Do Dogs Like It When You Hug Them? How Do We Know They Like It?
If we were to ask any dog parent out there whether showing affection to their dogs is a must each day, they’d probably tell us how much they love hugging and kissing their pooches. But here’s the thing — do dogs like it when you hug them at all? Isn’t this sort of affection an intrusion of privacy that could lead to a bite or two?
Well, though most of us feel that dogs love hugging (and they often reciprocate!), the truth is somewhere in between. Sometimes, our pups will jump into our arms after having been away from us all day long. Other times, however, they’ll divert their eyes, as if we’re trying to harm them!
Do Dogs Like It When You Hug Them? Science Says — Not Really
We know — you’re probably too shocked to process this information. But unfortunately, it is true. Science has found out that dogs don’t truly like being hugged by their owners, or anyone else for that matter. It all comes down to their basic instincts!
Psychologist Stanley Coren, Ph.D., is the one we should thank for opening our eyes to this (somewhat terrible) truth. He wanted to know if there were any clear signs in the dogs’ body language that say they don’t want to be touched or would prefer not to be confined by human arms. To get that data, he analyzed common signs of anxiety in dogs by carefully looking through various photos and using precise criteria to determine the exact stress levels.
The results were astounding, to say the least. Out of 250 random pictures of people hugging dogs, Prof. Coren concluded that 81.6% of dogs in those images were clearly uncomfortable, 10.8% were pretty neutral, and only 7.6% seemed rather pleased they were getting a warm hug!
In Layman’s Terms, It’s Likely Your Dog Hates Hugs
Now, we know what you might be thinking — your dog absolutely LOVES your hugs. In fact, it often comes up to you, puts its paws on your lap, and asks for affection! Clearly, that shows it prefers hugging too, let’s say, a good pat on the back.
Well, sorry to burst your bubble, but most domesticated dogs were actually trained to suffer through the endless hugs their owners provide them with. If you got your dog while it was still a puppy, you were probably hugging it day and night, consequently, conditioning is to put up with it. To that end, it just might like hugs now — but it’s not in the canine nature to ask for them or enjoy them.
To explain this, we have to reflect upon the fact that dogs are cursorial animals, i.e., they mostly move about by running. Thus, if they sense danger or are uncomfortable, they will try to getaway. Moreover, they may think they’re in far more danger than they genuinely are, so they could even bite.
That is their fight-or-flight reflex, and it’s why we shouldn’t hug dogs so much. Our hugs, no matter how affectionate they might be, put them under a lot of stress. They immediately think the danger is coming, so they show clear signs of anxiety and try to wiggle their way out of our arms.
The Same Reaction Happens in the Wild
After delving further into the matter, it becomes clear that dogs have always shown signs that hugging is not their forte. Unlike humans, who thrive when they can press their bodies against another’s, dogs don’t have arms to hug anyone. What’s more, the idea of pushing their bodies against other dogs actually triggers that same fight-or-flight reflex, as it tells them that danger is near.
That is why dogs like to huddle in the wild. They create a sort of a “capsule” of strength, and each pooch is guarding the other one, shoulder to shoulder. And, by pressing onto each other’s bodies, they make sure everyone is alert and ready to react.
No One’s Truly Safe When Hugging a Dog
So what could happen if you were to continue hugging your dog? The chances are, your pooch doesn’t mind your body warmth, as it’s already used to it. Similarly, it may even want a hug in some situations, although we’d mostly avoid hugging it when it’s sleeping or under stress for some reason.
The same cannot be said when it comes to strangers or children. Kids, for example, aren’t really aware that dogs can feel pain, just like them, and that they could easily startle them. Although we’ve all seen photos of children hugging dogs, there’s a good chance they already know the pooch. Unfamiliar children may suffer a bite, especially if they come up to the dog from behind!
