Hugging is an effective way to show love and an important part of emotional bonding for humans. But what about for our dogs? Do dogs like hugs? Research shows that hugging may not actually be the best way to show affection to our dogs. We detail why below.
Why Some Dogs Don't Love Hugs
Fight Vs. Flight
Dogs are cursorial animals, which means they are adapted specifically to run. Because of this, their primary instinctive response to stresses or threats is flight or to run away, not to fight back. Behaviorists believe that dogs dislike hugs because the act immobilizes them, removing their ability to respond to stresses in their preferred way. This increases a dog's anxiety and, if their stress levels rise too high, they may lash out and bite. In other words, dogs highly value their freedom of movement and end up feeling trapped, rather than loved or comforted, when hugged.
A Dog's Natural Interactions
Another reason hugging doesn't work for dogs is that it's not a form of natural socialization or interaction for them. Dogs interact with other dogs and humans through several means, from sniffing to circling one another. But hugging is neither an instinctive nor a taught behavior, making it unnatural and uncomfortable to them.
Confusing Body Language
Dogs do exhibit a behavior that resembles the action of a hug, but the meaning behind it is very different. Behaviorists call it "standing over" and it occurs when a dog puts one or two legs over another dog. It is used to assert dominance and control, however, rather than express affection. So when a human hugs a dog, it may be misconstrued as "standing over."
How To Tell If Your Dog Is Unhappy With Hugs
There are ways to tell if your dog doesn't like hugs, as he or she will show signs of anxiety and stress. These may be subtle, such as turning their head away from you, closing their eyes half-way or fully, giving you the side-eye or "whale eye," lowered ears or ears pinned against the head, tensing up or tightening muscles, yawning, lip licking or even licking your face, or raising their paw. More obvious signs include growling, baring their teeth, barking and snapping at you.
How To Show Affection To Your Dog
Fortunately, there are lots of ways to express affection to your dog that he or she will understand and enjoy. These include:
- Engaging in loving eye contact
- Raising your eyebrows at them
- Leaning into or onto them
- Speak to them, especially using "baby-talk"
- Being physically close to them, such as cuddling up to them
- Petting and scratching them
- Rubbing their ears
- Feeding them by hand
- Doing things together
- Training them