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Do Dogs Like Hugs?

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Dogs are loyal and loving members of the family, so it’s natural to want to show them the same kind of affection that you show humans. It may seem instinctual of you to give your dog a hug either because you need one, or because you simply love them so much – but be cautious! Dogs do not view hugs the same way that humans do, which can have potentially dangerous consequences.

It is true that some dogs (especially therapy dogs) will tolerate or even like being hugged, but many dogs do not enjoy the gesture; especially if they have never been hugged before. Canines heavily rely on body language for communication, and placing one or both arms over your dog can be viewed as a sign of dominance. This might be confusing or even intimidating for your dog, so if you notice your dog becoming very still or stiff during a hug, that’s probably a sign they’re not enjoying the experience. Additionally, hugs often entail a person’s face being very close to the dog, which can be dangerous should the dog become aggressive out of fear or discomfort.

In some cases, a dog may actually enjoy hugs – but if the hug’s duration is too long, they might suddenly feel trapped and freak out. Just think about it: when you were a child, and a relative hugged you for way longer than you wanted to be hugged, didn’t you feel like you needed to do anything to escape their grasp? That’s how your dog feels when a hug has gone on long enough.huggingdog2Another thing to consider when hugging your dog is how you approach them. Always ensure that your dog sees you coming and knows of your presence before approaching them. If you come up behind them and surprise them with a hug, they might be startled and react in fear by snapping or growling at you. Again, think of how you would react if someone came up behind you and hugged you out of nowhere – you’d probably be pretty startled as well!

As someone who has hugged many dogs in my life, I would recommend a side hug approach (as pictured above) and never a frontal approach. When you approach a dog head-on, they could also interpret it as a challenge, and become intimidated; especially if your arms are open and closing in on them. Your dog may think that you are going to overtake them, which could cause them to be overwhelmed. Pay attention to your dog’s body language as well as its eyes – if their eyes widen and show fear, retreat. A hug approach from the back should also be avoided, unless you are slightly to an angle and therefore somewhat visible peripherally to your dog’s field of vision.

It’s important that children are taught how to approach and handle dogs safely. Even if your dog does tolerate a big old bear hug, that doesn’t mean every dog will. Especially since children are very rambunctious (usually) and uninhibited, they might be too rough, too quick, or just generally inconsiderate in their approach and execution of a hug. You may think that your child hugging, riding, grabbing, poking, or even hitting your dog is “cute,” but it actually could end up to be a not-so-cute situation – a potentially dangerous one. Children are closer in size to dogs than adult humans are (depending on the size of the dog), so your dog may very well think your child is actually a dog that is intimidating it and causing a power struggle.

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Of course, there are plenty of other ways to show your canine companion some affection. Opt for a belly rub or some behind-the-ears scratching and your dog will have no doubt about how much you care. For those who are experienced huggers, then keep doing your thing – but just remember that any hug has potential to be dangerous if you don’t hug safely!

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{ 11 comments… add one }
  • Jordan Walker November 4, 2014, 5:12 pm

    I always hug my dog every time I got home from work but only for a few seconds.. It’s my stress reliever and I know that he likes it too.

  • Paul Hodjat November 6, 2014, 4:45 am

    Are you kidding? My dogs jump on my lap, wrap themselves around me and push their faces up against mine. I have a boxer, dachshund, and border collie. I didn’t teach any of them to do this. They love to hug their Mommy and Daddy!

    • VetDepot November 6, 2014, 7:49 am

      Hi Paul. We have no doubt this is true! It’s very common for dogs to like to cuddle. It’s just the act of placing both arms over your dog in an embrace that people should be careful of. If your dogs react positively, that’s great! But, not all dogs will.

    • Karen Brokaw November 11, 2014, 4:39 am

      I have two boxers and they hug and sit right on top of me . They snuggle under the the covers at night with their head righ on my chest.

  • Dean Riddle November 6, 2014, 7:17 am

    My dog really seems to love big hugs. She leans in and really pushes against me when I give her a hug. She initiates too by coming in close to me and leaning in close. However my mom’s dog tenses up and is visibly nervous with hugs. Just like people, not all dogs are the same. One day I’ll surely miss my Megan’s big Aussie dog hugs.

  • Hugh November 6, 2014, 12:30 pm

    Well, she’s gone, now; but, my Pit/Boxer used to like my very strong-tight- long hugs. I would hug her so tight you could hear her breath stop. Sometimes, I would hold a hug for 15-20 seconds- after which, she would kiss me over & over. I could hold my hands over her eyes, completely ‘blinding’ her for even minutes at a time and she wouldn’t move. It’s called “Trust”. Her name was Rascal because she had the mischievousness of a precocious child. She died at 17+ [ a very long life for a large dog] of a brain tumor. My Border Collie lived to almost 21. Dogs are very good at giving love; most humans are not. I guess when a dog receives as much love as mine did, they just don’t want to die.

  • Marci November 6, 2014, 12:31 pm

    This is so true. Once they become so used to it and initiate it is fine; and they may tolerate it differently from their family’s kids that they love…but especially to hug a strange dog is bad etiquette and very dangerous.

  • Peggy Harrington November 6, 2014, 1:50 pm

    Not only does my dog like hugs, she hugs back by putting her little paws around my hand and hangs on while giving me kisses.

  • J R Dunn November 6, 2014, 2:01 pm

    I have a cousin who today still has the scar on her face because of trying to hug a friend’s dog. Yes, I am sure my dog is the sweetest guy but he was a rescue dog and a hug is a not appreciated. Say “assume the position and he is on his back ready for a tummy rub.

  • Raymond Stevens January 20, 2016, 3:24 am

    This article gives good, sound, common sense information. As much as people, particularly women, ( it seems from these comments), anthropomorphize their dogs it’s best not to forget that they are a different species of animal, that is to say dog and not human. Be damned sure that your beloved dog will tolerate such actions well. Better to show your love in ways more acceptable ways to a dog.

  • Diane Andrews January 20, 2016, 12:53 pm

    My oversized pitbull/bull mastiff mix (100#) lets me hug her as long as I can possibly hang on. She is the sweetest dog and good with everyone. Anyone can hug her. She is my heart and soul.

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