pet may need.”
The difference between affection and attention
Before we dive into the signs that you may not be giving your puppy enough affection, it’s essential to understand the difference between affection and caring. Dr. Nelson defines affection as a sweet feeling of tenderness or being loved/loved. You can show affection to a dog by petting it, kissing it, petting it, hugging it, or snuggling it up. Attention, on the other hand, has more to do with seeing someone as interesting or important. The ways to pay attention to your dog are to play, walk, feed, train, or talk to him. For a truly successful relationship, you need both.
It is important to note that when trying to do any of these things there are certain behaviors that you should avoid. A big problem is aggressive play, especially with puppies. This can lead to biting behavior and impose negative habits, which become even more problematic as they get older. You also need to make sure you don’t show affection through food; this can predispose dogs to beg and obesity-related medical problems. Hugging your fog can also be a no-no, depending on your dog and how you do it.
Affection needs vary by breed
According to Dr Nelson, a study published by the journal Royal Society Open Science showed that certain breeds of dogs act more independently than others, looking more like their wolf ancestors with their lack of dependence on humans. For example, Labradors were more likely than German Shepherds to turn to their humans to solve puzzles. Czechoslovakian wolfhounds were even less likely to turn to their humans, indicating a closer relationship with their wolf ancestors than shepherds and Labradors.
“Some dogs have an insatiable need for constant rubbing and cuddling on the stomach, while others are satisfied after a few pats,” says Dr. Nelson. “Just like people, different dogs have different levels of need for affection and they will let you know if they feel neglected.” Of course, it’s not always easy to understand what they are trying to tell us.
Chewing on your shoes is his favorite hobby
When a dog chews on your shoes, it might seem like just an annoying habit – but something is prompting this behaviour. “Puppies may chew because of teething and should be supplemented with appropriate chew toys,” advises Dr Nelson. “Chewing may also be attributable to boredom or anxiety. In that case, your dog may need some extra playtime or TLC.” If anxiety is the root issue, however, playtime alone will not necessarily help. Dr Nelson suggests speaking with your veterinarian to help combat this issue.
His barking has increased
Dogs bark for a variety of reasons. “They could be alerting you to perceived danger, greeting a person or another dog, chasing after a bird in prey mode, experiencing anxiety, or simply begging for your attention,” says Dr Nelson. If your dog’s barking is directed at other animals or people outside the home, it’s likely due to territorial instinct. But if the barking is directed at you or another family member, there’s a good chance your pup is trying to tell you something.
Here’s some good news, “Giving dogs attention because they are barking doesn’t necessarily mean you are encouraging them to bark,” says Dr. Nelson. “If your dog is bored and needs additional playtime, giving them that affection could dramatically decrease the amount of attention-seeking barking.”
He keeps pawing at you
Pawing at you is your dog’s way of asking for attention or initiating play. Think of it like a friendly tap on the shoulder from a particularly enthusiastic friend. “While this most often means that your dog wants your attention and affection, it could [also] be a sign that your dog is anxious or looking to you for comfort,” says Dr Nelson.
How can you tell the difference? A lot of it boils down to past interactions between the two of you. Dogs generally learn through trial and error, so if your pup has learned that you pay attention to him when he paws, he will continue to do it since it gave him what he wanted. You’ll also want to pay close attention to your pup’s body language.
Dogs communicate with their whole bodies, and that should be taken into account when determining their moods. A timid or anxious dog would more than likely have a tucked tail, ears back, and a stiff body; he may also be panting, drooling, averting eye contact, pacing, and moving away from whatever stimulus is affecting him. A relaxed and comfortable dog will have relaxed, forward-facing ears; a calm and relaxed tail; and a calm body posture.
Either way, giving your dog affection at this time can help. You’ll either be fulfilling his need for snuggles or lulling him into a very real sense of security.
Whining is his song of the week
Whining is one of many ways that canines communicate vocally. “Dogs most commonly whine when they’re seeking attention, when they’re excited, when they’re anxious, or when they’re trying to please you,” says Dr Nelson. While more vocal breeds (terriers or toy breeds, for example) may be more prone to whining, any dog can learn to do it for attention if that behaviour leads to you looking at, speaking to, or otherwise interacting with your pet.
But you shouldn’t necessarily give into your dog’s demands for attention at this time. “Any acknowledgment of the whining may end up reinforcing that behavior,” says Dr. Nelson. “Instead, wait for a gap in the whining to praise your dog for being quiet, and give attention and treats then. It can be tricky to be more consistent than your dog is persistent, but over time, your dog may learn that quietly sitting for attention earns more rewards than whining.”
Biting can be a very concerning behaviour. Aggressive dogs will growl, bark, or snarl, as well as potentially show their teeth and have a very tense stance. Play-biting is a different thing altogether, and it can be adorable and a clear sign your dog wants some affection – pronto. “If your pet is play-biting (or pulling at you for attention), then he’ll do it because he’s having fun with you, and it’s a sign of affection,” explains Dr Nelson. “He will look happy, bite gently, and may even be lying down.
He nudges you with his nose
When dogs are using their nose or head to bump you, they’re simply asking for attention in a forward way. “They may be asking for pets, scratches, a walk, food, or to be played with,” Dr Nelson notes. Basically, here’s the translation, “Hello! Remember me? The best dog in the whole, wide world? Pay attention to me now!”
He rolls on his back
When a dog rolls on his back, it may be a sign that he’s giving you easy access to his belly for belly rubs. This may also be a sign of submission. “To determine the cause of this behaviour, it is best to look at the dog’s personality and the situation that made them start the behaviour,” advises Dr. Nelson. For example, he might be done play-wrestling with another dog or want to avoid an altercation, or it could be an invitation for you to dole out some belly rubs and affection.
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