It comes as shock to a lot of people that many dogs actually hate being hugged. To put things into perspective, imagine a giant three times your size came up to you and engulfed in in a big hug. Some people might like that, but others may feel trapped and intimidated, that’s how some dogs feel. Yet we come home and are naturally happy to see them, so to fulfil our needs we throw our arms around them and squeeze them tight.
Dogs are not humans, and we need to remember that. A human child might need hugs from its mother for love and reassurance, but dogs don’t work the same way. Dogs are built to run away from danger. By hugging your pooch and not letting them go, you are depriving them of a natural instinct to run away, and this stresses them out according to scientists. If a dog gets overly fearful and uncomfortable, they may bite.
You see lots of parents letting their children go up to strange dogs and cuddle them. Just because they look cute and fluffy, doesn’t mean they won’t react. Always teach your kids that they shouldn’t hug dogs, and show them how to greet a dog correctly (stressing that they need to ask the owner if it’s ok first).
“Dogs are often considered part of the family, however they are not human and may therefore react differently to certain interactions such as hugging.” Caroline Kisko, The Kennel Club
When you think about it, a hug can be really quite suffocating. And whereas humans can say ‘I’m not a hugger’, dogs can’t, so they have to put up with it. In a lot of instances, us humans miss the signs and can’t read their body language very well. But if you take a second to observe your dog whilst they are being hugged, and paid attention to their body language, you will know straight away if they are unhappy.
A research study by Stanley Coren looked at photographs of people hugging dogs. In all, 81.6% of the photographs researchers scored showed dogs who were giving off at least one sign of discomfort, stress, or anxiety. Only 7.6% of the photographs could rate as showing dogs that were comfortable with being hugged. The remaining 10.8% of the dogs either were showing neutral or ambiguous responses to this form of physical contact
Here’s how to tell if your dog doesn’t like hugs. If your dog displays some of the following body language, you may want to stop giving them lots of hugs.
- Pinned back ears
- Whale eye (wide eyes)
- Wriggling to get away
- Turning away head and avoiding eye contact
- Lip licking, licking your face
- Excessive panting
If you think your dog might not like hugs, that doesn’t mean you can’t give them affection in other ways. You just need to be more patient and less overbearing. Give them a nice stroke or tickly under their chest instead.
In Stanley Coren’s words ‘The clear recommendation to come out of this research is to save your hugs for your two-footed family members and lovers.
“It is clearly better from the dog’s point of view if you express your fondness for your pet with a pat, a kind word, and maybe a treat’.