Do dogs like being hugged?

One of the best, and most enjoyable, ways of showing your affection for someone can be a good old hug. Particularly in the wake of national lockdowns, being allowed to hug the ones we love again can bring us plenty of joy. But do our dogs feel the same way?

Most dogs are very affectionate; their ability to form a strong bond with their human companions plays a big part in why they are the most popular pet in the world. Dogs are seemingly always up for a cuddle, a game or a long walk- all things that we can enjoy alongside them. But what if we want to share a hug with our canine friends? Will they get as much love from a hug as we do?

Will my dog enjoy a hug?

Unfortunately, the answer is probably no. A 2016 study in Psychology Today revealed that four out of five dogs find hugs to be stress inducing, not stress relieving as they might be for humans. This is due to a number of reasons, mostly focused on the fact that dogs are a vastly different species to humans with regards to their social behaviours.

Why dogs don’t like hugs

You may be wondering- why don’t dogs enjoy hugs? Surely hugs are great! But it is important to try and understand your dog’s perspective on the situation. Here are a few reasons why your furry friend might not be as excited for a hug as you are:

  • Dogs don’t understand what is happening – it may sound stupidly obvious, but dogs don’t have the same anatomy as humans; they don’t have arms like we do, they just have front legs and their bodies aren’t built to perform hugs the way we are used to. Additionally, dogs may struggle to comprehend that hugs are meant affectionately. We are taught from a young age that hugs convey love, but a dog does not learn this from their parents or from any other dogs. Hugs may be brand new to your dog and they may not feel like it is a loving gesture.
  • They feel trapped – you may have seen dogs hugging each other and wonder why hugs seem so foreign to them if they already participate in the activity with other canines. But dogs who are seemingly ‘hugging’ each other are, in actual fact, attempting to assert their authority over one another. Whether as a part of play or in a genuinely aggressive response to another dog, dog ‘hugging’ is an indicator of authority between animals. When a human hugs a dog, the dog can feel restricted and like it lacks control. This feeling can lead to the dog becoming stressed.
  • Affection is a learned behaviour – as mentioned before, dogs don’t learn affection the way most humans do. They aren’t exposed to it from a young age and may react negatively towards it when suddenly introduced. Dogs may also have trouble with new people in particular. Receiving hugs from strangers can be a stressful experience for some humans, even though we know what a hug means. For a dog, hugs from a stranger can be a very uncomfortable experience. Any close interaction with a dog is best built up slowly over time so that the dog has time to learn to trust you.

Are there dogs that enjoy hugs?

Yep! Just like in humans, there are exceptions to every rule! Some dogs do not demonstrate a stress response to being hugged and may even enjoy hugs the way we do. Of course, how your dog in particular feels about hugs is completely dependent upon their individual personality and past experiences. In order to determine how your dog responds to hugs you can look out for their response in such situations.

What does the stress response look like in dogs?

Of course, all dogs are different, and your pet may show just one or all of the signs of a stress response in dogs. Your dog may also demonstrate other signs that are completely unique and related to their individual experiences. If you think that your dog is experiencing stress, but you aren’t sure, then consulting your vet is a safe bet. However, common signs of stress in dogs can include the following:

  • Closed eyes or half-moon eyes
  • Persistent licking of lips
  • Ears turned down
  • Head turned away
  • Becoming stiff and still

Is it ok to hug my dog?

As said, some dogs do like an occasional hug or have been trained to tolerate hugs, meaning that they do not become stressed during hugs. However, it is strongly recommended that you use other methods to demonstrate your love and affection for your dog. Similar techniques that dogs tend to prefer include pats on the head, belly rubs and a good scratch.

What about kisses?

Like hugs, kisses for dogs are not recommended. The main reason for this is that kisses (and hugs) involve intentionally putting your face near to a dog’s face which is not a good idea. Though your dog may volunteer itself to slobber all over your face without asking, it is not safe for you to do the same. Most dogs do not appreciate a person’s face being near their own unless they have initiated the contact themselves. This means that it can be dangerous, especially for children, to put their faces near to dogs that they do not know. It can result in dogs attempting to bite in order to escape the stressful situation and parents should teach their children not to approach dogs that they do not know.

What can I do instead of hugging my dog?

We all want to let our dogs know how much we love them. But if we can’t hug them, then what can we do instead?

  • Other physical affection – as mentioned briefly, most dogs are not averse to other forms of physical affection. A good belly rub, head pat or back scratch are very enjoyable for most of our canine companions. Dogs might also like to cuddle (which is different from hugging) with you, other family members, or even other pets in the household.
  • Looking after them well – showing your dog love can be as simple as grooming them every day, taking them on their favourite walk or playing their favourite game with them. Not only do these activities keep your dog happy and healthy, but you too!
  • Treats and praise – as with any animal (and humans too) the way to a dog’s heart is through their stomach. Giving your dog their favourite treat and showering them with praise can easily convey that you love them. Of course, it is important not to overfeed your dog on treats as this can be unhealthy for them, but a regulated number of treats will ensure that they know how you feel.

Overall, how your dog responds to hugs will depend on them as an individual. It’s up to you to observe carefully and make the decision on whether hugging is the best form of affection for your pup. It is likely that this won’t be the case and, as mentioned, there are many other ways you can let your dog know that you love them. But you should probably reserve the hugs for your fellow humans!