Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Signs of Affection

Do Dogs Really Like Hugs? | i Love Dogs

When I saw this post last week on Facebook, it piqued my interest.  That's mostly because my cockatoo and I have been having a discussion of late about what constitutes friendly gestures and what is actually aggression under the guise of friendship.  He's pretty much convinced now that anything ending with his beak through some piece of another creature's skin is going to earn him time in solitary.  Bleeding is not a good outcome of a friendly gesture.

I'd also been watching Stinky,my elderly, mostly blind and half-deaf cat, who has changed the parameters on "cuddling" dramatically.  Where he used to be aloof and kind of just there without much contact, now, while he'll sleep in the living room in his spot on his designated blanket, he wants to visit me early in the morning in my bed.  There he wants to lay his entire body length, which is considerable as he's a big cat and sixteen pounds of dead weight when he's sleeping, against my back, legs, or whatever else isn't moving.  I'm allowed to caress his head, neck and most of his back, but not his midsection unless I'm anxious for first-aid practice.  Not if he's lying down.  Standing midsection strokes are fine.  Lying down, not.

And then there are the horses.  Each of them has a different reaction to my gestures of affection.  Zip loves being stroked and fussed over but expects to be allowed to reciprocate, which can be bothersome and even a little painful.  His level of love is a hazard to humans as he thinks nothing of putting his head atop mine.  That's one heavy head when you're not expecting it.  Duke wants to be rubbed and cuddled and generally would prefer to be brought into the house now and then.  That's not in the cards.  Dolly rarely reciprocates but loves to be caressed and hugged.  Leo is the most human-oriented animal I own, which, like Zip, makes him a bit of a hazard.  His face seems to be wherever I look while I'm working, and it's only inches from mine.  He begs for hugs of the sort we like to bestow on each other and our animals.

Duke welcomes any hug anytime.

Dakota is a different horse.  It took me two years to get him to tolerate head hugs.  Not head-shy, just not into that level of intimacy.  Even now, eight years later, he's still not the one most likely to beg for contact.  He's stopped fleeing at the thought, but he's not going to initiate it either.

So this blog post based on information from the Penn Vet Behavior Facebook page gave me some of the answers I'd been missing.  Of course some animals are more protective of their personal space than others are.  Humans are like that too, and we accept it.  The woman I knew slightly and attempted to hug at a dinner party last weekend seemed uncomfortably stunned that I'd touched her.  I got that and stopped trying to be physical about my joy at seeing her again.  The one who recently offered me a hand for the shaking but kept all her fingers together so the experience was more pump-handle than warm hand embrace seemed to be trying to do the socially acceptable thing without actually crossing the line into discomfiting contact.  And I accepted that as it was given.  Perhaps we need to give animals more of a right to their individuality than we sometimes do.

Oh, we're very good at "well, she's a rescue, so she's a little afraid of feet and mustaches," and we'll roll with "he's a [fill in the breed], and they're more protective than affectionate."  But we still kind of gloss over the "He just isn't that into you."

Stinky is more of a "if it fits, I sits" kind of hugger.

I've said it before, and I'm going to say it again:  Know your animal, whatever species, and stop beginning sentences with "All horses/cats/dogs/gerbils/honey badgers..."  Granted we humans probably have more psychiatric issues than any animal is ever likely to have.  We've created a society that's nearly impossible to live in without some level of anxiety.  But just because they're not human doesn't mean animals don't have their own personal opinions that need to be considered.

So, good on Penn Vet Behavior and Sonya Simkins, author of the linked article.  Keep reminding us that we're really not all that and a bag of chips, and we've got a long way to go before we really understand our animal companions and fellow travelers on this planet.

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