Strangers should be wary of dogs as well, even when it comes to a simple pat on the head. Some dogs hate when other humans see them as toys and would mostly prefer to avoid any touching, especially when they’re outside, doing their thing. Strangers could, therefore, lose a finger if they were to even approach the dog with their hand too fast. Imagine what could happen if they were to hug them, letting their face come super close to the pooch’s teeth!
Do Dogs Like It When You Hug Them or Will They Try to Run Away or Bite Each Time?
Now, if they could, dogs would probably run away from our hugs as far as possible. However, since humans are much stronger than them, and they already know hugging is just a thing we love to do, it’s unlikely they’ll protest too much.
That said, there are certain signs that the pooch is fairly uncomfortable and would like for us to stop; it will use its body language to tell us how it feels.
If you follow in the footsteps of Prof. Coren and google some images, it’s likely that you’ll notice some, if not all, of these unmistakable body language cues:
- Stiffness; the pooch is rigid and feels rather anxious (yet it seems calm)
- Eyes turned downward or closed completely (it’s a submissive sign that they cannot help but suffer through the hugging)
- Yawning (a sign that they’re under a bit of stress)
- Lip-licking or licking the human (another sign they are anxious about the hug)
- Evident whites of the eyes (also known as “half-moon eyes,” this happens when the dog is under so much stress that its eyes widen)
- No eye contact (the dog is turning its head away and avoiding engaging the human to show it’s uncomfortable)
- Lowered or flat ears (a sign of stress)
Showing Affection the Right Way: Replace Your Hugs With Something Else
Do dogs like it when you hug them? We have to agree that Prof. Coren has a point when he says canines aren’t supposed to be embraced because it makes them uncomfortable. Therefore, it’s best to replace our eager hugging with something they would absolutely love.
Luckily, canines are rather easy to please. Here are just a few examples that would certainly help them understand we do love and care for them:
Talk to Your Pooch
Even though dogs don’t speak our language and cannot understand what we’re saying unless we’ve trained them to react to a particular word, that doesn’t mean they don’t know HOW we’re saying it. Pooches can differentiate the different tones of voice we use when they’ve done something good or bad.
So if we want our dog to feel all the love, we can always tell it how good of a boy or girl it has been. We can whisper praises into its ear, using the sweetest (baby) tone of voice we can muster. Better yet, we can get all excited and sing to it about how deep our love is. Who knows? The pooch may even grow to love the Bee Gees!
Play With It Often
Dogs love to play, so if we want to show them affection without making them nervous, one of the best ways is to grab a ball, a frisbee, or just an old sock and engage them for about 10 to 20 minutes. Not only will playing let them become more sociable, but they’ll also get tired a bit and sleep better later on.
Provide Lots of Pets and Cuddles
Since dogs don’t like us putting our arms around them and constraining them, it’s best to use just one hand to scratch that sweet spot or pet them on the head. Most dogs also like getting a massage, a belly rub, or a gentle pat on the back.
Offer Daily Walks, Tricks, and Treats
Another great way of showing dogs we love them is to engage them as often as we can. They don’t like feeling lonely and will definitely be miserable when left alone for too long. Therefore, we ought to maintain an active routine for them. That includes going for multiple walks per day to let them fulfill their needs (at least twice a day), teaching them some tricks to boost the quality of their lives, and giving them treats and lots of praise when they earn it!
Of course, there are nuances here you ought to be aware of. We shouldn’t give dogs too many treats, and only training them without letting them relax and unwind on the couch isn’t going to make them happy. The keyword here is, of course, balance, and the whole point is to provide them with everything they need to lead a long and joyful life.
Answering the question, Do dogs like it when you hug them? wouldn’t be truly possible without Prof. Coren’s research. However, now that we know that they clearly aren’t super comfortable with our arms around them, it’s time to let them destress and look for other ways of showing our devotion.
The chances are, our pooches already know we adore them. We give them food, water, take them out for walks, and let them destroy our socks from time to time. Therefore, don’t fret too much about displaying your affection; even something as simple as a good old back or tummy rub is enough for them to understand we’re their best friends, forever!