Is It Ever Okay to Hug Your Dog?
I once owned a small rat terrier that loved to lie down on my lap. She was very affectionate and liked to get up in my face. One day, I tried giving her a human hug by putting her head and upper body barely over my shoulders. I tried to put the side of my face on her very gently but she reacted with a quick whine-the dog equivalent of “aaht!” So I never dared to try it again but it didn’t stop me from wondering, “do dogs like hugs?”
I also wondered if there was a proper way as to how to hug your dog. The short answer is, unfortunately, no.
Should you hug your dog? Do dogs like when you kiss them?
If you’re a dog owner, you may have wondered at some point whether it’s a good idea to hug dogs. Maybe, like me, you’ve tried it and were surprised when your dog reacted badly.
Well, the unfortunate truth is that unless you train your dog to see hugs as loving from puppyhood, chances are, it’s going to see them as more of a tight restraint.
As far as human kisses are concerned, it more or less depends on the dog as an individual. Dogs kiss by licking though it’s sometimes out of stress or submission rather than affection. They learn that from their mothers. Although mother dogs lick their puppies to stimulate them to go to the bathroom and to groom them. Puppies have been observed to lick the mother on the lips. It’s gross but that’s believed to be an instinct from the pre-domestication times when she would vomit to feed her puppies.
Whatever you do, don’t try to kiss a strange dog and teach your kids not to kiss dogs in the face. The dog may think that you’re trying to bite it or something and might defend itself by biting or shoving you off.
We’re not going to tell you not to try kissing your dog. However, do keep a careful eye on its reaction as you do. Somewhere on the back or back of the head would be safest. Some dogs seem to be more open than others to being trained to see human kissing as affection.
What happens if you hug your dog? Is it ever okay to hug your dog?
Fortunately, most dogs know by now that us humans, for the most part, are not dangerous to them. Chances are, your dog won’t try to run away from you or distance itself from you when you do. However, they do show subtle signs of stress when they are hugged from lowering their ears to turning their heads away. The latter sign is self-explanatory. The ear lowering is a sign of high stress.
Some dogs are known to lick when they’re hugged. A lot of owners think that they’re being affectionate. In that case, though, it’s actually a sign of submission.
With a small dog, they probably feel like they don’t have any wiggle room and as if they’re being squeezed too tightly. If, like me, you put their head just over your shoulder and stick the side of your head on theirs, it probably cuts off their breathing a little as well.
With a big dog, if you hug it while it’s standing on two on you, it’s the same issue with being squeezed too tightly and a lack of wiggle room. If you hug them around the side on the head, it can also really restrain their breathing.
Does hugging your dog stress them out?
Put yourself in your dog’s shoes (or, rather, paws) for a minute. Your only defenses are four legs and teeth. You could add sneezing if there’s any chance it will disgust your target, though most dogs don’t seem to think of that.
One of the many reasons that you should not hug your dog is that, to them, it’s like an equivalent of a grizzly bear or a water python -which bites and then squeezes its prey by slow strangulation-trying to eat them. In the wild, dogs were free to roam 24/7. If they were confined or constrained in any way, it was because a large predator, such as a bear, successfully hunted them down. When they did, the dog was done.
Running away is a dog’s first defensive reflex. It can’t do that when it’s completely restrained. As a result, it may resort to a warning growl or other defensive behaviours.
If you hug a dog you don’t know, the stranger awkwardness also applies. You probably don’t like to be hugged by a complete stranger. For a dog, however, it’s ten times worse because they think that, like the bear or python, that you’re trying to hunt them down or attack them in some way.
Dogs are also much more sensitive to their surroundings than us humans. As a result, they’re also likely to go into sensory overload if they’re in an unfamiliar environment and hugged on top of it.
Reasons why you should not hug your dog
One fairly recent study put together a bunch of selfie videos of people hugging their dogs. They discovered that the dogs were showing at least a few subtle signs of stress in 80 percent of the cases. These signs included half moon eyes, looking in the opposite direction, licking their lips and yawning.
One psychologist who is known for his work on dog behaviour is Stanley Coren. He and some researchers also conducted a study based on photographs of people hugging their dogs. They also found that 82 percent were showing some signs of distress. Only just over seven percent showed that they actually liked it.
