In a world full of different countries, languages, and cultures, there is one insult that is universally understood: the middle finger. There is no place on Earth where this signal is not considered rude. If you’ve ever used this motion to insult someone then you’ll know exactly why people make this obscene gesture. If you’ve been on the receiving end of this offensive sign, you’ll understand how it feels to have it aimed your way. It’s not nice to have a person ‘flip the bird’ at you, and it can make us feel angry and upset. And it’s not just humans; even dogs hate the middle finger.
Most other animals, however, are blissfully unaware of the offensive nature that the middle finger represents. Show this sign to the majority of household pets, like cats, and they won’t bat an eyelid. Perhaps they’ll even think that you’re offering them food or a head scratch, and affectionately rub against your hand. But dogs are different. We all know that dogs are more emotional and intuitive than other domesticated animals. For this reason, some dogs can react strongly to the middle finger, with varying results. You’ve probably heard stories or seen videos of canines reacting negatively to being shown the middle finger by their owners. As a dog owner yourself, you might have tested this out on your pup and received a bad response. Maybe your dog has turned his back on you in protest or growled at you for flipping your finger up at him. Even worse, perhaps your dog has bitten your finger, and given you a nasty injury in return for being shown this offensive gesture!
It’s both surprising and entertaining for us to register that our beloved canine friends take such offence to an insult that was created by humans to signal anger and annoyance between people. So, why do dogs hate the middle finger so much, and how have they come to understand the meaning of it?
Dogs Understand Aggressive Behaviour
Think about your dog for a second. Has he ever exhibited strange or aggressive behaviour towards strangers on the street? Maybe when new visitors come to your house, your dog gets defensive and starts to bark intimidatingly at them. Perhaps he has even growled at passers-by, for seemingly no reason whatsoever. As dog owners, we know that our canine friends have strong instincts, and we often remark on how dogs can detect ‘bad’ people simply from looking at them. It is undeniable that dogs will use their strong instincts to quickly switch into defence mode. When a dog senses that a person is dangerous, they will jump into action to protect their owners or houses from attack.
People naturally respond negatively to threatening behaviour, and dogs are no exception. They hate to feel vulnerable or as though they, or people around them, are at risk. Since dogs can detect aggression, this could explain why they hate the middle finger and respond in an extreme way when shown it. For example, maybe you’ve been out on a walk and your dog has interacted with another pooch, only for the playfighting to get a little out of hand. Perhaps the owner of the other dog has shown his middle finger to your dog, which agitates your furry friend and causes him to start growling in response. Just like dogs can recognise a raised hand as a signal of possible physical violence, they may view the motion of someone flipping their middle finger as a hostile sign and therefore, a physical threat. They link the middle finger to the possibility of being hit, and so begin to growl and bark as a way to protect themselves from immediate danger.
Think about when people produce the middle finger; it isn’t usually done with a smiling face and calm disposition. As humans, we use this gesture when we are annoyed or mad, and so our facial expressions and body language demonstrate our anger and give off an air of intimidation to those around us. This could be why dogs hate receiving the middle finger, as when we do it to them, we are giving off aggressive signals from all areas of our bodies.
An Invitation to Play Rough
Dogs are known to bark and get excited when playing with humans or other animal friends. If you’ve ever played catch, thrown a ball around a park, or played tug with your dog, you’ll have noticed that your canine pal can sometimes get a little too excited. This could result in little nips, loud barks, and pouncing from your furry friend. As an owner, we understand that our dog’s reactions in playful situations are intended to be harmless, but perhaps to outsiders, they can be perceived as aggressive and dangerous.
When you play catch or tug with your dog, you will use your hands, and get very close to your dog’s mouth. Therefore, your dog may see any movements made with your hands as a signal for playtime. If you show your pup the middle finger, he may not see this as a threat, but an invitation to tussle in a light-hearted manner. So, when a dog sees his owner or another person showing him the middle finger, he may exhibit these lively actions that make it appear as though he hates this gesture. This conduct can be misinterpreted as aggressive but it isn’t actually intended to be hostile.
This may sound like fun, and you may feel tempted to flip the bird at your canine friend as a joke so that you can see his reaction. However, if it encourages an overly enthusiastic and therefore, dangerous response from your pooch, it could have serious consequences. If your dog thinks this gesture is friendly and playful, he may bite your finger and try to play tug with it. If other people who are unaware of your dog’s reaction to this sign, show him the middle finger, they too may receive an exaggerated response. This is seriously risky, and if your dog plays too aggressively, it could result in injuries for you and others.
