Dogs and affection | The human predicament
Lets face it. We are complicated. Especially when it comes to affection. Only from certain people, only at the right time, only if there are no past withheld grudges and only in the “right” way do we appreciate and want affection. And that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Dogs on the other hand are not complicated. They are quite simple, don’t have complicated needs and the best thing, they don’t have an ego. Which is why dogs are easier to get along with.
The often unconscious reason for having a dog is because we want someone to be there, to be are available, to be close when we want them to and to not demand too much in return. Dogs often live up to that amount of expectation. Furthermore dogs do not hold us responsible for or hang on to our grumpy behavior / mood from yesterday. Dogs live in the now, not in the past, and they don’t think about the future. An attitude we would be well advised to take to heart as much as we can if we want to live more contentedly.
Normally we do not second guess when we receive affection from an animal. Ever wondered why? Yet we are sometimes suspicious & reserved when we are the recipient of affection from a fellow human. What is going on? Do we feel safe? Will we be rejected if we open up? Is this for real? Basically we are very vulnerable when it comes to matters of the heart. Associations of hurt, disappointment and fear compete with love, longing, tenderness, openness. It is only natural to look for less complicated, available and loyal company.
Dogs and affection | The canine way
So how to dogs show affection to us? One way is with wagging their tails, particularly in a round motion. The more their body is involved with the wagging, the happier they are. Another way they show affection is through their faces. An open, relaxed soft mouth and soft eyes are a good indicator for a dog showing affection towards you. Making physical contact is another form which is often related to affection, like leaning into you when you pet your dog, licking your face or cuddling up with you. Yet be aware that these and other behaviors need to be seen in the context of the situation. Most of these behaviors can be displayed in a similar, yet stiff, tense or frantic way which communicate more that we are being watched closely or ought to step carefully.
Dogs, unlike humans, interpret affection also an approval of their current behavior. And yes, they obviously enjoy the warmth, touch and attention. But for them there are no strings attached. We on the other hand often use affection to comfort, to console, to support in emotionally challenging times. If this applied to a dog things go wrong since a dog perceives affection as a reward and affirmation for what is happening in that moment. This includes not only the actual behavior but more importantly the state of mind the dog is in. A dog does not perceive affection as an attempt to make it feel better as we might. Hence if you pet your dog or talk soothingly to it when it is, for example scared, you foster a fearful attitude. In this scenario you are behaving as if there is a problem and additionally reward the behavior by sharing affection.
And then there are the humans ways of giving affection which we transfer onto our dogs. Take the example of hugging. Hugging is a human way to show affection, love, sympathy. To a dog a hug can signify an invasion of its personal space. The person giving the hug is usually above the dog and reaching around his neck. This is a dominant behavior in the eyes of a dog. Don’t get me wrong, a dog can absolutely enjoy a hug, but this is because it can pick up the human emotions. Yet hugs are often merely tolerated by dogs.
And while we are at, giving your dog clear rules and boundaries is actually being very affectionate to your dog since you fulfill its instinctual needs and help it to feel safe and understand where it fits in. Be affectionate in myriad ways, yet be mindful about when and how and why.
What are you favorite ways to share affection with your dog? How is your dog showing it to you
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