Friday, December 17, 2010

(Don't) Smooch Your Pooch

One of the newest children's book releases is entitled "Smooch Your Pooch" and has an illustration on the front cover of a little girl planting one on a dog's cheek. Amazon has some great reviews from parents who state that it's a cute story, has great rhymes, and their kids really love it.

It's also come on the radar of veterinarians, dog trainers and behaviorists, and the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior. The biggest problem are the pages that advise children to: "Smooch your pooch to show that you care. Give him a hug anytime, anywhere."

While these words sound innocuous enough to most people, to a professional in the world of canines they evoke horror. A display of affection by kissing and hugging is a part of what we humans do. But this kind of display can and does end up with children getting bit. When a dog puts his paw over the back of another dog it is not a friendly gesture. And many dogs do not like being restrained -- which is what a hug really is. Kissing can also bring problems since it usually places a child's face right next to a dog's teeth.

Yes -- I do hug and kiss my dogs all the time -- and they tolerate it because I am their human, and because I know when they are not in the mood for me to do it and want to be left alone. I think many dogs are the same way -- willing to tolerate the silliness of the people they live with. And I think it's unrealistic to expect people - especially children, to NOT ever display affection by hugging and kissing their dogs.

Dr. Sophia Yin wrote a really fantastic review of the book on Amazon detailing why this is an inappropriate book and I don't want to use my blog to re-write something that she already put so concisely. I'd rather address some of the reviews that were written after hers and those who concurred with her concerns.

Many of these reviewers stated that the book does not advocate that children go up to strange dogs and hug and kiss them, and so didn't see why the book was a problem. The problem is that children should be taught that even THEIR OWN dogs really don't like to be hugged and kissed, and that children should respect their own dog's feelings. The line, "Give him a hug, anytime anywhere" doesn't take into consideration the fact that no one wants a hug anytime, anywhere!

Additionally it's my thought that children who have extremely tolerant dogs at home are more likely to get bit by dogs in the homes of others. They many times have not been taught that not all dogs are as tolerant as their own, and that they need to behave differently around other dogs.

Some of the Amazon reviews stated that the book was a good opportunity for parents to have a discussion about appropriate interactions with dogs. The problem with this comment is that many adults don't understand dog behavior and don't realize what inappropriate human/dog behavior is.

A case in point is the reviewer who stated that the book "...does not encourage kids to kiss strange dogs or dangerous dogs." Another stated that "...adults can take proper precautions by explaining that it is not a good idea to hug or kiss any strange animals." In their minds the only dogs that would take offense to their children kissing or hugging them are dogs they don't know, or dangerous dogs. Would they be surprised if kids were bit hugging the neighbors dog? What about a dog owned by a relative that they visit frequently? Most kids are bit by dogs they know -- not by stray dogs.

When I do education programs on dog safety I hear many stories of people who have been bit by dogs. They aren't all children - one parent told me that she had been bit by a friend's dog when she went to hug it, and a child told me that his Mom had been bit by a dog after she hugged it -- no, it was not the same woman! And most of the children who get bit by dogs were attempting to hug them when it happened.

My last concern about this book is that it apparently does have cute illustrations and the rhyming makes it fun to read. Kids are so impressionable and if they enjoy the book may want to act it out -- with perhaps negative consequences.

Again -- I want to state that I do think it's unrealistic that people and their kids won't kiss and hug their own dogs. But children and their parents need to be educated that dogs really don't like this type of affection, and they need to respect their furry family member's feelings and keep that kind of affection to a minimum at times when the dog is in the mood for it. And this book really doesn't help them do that.


Cheryl Breuer said...

Wonderful post, Khris. I tweeted it to my followers to hopefully spread the word. No one wants a hug any time, anywhere. So true!

Chase Night said...


Just found your blog through Cheryl Breuer on Twitter. This is so true, and I'm glad you're helping make people aware. I hug and kiss my dogs too, but only after we'd developed trust.

I'm sorry to bring up something unrelated, but I had a burning dog behavior question and then I found the link to your blog so maybe you're who I'm supposed to ask! Last night, my dog ate all of the plume off her tail. She did this once before when we went away on vacation, but last night we were home and she started choking and throwing up hair. We thought it was just an accident she'd swallowed hair, but this morning we woke up and she had eaten all the plumed fur from her tail which is about 18 inches long! More barfed fur all over the house. We have no idea why this happened. No changes in environment. She looks like a mangy coyote now! Do you have any idea why she might do this out of the blue? My email is and I'd love to hear any thoughts from an expert on this.