Therefore, your dog may not hate the middle finger, but instead, see it as an invitation to play rough. When dogs tussle with humans they can display hostile behaviours, which aren’t always intended to cause harm but in fact represent playfulness.
Previous Treatment by Former Owners
It’s clear by now that dogs have differing reactions to being shown the middle finger. Some canines hate it and become aggressive upon seeing this gesture, and others see it as an invitation to play. There are other pups, who won’t have an over-the-top response to being shown the middle finger. They may instead feel scared and intimidated, and retreat into a safe place, cowering away from this gesture.
A dog might react like this if they feel as though they are being told off. No one likes to be reproached for misbehaving, and dogs even less so. Some people unfortunately use the middle finger as a way to scold animals. Depending on your dog’s background and how they have been treated in the past, when they see gestures like this, they can feel scared and intimidated. For example, if you own a rescue pup who was living with a different family before yours, they may have unusual reactions to things that you don’t quite understand.
Dogs are very perceptive, and watchful of how humans act. They remember gestures and scenarios very well, and this is why they are so easy to train. But it means that they retain negative memories and emotions clearly. So even if you playfully show your furry friend the middle finger, and your dog still responds negatively, he has likely observed a previous scenario when this gesture was used severely. Previous owners could have used the middle finger as a way to reprimand your pooch and he still hasn’t forgotten the negative connotations attached to it. If your dog gets visibly distressed upon seeing the middle finger it is best to stop making this sign immediately.
Ways to Reprimand Your Dog that Aren’t Aggressive
So, if you’ve been using the middle finger as a way to scold your dog, it’s probably a good idea to stop doing that. How would ordinary people react if we threw up our middle fingers at them every time they misbehaved? There would be no improvement in their actions, and it would probably cause some trouble! Instead of reverting to flipping the bird at your dog when he is naughty, try to think of some more positive tools that encourage good behaviour. When your pup does something bad, use a strong firm “no”, to indicate that this action is not acceptable and quickly shut it down. Don’t shout or hit your dog, and definitely don’t use the middle finger. If you’re consistent with stopping bad behaviour calmly, then your dog will eventually learn.
You can also give your dog little treats for when he stops doing something bad. If he is scratching at the carpet every time the doorbell rings, instead of shouting and showing him rude physical gestures, calmly get him to stop. Once he has stopped scratching, give him a small piece of food. He will associate rewards with good behaviour and eventually stop misbehaving altogether!
Encouraging Good Responses
As we’ve seen there are three main reasons why dogs hate the middle finger so much. The first is that it can be perceived as aggression, which can cause canines to respond in an antagonised manner. The second theory is that dogs don’t hate the gesture at all, and simply see it as a sign to play rough. Finally, dogs can also simply feel afraid which in turn drives them to run away and retreat to a safe place. If your dog is responding to being shown the middle finger in a way that is causing their actions to be aggressive or potentially dangerous then this isn’t a good thing. In these situations, exaggerated reactions from your furry friend need to be discouraged, as erratic responses could lead to mayhem in your household if not handled appropriately.
The best way to avoid negative reactions from your dog upon seeing the middle finger is to simply stop making this gesture. If you know that this hand signal upsets or distresses your dog, then don’t make the gesture in his presence, even if it is only in a joking manner. It could be causing more harm than good to your furry friend. Of course, there may be some people who show the finger to your dog just to cause trouble or because they think it’s funny. You can ask visitors at your house to avoid making any gestures which are similar to that of the middle finger in order to resolve this problem.
If you want to train your dog to not react strongly upon seeing this hand signal, on the off-chance he witnesses someone holding up their middle finger in the future, it is best to do some pre-emptive training at home. You can teach your dog to see hand gestures in general, as a positive thing. For example, first, start by instructing your dog to give you his paw when you ask for it and give him a treat when he does it correctly until he successfully learns this command. Then begin to introduce other fun commands, like a high-five and fist bump, resulting in your dog giving you his paw whenever these hand movements are made.
The more familiar and calm your dog is with different hand gestures, the less likely he is to react strongly to rare hand movements such as the middle finger. Your furry friend may learn to respond in a cute and friendly way because you’ve trained him to not be afraid of insulting gestures that are intended for humans only.