Dogs aren’t great at keeping secrets. If they like something, they love it. If they hate something, then they hate it. They’re somewhat open books of emotion and behavior.
So is there anything you do that dogs actually dislike that you aren’t aware of? Well, it’s difficult to tell, because dogs have their own personalities, including their own idiosyncratic foibles, pet peeves, and subjects of adoration.
"It's as ridiculous to say 'dogs hate x' as 'people hate x'," Prof. Alexandra Horowitz, a renowned dog cognition researcher at Columbia University, told IFLScience.
In saying that, there are perhaps a handful of near-universal angst-inducing irritants, but remember, your dog might respond differently to various stimuli than other dogs. If you’re unsure, click here to see if they’re showing signs of stress.
Yanking them away from smelly curiosities
"We don't value smells much, but dogs live in an olfactory world. When you go on a walk with your dog, you are both seeing and smelling – but we are mostly seeing, and dogs are mostly smelling," Horowitz explains.
"So the person who walks their dogs on a leash but constantly pulls them away from their attempts to sniff every curb, fireplug, tree, invisible-thing-in-grass, other dogs... that's got to be horrible for the dog. They are just trying to see the world."
Remember, just because we don't see or smell anything of value to us, it doesn't mean that the same applies to our pawed companions.
Solitary confinement during fireworks
It’s well known that dogs, upon hearing fireworks, become intensely stressed. You can’t explain to them that it’s all in celebration of independence from the tyrannical British king several centuries earlier, so instead, they just have to assume the sky is falling. Most people, quite rightly, keep their dogs indoors in as quiet a place as possible to keep them calm.
As noted by Battersea Cats And Dogs Home, however, you shouldn’t confine them to one room. They will almost certainly be constantly trying to escape from the noise, and putting them in a small place may make them likely to injure themselves as they attempt to escape. By all means, create a “safe space” for them to hide in, but don’t make them feel trapped.
Yes, dogs are faithful companions, and their near-relentless ability to always stick by our side is one of the many reasons they’re so loved. They’re individual animals, however, not extensions of ourselves – and they need to feel independent too, to a degree.
Battersea Cats And Dogs Home points out that you can “discourage neediness and reduce dog stress in the long term by gradually promoting independence.” To do that, they suggest that you set up activities that they can enjoy without you; set up baby gates in the house to discourage them always following you.
When you leave them at home, yes, your pet dogs get anxious. Make sure you give your dog plenty of reassuring attention before you leave the house, though – that’ll reduce their separation anxiety.
Strangers in new places
Studies have sometimes found that dogs enjoy novel environments, but only when they’re there with people they live permanently with. A 2014 paper found that stress in dogs, measured by their heart rate, was induced when they were put in a new place and were stroked by a person who doesn’t live permanently with them.
Although, once again, some dogs may be different, you probably shouldn’t just dump them off at a friend or family member’s house without much notice.
Some studies, including this oft-referenced 1997 paper, suggest that your attitude can influence your dog’s behavioral problems. The evidence on this was described at the time as “scarce” with some of it being “contradictory”. One curious facet of the study, however, involved the owner’s anxiety.
Although there was no connection between an owner’s phobia and their dog’s, particularly anxious owners are more likely to make psychological use of their dogs to manage their own emotions. This can result in an inconsistent pattern of behavior toward the dog, “perhaps on some occasions rewarding or punishing the same behavior,” the author notes.
“This might well induce in susceptible dogs a state of conflict that is expressed in displacement activities,” which describes physical behaviors that denote when a dog is motivationally bemused or torn between two conflicting drives.
Other studies note that pets – including dogs – are often beneficial to owners’ mental health. That doesn’t mean you should rely on them to always sort you out in this respect, because it could cause them some degree of distress.
Badly timed walks
Walking your dog provides psychological, social, and physiological benefits to you and your companion, but there are certain times of day during a few months of the year that can cause your dog stress, and worse. Even though a midday walk at the height of summer may feel great, it may prove to be a bit overwhelming and potentially dangerous for your perpetually obedient dog. They can either be burned by the Sun, just as their foot pads can be scorched by extremely hot surfaces.
"Guilt-shaming" your dog?
We’ve all enjoyed the videos: dogs looking shamefully away from the scene of the crime, as owners exaggeratedly berate them for tearing up their pillows/pooping somewhere deeply inconvenient/eating not only uncooked pizza but part of the box it contained. Their expressions are just too adorable, right?
Dogs may feel guilt, but as it so happens, this type of behavior doesn't actually show it. In these cases, they’re just innately responding to your scolding by demonstrating appeasement behavior. As the author of a frequently cited study assessing the guilty look hypothesis, Horowitz notes that they’ll adopt this expression whenever they are being or are anticipating being scolded, regardless of whether they actually got up to any mischief.
It’s not clear that guilt-shaming your dog is in itself harmful, but our colloquial interpretation of this behavior shows that we are assuming that the dogs know what we want, and what our rules are. There's a good chance that they don't, so by scolding them anyway, we may be causing them distress – and they won't necessarily learn from their scolding either way.
This is a controversial one. It was brought screaming back into the somewhat mortified public's collective consciousness by a brief experiment in 2016 that suggested dogs don’t like being hugged. Using 250 photographs of dogs as they were caught in a human embrace, it appeared that in 81.6 percent of them, the dogs looked visibly uncomfortable; the others were either neutral or ambiguous (10.8 percent) or comfortable (7.6 percent).
Various animal behavioral experts tentatively agreed with the sentiment expressed by the researcher in question, Dr Stanley Coren, a retired University of British Colombia neuropsychologist. Again, dogs aren’t humans, so we can’t assume that they like what humans, particularly human children, like. A tight hug may be too much of an invasion of their personal space.
However, this wasn’t a peer-reviewed study, just – as Coren told the Washington Post – a “set of casual observations”, posted on a blog, based on Google and Flickr images.
Nevertheless, "dog behavior researchers will agree that the body language of most dogs being hugged looks stressed. Still, they often put up with it," Horowitz says.
"However, when they don't, note that their mouth is often right next to a (hugging child's) face. It's worth it to be conservative here in our estimation of whether dogs like it."
There could be exceptions. If you (presumably an adult) hug your dog, and it feels more relaxed and doesn’t act panicky or stressed, you might be fine. Not all dogs will shake you off, growl, turn their head away from you, or bare their teeth if they disliked it, though.