Q: My dog growls at my boyfriend whenever he gives me a hug or shows me affection. How can I help them become friends?
A: When I would hug or kiss my wife, our Pomeranian-mix, Quixote, seemed to think he was a high school hall monitor, there to break up any displays of affection by barking and howling.
It's not unusual for dogs to act as canine chaperones, but with a little training, they can learn to relax their policing of romantic relationships.
Dogs may try to separate lovers because they're confused by our body language. Dogs don't understand hugs. To dogs, receiving a hug can be intimidating or frightening, and they may worry when they see humans hugging. This can cause them to stare, bark or try to get between the two huggers. Dogs with a heritage of guarding or herding may be especially suspicious of hugging or other affectionate behavior.
Are they jealous? Maybe. Some dogs are used to having their person's sole attention and may become upset when it is focused on someone else. Even if they're scolded for trying to break things up, the attention is back on them, so they repeat the behavior.
To change your dog's behavior, have your beau become the giver of good things: tossing treats in your dog's direction without looking at him; feeding meals; tossing the tennis ball. You can also gradually condition your dog to tolerate touches between you by rewarding calm behavior during brief, light touches and slowly moving toward actual hugs or kisses as the dog remains calm instead of reacting.
One last hint: Provide food puzzles filled with goodies to keep him busy.
Dr. Marty Becker
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