We’ve all been there, giving out puppy hugs to those cute little pets or going out of our way to give a nice dog hug to our beloved pets. But while there’s no doubt that human beings are inclined to enjoy a hug, have you ever wondered: do dogs like hugs?
The answer might surprise you, because it turns out that dogs and hugs might not be the cute combination we always thought it was. In fact, people hugging dogs can cause stress, anxiety, and even fear in your pets.
But some dogs do like hugs, or at least, a toned-down version of the human hug (every dog is different, after all). In today’s article, we ask “Do dogs like to cuddle?” and explore how to tell if your dog does or doesn’t enjoy a hug.
Do Dogs Like Hugs? Do Dogs Understand Hugs?
Okay, so you’re learning how to take care of a dog and how to shower your pet with the love and kindness they deserve. Cuddling dogs and giving them hugs should surely be up there with the basics, right? Isn’t love and affection almost as important as food and shelter?
Sort of, but things get a little complicated. That’s because dogs don’t necessarily understand hugs, at least not in the way that humans intend them to. Hugging animals is very different from hugging other human beings because we are hardwired to think differently, to react differently, and to feel different emotions and associations.
Simply put, while humans and dogs share a close bond of friendship, there are still some actions and emotions that don’t bridge the gap. Dogs aren’t humans, and we need to understand that.
When we start hugging our pets, it’s important that we gauge their reactions to the cuddle. Dogs are smart, but human actions can mean much more than affection. We tower over our dogs, and while affection is intended, a dog can read the hug as a show of domination or force. Dogs can be unsettled, anxious, and scared. Over-the-top cuddling can even trigger a dog’s innate fight or flight reaction, and while your dog might run away, it can also stand its ground and turn nasty.
While dogs don’t inherently understand the concept of a hug, when treated affectionately, a cuddling dog can learn to associate their owner’s hugging action positively (or at least, non-threateningly). This does take some conditioning and needs to be approached in the correct manner.
Does Hugging Dogs Give Them Anxiety?
The biggest psychological reason that your dog doesn’t like to cuddle is the fact that hugging can cause dogs to feel unnecessary levels of anxiety.
There are several reasons for this, much of it going back to the built-in reactions dogs would have needed for survival when they were in the wild. Humans evolved distinctly from dogs for many thousands of years before they became household pets. During this time, while people came to need hugs as a form of communication and affection, dogs did not evolve with the same needs.
Dogs associate the actions with dominance, as in the wild, as part of the pack, the dominant dog would stand over other dogs or even pin them to the ground. The action of hugging is in many ways similar to this and can be interpreted by dogs as an act of strength on the part of the human.
Dogs are also hard-wired through evolution to associate confined, pressing, and tight spaces as a threat. In the wild, dogs would run around in packs. If the pack was in trouble, they would press together for support. The closeness of the pack would signal that there was a threat nearby, and even today, dogs can still associate the hugging with a looming threat.
There are many more reasons as well, but perhaps your dog doesn’t like to cuddle purely because they don’t like it (just like some humans don’t!). Dogs value their space as much as we do, and smothering your dog just might not be appreciated!
These actions cause anxiety and stress. They can lead your dog to associate your looming appearance over them with negativity or even sadness, and eventually depression.
Don’t Hug Your Dog If You Notice These Signs
Dogs react in different ways to hugging, and while some dogs hate hugs, others aren’t going to mind (every dog is different!). In the majority of cases, however, dogs perceive hugging negatively.
If you notice any of these doggie signs, then you should stop hugging your dog:
- Your dog becomes tense or rigid when you hug them.
- Shaking or visible nervousness is apparent.
- Your dog actively squirms or wriggles to escape your embrace.
- Your dog whines or even barks.
- Their tail droops or drops between their legs.
- Your dog stops keeping eye contact with you.
- Your dog might bare its teeth, growl, or even bite you.
If your dog trusts you, then they aren’t likely to start growling or biting. Signs are likely going to be more subtle, such as drooping tails and ears, but it doesn’t mean they aren’t feeling anxious.
If your dog is particularly anxious or surrounded by strangers, then they could lash out if they feel backed into a corner. This is rare, of course, but owners need to be aware of their dog’s feelings when approaching the subject of hugging and cuddles.
How to Hug Your Dog the Right Way
If your dog does demonstrate that it’s going to tolerate your affection and allow itself to be hugged, then owners need to hug their pets in the right way (the way that causes the least anxiety!).
If your dog is relaxed or keeps its tail wagging while being hugged, then these are positive signs. However, don’t just jump in and start throwing constant hugs, because your dog won’t appreciate it.
The most important step is building trust. You can do this by slowly introducing your dog (as a puppy) to hugs. Keep hugs short and soft, and mix them up with other signs of positivity that dogs do enjoy, such as belly or chin rubbing.
Praise your dog when you hug them, or better yet, teach them to associate hugs with treats. Over time, the negativity of the action will be replaced with positivity. Rather than seeing a hug as a form of intimidation or dominance, your dog will come to understand that it’s affection, it’s positive, and it should be welcomed.
So, Should You Hug Your Dog?
If dogs don’t like hugs, then shouldn’t humans simply stop hugging them?
There are, in fact, a few reasons why we should hug our dogs and teach them to associate the act of hugging with affection. For instance, young children and strangers are likely to want to hug your dog, and it’s quite dangerous for everyone if your dog is going to start snarling and barking (and even biting).
When we take our pet dogs to the vets, we often need to hug them to keep them still during the check-up. Teaching your dog to appreciate rather than to hate hugs makes this process a lot easier for the dog, the vet, and the owner.
But humans do need to respect their dog’s space too. If they don’t like hugs, then it’s important not to make them uncomfortable more often than you need to! Why not bookmark your guide to hugging dogs to better understand your pet’s anxieties and happiness?