Wrapping your arms around your dog and squeezing tight always makes you feel better, right? But what does it do for your dog?
According to most experts, it probably doesn’t make it happy. In fact, a recent study suggests your dog most likely hates being hugged. The seemingly kind act can even raise your pup’s stress and anxiety levels.
I was just as surprised to hear this as you might be, so I talked to a few experts to get a straight answer to the question, “Do dogs like to be hugged?”
“The simple answer is no, the vast majority of dogs do not like to be hugged,” says Carol Osborne, DMV. “Unlike humans, who hug one another as a sign of love and affection, dogs do not share this human behavioral trait. Pets greet each other in a multitude of ways, but hugging is not one of them.”
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While you view a hug as a way to share your love and affection, dogs see it quite differently. “Dogs do not like to be hugged because the act of placing your arm over and around a dog’s neck is a way of asserting dominance. This human display of dominance often leaves dogs confused and agitated,” says Osborne. “This human hugging behavior is uncomfortable for most dogs, despite the fact that hugs are such a big part of human culture. Hugging to a dog is similar to being smothered.”
Brian Ogle, a science instructor with specialties in animal behavior, animal shelters and pet/animal ownership at Beacon College, agrees.
“Popular media loves to highlight the bond that exists between humans and their companion animals. However, the animal’s perception of the interaction is often overlooked by humans. The mechanics of hugging, such as the embrace, close proximity and leaning over the recipient, are behaviors exhibited by canines to establish hierarchy and decrease distance from another individual,” says Ogle.
He adds that hugging a dog that doesn’t enjoy it might lead to aggression from that dog.
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Some dogs are totally huggable
Celebrity dog trainer Joel Silverman says whether or not a dog likes to be hugged just depends on the dog.
“Some smaller dogs absolutely love to be held and hugged. I would venture to say that many smaller dogs like that sort of physical contact, but there are some that do not,” he says. “As well, there are a number of larger breeds of dogs, such as Labs or golden retrievers, that enjoy close human contact.”
Silverman adds that while your dog may not want to be hugged when you first meet it, your dog may change its tune down the road. “Remember, just because a dog does not want to be hugged today does not mean he will not want to be hugged six months from now.”
How can you tell?
Believe it or not, it’s pretty easy to tell if your dog likes to be hugged or not. All you have to do is watch for the signs.
“Dogs will communicate their discomfort of the situation,” says Ogle. “Signals of discomfort may include licking their lips, turning their head away from you, yawning and shaking their body vigorously after the interaction has occurred.”
Silverman notes a few more obvious signs to watch for, such as backing away or growling. “On the other hand, a great way to tell if your dog likes it is to notice if he is excited or starts licking your face,” he says. “Remember that some dogs with a higher prey drive do not like to have hands around their head, but there is no question that over the course of time they can get conditioned to that.”
Other ways to love your dog
Having a dog that doesn’t like to be hugged doesn’t mean you can’t show it affection. “There are so many ways to express your love for your canine,” says Osborne. “Just remember even though we may be nearly 99 percent identical to our dogs on a genetic basis, humans and canines represent two completely different species. So while many of us continue to try to humanize dogs, our innate behaviors continue to be inherently different.”
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She suggests these methods to show your dog some love:
- Belly rub
- Soft massage
- Go for a walk
- Play fetch
- Favorite treat
- Special (rare) treat
- Car ride
- Trip to the beach
- Grooming session
- Cuddle session
Osborne offers one last tip. “Dogs have their own way of hugging in ‘dog language.’ Have you ever experienced having your canine stare deeply into your eyes and maintain eye contact with you? Well if so, that’s how dogs hug,” she says. “In fact, when your dog hugs you in this way, he is expressing his true love and affection for you.”
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