If your dog is among that rare seven percent, chances are, it will show it to you. You should let it.
What can I do instead of hugging my dog? Ways to love your dogs other than hugging
Dogs can sense your feelings and will respond to them. Unless it survived abuse, trauma or has been feral its’ whole life, it can usually sense the difference in it’s owners feelings and tone of voice.
Here are some other ideas
All dogs need exercise to some extent and playing fetch is one great way to do so. Letting them run around the yard-provided that it’s fenced in or restricted somehow-or taking it to a dog park are other great ways to show your love to it. If possible, do it on a regular basis.
Go for a walk-or a run
Walks or runs are often the highlight of many dogs’ days. It’s a great way to bond with your dog by letting your dog explore and make their mark in the neighbourhood. Be sure to keep your routine fairly consistent so your dog doesn’t get confused.
Give them a treat or a new toy
Most dogs love a good treat. However, be careful to keep them occasional-such as once a day and if your dog’s been behaving well- or it could wreck their digestion. It’s also not really a treat if you make it a part of your dog’s regular diet.
Giving it a new toy every once in awhile is great, too. Like us, dogs can get bored with the same things every single day. It’s even better if you make it a Christmas or birthday gift. However, please don’t make it a daily thing as that will inadvertently set your dog up for disappointment.
Give them something to do
For example, you can train your dog help you hide Easter eggs for your kids, hide a tennis ball in a certain place or even to retrieve a Kleenex when someone sneezes or cries. You can also train it to hunt down certain smells. Military police often use dogs to sniff out drugs and/or chase down runaway criminals.
Pets and belly rubs
Most dogs welcome simple pets, ear scratching or belly rubbing. Just make sure you don’t massage them on the bone. That doesn’t feel good to us so it probably won’t to a dog, either.
Talk about your day-in a gentle tone
Unlike other humans, your dog won’t judge what you say. Do be careful not to constantly yell at it. Your dog will internalise it and become afraid of you or even aggressive. However, you’re more than welcome to pour your heart out to it-in as gentle a tone as possible-about your stresses, frustrations, daily highlights and lows. Your dog will give you all the love it knows how to muster when you do and even have more respect for you.
Another thing I’ve found is that going over the daily schedule the night before with your dog also helps them feel reassured. Dogs seem to be understand a little more than we give them credit for. For example, I once told my terrier that I was going to be gone all day the next day and that I would prefer her to bark for her morning outside time at 6:30am. Believe it or not, she did start bark just before 6:30 that morning.
Let the kids have some play time with the dog under your supervision
A good majority of dogs do love kids and vice versa. Kids’ energies often match that of dogs. Family dogs are also a great opportunity for kids to learn how to care for someone besides themselves.
However, please be careful not to leave your kids alone with the dog. They don’t have the experience to know what a dog might interpret as aggressive and could get injured as a result.
Take your dog to a doggie daycare or have someone you trust pet it
A lot of dogs have separation anxiety issues when their owners are away. If your dog is one of them, having someone you trust petsit it is one option. However, you will need to negotiate the price and method of payment with your pet sitter ahead of time. It’s also a good idea to test your potential pet sitter with your dog ahead of time by having him or her spend a day-and ideally an overnight-with your dog.
If there’s one available near you, and it’s within your budget, a doggie daycare is another option. Unlike shelters and pounds, they won’t cage your dog. They socialise dogs, play with, exercise and feed them. Some even have their own spas and grooming sections. Doggie daycares have no federal requirements for licensure, however, many state and city ordinances require them to have at least a kennel license. As a result, you will need to check your local area’s ordinances directly.
Considering all of the facts above, it is never a good idea to hug dogs, especially ones that you don’t know.
Your dog will probably not try to run away from you if you do hug it. At worst, it will probably growl or bite. However, you don’t like it when your dog behaves in ways that stress you out so it doesn’t pay to behave in ways that stress them out, either. You also probably don’t like feeling restrained and neither does your dog.
Don’t get me wrong, as a dog owner myself, I know that you’re well-intended. However, your dog might not and get distressed or defensive.
The most important thing you can do, however, is to know your dog as it’s own individual. That means that it’s important to know and understand what it likes and dislikes. Once you know the latter, it’s important not to cross that as your dog will see it as an attack on them. So, if in doubt, please don’t hug your dog.
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