Dogs bump you with their noses to convey a variety of messages. Spared from the gift of voice, dogs rely on their body language to inform dog owners about their likes and dislikes. Many dog behaviors are meant to increase distance or decrease distance. Is your dog telling you to keep doing what you are doing or is he telling you to get off?
To better understand a dog's intent, it's a good idea to pay attention. Watch the dog's overall body language and the context in which the behavior occurs. When in doubt though, play it safe. It's always best practice caution, as ignoring distance-increasing signals may lead to a potential bite!
"Nose Pokes" and "Muzzle Punches"
Nose pokes are just that: the sensation of your dog's pointy and wet nose poking at your body. When dogs instead hit hard with their noses on people it's called a "muzzle punch" or "nose punch." For sake of definition, a muzzle punch takes place when a dog bumps his nose into a person or other dog while the mouth is closed.
Now, it can happen sometimes that you are just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Perhaps you are bending down to check something and your dog accidentally bumps into you with his muzzle, while he is romping or jumping around. It may be difficult at times to tell if your dog did this on purpose or not.
Muzzle punches refer for the most part to punches delivered with a purpose. What that purpose exactly may be though often requires some investigation. Until dogs can talk, only assumptions can ultimately be made.
Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist Patricia McConnell, claims that the purpose of muzzle punches may vary between seeking attention or affection, to wanting to play or delivering a warning.
Differentiating one motive from another may not always be easy. A good insight may be obtained by evaluating the context in which the behavior occurred. What happened exactly before that? What seemed to trigger it?
On top of that, it helps to look at other pieces of the puzzle. What was the dog's other body language like? Tail, ears, facial features? Muzzle punches tend to occur rather quickly though so it might not be easy to catch a glimpse of the accompanying body language.
Seeking Friendly Interactions
Usually, dogs who bump you with their noses in a friendly manner display body language that is coherent with their mood. You may see a happily wagging tail, or perhaps the dog may emit a playful bark backed up with a play bow (front legs lowered, rump in the air).
Your dog may muzzle poke your hand to seek attention and get you to interact with him. Maybe your dog wants to be taken on a walk or wants to be fed? Maybe he wants to be pet? Some dogs will literally poke your hands to get you to pet them.
Attention-seeking dogs are often dogs who are left alone for a good part of the day and desperately seek interaction with their owners upon coming home. These dogs want their needs met, and who can blame them? Dogs have many needs (exercise, play, affection,) and our busy lifestyles don't leave much space to accommodate them.
Attention-seekings dogs will do anything to have some form of interaction, and some may even engage in destructive behaviors, just to have their dog owners look at them or talk to them (even if it means being told "bad dog!"). Any form of attention is valid to an attention-seeking dog.
Some dogs may give a light poke with their muzzle to the owner's leg or buttocks (some even give a little pinch!) as in invitation for play. Dogs do this to other dogs quite often and the goal is to engage them in a game of play.
Non- Friendly Interactions
And then, on the other hand, you have those non-friendly nose bumps. Again, body language here is often coherent with the dog's overall mood. These dogs are requesting distance and their nose punch is their way to ask to be left alone.
The accompanying body language may be tense, with the dog looking overall stiff, showing the white of the eyes, and overall tight facial muscles. This tense body language might not always be readily noticed.
The contexts in which these non-friendly nose punches occur often involve well-meaning dog owners trying to carry out certain behaviors that are not welcomed to the dog. These dogs are asking for the interaction to stop.
Examples include dogs owners trying to hug or kiss the dog or looming over them to touch them. Sometimes, owners may get too close to dogs when they are protecting food or an particular area.
These nose punches warrant attention because they can be a precursor to a bite. So this is something to keep into careful consideration. If your dog hits you with the nose in a non-friendly manner, you may want to consult with a behavior professional so to play it safe.
Now That You Know...
As seen, those dog nose pokes and dog nose punches may occur for a variety of reasons. Depending on the underlying cause you may need to do nothing, implements a few changes or perhaps consult with a behavior professional to prevent the aggression from escalating. Here are a few tips on for dogs who bump you with their noses.
- If your dog nose pokes you to get you to interact with him, and you do interact, then you will have fueled the behavior, and therefore, the nose poking behavior will strengthen and repeat. Be forewarned that if one day you do not give attention, your dog may progress to a "pinch" just to get you to interact with him.
- You can reduce nose poking for attention/play by simply ignoring the behavior and giving attention when your dog isn't engaging in the behavior. Or even better, train your dog an alternate behavior that will replace the nose poking. For instance. ask your dog to touch your hand (nose target) and reward.
- Ensure your dog is provided with ample of opportunities for exercise, mental stimulation, play, training and affection. When your dog's needs are met, you will notice a decrease in attention-seeking behaviors.
- Provide these activities before your dog has a chance to engage in the attention-seeking behavior so to prevent rehearsal of the behavior and to avoid reinforcing it with desired activities. Otherwise dogs may be thinking: "Every time I nose poke my owner, he takes me on a walk! Yay, nose poking works so I will do that every day now!"
- If your dog muzzle punches in a non-friendly manner, analyze what may have triggered that. Perhaps you dog to close to your dog's face. loomed over him or got too close to him when he was guarding food, a bone, toy or a sleeping area.
- Avoid approaching your dog in the instances that seem to have triggered the behavior. Use caution.
- Hire a professional to help you out. Aggressive behavior in dogs tends to get worse rather than better if no action is taken. A muzzle punch may turn into a bite next time. Seek a professional using, force-free humane behavior modification. According to a survey from the University of Pennsylvania, dog owners who use confrontational or aversive methods to tackle aggressive dogs, will be stuck with dogs who act aggressive unless different training techniques are employed .The use of aversive training and behavior modification methods have been associated with an increased in stress and aggression.